A group of powerful people meet in secret. One of them makes allegations about your conduct. Without asking to hear your side of the story, the group passes judgement against you. You are not told about the decision. You are not even told about the meeting. When you happen to hear about it by chance, the president tells you the matter is closed and that there is no way to restore your good name.
Russia? China? Iran? St Andrews.
The above series of events, which happened not under some repressive regime but in our very own Union, serve to highlight the distance the Students’ Association has yet to cover when it comes to open and transparent operations.
Today’s revelations in The Saint have brought to light several problems that must be addressed. The first is that Courtney Lewis evidently acted inappropriately, using her position on the Students’ Association Executive Council (SAEC) to prevent Radim Dragomaca being awarded an Honorary Life Membership because of a disagreement over an internal Foreign Affairs Society matter.
She was wrong to do this. The FAS agrees: it censured her in May and sought to pass a vote of no confidence in October, finally triggering her resignation from its committee (she had previously narrowly survived such a vote in May). Now it is time for SAEC and the Association to acknowledge her actions and bring about appropriate consequences.
But even more concerning than Ms Lewis’ poor judgement is the way SAEC itself, a body comprised of the most powerful officers in the Union, handled the situation. Upon hearing the allegations against Mr Dragomaca it failed to ask either him or the FAS for their input. Talk of the Association’s laws aside, surely common sense should have prevailed – when is it ever just or fair to make decisions based on only one side of the argument?
Finally, it is clear that several of the Association’s policies must change. The guidance regarding conflicts of interest, which asks individuals to decide for themselves whether they should take part in a discussion or vote on a motion, has proven to be inadequate. The glaring conflict of interest that was Ms Lewis’ involvement in the FAS should have prevented her from ever commenting on the matter of Mr Dragomaca’s award. On the societies committee, which Ms Lewis chairs in her capacity as societies officer, there are strict rules to prevent members unfairly influencing votes on societies to which they belong. The rest of the Association could benefit from similar regulation.
The use of in camera proceedings is also cause for concern. Although they are undoubtedly necessary for disciplinary hearings or where information is legitimately sensitive (such as involvement in Nightline), Mr Dragomaca is correct when he says they are about protecting the accuser as much as the accused. The secretive nature of in camera meetings has prevented many individuals from commenting for our article. We hope it will not prevent a proper debate being held about the actions of Ms Lewis and SAEC.
No one can deny the improvements the Union has made over the past year. Agendas and minutes are now published on time and widely circulated. The opportunity to speak in the open forum at the start of meetings is well advertised, as is the ability to gather signatures and petition our representatives. It is a shame that the Union’s credibility, which it has worked hard to build up, has now been damaged. But it is not lost. By holding an open discussion about the problems exposed today and showing that everyone is responsible for their actions, the Union can show that it is still committed to opposing privileged regimes – not emulating them.
- This article originally stated that the FAS passed a vote of no confidence in Ms Lewis. In fact they only sought to, as she resigned before it could take place.