Student councils accused of “betrayal” as the petition to remove term limits fails

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Proposals to remove term limits for student councils members have been struck down during the latest joint meeting of the Student Services Council (SSC) and Students Representative Council (SRC).

The proposals were defeated by both bodies, with the SSC voting 8 to 10 against the motion and the SRC voting 6 to 17 against, with two abstentions. The vote came about as a result of a petition launched in February, which gained 63 signatures, calling for the removal of the two term limit on student officers which was introduced during last semester.

The result came only after a meeting marred by debate over the issue itself, as well as debate over whether to conduct the votes in secret.

Those speaking against the petition centred on the idea that long-serving students would ‘crowd out’ newer students aiming to get onto councils, with incumbency seen as a major stumbling block for newcomers.

By contrast, those speaking for the petition argued that the move would restrict student choice in deciding their representatives.

Courtney Lewis, a former societies officer who started the petition after being prevented from running for a third term, opened the debate. She said: “People who have done their job before know their job and they are actually going to provide the best service. It is not up to these councils… to decide who students’ officers should be”.

“They [students] should have the ability to choose for themselves,” she added.

Ms Lewis also attempted to refute the counter-argument that term limits would stop new students being intimidated out of running for a position against an incumbent, saying, “the more I ran, the more I was challenged.”

Whilst acknowledging that the petition had been too strongly worded, Omar Ali, equal opportunities officer, said that he agreed with Ms Lewis, describing term limits as “undemocratic.”

Others disagreed with this, however, stressing the need for fresh ideas. Sigrid Jorgensen, Association LGBT officer, said: “It gives people younger than you the chance to make the changes they have in mind.” Arts and Divinity Faculty President Eleanor Mullin argued that, “this fosters the idea of opening up the Union to other people and encouraging new people to get involved.”

Some officers questioned why the matter was even being discussed by the joint council, given that the term limits rule itself was only passed in February and extensively debated at the time.

Julian Vallederes Urruela, volunteering officer, said during the session: “It was already discussed in February. A decision was made then. I don’t understand the purposes of discussing it six months later.”

The session was prolonged further by the debate over how each body should vote on the petition, with several officers calling for a secret vote.

Supporters of the petition spoke strongly against the idea of a secret vote, with Robert Dixon, societies officer, saying: “Students have a right to see how their representatives, that they elected, voted. It’s a question of accountability.”

He also described the secret vote as both “inappropriate and irresponsible” and a “betrayal of the electorate,” eventually describing the decision as “the weakest form of representation there is.”

However, the eventual result saw the SRC choosing to hold a secret vote, while the SSC held an open vote.

The voting itself caused some controversy, with one of the original signatories of the petition Kyle Blain, Director of Student Development and Activities, voting against it. Mr Blain told The Saint: “Following some very valid comments made by my fellow officers during the meeting I voted, as always, based on what I believe is in the best interest for our student body.”

The failure of the petition to be passed by the councils means that the two year term limit will now remain in place for the next electoral cycle, unless there is further debate by the joint councils.

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