OUSU’s Scrutiny Committee has criticised David J Townsend in a report expressing “serious concerns regarding the role and conduct of the President.”
The report, seen by Cherwell, reports that sabbatical officers felt Townsend had “often been aggressive and rude, and that this has caused a great deal of tension and stress for the team and for the permanent staff”. The report, chaired by Alexander Cibulskis, highlights “concerns …raised by the Sabbatical team about the way [Townsend] conducts himself”.
David J Townsend rebuffed the accusations, telling Cherwell that the report was, “not based on any rigorous gathering or examination of evidence, much less does it include any basic features of natural justice such as a right of reply. Accordingly, it holds no weight whatsoever as a factual judgment on any contested points – nor does it claim to.”
The Committee reports that the part-time executive, composed of Oxford students in OUSU’s smaller roles, thought that, “David Townsend has done a good job, provided a good public face to OUSU, and not been too dominating in OUSU Council meetings.”
However, criticism came from OUSU’s Vice-Presidents, who are on paid sabbatical roles. The report states that “valuable time of the Sabbatical Officers has been taken up in trying to manage these tensions between both David and the team… as well as keeping these tensions from affecting the work of the Part-Time Executive.”
It continues, “It has also been raised that the Sabbatical team are unsure what outcomes and achievements David has made in his projects over the course of the year, and that a lot of his work appears to have been delegated.”
In response Townsend referred to problems of clarity in the leadership structure of OUSU. “The truth of the matter is that there has been, for several years, a lingering question over whether there is a hierarchical or flat authority structure between the President and the Vice-Presidents… I have tried to come at it from the most objective point of view possible by obeying the constitutional rules set by students; in all good conscience I wouldn’t be able to draw a salary if I didn’t obey those rules, and the only reading they admit is that there are certain exclusive powers conveyed on the President.”
He continued, “I refute absolutely the suggestion of agression and rudeness, which is in my view unfair, unevidenced and inaccurate, although I can see that my translation from Honest Australian English into Indirect British English could probably use some work!”
Townsend also noted, “If there is any doubt of the success of my term of office, I believe my record speaks for itself.” Townsend argued that OUSU’s acheivments under his presidency – including “£100,000 extra for the Student Union”, “£300,000 saved for common rooms on Sky TV subscriptions” and “successfully campaigning to reduce the private housing stampede in Michaelmas” – demonstrated his success as President.
The Scrutiny Committee was established in Hilary 2010 to monitor the work of the OUSU Executive, and issues a termly report on OUSU’s work. Its conclusions are based on interviews with all OUSU committee members and people who have worked with them. The committee is chaired by Alexander Cibulskis, which also consisted of students James Blythe, Beth Hanson and Jack Matthews.
The scrutiny report will be presented publicly to OUSU Council tonight, when it will be read out by Cibulskis. It does not name which officers made the criticism: there are five Vice-Presidents who could have made the critical comments.
David J Townsend was elected in 2011, after defeating four rival candidates. He ran with the slogan, “real policies, real actions, real results”, with priorities including access, academic representation and rent.
In recent week OUSU has come under fire for a low turnout in the Divisional Board Representative Elections and paying its cleaner below the Living Wage that it publicly campaigns for.