If We Actually Want Union Transparency, We All Need to Work Harder

Harry Clay

The idea of having more transparency with YUSU is maybe the single oldest idea that any student politician could think of.

Every election has the ‘T word’ thrown around like flotsam in the sea, and much like useless debris, it clogs everything up, but always amounts to very little. It sounds important, sure, who wouldn’t want to vote for the candidate who promises more clarity between students and their Union, but all officers are limited in their power by the constraints of legal entities and the structures they exist in.

Now the Jones dynasty of Sabbs is coming to a close, can we identify much expansion to transparency? It must be important – it was Samara’s first manifesto point – but I can’t see much different from years prior, and I think I know why.

If we actually want transparency, we need some harder work put in by all players on all sides, starting with our beloved Union. When it was brought up that the various YUSU subcommittees didn’t have their minutes published as the Articles of Association suggest they should, Samara and an unnamed YUSU staff member suggested that fulfilling this task wouldn’t be good value for money, and that their auditors have never suggested this as a problem.

Well I have to disagree here. Ensuring a transparent Union requires all manner of things, but the right mindset must be in place first. This mindset shouldn’t be finding excuses not to reveal information that, on my reading, should be public anyway. Disagree with me? Read the articles yourself. It’s publicly available on their website, and if you end up agreeing, write in to your new Sabb team as they come in. However, I’m more than aware that most students aren’t particularly interested in engaging with the YUSU bubble, and there lies the next major issue.

Students really do have to get off their arses if they actually want change. I’m not talking about people who already work hard, or have raised their complaints, but the ones who find little better to do that to complain about YUSU on Yorfess. I’ve written loads of criticism about YUSU, and I will happily write more, but only because I know that people in YUSU will read them, and maybe their minds can be changed on issues. How does the average Yorfess poster assume they’ll actually make a difference I don’t know, and perhaps again there is a disagreement in mindset. Maybe it is mindless speculation, but perhaps the average Yorfess poster doesn’t care about making a difference. Who knows. All I know is, they’re clearly not doing enough.

YUSU released its COVID-19 Forum this term, an opportunity for any hard student issue to be raised right to the Sabbs. So far, there have been a grand total of… 20 posts. A quarter of these where by the same person who just happens to be the Policy Coordinator (thanks to their newly extended term). If students really want to see a difference, they really want to see changes or raise complaints, they’ve really got to engage with the presented forums and systems first. By completely rejecting the established system in the first instance, students who have issues with their Union delegitimise themselves and their complaints, which is a terrible shame. But the story doesn’t end there, and the power for causing change doesn’t end with just students. Our student media outlets need to put more energy in.

At the last YUSU AGM, there were very few members of student media present, and although there was near to 50 in attendance at one point, the actual question period at the end was shorter than allotted because only a half dozen questions came in. As all senior members of YUSU media are taught in their legal training, anything said in this open meeting can be reported on via qualified privilege, but few took the chance to actually engage.

Even more annoying is that this was the largest attendance I’ve seen from my time at the University having attended two prior YUSU AGMs. If media want more access and more information have to be pushing at every opportunity, take every chance, and dig under every stone. It took remarkably little looking to figure out that YUSU weren’t following their own governing documents when it came to publishing Trustee Board minutes (which has now thankfully been rectified), but why on earth did I find this when looking for someone else? There are loads of great news outlets on campus, and none of them seem to have picked up on publicly available information.

If we want and expect transparency, everyone involved in the YUSU process needs to work harder. Media need to be showing up to more YUSU events, and reporting on what’s going on. This should include the massive changes happening to the YUSU policy process that so far, has got 0 attention. Students need to actively engage with the forums presented to us. How can we be honest about a desire for change, but not use any of the tools to make that change happen. I could find an argument to say that the tools aren’t right reasonable, but they need to prove that by using the tools first. And as a final point, YUSU needs to take the bull by the horns rather than search for excuses, and should have done as soon as any elected officer scrawled “transparency” in their manifesto.

For a start, I would call for all minutes of meetings that trustees attend to be published on the YUSU website. By YUSU’s rules, they have to be made in the first place, publishing them would create a significant bridge of trust between YUSU and the students it represents. This would be easy, and simple, but it’s only a start. To see real change, there needs to be a change in the culture of how YUSU, its media outlets, and York students all see each other.

Until YUSU is fully updating its media by default, media groups are putting in the work to actually find things, and students utilise the processes put to them, the wait for transparency will go on.