Student council return from winter hiatus

Newcastle University Campus.
Image: Wikimedia Commons, Sarah Cossom.Newcastle University Campus. Image: Wikimedia Commons, Sarah Cossom.

Last Thursday, I once again had the pleasure of chairing the Students’ Union Council for the first time since December. You may remember from my last write-up that the last council of Semester 1 ended on a high – all motions passed and we followed the meeting with a lovely little party in Mens Bar. For that reason, I had high hopes for the first council of the new year and certainly was not disappointed.

This council saw the largest number of motions this academic year – we had a whopping twelve to get through, ranging from topics such as NUSU’s position on the TEF to the Freedom City celebrations. This was also the first time I could enjoy some of the proceedings from the audience, as the Students’ Union AGM took place at the beginning of last week’s council. Leaving my gavel in the capable hands of President Jack Taylor, I was able to enjoy my free Domino’s in a much less rushed manner than usual! The AGM ran smoothly, and we approved the Sabbatical Officers’ appointment as Trustees, reviewed NUSU’s annual accounts as well as receiving the 2015/16 NUSU Impact Report.

After the AGM, I took my chair once more to kick off proceedings. We had a couple of business motions to get through at the beginning, correcting an error in the Community Executive Committee and approving NUSU’s affiliated organisations, which passed with ease.

Our first debate came from Andrew Lister, President of Mind the Gap, who proposed a motion to introduce a Part Time Officer to represent students with mental health difficulties. He made an impassioned proposition, citing his own experiences noting that the current support for students with mental health difficulties simply was not adequate. The main voice against this motion was Jack Taylor’s, who made it clear that he supported the need for increased support but stressed that creating a new PTO was not the best way forward. As this was a constitutional motion, it needed support from two thirds of the voting body – whilst it did achieve a vote of more than 50% in favour, the motion ultimately did not pass as it did not reach this 67% threshold.

Next up was Education Officer Chris Duddy, amending NUSU’s current regulations on referenda. His motion would introduce a quorum of 5% in order to make a referendum result binding, although he noted that the Trustee Board would be able to use its discretion for referenda with strong majorities that did not reach this benchmark. Additionally, referenda of “materially similar” subject matters would be limited to once per academic year. Secretary of the Labour Society, Benj Eckford, spoke resolutely against the motion, stating that a quorum of 5% simply was not high enough to aim for. Despite this, the motion still received a two-thirds majority and was the first constitutional motion to pass that evening.

A third and final constitutional motion followed, to change the name of TCTV to NUTV, in line with NSR (Newcastle Student Radio). Proposer Haaris Qureshi wanted to make sure that NUTV was distinct from the TV section of the Courier (known as ‘The Courier TV’) and hoped that the rebrand would bring more viewers. Incidentally, this council was also the first time that we were livestreamed, also by NUTV. The motion had plenty of support and passed easily.

Following this came a host of ordinary motions, which only require a simple majority of 50% to pass. The first of these was proposed by Holly Waddell, Student Parents, Guardians and Carers Officer, to improve the support that student carers would receive from the University. With a huge majority in favour of 94%, Holly’s motion passed much to the delight of her fellow PTOs. Chris Duddy took to the lectern once more to propose a motion clarifying NUSU’s position on the TEF – NUSU would stand against the rise in fees but did not support a boycott of the NSS, the main action proposed by the NUS. This motion also received a majority vote in favour, with Chris making it clear that individuals could boycott the NSS if they wished.

Council first-timer Summer Oxlade, President of Newcastle Student Action for Refugees (STAR) was up next, and she proposed a motion in support of at least two scholarships for asylum seekers. This motion received resounding support, despite suggestions that money could be better spent elsewhere, and was the next to pass.

David Göz, School Representative for Architecture, Planning and Landscape, next delivered his motion to suggest that information regarding the usage of printer credits should be made available to all, and that Schools should raise the base level of free print credit if their students were consistently having to purchase more. It was made clear in the debate that free print credits shouldn’t increase too much for sustainability reasons, though David suggested that the information could be used to set targets to reduce printing in each School. This seemed to satisfy most people and this motion passed too.

The next motion was delayed slightly by an administrative error, so we skipped forward to Ethics & Environment Rep Rebecca D’Andrea’s motion requesting that NUSU support students in organising their own events for Freedom City 2017. Racial Equality Officer Safiya Robinson, who is also President of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Network, made a point against the motion stating that the type of events Rebecca was requesting were already provided on a fortnightly basis by her society. Despite this, the motion was still carried forward.

The penultimate motion had the closest result of the evening – one student wanted to introduce mortarboards to our graduate dress. Newcastle graduates traditionally go without an academic cap, supposedly because they were thrown in the river when the University split with Durham. The proposer felt that graduation was incomplete without the mortarboard, but, despite attempts to amend the motion to include bespoke Newcastle-designed caps, Council decided to stick with local tradition and the motion failed.

Finally, Cara Brooke proposed a motion which mandated NUSU to express that the University’s values were being compromised by investing in the arms trade whilst celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. She stressed that she knew divestment may not be possible at this stage, but wanted us to make it clear that this was hypocritical. Council agreed with her, and the final motion of the night was passed – without hitting the guillotine!

NUSU Council will convene again for the last time before Easter on Thursday 16th March, from 5:15pm in the History Room.

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