Friday, November 16, 2007

On the former ULU executive - in response to Ashley McAlister

Generally on this blog I've sought to avoid talking about what I've done (and haven't done) in students' unions over the years as I've tried to keep this on a different focus. However there was an article in the latest edition of London Student, the student newspaper for the University of London Union, which was brought to my attention by another former ULU Executive Officer which I feel merits a response.

Unfortunately the London Student website is currently offline, but for those with access to a paper copy the article is in the edition Volume 28 Issue 4 12th November, on page 4 and is headed "ULU's 'ghost' networks". The bulk of the short article is about the very low attendance at the "network" meetings ULU has launched as part of its new governance structure and which were billed as a way to get more students involved. I'll refrain from my general comments on the failures of the implementation of the governance review other than to say that all to often problems have arisen in ULU not because of rigid rules and structures but because of a lack of willpower to give the right sort of support needed for particular bodies, then using the first sign of failure as a justification to try and make a regulation change.

But what I do find offensive is the following part of the article:

ULU VP Education and Representation Ashley McAlister defends the change. "Networks were never suppose to replace exec because exec didn't work. It tended to be where misfits who couldn't get into their own college washed up at ULU's door." he told London Student.
Such a sweeping generalisation is false on many levels. Many of the final year's worth of Exec members most certainly had not been unsuccessful in students' union elections in their own colleges. Nor were they people who had "washed up" at ULU - they included three former ULU sabbatical officers, several incumbents and others who had shown strong interest in ULU throughout their time at the University.

During my time on the exec there were two variants of this point of criticism in circulation. One was a false version like the above, mainly pushed by a minority of college sabbaticals who'd had nothing to do with ULU before taking up their position and who seemed to think that because they held a full-time position that inherently made them some sort of Übermensch and their opinion was the only one that mattered.

The other wasn't targeted at Exec members but at ULU sabbaticals as some had previously unsuccessfully stood for election at their college, or else had nothing to do with their college's students' union and who got elected to ULU despite not having had anything to do with it before. But as I said this was not true of the non-sabbatical members I worked with.

In my opinion the single biggest reason why Exec didn't work in my final year was because there was limited will to give it support in some quarters. It did not help that just prior to taking office there had been an attempt to abolish the Exec, proposed by our year's President, on the given bases that "the proposed new Charity law requires it to be scrapped" when the law (now enacted) does not, and "it doesn't work" when it clearly had in previous years. She didn't even bother to try and explain her reasoning to the incoming Executive. It can be deeply discouraging to morale to try to do a position with such a vote of no-confidence from your fellows, although other problem that year were the main reason for my activity being far more limited than I would have liked.

Since Ashley McAlister was not involved in ULU at all that year prior to running for a sabbatical position I am uncertain as to where he got his flawed information from but I strongly refute it. The almost annual turnover of officers in students' unions invariably means that quite rapidly myths get generated and when such myths are attacking individuals and repeated in public they need to be challenged and corrected in public. Hence my writing this post.

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