The following is a statement on behalf of University of Birmingham Defend Education in response to the recent Trustee Board decision to secretly take a Vote of No Confidence in VPE Edd Bauer:
Defend Education considers this move to be an entirely illegitimate action by the Trustee Board, one that fundamentally undermines the democratic nature of the Guild itself, making a mockery of what the Guild of Students, and indeed any democratic union, represents.
In short, we believe that when it comes to elected representatives such as Guild Officers, regardless of any allegations made against them, it’s plainly illegitimate to have the democratic will of students as to who they want to represent them, casually thrown aside by a small, unrepresentative group, especially in secret.
Aside from campus-wide referendums, given that Guild Council is the highest elected body representing students, who also has the power to take a Vote of No Confidence, it is therefore only democratically within their mandate alone to do so.
As such, Defend Education calls for:
1) Guild Councillors to uphold democracy as a core value of the Guild and call for the Trustee Board to drop the VNC, and rather for any concerns to be brought before Guild Council, either as questions, censures or even a democratic Vote of No Confidence.
2) A publicity drive – It is entirely undemocratic for the Trustee Board to attempt a Vote of No Confidence in an officer elected by students – it is for Guild Council to do this. Students need to be made aware of what has happened and how undemocratic this has been. Bauer represents us and should only be accountable to us.
3) Student Media Groups to support the core value of democracy within the Guild and recognise the severity of this situation. We call on them to publish this article and the analysis it contains, as well as a report on what has happened over the last month, condemning the undemocratic and illegitimate actions of the Trustee Board.
4) Reclaim the Guild to have a final push to get the signatures needed for an EGM.
5) Students to actively lobby the Trustee Board not to do this – email them and express your concerns. Point out that to do this is illegitimate and undermining student democracy. Email addresses attached below.
Finally, Defend Education believes that as the Trustee Board carrying through this Vote of No Confidence would be a completely unacceptable blow to their legitimacy and to any remaining optimism that students still run their own union, this action would have to be met with a much stronger response. This move directly contravenes everything the Guild of Students stands for, undermining the vital democratic processes our Guild is founded upon, and if it is not dropped, we will fight back.
Some further analysis
Defend Education considers this move to be an entirely illegitimate action by the Trustee Board which directly violates the democratic principles that any union ought to represent.
There are two key premises instrumental to our analysis of this move by the Trustee Board. Firstly, the acceptance that democracy should be striven for in every important decision made within the Guild and secondly that the Guild is a Students’ Union seeking to represent its members.
Democracy is the means by which decisions can be made that represent the majority of constituents and members, allowing for conflict, consensus and compromise in a cooperative environment. Defend Education supports democratic practice and wishes to see full implementation of democratic processes throughout the Guild. We have Guild Council as the highest elected student body to represent student views.
A union seeks above all else to represent its members, in this case where the University fails to do so. If the cause necessitates political action for the good of its members, then such action is justified by the mandates held by the Officers. Therefore the Guild must retain autonomy from the University and maintain itself as a strong and cohesive organisation, through which positive change can be achieved.
This move is indicative of Trustee Board dominance within the Guild and of their confidence in their autonomy from its democratic structures. The VPE uses the metaphor of a “two-headed beast”, which accurately describes what the University and Guild higher management have become. Rather than maintaining a strong Guild that works in unity to gain success, we have a Guild that is weakened by red tape, a lack of support for student action and direct political infighting. This means that the Guild fails its mandate to represent students in these tumultuous times and on such contentious issues – as well as falling far below decent democratic standards.
We note that the Trustee Board does hold the right to override the democratic processes of the Guild by virtue of its very nature; they will no doubt be desperate to remind everyone that they are a governing body whose concern is for the long-term stability of the Guild. This authority is given to them because the Guild is legally a charity which necessitates the existence of such a governing body. This is problematic insofar as the Guild exists primarily as a democratic student union, and this Guild-as-charity model in which the Trustee Board can override any democratic mechanism is somewhat incompatible with – and contradictory to – that purpose. As such, the exercise of the Trustee Board’s power to run the Guild undemocratically is surely only legitimised in emergency situations where the long-term stability of the Guild is actually threatened. There is no possibility that the actions of the VP(E) actually threaten the long-term stability of the Guild – this is a simply ludicrous claim and is far removed from reality. The Trustee Board using this power to make undemocratic, highly political decisions in normal, non-critical situations is a really worrying situation, which shows the pressing urgency of reform. Ironically, the effects for Guild governance of this alien, undemocratic body overriding the student vote would be far more damaging in the long-term than anything Edd Bauer could possibly achieve; perhaps, as such, the Trustee Board should hold a Vote of No Confidence in itself?
The Guild of Students and students in higher education across Britain have a long history of successful protests amid great adversity, from the occupation of the Great Hall in 1968 to the student protests against the cuts in 2010. However, this year various groups and individuals have actively created a popular discourse criminalising and demonising protest action, from President Mark Harrop’s actions in response to the occupation of the North Gate building to the more general discourse within the Guild. We believe that because of this negative framework for protest that has been constructed by right-wing political actors, any protest action will necessarily be perceived as negative. These actors propagate the idea that the only way for the Guild to exist with the University is in a peaceful and subservient partnership, and thus any actions more direct than this will be construed as damaging to the Guild. However, the idea of a ‘partnership’ is not what was ever intended for the Guild. Yes, a working relationship must be maintained and cooperation is often necessary for progression to be achieved, but the Guild must ultimately retain its autonomy and be prepared to take strong, cohesive political action against the University when necessary and support its members in doing so. As the current social conception of what our Guild should be is a construction by right-wing political actors, it is unsurprising that Edd Bauer and other protesters are being found guilty before trial – however within the historical framework of student activism we can see the VPE in a far more positive light.
Finally, while they are separate from us, Defend Education believes that recent events and this move by the Trustee Board draw an even stronger line under the necessity of the ‘Reclaim the Guild’ campaign. We need a strong Guild that represents students, and in which student democracy cannot be undermined by a small committee with a non-student majority. The undemocratic dominance of the Trustee Board needs to be put to an end, and the very way in which we perceive our Guild must be changed. As such, it’s vital that the the General Meeting that the Reclaim the Guild petition calls for for a General Meeting in order that change might be truly realised.
Student Trustee Contact Details:
Mark Harrop (President) – firstname.lastname@example.org
Hugo Sumner (VPDR) – email@example.com
Fliss Cross (VPAD) – firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannah Coakley – email@example.com
Will Hawkins – firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Halford – email@example.com