The Students’ Union: Scrutiny when it suits them

Lincoln’s Students’ Union have devised a backhanded plot to limit their own accountability to the students of Lincoln, who they apparently “represent”, by putting forward a motion which mandates them to severely limit the amount of time they spend dealing with The Linc, the University of Lincoln’s sole student newspaper.

The Linc is the only outlet on campus that dedicates itself to rigorous scrutiny of the Students’ Union, who receive a block grant from the publicly-funded university. The grant is in excess of £300,000. Given that each of the full-time officers in the Union is elected to their position, which benefits a handsome salary (around £17,000, with expenses on top), I believe they owe it to Lincoln students to open themselves up to questioning from the media.

The proposal will be voted on at the All Students Meeting on November 17th. It was proposed by Abdul Alim Bachani, president of the Futsal Society, and is what seems to be a poorly disguised attempt by the SU elected officers to present this as a motion from an individual student.

This is, of course, nonsense. Bachani (who has previously commented on The Linc‘s site telling us we “should be supporting them not criticising them on newspaper articles and blogs on the internet”) is just the face to the agenda of the Students’ Union. Myself and other team members have had many conversations with the Students’ Union about The Linc, to which they constantly complain they give too much attention.

Is this really the concern of “Average Joe” student? No. It’s in the interests of the SU, who don’t want to face the questions on why they’re not doing everything they promised, why they pander to the university’s views as opposed to those of students, and why they generate such little interest in what they’re doing, amongst others.

Given that, a lot of the time, The Linc‘s phone calls are very rarely returned, emails are not responded to within reasonable time, promises on deadlines are rarely kept. You might say they give us little attention already. Possibly not even as much as the 30 minute limit which is being proposed. 30 minutes. How can you possibly put a limit on the time you talk to the press? And how can you measure these 30 minutes?

What if several news stories broke in one week, all surrounding the SU? “Sorry, you can only have a response to the first two stories, because you’ve almost filled up your quota of time with us.” It’s absurd, and shows a real lack of understanding of how things work. What are they going to do in the real world when they get bombarded with press requests? Ignore them? I don’t think their bosses will like that very much. Are these people so busy that they can’t spare us five minutes on the phone for a quote, or ten minutes for an interview? That’s what they’re telling us, and I don’t believe them for one second.

What about Bullet Magazine, the SU’s own publication, which is the only other print outlet on campus? Will the SU limit the time they spend with them? Of course not. Because Bullet is just a tool for peddling SU propaganda.

These people are elected politicians. They need all the scrutiny we can throw at them, and they know it. So that’s why they’re trying to limit how much we can hold them to account. They will say that the various councils and other such student meetings are where students can hold the SU to account. The only problem with that is that hardly anyone turns up! Apart from The Linc reporters, officers from the Students’ Union, and, if you’re lucky, a couple of normal students, there is no large group from the SU’s constituency in attendance. Hence extremely limited accountability.

Poor turnout in elections, like the recent by-elections which had two candidates for four positions available and suffered a 1% turnout, reflects the apathy that the student body has with the SU. Not many students care. It’s therefore important that media outlets, like The Linc, ensure that the activities of the Union get reported, that shortfalls are accounted for, and that any new proposals are scrutinised. Because nobody else is going to do it, and there’s public money at stake.

I recently had an exchange with the SU on Twitter, which went as follows:

Me: Emma Devine “In my elections we had a fantastic turnout” – wasn’t it around 11 percent?

SU: @shanecroucher Our elections (March 09) last year have again been over the National average for voter turn out, as they are most years!

Me: @lincolnsu That’s a nice way of spinning it. Over the national average doesn’t mean ‘amazing’ if the national average is abysmal.

SU: @shanecroucher We can only continue to do better! Why not try showing some support?

Me: @lincolnsu We show support by advertising your elections. It’s on you to inspire students to actually turn out and vote.

