VONC for YUSU Prez as Policy Process Stopped

  • VONCs submitted for the President AND the Policy Co-ordinator

  • “Blatant Disregard” for Remembrance Day as Commemoration motion halted

  • “how can RON lose the next election?” Students outraged as their voices are silenced again

  • “Integrity of the process is my priority”: Urquhart’s response

A vote of no confidence has been submitted against both the YUSU President and the Policy Co-ordinator in an extraordinary sequence of events on Tuesday evening which left yet another policy cycle suspended and students furious.

Vision understands that YUSU Prez Alex Urquhart made the shock decision to cancel the policy cycle following allegations that the policy co-ordinator Josh Mackenzie had broken bye-laws by being a signatory to a student media group (Mackenzie is currently the managing director of Vision), that led to a VONC proposal against Mackenzie. Although he did not detail the nature of the complaint, Urquhart stated on his public Facebook page that he was “not confident that the process can be run fairly, or in the best interests of student members while a complaint of this nature remains outstanding… the integrity of the process is my absolute priority and is something I will not compromise under any circumstances.”

By halting the process so soon to his departure, Urquhart is unlikely to have to face the considerable anger of an already disillusioned student body, leading to renewed outrage over the lack of YUSU’s accountability.

After the policy process was suspended, Mackenzie made a statement questioning Urquhart’s actions:

“It is the view of the Policy Coordinator that this represents overreach and misinterpretation of the clause. The Policy Coordinator believes that this clause is clearly intended for determining the structure of the process, and not meant to provide the president with a veto.

The bylaws explicitly oblige the Policy Coordinator to inform student members of YUSU and ‘the media’ should they believe that officers are not acting in the best interests of the Union, or that the Policy Process is not being carried out fairly.

Under this obligation, it is the view of the Policy Coordinator that the cancellation of this process constitutes such”

By halting the policy process, no student-submitted policies will be able to be discussed or passed, meaning 45 motions will be ignored by YUSU for another policy cycle. Many of the policy’s submitted affect marginalised groups on campus, while others are time-sensitive: given that the university has failed to provide an alternative way for policies to be passed, it is likely that no policy will be passed until the next term.

Students have reacted furiously to the news. Huw James, who proposed a motion to recognise the centenary of the First World War, submitted a Vote of No confidence in Urqhart this morning because of his “grossly unprofessional” actions in halting the policy process. In a statement, James expressed a wish to hold YUSU to account for their failings over policy: “6 Months of policy, have been ignored by what’s now the second of policy processes to fall through… what we see here is complete silencing of the student voice at YUSU. The highest officer should be held account.”

The VONC of Urquhart has already seen some support by outraged students and societies, many of whom already critical of YUSU’s commitment to student democracy. Voices from all three of the major political societies at the university have supported for the VONC. The York Tories have expressed strong support of the measures:

“York Tories are shocked at the decision made by YUSU president Alex Urquhart to suspend the policy-making process. This decision seems to be a massive overreaction and has the appearance of a YUSU president trying to exercise their powers before they leave office. We believe that this decision was as the result of a personally motivated and vexatious complaint against a YUSU officer and did not call for the suspension of another policy cycle. We are aware of a proposed vote of no confidence in the leadership of Alex Urquhart, and as a committee we support it. However, given that his term of office ends on Friday, we think that he was aware he was immune to any scrutiny procedures.”

Jack Galea, Co-chair of the Labour Club joined the Tories in expressing anger over the dramatic actions of the Sabbatical Team, stating that “I offer my full support to Josh Mackenzie… and support any calls for a vote of no confidence or censure in the 2017/18 sabbatical team should this policy cycle not occur. This event is evident of the fact that York is exceptional among universities in that the policy process works for sabbs not students and it is urgent that the policy process is reformed so that it works for the latter”.

The University of York Liberal Democrats also had strong words for Urquhart, writing that “the President has overstepped their remit to cancel the Policy Process with what seems incredibly poor justification. There has been an inconsistent application of authority derived from what is clearly inappropriate regulation that is outdated and already due to be amended regardless.

The justification given seems all the more invalid when it could have been, but wasn’t, used against previous officers. It leads to only one of two conclusions: that this is a personal attack on the current Policy Officer from the President; that the President is seeking to veto current proposed policy from consideration. Either way the decision made is undemocratic, hurts student life on this campus and is not acceptable conduct from a president…They have broken student trust undermined our campus democracy and damaged student life for the coming year.”

This latest event has only intensified popular disillusionment with YUSU, which led to RON coming second in the Presidential election this year. Jacob Groet, secretary if the York Tories, blasted the student’s union: “The YUSU hierarchy can, on many occasions, be convoluted and overly complex. Today’s outcome is indeed one of these occasions…With such farces as these, how can RON lose the next election?”

Particular anger has focused on the fact that a policy proposal to commemorate the centenary of the First World War will now be ignored, and with Armistice Day approaching next term the Student’s Union still has not responded to demands to recognise the fallen. As there was also no commemoration last year, many share the strong sentiments of the Liberal Democrats, who blasted YUSU for showing “Blatant disregard” for the centenary.

In a statement responding to the VONC, Urquhart wrote “’I respect the processes of the Union that allow students to take issue with my actions. My decision to suspend the policy process was made with a heavy heart but I stand by it completely. As President, I am responsible for this process to be conducted fairly and am I not satisfied that this is currently possible. I appreciate the effort taken by students and the importance of some of the policies, it is a frustrating position for me too, but the integrity of the process is my priority. I look forward to the investigation relating to the Motion of No Confidence proposed against me, and will respect and adhere to any conclusions made.”

As Urquhart’s Presidency comes to an end this term it is unlikely that the motion to unseat him will be heard in time to have any effect, but this latest episode serves as a potent symbol that the YUSU’s problems with democracy haven’t gone away.