The Student Services Council (SSC) has voted to support its senior officer, Courtney Lewis, in response to allegations of inappropriate conduct.
Ms Lewis, who is also the SSC societies officer, allegedly used her position as SSC senior officer to prevent an Honorary Life Membership (HLM) being awarded to Radim Dragomaca during a private meeting of the Students’ Association Executive Committee (SAEC) in May 2013.
The case has raised concerns about conflicts of interest because Ms Lewis sat alongside Mr Dragomaca on the committee of the Foreign Affairs Society (FAS) and used information obtained through this role to instigate the reconsideration of his HLM.
SAEC removed the HLM without consulting either the FAS or Mr Dragomaca, in a breach of Association rules. Ms Lewis was later censured for her actions by the FAS, which said she had been: “in contravention of all principles of professional collegiality.” She resigned from the FAS committee following a proposed vote of no confidence in October.
The details of the incident were published in The Saint on 14 November and an editorial called on the Association to hold an open discussion about the problems and to show that everyone is responsible for their actions.
David Patterson, SSC deputy senior officer and performing arts officer, brought a motion to the SSC in response to The Saint‘s articles. He said: “I thought it was appropriate for SSC to respond in a quiet way. I think we should stand by our colleagues and I think it is important that we are there when someone doesn’t have the means to respond to something like this because of the nature of it being in camera [private], they can’t comment publicly and they can’t defend themselves, I think it is our responsibility as colleagues to stand behind Courtney.”
Because the SAEC meeting was in camera, minutes of the meeting were not circulated publicly and its members are sworn to secrecy. Mr Patterson sat on SAEC alongside Ms Lewis during the May meeting but no other current members of SSC were present for the discussion of Mr Dragomaca’s HLM. This will raise questions about how SSC could vote on a motion when almost none of its members can be aware of what took place during the SAEC meeting.
Mr Patterson continued to defend Ms Lewis: “Decisions taken in exec… are a collective decision. No one person should be singled out for any scrutiny more than any other person because that is the nature of how the process works.”
Director of representation Teddy Woodhouse said: “It’s important when you are looking at the performance of an officer, you are not just looking at something that people are picking up in the media but we look at the composite performance of that officer.”
He added an amendment to the motion stating that in her post as societies officer Ms Lewis has attended every meeting of the SSC, and in her post as SSC senior officer she has attended every meeting of SAEC and every term-time meeting of the Students’ Association Board.
“Attendance is a very strong indication that we can use to determine whether or not you are doing your job and I think these three points indicate good job performance,” he said.
Kelsey Gold, director of student development and activities, agreed with Mr Woodhouse’s statement: “I work with Courtney on a daily basis in societies. She has acted very well. She is one of the best societies officers that we have had in years and she has done leaps and bounds for our societies and I would urge you all to support this.”
But Mr Patterson did point out that the incident had raised important questions about the way in which the Students’ Association works: “The HLM process has to be changed anyway… The Saint has done us a favour in that it has flagged up an issue that’s important for SSC to look at and the Association as a whole. I in no way want to antagonise The Saint but I think what they have done is flagged up an issue that we have to address.”
The motion was passed unanimously by the council.