Well, we tried

“If you missed it, last week we expressed concern about the Senate-appointed directors voting in the election of the USU executive. It frightens us that the vote of these directors, neither elected nor students, could swing a close election. We think this would be anti-democratic: taking control of the student union out of student hands.”

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Letter from the USU Board

We write in response to an article published in last week’s edition titled, “The Democratic Deficit”. 

The University of Sydney Union Board is comprised of 11 Directors elected by popular student vote, 2 Senate-appointed Directors and the Immediate Past President of the Union. In the past, the Union Board has sought suitable candidates to fill vacancies for the 2 Senate-appointed Directors. Candidates are selected on merit, experience and independence. 

The assertion that these 2 Senate-appointed Directors wield “disproportionate influence over the direction of the USU” is a spurious claim at best. Senate-appointed Directors play a commensurate, rather than disproportionate, role on the Union Board. They are bound by the same Constitution, Regulations, Duty Statements, fiduciary duties and legal liability as other members of the Board. 

The article included a contract addressed to 6 Directors regarding the role of Senate-appointed Directors in upcoming Executive Elections. 

Restrictions on the voting rights of Board Directors are contained in 7.4 of the USU Constitution. There are several avenues open to members seeking to make alterations to the Constitution. (1) A resolution passed by a two-thirds majority of Members present and voting at the Annual General Meeting; (2) a resolution passed by a two-thirds majority of Members present and voting at a General Meeting, or; (3) a resolution passed by a simple majority of at least 4,000 Members voting in a referendum. 

Though a Big Mac would have been nice, in the interests of an informed readership we would appreciate Honi Soit publishing these democratic avenues open to USU members.
We also hope that in future, editors and reporters of this paper seek comment from the Board when naming individual directors. 

As always, the Board welcomes and encourages member feedback. This can be directed to the President’s email (h.morris@usu.usyd.edu.au), or to the Board directly at our monthly members forums. 

Yours (non)contractually, 

Board Directors
University of Sydney Union 

Editorial response

We want to thank the Board Directors for their letter and for engaging in public debate about the way that our student union is run. It is a debate not about the use of power in an abstract way, but about how best a student organisation worth $22m annually can spend that wealth to enrich the student experience at this university.

If you missed it, last week we expressed concern about the Senate-appointed directors voting in the election of the USU executive. It frightens us that the vote of these directors, neither elected nor students, could swing a close election. We think this would be anti-democratic: taking control of the student union out of student hands.

Our student directors, in their letter above, seek to shirk responsibility for ensuring that the student union is student-run.

They advise us to turn up to the USU AGM in with some like-minded mates, or get 4000 of our mates to vote in a referendum. These avenues are important, but in almost every other decision that the Union makes we trust our elected representatives to act on our behalf.

In voting for them, we determined that they would serve our interests. In electing them, we decided that we wanted them to be in the room on our behalf, calling the shots for the Union that we pay for the pleasure of being a part of.

They are right to remind us of the avenues that exist for us to change the constitution. But they should not be blind to the easiest avenue available: to use the power we gave them to act in the student interest.

They are correct that section 7.4 of the USU Constitution puts restrictions on the voting rights of Board Directors. This section merely prevents the CEO and the Immediate Past President from voting in executive elections. That section does not compel the directors to seek the votes of the unelected colleagues who sit beside them on Board, nor even does the section stop them from asking those unelected colleagues not to vote in the election. The Constitution gives the unelected directors the power to vote; it says nothing of the conversations that can be had between elected and unelected directors.

We certainly could try and stack out the AGM at the end of the year and demand constitutional change. We hope, however, that we won’t need to; we hope that we can trust that the people we elected to represent us will fight for a student-run student union.

We’re also kind of worried we don’t have enough mates. Please don’t pass the buck on this one.

Vice Chancellor Michael Spence.

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