This is a recording of the Guild Officer Group meeting on 17th October 2011 when Guild Community Action Officer Leander Jones tried to bring the matter of the VPE Edd Bauer’s suspension to the group for discussion. A suggestion to put the political aspects of the accusations against the VPE to a vote at Guild Council was blocked as ‘ultra vires’ by the Guild President Mark Harrop, who also did not allow the charges against the VPE regarding his arrest to be read out (despite them being in the public domain). This recording gives some useful insights into how the Guild President and the managers have blocked any challenge to the decision to suspend the VPE from the Guild’s democratic bodies.
At 4:40 L. Jones says that if the VPE has been suspended on political (rather than behavioural) grounds, that the decision on what to do should be made by the democratic bodies of the Guild i.e. Guild Council.
At 5:45 The Guild President asks Jones to explain exactly what’s going on.
At 6:10 when Jones is about to say the allegations made against the VPE, the Guild President interrupts to stop him saying they’re ‘confidential’ and it would be ‘very dangerous’ to do so despite conceding that the VPE probably gave Jones them (and the VPE was willing for them to be publicised).
7:45 Jones agrees not to say what the specific allegations against the VPE are, but says he wants the issue of his arrest and the protest outside the Liberal Democrat conference to be separated from any non-political aspect of the investigation, and for that to be decided as a separate issue at Guild Council.
8:17 Jones is asked by a Guild manager if he wants this issue to be voted on here, Jones says yes. However the Guild President says it is ‘outside the terms of reference’ for the Guild Officers to vote on this and blocks it.
10:40 Jones points out that the new officer disciplinary policy (adopted in June 2011 which gave the President new powers to suspend officers without a vote at Guild Council) was passed by an inquorate Guild Council (only 17 councilors attended, with 41 being required for a quorate meeting, and the new policy itself was never discussed but was passed without a vote) and has yet to be ratified, which the President concedes although claims he still has to follow the policy ‘until it is ratified or not ratified by the next Guild Council’. At the next Guild Council on 10th November 2011 (which was quorate) council voted 69%-31% not to ratify this policy. Thus the Guild President is acting on a policy which was never ratified and was voted against at the only quorate Guild Council it was brought before.
At 11:05 someone says the VPE was not suspended for unfurling a banner, when Jones tried to clarify (11:45 he manages) that the VPE was suspended for (amongst other things) being arrested for unfurling a banner the Guild President again tries to prevent him saying why the VPE was suspended.
At 12:15 the Guild President says that in the Code of Conduct an officer can be suspended for being arrested, and it’s not about the reasons why they were arrested, but simply because they were arrested.
At 13:00 VPAD Fliss Cross asks if it’s ‘a bit strange’ that the person (i.e. the Guild President) who suspended the officer and called the investigation then gets to sign off on who will be on the investigatory panel.
At 14:20 Jones points out the contradiction in the Guild President statements, who has told the NUS President that the suspension of the VPE was entirely unrelated to the banner protest at the Liberal Democrat conference but rather regarding ‘behavioural issues.’ However clearly included in the allegations on which the suspension was the VPE’s arrest. Someone at 14:44 asks “Isn’t that just unfortunate timing?” (the line the Guild President had been pushing to people who had not seen the allegations), Jones reasserts that this is not true as the arrest is explicitly listed as a reason for the suspension in the letter to the VPE. The Guild President responds by repeating his stance that it doesn’t matter what an officer has been arrested for, just the fact that they were arrested for anything is grounds for suspension (which doesn’t really reconcile his telling the NUS President the suspension was unrelated to the banner protest).
15:30 The Guild President says GOG (the Guild Officer Group) cannot make any decisions on this issue as it is ‘ultra vires’ and beyond the scope of Guild Officers. Jones responds by saying it’s not beyond the President’s scope as he suspended the VPE and signed off the suspension letter in the first place and can remove the political charges if he wanted. Apparently it would be “really bad” (16:04) and “do more harm than good” (16:08) if he did that as ‘the investigation is ongoing’.
16:15 Another officer requests that if something like this ever happens again that the President inform the officers about it, as she had had students asking her about the suspension of the VPE and she couldn’t answer as she had been told nothing about it.
18:45 The President shouts that “it has nothing to do with the NUS, it has nothing to do with any other union” when Jones mentions the NUS President and says the NUS have no right to say anything about it (19:25).
From this it can be gathered that the Guild President:
1. Unilaterally suspended the VPE without even informing the other officers.
2. Did so using an unratified disciplinary policy which the first quorate Guild Council it was brought before voted to reject. However he has ignored this message of disapproval from the democratically elected body of students (this being the only way council could protest the suspension of the VPE, as a motion criticising the suspension itself was not permitted as it would ‘prejudice an ongoing investigation’).
3. Gave false statements to the NUS President and others that the suspension was entirely unrelated to the VPE’s arrest for unfurling a protest banner at the Liberal Democrat conference but rather was regarding ‘behaviour issues’, the suspension coming immediately after the arrest being ‘unfortunate timing’. However the charges laid against the VPE in the letter the Guild President signed off show this to be transparently untrue.
4. Prevented the above contradiction in his statements from being effectively brought up in the Guild Officer Group meeting by preventing the charges against the VPE from being mentioned.
5. Blocked a vote by the Guild Officer Group to put the decision on what to do regarding the charges against the VPE which are of a clearly political nature to a vote at Guild Council (with any remaining behavioural issues to be dealt with by the Trustee Board).
6. Has had inappropriate influence on the investigatory panel by signing off on its members when it should be composed of impartial people.
7. Is saying the NUS/other unions have no right to say anything about this issue, implying that he will ignore them when he is also refusing to allow Birmingham students to vote on it.
Thus we can see that any democratic route attempted by students at the University of Birmingham to prevent their elected VPE being removed for political reasons has been repeatedly ignored and stifled by the Guild President.