Members of the Oxford Union, including librarian Charlie Mackintosh, made official complaints accusing Trinity Term President Michael-Akolade Ayodeji of bullying and sexism, following a week of controversies over a debate and a fashion show. Ayodeji is currently also president-elect of the Oxford Student Union.
Issues were raised in the chamber following the President’s rescindment of a speech on the debate “This House Believes The Raj Lives On”. Disha Hegde, a member of the Standing Committee, made a Facebook post on Thursday morning saying that Ayodeji had visited her the night before to tell her that she would not be speaking in the debate, with no reason given.
Hegde wrote: “This debate meant a lot to me, as an opportunity to talk about my country and my culture in such a historic debate. Before she passed away, my grandma and I used to watch videos of the Oxford Union debates together. I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to tell my mum who was coming down to Oxford with my Grandma’s sari for me to wear.”
Hegde continued: “While I do think the way I’ve been treated is symptomatic of a larger problem of the culture at the Union, I won’t get on to that right now.”
Two members, Librarian Charlie Mackintosh and Secretary’s Committee member Joe Murray announced their intention to raise questions over Ayodeji’s conduct at the Public Business Meeting (PBM), scheduled to take place before the debate.
This follows a schism within the Union over a planned fashion show; several members of the committee, including the Chief of Staff, Chloe Glynn, and the Chair of the Consultative Committee, Alex Fish, registered complaints over the event. They cited some committee members’ discomfort at being expected to work at the show, as they believed the Union was “not a safe space for women”. Though these concerns were expressed to Ayodeji and Secretary Anvee Bhutani, the event will still go on this Saturday.
There was commotion after Ayodeji made the decision to postpone the PBM to after the debate – a move which is conventionally followed by a public vote. Murray stood to ask “on what ground?” after which the president continued without acknowledging the opposition.
After this, Hegde stood, saying “‘You are suppressing a member’s right to speak”. Ayodeji appeared unfazed, after which Dhruv Sengupta, another member present, stood to say “‘you can laugh all you want, you can either take it to a vote or ignore the rules of democracy.”
Following this fracas, about 40 members in the chamber stood and left. A member of the Union’s committee described it as a “shitshow”. Another member in attendance told Cherwell that “I’m sickened to have voted for a president of a debating society who doesn’t want to facilitate good debate. He’s a twat.”
Once the debate ended and the PBM started, the atmosphere in the chamber quickly became hostile. Mackintosh, the librarian – the second most senior post in the organisation – rose to stand opposite Ayodeji at the dispatch box. He began his questioning by asking the president to explain the postponement of the PBM. Ayodeji initially refused to answer, but when pressed – with Mackintosh citing how two other notices had been read out – he explained it as a matter of courtesy to the invited guests.
Ayodeji denied Mackintosh’s claim that three separate individuals had had opportunities to speak rescinded. Mackintosh then asked whether the rescindment of Hegde’s invitation was fair, given that it took place fewer than 24 hours before the debate, to which members of her family intended to travel. Ayodeji responded that he had offered her an opportunity to take part in a floor speech,a privilege open to all members.
Mackintosh asked whether it was true that he had “reduced female members of committee to tears on several occasions”. Ayodeji responded: “As we both know, I work very hard to make the Union and the University an inclusive space.” Mackintosh didn’t accept this, asking: “Then why did I have to sit at 1AM today comforting a crying member of committee due to the manner in which you spoke to them?”. Ayodeji simply replied “I don’t know.”
Mackintosh ended his questioning by addressing the audience, saying “I think the questions and the answers this evening speak for themselves.”
Joe Murray, a member of the Secretary’s Committee, continued Mackintosh’s line of questioning, asking whether it was true that multiple people have threatened to resign over Ayodeji’s treatment of them. Ayodeji refused to comment on the “various reasons as to why people want to step away from the Union.”
Murray asked “In light of the events that have unfolded, which are a great embarrassment, do you think that you should resign?” Ayodeji retorted, “I do not.”
Joe Murray told Cherwell that he brought his questions to the chamber “as a public business meeting, because too many in the Union do not feel heard. I am doing this on behalf of them. Accountability is crucial in any student society, and I seek to uphold that in the Union.”
As events came to a close, with members in the chamber well after midnight following over two hours of infighting and hostility, the Deputy Returning Officer addressed Mackintosh, asking a question sure to cut to the core of the Union’s internal politics: “are there more members here to watch the Public Business Meeting than the debate which just happened?”
Michael-Akolade Ayodeji, Anvee Bhutani, Disha Hegde, and Charlie Mackintosh have been approached for comment. This article will be updated to reflect their responses.
Image Credit: Nato via flickr.com
This article amended an issue pertaining to the fashion show at 13:46 03/06/22