A controversial motion that would allow OUSU sabbatical officers to run for multiple terms in office has been attacked by members of the student body.
Paul Dwyer, current Vice-President for Access and Academic Affairs, proposed the motion claiming that it would help the “long term future of OUSU”.
Oxford is currently one of only three student unions – the others being Warwick and Edinburgh – that do not allow sabbatical officers to run for re-election.
However, the motion has been met with suspicion throughout the University. Jim O’Connell, OUSU rep for University College, attacked the motion stating the he saw “no real rationale for the rule change” adding that it “would institutionalise rule by a narrow, self-perpetuating clique student”.
President Lewis Iwu supported the proposal, stating that “continuity can help the student’s union”, but has nevertheless acknowledged the potential danger of increased politicisation and the growth of cliques. He said,
“The decision OUSU council has to make is whether that outweighs the benefit of having someone with two year’s experience. If it does emerge that sabbatical officers are forming cliques and dominating OUSU then I think there would be a reaction against that…we should trust the electorate.”
However others have questioned the benefits of such political stability. Wadham JCR President, Will McCallum, expressed fears that the changes “will only serve to add to this image of a non-influential student body”. He stated,
“I believe that OUSU is about current students. University life does change year by year and having a student who has been two years out of Oxford is not necessarily a good idea.”
He argued that the motion would hamper progress in made in reducing the cliques of the Union, saying “OUSU is gradually becoming less and less cliquey at the moment, partly due to the recent Gaza motion, and it would be nice to see this continue, something this motion will not help.”
O’Connell too questioned the motivations behind allowing sabbatical officers to return in the name of stability, stating his belief that political ambition underpinned the rule change.
“Obviously the case here hinges on whatever ‘political continuity’ is supposed to mean,” he said. “No doubt Hugo Chavez in Venezuela has removed the ban on him being president for life in the name of ‘political continuity’. I can’t see a positive reason for it other than to allow certain people to perpetuate their careers in Oxford.”
Paul Dwyer said that the benefit of his proposal would be that officers “would actually have time to carry through more long term plans, which currently isn’t possible” and added that successful officers should be allowed to continue. He said, “If someone is doing a fantastic job in their position, I don’t think it a bad thing that they should have the chance to continue for another year.”
Both Dwyer and Iwu have denied that they want to run for an additional year in office.
The motion is proposed alongside concerns over a lack of interest in this week’s OUSU by-elections, despite attempts of the executive to increase student participation.
Two of the positions failed to attract a single nominee and four were uncontested.
Concerning the lack of candidates for some part-time positions on the executive, Iwu admitted, “In an ideal world we’d have people for those positions. We’re going to try hard to get people to run and advertise them again.”
He said apathy towards elected positions does not indicate any apathy towards OUSU as a wider student body. “When we assess people’s interest in OUSU the elections are just one small part of that. You’ve got to look at it as a whole and consider RAG, Target Schools and our grassroots campaign.”
OUSU Returning Officer Madeline Stanley said, “OUSU is stepping up its publicity in general and also seeing increased support and involvement from students not
necessarily on the executive.” She argued that by-elections for the part time executive would inevitably attract less interest than sabbatical elections, and stressed that OUSU had “just had some highly visible statutory elections for sabbatical officers which really engaged the student body with huge numbers of activists and voters.”
The lack of competition for the part-time vacancies means that only the only real competition in this week’s by-election was for the position of Academic Affairs Campaign Officer. The positions of Community Outreach & Charities Officer, Students with Disabilities Officer and Graduate Welfare Officer only had one
OUSU were unable to find a single candidate for the positions of Black and Minority Ethnic Students’ and Anti-Racism Officer, Mature Students Officer or LGBTQ Officer.