OUSU President accused of obstructing referendum

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Emma Norris, President
of the Uni­versity’s Student Union (OUSU), has been accused of abusing her
position to prevent the forthcoming “Students for Students” referendum. Alex
Young, an ex-Returning Officer of the Union
and one of the leading proponents of the the referendum, said “OUSU as an
institution, and Norris in particular, have done their level best to prevent
this referendum even from reaching the ballot box.” Young accuses Norris of
improperly trying to sway the decision of an OUSU Junior Tribunal. The tribunal
convened last Thursday (3 November) to decide whether the referendum could go
ahead or not. The tribunal was attended by Young, OUSU’s Returning Officer, six
tribu­nal members and Norris, who took minutes. According to Young, “emma
Norris exploited the OUSU constitu­tion to turn up to the Junior Tribunal ‘to
take minutes’, and then proceeded to attempt to exercise improper influ­ence
over the tribunal and sway the panel members against me.”Norris
described this accusation as “absolute rubbish”, adding that “I can’t be
bothered to be drawn into this pointless bitching.” She insisted that she did
not try to influence the panel, and said: “The only point at which I did speak
was to ask for clarification of a few points made, so I could minute them correctly.”
However, one mem­ber of the tribunal, who asked not to be named, said that
Norris “made re­peated interjections and was acting as if she was a member of
the tribunal. If she was there to observe she shouldn’t have said anything at
all.”Young
said that following his depar­ture from the room, “Norris muscled in on
proceedings. Fortunately for de­mocracy the room the tribunal was in had glass
windows.” To prevent what Young considers Norris’ unconstitu­tional behaviour,
he held up a piece of paper against the glass, on which he had written, “Why is
talking so much?” The tribunal was called follow­ing the submission of a
petition for the “Students for Students” referendum. The OUSU Returning Officer
initially refused the referendum because the petition was handed in one hour
and twenty minutes after the noon deadline. Young said that “they cited some
vague rules in their Swiss cheese constitution. They were looking for excuses.”Young
brought the Returning Offic­er to the tribunal to repeal the decision, with
five out of the six members voting to overrule the decision, thereby allow­ing
the referendum to go ahead. The Returning Officer then told Charlie Steel, a
member of OUSU’s part time executive who proposed the “Students for Students”
motion, that the peti­tion was three signatures short of the 500 needed. Steel
went through the list with the Returning Officer and even­tually 511 signatures
were validated. “We feel like they’re throwing up every single possible
obstacle,” said Steel.Last
week the Returning Officer fined Steel £25 for speaking to Cher­well while
still a candidate for the part time executive, a breach of OUSU regulations.
The motion in question, which will be up for referendum next Thursday, states:
“OUSU should have no policy on issues which do not di­rectly affect Oxford students in their
capacity as students unless approved by a majority of common rooms affiliated
to OUSU.”Norris
has visited several JCR meet­ings to speak about the potential draw­backs of
the “Students for Students” campaign. She is also one of three offi­cial
campaign agents for the “No” cam­paign, which will run against the mo­tion. She
said, “I am in a good position to outline exactly how this referendum will
affect the students. If I strongly believe this would detrimentally affect
student representation, it is my duty to let students know.”She
explained that “such a motion would have to be passed though rough­ly 16 JCRs
and 16 MCRs – a total of about 32 common rooms. This would take considerably
longer than just bringing a motion to OUSU Council.” Steel says that his motion
would re­duce the distance between OUSU and the students they represent. “The
aim of the referendum is to make OUSU truly representative of student views and
to prevent clique views being im­posed in the name of the majority.” He
explained that “OUSU just wouldn’t be able to pass a motion in the name of
every single Oxford
student without consulting all the JCRs. We want some sort of practical direct
consultation with the student body.”Norris
said “Who is going to define what a ‘student as a student’ issue is?… OUSU is
there to represent students on the issues that matter to them – ALL of the
issues that matter to them.” Young dismissed this, saying “common sense has to
prevail. Manifestly something will either affect students or not.”ARCHIVE: 5th week MT 2005

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