LUSU referendum: What does it mean, and why should we care?

There’s another vote – here’s why you should be interested

Fresh off the recent Lancaster University Students’ Union elections for its Full-Time and Part-Time Officer roles, LUSU is also holding two referendums.

These are votes that are given to the student body in order to allow us to have our say in how the Union is being ran. One vote is about whether or not we have confidence in the Senior Management of the university, which is quite a straightforward yes/no question, and it doesn’t really need much interpretation. The other is whether we should approve of LUSU’s new “Articles of Association” – which is a fancy phrase meaning “Constitution” and basically relates to how the SU is structured.

It sounds like quite a dull topic, but it does have impacts on students – so hopefully this will shed some light on the pros and cons of the proposal being voted on in the referendum, and how it might actually affect you.

Union Council

The SU President’s manifesto contained pledges to re-introduce Union Council, and reform the Board of Trustees (Credit: LUSU)

This will be a group of representatives for students, compising of 33 members; this includes all of the Full and Part-Time Officers, plus 21 “directly-elected councillors.” The specification of the powers of this group are limited, but from what can be gathered from LUSU’s full draft, the group would have the power to set policy of the Union (i.e. be able to decide which direction the Union should head in) and also refer certain policies to be voted on in student referendums. With more elected student roles, this means students can hold decision-makers to account more, which can only be a positive thing.

However, there are criticisms of this proposal. For a start, LUSU couldn’t get a turnout of over 10 per cent in its most recent elections, how are they going to hold effective elections for over 20 councillor positions? There could be a large number of candidates standing, and it doesn’t seem like it would be practical to organise, even though the SU are proposing to hold two elections to fill all of these seats. Not to mention the fact that no seats are reserved for liberation groups, faculties, societies, or sports – so it wouldn’t be a guaranteed form of representation. However, the SU has set out that it will try to ensure there is thorough student representation by the use of subcommittees for “important stakeholders.”

Trustee Board

The Board of Trustees is a group of people who vote on and oversee the operations of the SU. In the proposals, the Board would be made up of 15 members; the six elected FTOs, plus four elected Student Trustees, and five unelected External Trustees. Although this does not abolish the unelected positions, as LUSU President Oliver Robinson promised, this does ensure that the majority of the Board is elected – which makes the Board more accountable to students, so they will hopefully be more responsive to student voices. For reference, it has been implied that the elected trustees were outvoted by the External Trustees on decisions such as the initial talks around the potential sale of The Sugarhouse – this change could potentially avoid decision making like that in future.

Not to mention that all External Trustees would be set to be ratified by elected representatives, which makes the Union even more accountable.

Why should we care?

Image may contain: Arena, Stadium, Football, Clothing, Apparel, Building, Team Sport, Crowd, Sport, Sports, Team, People, Field, Human, Person

Sports are just one aspect of student life that’s influenced by the SU

The way that LUSU runs massively impacts our lives as students, even if we don’t think that it does. The SU website says that these changes are being proposed to ensure that the Union runs more effectively, doesn’t waste resources, and the decisions it makes are more relevant to the students.

Speaking to The Tab Lancaster, LUSU President Oliver Robinson told us: “This is the chance for students to have a final say on whether they are happy or not in this change of direction compared to where the Union is now. Regardless of whether students want our current models to continue or to change it up, it’s incredibly important that students vote to make that clear.

“These proposals will improve students’ experiences significantly. Issues in recent years such as the negotiations to sell the Sugarhouse could have been avoided if we had a more accountable organisation. The directly elected student trustees as part of the proposals makes the Board more accountable, and the ratification of External Trustees in an all-student vote adds to that. On top of this, the FTOs can also be better held to account through the creation of a Union Council. The Union Council model would allow more voices in the room, better engagement with all our student groups through subcommittees, and overall a better SU.”

Voting in this referendum closes on Saturday 13th March – vote here.

Lancaster University Students’ Union’s “Yes Campaign” manifesto can be found here.

The full proposed Articles of Association can be found here.

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