YUSU responds to claims made by former officers that SU blocked plant-based food policy

YUSU’s Environment and Ethics Officers’ resigned last week calling the institution ‘hostile’ to progressive change

The University of York Students’ Union has issued a statement responding to claims made by the former Environment and Ethics Officers which seeks to “[correct] the record” regarding alleged “misrepresentations” made by the former officers.

The former officers, Claire Sheldon and Woody Kadis-Ross, resigned from their positions last week, calling YUSU “hostile” and “anti-democratic” in a statement posted to Instagram. In particular, their decision to resign followed the recent rejection of a motion campaigning for Uni of York to make an immediate switch to 100 per cent plant-based catering.

In a statement published yesterday, YUSU President, Pierrick Rodger, has said on behalf of the SU that the initial YUSUggestion was not blocked, rather it was the former officers’ initial proposal that was. He then claims the officers blocked processes for a re-draft for months as they “would not accept flexibility”.

via @yusuenviroment on Instagram

The flyers were circulated at YUSU’s Student Members Meeting, which invited all students to vote on the proposed articles that would shape the new merged SU and resultant changes to the Sabbatical team. It accused YUSU of being closely tied to the university and corporate management, matching a claim made in the former officers’ resignation letter that “the institution of YUSU is entirely hostile to bringing forward progressive change on campus” because of this.

The flyer made various claims, aligning to those made in the former officers’ resignation letter. Specifically, it argued that the proposed changes to York’s SU would come at the expense of Part-Time Officer roles, meaning that “underrepresented groups and important issues will no longer have dedicated representatives that hold power in YUSU decision making”. It also claimed that YUSU will have “no obligation” to the new Union Representatives, set to replace previous part-time officerships.

Pierrick’s statement aimed to address the alleged “misrepresentations” circulated by the former officers through flyers and on social media.

As part of changes to the SU, Part-Time Officers are to be replaced with “Union Representatives”. In his statement, Pierrick said claims that this change will reduce student representation, particularly for marginalised groups, are “untrue.”

“The system is only changing cosmetically in that ‘Part-Time Officers’ will become ‘Union Representatives’ – this is being done because current legislation does not allow us to pay and remunerate officers for more than two years. ”

Pierrick also stressed that this change from officers to representatives is largely cosmetic, and is a result of current legislation which does not allow the SU to pay and remunerate officers for more than two years: “Part-Time Officer roles are not going anywhere. We will be doubling the number of representative seats available in the next round of non-Sabbatical Officer elections to include more groups than ever, not less.

“By changing it to representatives, we are now able to start exploring how they can be remunerated appropriately without compromising their chances of later becoming Sabbatical Officers.”

He said that the system for policy approval is not changing, as all members of the previously named “Officer Group” will continue to vote on policy: “[YUSU] listen to what the majority says – this is how our democracy works.”

Pierrick’s statement also confirmed that the full list of Part-Time Officers will be expanding from 10 to 21, and claimed that Woody and Claire were present when this change was approved.

The President’s statement also explained how Woody and Claire’s resignation has enabled a policy to pass which will increase the percentage of York’s catering that is plant-based, a cause that the former officers had been campaigning for.

Pierrick addressed claims in the flyer and within the former officers’ statement that a small group of officers blocked the motion to switch York to 100 per cent plant-based catering, a key reason for Woody and Claire’s resignation. The flyer suggested that this is evidence of how the institution is “designed to prevent progressive change” and undermines “the democratic system [it] claims to run by”, however Pierrick responded that the Officer Group did not reject the initial YUSUggestion, voted for by a record number of students on YUSU’s suggestion forum.

Rather, the group blocked the Environment and Ethics Officers’ policy proposal of 100 per cent plant based catering on the grounds that “it was not financially viable and unfairly discriminated against certain protected characteristic groups”.

via Quinn Chen, Instagram: @seirororrrr

He claimed that the Officer Group asked for a formal review of the proposal, which was undertaken but then blocked by the former officers: “The [motion] was in circulation at Officer Group for months because the Environment and Ethics Officers refused to consider anything which accommodated the needs of students with additional requirements or the financial implications of their proposal.”

The flyer concluded by urging attendees to vote against the proposed Articles of Association, which has since been passed and will see YUSU move forward with the proposed changes to the SU, including increasing the Sabbatical team from five to seven officers.

With the former officers having resigned at 9am on the 22nd February, the statement details how Pierrick was then able to put forward an alternative motion which was passed at 12:20pm on the same day.

The alternative motion that was passed states that YUSU venues already have menus that are 75 per cent plant-based, and the Union will immediately increase this to 80 per cent. Within the next three years this will rise to 90 per cent, transitioning beyond 90 per cent to 100 per cent if it is “financially viable and guarantees [SU] venues remain open and accessible to all.”

The initial proposal put forward by Woody and Claire proposed an “immediate 100 per cent transition with no exceptions”, this was rejected on the grounds that it would be “inaccessible to a whole cohort of students” whilst also not being possible as the commercial services branch of the SU is currently in financial deficit.

YUSU is a registered charity that operates independently of university management. Pierrick has said that the SU “does not hesitate to take action where students are treated unfairly, whether that is through our representation within the University committee system or through direct campaigning”.

Former officers Woody and Claire said: “The claims that we sought to discriminate against certain groups or did not care about students with additional requirements are entirely untrue and deeply offensive. As we said in our original response, we actively sought discussions with students who could potentially be affected by these conversations were shut down by the SU.

“The point that the renaming of ‘Part-time Officers’ as ‘Union Representatives’ is largely cosmetic is true, but this is symbolic of the fact that students taking on part-time, voluntary roles are seen as being of lesser importance within YUSU. As Environment and Ethics Officers we raised multiple concerns about the potential impact of this restructuring on environmental issues. We were worried this could lead to the potential sidelining of environmental issues and sought to discuss this.

“Unfortunately our concerns were not listened to and our suggestions protecting environmental policy ignored.Despite claims to the contrary, it is sadly the case that part-time officers currently have very little power at all within officer group. Sabbatical officers have de facto control over virtually all aspects. This will not change with the new structure if, as is claimed, the changes are merely cosmetic.”

Featured image via Google Maps.

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