Former Union VP RESIGNS trusteeship over development project collapse

He argued that the Union was becoming “a declining and feeble excuse for a charity.”

A former Vice President of the Cambridge Union and Trustee of the Society has issued a cutting resignation letter after the rejection of  development plans by Trustees.  

It was recently revealed by The Tab that the Union Society was in turmoil after the collapse of a multi-million-pound redevelopment project. The Board of Trustees, part of the governing body of the society, voted down the plans just a month before they were due to come into place, and only after upwards of £500,000 had been already been spent on architects, consultants and fundraising.

The redevelopment was meant to expand and refurbish the Union

The plan was ultimately intended to bring down the extortionate £199 membership fee by generating further revenue, but the Trustees pulled the plug on the project before it could come to fruition.

The resignation letter seen by The Tab was addressed to Lord Chris Smith the Chair of the Society, and expressed anger towards the trustees for the abandonment of the project. It argued that “We could have made a genuine impact on people’s lives across the country” with the development project, which would have had a significant impact on the realm of under-funded university debating.

The letter was incredibly critical of the Board of Trustees, doubting their interests regarding the improvement of the Society, arguing that the Union had become “a declining and feeble excuse for a charity”, the responsibility of which lay with “the trustees and senior staff at the Union”.

The letter also addressed the waning importance of the Union in Cambridge society. It argued that the declining attendance of debates and “mediocre” events used to justify the extortionate fees contributed to the increasing “irrelevance” of the Union. Instead of the speaker events or debates, he argued that the Union had become notable  “only for the staggering levels of indecision and apathy” which characterised the writing off of the development project.

Perhaps most importantly, the letter addressed conflict of interest between the Board of Trustees and those students involved in the day to day running of the Union. It argued that the trustees are  “staggeringly out of touch” with the realities of the day to day running of the society, and that the Board was ultimately characterised by a “bumbling array of tired apathy”, with a “senior management structure that has passed its sell-by date”.

This discontent expressed was clearly present amongst Union officials at the time of the decision to reject to the proposal. Speaking to The Tab at the time, a senior ex-Standing Committee member said that, “with a couple of notable exceptions, I would describe the non-student trustees as prevaricating omnishambles, who haven’t considered that the Union might have changed since the 1960s and have made no effort to do so.”

The Union in 1870 – not so different to how it looks today.

Current President of the Union, Kate Dunbar, who sits on the Board of Trustees issued the following statement about the issue when the plans were first rejected: “The Union’s board of Trustees elected to downsize the Development project as it was found impossible to bridge the necessary funding gap. While we won’t be pursuing that specific scheme we will continue to make improvements to the building.”

Yet with this recent resignation, it is clear that discontent and divides between the Board of Trustees and the students running the Union remains rife. Accusations that the Union is dominated by the “tired apathy” of the trustees will surely cut deep into any plans for Union advancement in the future. 

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