This just highlights the contempt for dissent that Lincoln’s SU hold. We’re not there to support the SU, we’re there to look out for students’ interest and support the democratic process, which we do by publicising elections, councils, etc. What is not in our remit of responsibility is creating a situation whereby students feel it’s worth coming out to vote. It’s entirely down to the Students’ Union to reach out to students and listen to what they really want, instead of patronising them. What do they want us to do? If anything, our being critical of the Students’ Union executive does more to encourage involvement in student politics than blanket support of the SU would.

The SU are so wrapped up in their own sense of self-importance that they fail to see past their office windows in the Engine Shed. This motion should not go through. It will be a heavy blow for democracy at the University of Lincoln.

P.S.: Speaking of democracy and propaganda, the SU have launched their own “official newspaper”, about three years too late. It is called The Agenda and you can find it here.

Here’s the motion in full — copied, pasted and unedited from the SU’s AGM minisite:

The Union Notes:

  1. The Linc is one of two officially recognised student publications on campus.
  2. The Union welcomes feedback from students on the quality of its activities and services.
  3. SU Officers are accountable to student members

The Union Believes:

  1. The quantity of time taken up responding to the Linc’s enquiries and accusations is unreasonable.
  2. The time spent responding to these enquiries and accusations could be better spent on core activities that serve students.
  3. The reports published by the Linc are inflamatory and mislead students about the activities of their union.
  4. The Linc should be more reasonable in their demands on Officers’ time.

The Union Resolves:

  1. To dedicate no more than 30mins per week responding to the Linc’s enquiries
  2. To mandate the VP Communications and Media to be the official channel of communication with the Linc, and to determine the priority for response of the issue that the Linc present.
  3. To prioritise representing and supporting students over Linc enquiries

5 Responses to The Students’ Union: Scrutiny when it suits them

  1. Alex Bilbie says:

    I’d just like to say that I’m 100% behind The Linc on this issue. As Rob has just posted in the follow-up post to this article, as a member of the Students’ Union I expect to hear about the positive things that this SU is doing for us students and I also expect to see that questions are asked and answered when things need clearing up. I will certainly be voicing my concern of the above motion at the AGM.

    Alex Bilbie
    2nd year computing student

  2. Jonathan Holmes says:

    Given the amount of time they spend answering phones to you, only to have wave after wave of negative stories undermining their successes, I think this motion is fair. They sit for hours on end doing all sorts of stuff I can’t begin to comprehend so you can sit and ridicule them. It really isn’t on.

    If I weren’t in a lecture I would attend this meeting and vote for this motion

  3. Please cite exactly where this “wave” of abuse is coming from?

    If you look at our news coverage of the SU, it’s extremely fair.

    Further still, they don’t answer their phones. That’s one of the points I was making.

  4. Jonathan Holmes says:

    Okay, I just get the general gist that your newspaper seems to dislike the SU intensely. Good news is hard to come by.

    And stating that the chap who posted the motion is a “poorly disguised attempt” to present it as an individual motion is edging into bad ground there. So he has supported the SU in the past, it doesn’t mean that he is a puppet for their motions. I’m not that well read on media law yet, but doesn’t this lower him in the minds of right thinking people?

  5. Shane Croucher says:

    The “general gist” is pretty irrelevant when the facts are clear to see. Articles on the Students’ Union, written by us, are occasionally editorially critical, but our criticisms are never unfounded. We have the quantifiable statistics that show our coverage is nothing like what the SU are attempting to present it as.

    On your next point – without some inside knowledge, or having been hands on at the SU, you wouldn’t know of the requests we put to the Students’ Union, or of the time they spend dealing with us each week. Now, given that I, and other Linc team members, have spoken with the SU exec about the time they spend talking to us (which isn’t much at all), we all know that the SU believe it to be ‘too much’. I’m suggesting in my article that without heavy suggestion from one or more SU officers, or without it being a pre-planned attack, this motion would never have come about. The SU would need it to be fronted by a student so it could be presented as coming from an independent source.

    This whole situation, in my opinion and from what I’ve seen/know, seems to be entirely fabricated by the SU.