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OUCA President resigns following two disciplinary complaints

Peter Walker has resigned as president of the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA), officially citing “personal reasons following the stress to his mental health caused by the last two terms.” Cherwell can reveal that this occurred whilst a second disciplinary complaint was being made against Walker, which has since been withdrawn following his resignation. 

Walker was previously found guilty by OUCA’s Disciplinary Committee (DC) at the end of June for violating Rule 5(1)(a)(iii) by using “sexist language at a meeting of the Association.” OUCA confirmed to Cherwell that the particular instance upon which Walker was found guilty referred to him describing a woman in the Association as a “bitch”. 

As a result of Walker’s “unacceptable language”, the DC passed a Motion of Censure against him. Walker was admonished “to offer an apology to those to whom he has caused offence, and to consider his language more carefully in future.” The topic of the second disciplinary complaint is unknown. 

Walker told Cherwell: “In June at our Termly General Meeting, I misdelivered a joke using a different word than the one I had prepared. It is an error which I am deeply regretful of and I have since apologised profusely in private to the person it offended and in public at a subsequent meeting of council. 

“This action fell short of my personal standards and those that ought to be expected of a president and I was subsequently given a ‘motion of censure’, the lowest sanction that the Disciplinary Committee can hand out.”

Walker further explained to Cherwell that he offered to resign both before and after the disciplinary proceedings, but “was persuaded against doing so by senior officers of the association on the basis that this was not what the complaint wanted and was an excessive response.” 

He also stated that the disciplinary issues weren’t the cause of his resignation: “I had planned this before the recent disciplinary complaint, in which I would be more than happy to prove my innocence.” He cited the “combination of stress” following last term’s constitutional and electoral crises, alongside personal traumatic events, as the reason for his resignation.

An ex-committee member who has held several senior positions told Cherwell: “In my view, the Association has done a poor job as of late at adjudicating complaints from women members about the way they are treated by the predominantly male membership. 

“Legitimate complaints of sexist language and behaviour have not been taken seriously by the internal disciplinary procedures, and I am aware that a number of women members feel this has created a toxic and hostile environment for women in the Association.”

Franek Bednarski, who has taken over as Acting President following Walker’s resignation, told Cherwell that he is “saddened and distressed by the senior ex-committee member’s experience, and plan[s] to do everything possible over the next few weeks to further improve safeguarding and women’s safety within the Association.”

He added that OUCA “takes all accusations of sexist language, toxic or hostile behaviour very seriously.”

A special subcommittee on Safeguarding and Women’s Safety has also been called.

OUCA’s former Women’s Officer previously posted a statement on social media on 17 August, saying that she cannot “in good conscious [sic] recommend more women, especially freshers, join what [OUCA] is now.” She added: “I am frankly ashamed. University has desensitised me to behaviour that would be unacceptable in the world of work.”

In response to this, OUCA told Cherwell that successive Women’s Officers have “made OUCA a much more welcoming place for women”, and encouraged “all freshers, especially women” to participate in OUCA.

The current Women’s Officer, Suzy Elliott, told Cherwell: “It’s good for the association that Peter Walker has resigned.” She noted that the current committee “all want OUCA to be a place where women feel respected and I am confident that this will be able to take place.” 

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