Letter from the Autonomous Campaigns

Dear College Union Presidents,

We are writing as the heads of the LBGT, Women’s and Black Students’
campaigns to express our grave concerns with the motions that have been
brought to CUSU Council by members of DPC and by Laura and Jennifer
individually. These motions need to be seen in the context of a number of
threats to CUSU’s democracy and attempts to undermine it. Specifically,
they pose a real and serious threat to the autonomy of our campaigns and to
the representation of the people that we support. Moreover, the DPC has
proposed major changes to the workings of CUSU with no visible evidence of
any consultation whatsoever.

As you will have seen from the email sent by Olly Glover on behalf of the
Executive, a highly controversial paper was drafted and submitted by
Jennifer Cooper to the Standing Advisory Committee on Student Matters
(SACSMs), which specifically requests that ‘CUSU would like to ask the
university to fund it centrally, in the same way as the Graduate Union.’
This would mean that CUSU received a block grant from the university, in
place of affiliation fees from the college unions. This proposal was not
discussed at any time with the other CUSU Sabbaticals, CUSU Executive, at
CUSU Council, nor, as you’ll be aware, with yourselves. It has been argued
since that this request was merely an attempt to force the university’s
hand to secure CUSU’s financial income from the colleges, but this is
highly disingenuous. This proposal is an attempt to change CUSU’s funding
structure such that college unions will have the political voice of
disaffiliation taken from them. This proposal is, in fact, a clear attack
on the democratic principle that the CUSU Executive will be facilitators of
the decisions made by CUSU Council, and not simply individuals who can
pursue their own agenda with no democratic mandate, and no visible signs of
consultation. Of course, such a proposal also ignores the wider debate, and
suggests that certain individuals within the sabbatical team are more
concerned with the financial implications of disaffiliation than with the
political ones.

You will see that many of the motions have originated from the Development
and Planning Committee (DPC), but after this afternoon’s exec meeting, it
doesn’t seem that the DPC have considered the practicalities of their
motions, nor their wider implication. It was far from clear how many
subcommittees would be created in the complicated new bureaucracy, which we
felt would increase the distance between CUSU and its membership. The DPC
had no answer to the basic questions and objections that were raised,
particularly against our insistence that motions directly affecting the
structure of the autonomous campaigns are unconstitutional and cannot be
brought.

By virtue of being autonomous campaigns, the Women’s, LBGT, Black Students
and International campaigns are primarily accountable to their own members.
Indeed, the CUSU constitution states with reference to autonomous campaigns
that (our emphasis);

  • I.3 The constitution of every Autonomous Campaign shall appear as an
    appendix to Standing Orders of the CUSU. Any amendments made to the said
    shall require the resolution of an Open Meeting of the Autonomous Campaign
    passed with two thirds majority, and ratification by a resolution of the
    Council passed with a simple majority.
  • I.4 The membership of each Autonomous Campaign shall elect annually from
    amongst its membership an executive and one representative to be a member
    of the CUSU Executive. The executive of the campaign will make every
    reasonable effort to advertise the time, date and venue of such elections
    to all Ordinary Members of the CUSU in every college.

There is no doubt in our minds that these motions are therefore
unconstitutional and should not have been accepted by the chair. It is in
this context that only the Women’s Union can decide on the future of their
Women’s Sabbatical.

Aside from the unconstitutional and undemocratic nature of the proposal,
the head of the Black Students, Women’s and LBGT autonomous campaigns all
share the view that the proposal to remove the Women’s Sabb and replace it
with a general administrator is not the way forward. We all accept that the
autonomous campaigns need more staff support, but the attack on the women’s
sabb is part of a wider attack on the autonomous campaigns as a whole and
has to be seen in that context. The way to improve representation and
support for all the autonomous campaigns is working to expand and develop
structures for them. It is not a question of decreasing the support for one
campaign to increase it for the others: we should work to improve provision
for all campaigns, up to that currently experienced by the Women’s Union.
If we lose the women’s sabb, then our current policy to appoint an LBGT
and/or Black Student’s Sabb will never be realised and all of the
autonomous campaigns will be demoted to a sub committee of the CUSU
Executive, thus compromising their purpose to provide a voice for all
students, whose voices might otherwise be drowned out by the majority.

What we have realised is that all of these issues need to be viewed as a
whole. The DPC exists to look at problems within CUSU and inform a wider
debate; it is not there to impose its own ill considered whims without
wider consultation. Similarly, the CUSU President and Services Officer are
there to implement council policy and to effectively represent college
unions and individual members of CUSU, not to mould CUSU according to their
own designs. Both the SACSMs paper on college union affiliation and the
unconstitutional proposals to marginalise autonomous campaigns within CUSU
are part of the same phenomenon of centralising power in an authoritarian
culture. All of these moves will take power away from individual students
and college unions.

We are not saying for a moment that these issues should not be discussed,
or that CUSU is a perfect institution that does not need to change, but the
way to effect this change is through considered consultation and democratic
structures, and to ensure that these proposals have been informed by the
experienced and diverse CUSU membership.

Yours,

Olly Glover – CUSU LBGT Chair
Michelle Nuttall – CUSU Women’s Officer/Women’s Union Chair
Shreyas Mukund – CUSU Black Student’s Officer