Editorial: Assange Issue Highlights CUSU Questions

Julian Assange’s talk may have been cancelled, but it has raised questions about CUSU’s role as representative of the student body.

assange CUSU cusu women's campaign Jonny Singer julian assange sabbatical officers sabbs The Union

He was going to come. Then some people didn’t want him to. Now he isn’t, but for a reason that seems extremely odd (what embassy can’t make a video link work at 7 days notice?). The rights and wrongs of the invite have been debated endlessly and I’m not going to address them here. However, I would like to respond to questions of biased reporting that have come up in relation to this story, and also to talk about the role of our Student Union in all of this.

Women’s officer Susy in particular has been at the centre of this debate. As head of the Women’s Campaign she started the contentious petition to have Assange uninvited. I accept that Susy is not in place to represent me; I don’t self-define as a woman and had no part in getting her elected. But she did win an election on the back of a campaign which promised to co-operate with all the student media. It’s this part of her pledge that she’s clearly failed to live up to.

Last week I attempted to contact her for a quote, or an explanation, of her controversial attempt to ‘quietly’ prevent Assange from talking. At 2pm I phoned her office only to be told she had gone home for the day. I left a name, number and email address. No contact was made. 24 hours later I was asked by Susy to remove her name from the article – but only  through a mutual friend. My response, which was prompt, has so far been ignored. As such, it was extremely difficult for us to represent the views on both sides.

This isn’t the first time that CUSU have been slow to respond to us. In response to “bumgate“, last year’s women’s officer spoke to the Daily Mail before she spoke to us. We always try to include multiple perspectives on news stories but in these situations, our stories can end up being a little lopsided. For that we can only apologise.

This isn’t an attack on our Women’s Officer, who despite her obvious dislike of me and The Tab does plenty of good in the position to which she has been elected. But her conduct has to make us question why CUSU seems to be so far from representational – after all, The Tab gets about twice as many individual users a day as the entire CUSU elections got voters.

Our student union exists to represent us but this week backed a protest where, if past experience is anything to go by, there would have been more students inside the Union than protesting outside had the talk taken place. Doesn’t there have to be something wrong with a system where our representatives protest against something that more students support than oppose?

Perhaps this is due to the fact that none of our sabbs received more than 3000 votes, out of a student body of around 20,000. This is not their fault. They shouldn’t be expected to act against the principles they campaigned on just because the people who disagreed couldn’t be bothered to turn up and vote. But it does raise the question of whether those representing us should be in sabbatical positions, which heavily limit those who are prepared to apply and leave few candidates with views and positions in line with the student body. Maybe if it was made up of full-time students, as it is at JCR level, CUSU could really begin to feel like it represents us – with paid staff to do the non-representative work.

Because this week, they may well be in the right, but they don’t seem to be in the majority.