Last Thursday the USU held a Members Forum to discuss several contentious issues, including a recent flyer distributed by the society LifeChoice about the abortion drug RU486 and potential problems with funding grants recently given by the USU to Board candidates. Despite providing a woefully inadequate amount of refreshments and advertising the forum location in a room already booked, the Board should be congratulated for putting on this event. There are few ways for interested students to engage with the Board and any new avenues are definitely welcome.
Nothing said at the meeting was binding but the directors had a chance to clearly state the Union’s plans for the immediate future. Near the top of the agenda was universal ACCESS, a staple campaign promise for USU Board candidates since time immemorial. USU President Astha Rajvanshi said that since students must pay the Student Services and Amenities Fee regardless of whether they are a Union member or not, free ACCESS is now an even greater priority. Money from the SSAF cannot be put into the C&S program, as it cannot be used to fund activities the Union technically charges for. Other initiatives discussed included a single complaints gateway and a draft social responsibility policy which would, amongst other things, restrict the union’s ability to have business relationships with certain industries.
One issue with the forum was confusion over the exact function of the meeting. Some members criticised the alleged rorting of campaign grants and the distribution of LifeChoice’s RU486 pamphlet, only to be told that their complaints should be directed to the Returning Officer and the Clubs and Societies program respectively.
Another problem with the format was the rigidity of the speaking list. Although necessary in order to allow less confident members to contribute, the list fragmented discussion and did not allow for back-and-forth exchanges. Due to the list prioritising women, LifeChoice president Jade McLaughlin was at one point left speaking first when she had intended to respond to comments from other members. Rajvanshi sometimes struggled to maintain control, and some members seemed particularly unfamiliar with the notions of speaking time limits and a speaking order.
Despite these issues, the USU Members Forum is a fundamentally good idea. Attendance was only about 35, but if more forums are forthcoming hopefully a larger number of Union members will attend and actually have some clue as to what their Union is doing.