Following a referendum carried out last term to disaffiliate from OUSU, Oriel College JCR has confirmed today their decision to break ties with the central Student Union.
This decision follows a long-lasting dispute over the JCR’s constitution after a motion was passed to sever links with OUSU last term. In the referendum, 76 out of 125 voters were in favour of disaffiliating from OUSU, with 37 against and 12 abstaining. But with only 60.8 per cent of the vote, the motion did not achieve the two-thirds majority necessary and was pronounced to have failed. However, issues were raised at the time concerning the validity of abstentions in such a vote.
In a motion passed last Sunday, the JCR appointed an independent adjudicator, Dr Paul Yowell, a Law tutor at Oriel who specialises in constitutional law, who was to produce a report on the referendum, which was to be binding. The JCR meeting also passed a motion to explore a more general constitutional revision. The fellow is thought to have presented his report this week, only one week after he was tasked with the job, validating the motion and thus confirming Oriel’s break with OUSU.
In a joint statement, the Oriel JCR President and Vice President last week said, “There were procedural issues stemming from a lack of concrete guidance in the JCR constitution, from which we are keen to move on in a constructive manner. In order to do so the JCR has asked an independent adjudicator to review the referendum and provide suggestions, which the JCR has agreed to accept as binding.”
Chief among the reasons for the decision to disaffiliate are the financial costs of running a student union which is preceived as providing little returns to the Oriel student body.
In an email sent to Oriel students on Sunday Night, Ianthe Greenwood, Oriel JCR President confirmed that “the motion to disaffiliate from OUSU for the remainder of the academic year passes”.
The email also included an explanation by Dr Paul Yowell, the independent adjudicator, highlighting his position, “The relevant provision in the JCR Constitution, provides: ‘Any referendum must be passed by a two thirds majority of all those voting in the same referendum’. It is my opinion that this language refers only to those who cast a vote either in favour of or against a referendum, and that the phrase ‘all those voting’ does not include someone who indicates the intention to abstain from voting. Thus, in deciding the outcome of a referendum vote, abstentions should not be counted as part of the total votes cast for determining whether the requirement of a two thirds majority is met.”
A second-year undergraduate at Oriel who seconded the original motion to propose a referendum told Cherwell, “It’s an unspoken fact that we all know OUSU is dominated by certain political cliques who use petty factional politics to further their own ends. I’m surprised they think they’re fooling anyone when these people claim its legitimate democracy, or that we can change anything from participation, as you will just be shot down. They can do this all they want, but not in our JCR’s name.”
OUSU President, Tom Rutland, was quick to point out last week that even if Oriel chooses to break links with OUSU, individual students remain affiliated with OUSU regardless of their JCR or MCR’s affiliation status.
“The common room affiliation model is largely outdated, and is a leftover of the age where OUSU was funded primarily by common room affiliation fees. These days, disaffiliation only results in that common room losing their votes at OUSU Council – thus silencing their members,” Rutland said.
“Given that OUSU Council’s voting membership is almost entirely made up of JCR and MCR representatives, the best way to effect a change in policy is to stay affiliated and have your members’ voices count at OUSU Council.”
Trinity is currently the only college disaffiliated from OUSU. Stuart Sander, JCR President at Trinity commented, “Trinity disaffiliated in 2007, during a period which saw a spate of OUSU disaffiliations. Following funding reforms which meant that OUSU affiliation did not directly cost JCRs money most of the disaffiliated colleges trickled back, so for the last few years Trinity has been the only disaffiliated JCR.”
Trinity hold a referendum each year on whether to re-affiliate, and last Trinity term the JCR voted overwhelmingly to remain separate from OUSU.