THE UNIVERSITY PROCTORS have refused to announce whether there are any results from the Student Disciplinary Panel’s (SDP) investigation into the “serious irregularities” discovered in May’s OUSU referendum on its affiliation to the National Union of Students (NUS).
The University’s regulations state, “No complaint made by the Proctors shall be heard by the Student Disciplinary Panel more than six months after the date of the first interview, unless the Chairman or ViceChairman sitting on that occasion decides at his or her discretion to allow the complaint to be heard on the grounds that there is good cause for the delay.” Cherwell understands that it has now been more than six months since the complaint was made and interviews began.
OUSU President Louis Trup told Cherwell, “It has been a long time since the NUS referendum, and I am frustrated with the lack of response from the Proctors on the issue. On many occasions I have asked the Proctors for more information about the current status of the investigation, but they have not told me anything. I understand that if the Proctors do make a decision, this will not be made public, which for me is a highly frustrating element to the way in which they operate. This concern can now be voiced by OUSU officers, as we have this year managed to get OUSU representation on the university committee which oversees the work of the Proctors’ Office.
“I have made it clear at many OUSU Council meetings that if the investigation finds that individuals engaged in electoral malpractice, then I believe they should be held accountable for their actions.
“OUSU has adopted a new voting system to ensure that any future referendum or election cannot be manipulated in the same way.”
A University spokesperson responded, saying, “The subjects and outcomes of all Proctors’ investigations are confidential and are not made public.”
A Junior Tribunal declared the referendum, which was held to determine whether or not OUSU should remain affiliated to the NUS, void on Monday 26th May 2014. This was after the leader of the campaign to disaffiliate, Jack Matthews, highlighted misuse of the Unique Voter Codes (UVCs) issued for the online voting system mi-vote.com in an official complaint. Matthews declined to comment when Cherwell approached him on the expiration of his complaint.
It was reported at the time that over 1,000 extra voter codes were used to cast votes for ‘Believe In Oxford’, supposedly all from the same location.
Last year’s OUSU President Tom Rutland, who was in charge of the student union at the time of the referendum and led the ‘Yes to NUS’ campaign, told Cherwell, “It’s frustrating that the University hasn’t publicly said anything since it was referred to them. Students deserve to know the outcome of the investigation into evidence that the vote was intentionally sabotaged.”
Last May, following the announcement of the referendum being declared void, Jack Matthews said to Cherwell, “I welcome the result of the Junior Tribunal – it is absolutely right that the entire Referendum has been voided.
“We must now wait for a response from other investigations which will seek to discover who perpetrated this crime.”
Other students also expressed their frustation at the lack of news.
Third year Hilda’s student Helena Dollimore said, “Either the University is incompetent and hasn’t managed to work out how the referendum was fiddled and which IP address was responsible, or they’re deliberately keeping the results of the investigation secret. If the latter, it sends out completely the wrong message for a university to effectively not punish serious electoral fraud, which gets you jail time in the real world.”
Louis Trup, who was then OUSU Presidentelect, remarked at the time, “I am genuinely shocked to hear of the electoral malpractice that has led to the results of the NUS referendum being declared void. It’s obviously a terrible thing to happen, but I just can’t really believe anybody cared enough to go to the trouble of sending off so many votes.”
Rutland took a motion to OUSU Council in 7th Week of Trinity last year to reaffiliate to the NUS after the news that the referendum had been tampered with was revealed to the general student population. OUSU then decided to vote through his motion.
The Oxford University Student Handbook reveals that the Student Disciplinary Panel, the University body to which the case was referred, can punish those who break regulations in several different ways. The body can issue punishments ranging from “a fine of any size” to rusticating students for “whatever period of time it [the SDC] thinks fit” or even expulsion from membership of the University.
Second year chemist Harry Bush told Cherwell, “The actual NUS referendum sort of passed me by really, although my friends talked about the fact it might have been rigged quite a lot. It does seem a bit bizarre that we haven’t been told anything about what’s been happening since the investigation was launched.”
Another student said they hoped “the entire University would be informed of the developments soon.”
The student conduct section of the University regulations makes clear that complaints of this nature are supposed to be dealt with in full confidentiality.
The same section also maintains, “All those who are involved in procedures for investigating an allegation, including witnesses, representatives, and persons providing evidence and/or advice, have a duty to maintain confidentiality.”
It is unknown if any actions have been taken towards any students and whether any more information will be made public.