The Students’ Union (SU) held its Term 2 All Student Meeting (ASM) in the SU Atrium earlier this evening. Approximately 50 students attended the two-hour meeting, with a series of debates over the seven motions proposed to the SU.
The first motion proposed that the SU give full public support to the University and College Union’s plans for the upcoming tutors’ strike and mandate the SU president to lobby the University over the proposed changes to staff’s pensions scheme. It also encouraged students to show support for teachers both on social media and peacefully on the picket lines. In an indicative vote of those present, the majority were in favour of the motion.
Proponents argued that students should defend staff member’s pension security, and that the changes could discourage teachers from staying at their Warwick posts. Meanwhile critics argued that the strikes would “cause a lot of disruption; we should be supporting students not staff.”
However, this was contested by a number of speakers, who argued that with the proper support the strike would not have to last that long. Students commented: “Our interests are inherently intertwined with their interests,” and, “They’ve supported us, now its our time to be supporting them.”
The indicative vote showed a majority in favour, with approximately three against and five abstentions. The motion proposed to oppose BP’s investment in the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). The proposing speech criticised the involvement of BP in the arts, adding: “The theatre could fund its enormous success for years to come without BP.”
The company contributes to subsidising the £5 RSC tickets made available to students in the area.
While no one spoke against this motion, a few voiced their doubts on the practical potential of the SU’s stance, with a critic asking, “Is this the best use of the SU’s time?”
Another student asked whether it was hypocritical for to pass this motion considering the BP archives hosted on campus. Postgraduate Officer Emily Dunford replied that the archives are not affiliated with the SU, and pointed to the success of a previous campaign at the Tate in London.
The motion suggested that the SU repeal past motions passed against the government’s ‘CONTEST’ strategy. CONTEST’s Prevent Duty requires all UK universities to demonstrate certain counter-terrorism arrangements, but the policy has drawn a significant amount of criticism since 2015 in relation to issues of freedom of speech, academic freedom, and equality.
The indicative vote was largely against the motion, with under ten for and only a couple of abstentions. While the proposer suggested the policy would challenge the “real problem” of radicalism on campuses, the opposing speech by Sports Officer Ellie Martin suggested that: “At Warwick, we treat students as students and not suspects. … Say no racism, say no xenophobia and say no this motion.”
She added: “It is racist. It is Islamophobic. One of the signs of extremism is students becoming withdrawn; that’s also a sign of depression, and we’re not going to start penalising out students for this.”
The proposer argued that this sign was meant to be taken “in conjunction with other signs, such as saying things that sound very much like rhetoric.”
At the suggestion that the policy amounted to “inviting government surveillance into classrooms and lecture halls”, he added: “By all means if you say that Prevent is spying on students, you could say the same for measures against sexual abuse.” A contester responded: “This has nothing to do with sexual assault, can you not weaponise this in your speech.”
The Warwick Conservative Association’s Internal Affairs secretary Rhal Ssan commented: “This hinges on the belief of whether you believe that the police is institutionally racist. Maybe this was true 20, 30 years ago, but I don’t believe they are now. … There may be small pockets but it is not institutional.”
Critics of the motion cited deportations and restrictions to academic research: “I don’t think we as an educational institution can support Prevent, which actively stands against intellectual curiosity.”
While the proposer Llywellyn Colnet was absent at the time of the discussion, another supporter of the motion made a brief speech in his stead. Pointing to the 52% majority who voted Leave in 2016, he said: “We’ve had the referendum now. Let’s get behind Theresa May’s government, let’s get behind Brexit and get the best deal for students.”
Societies Officer Niall Johnson congratulated the speaker for the last-minute speech, but citing voting breakdowns, stated: “This does not fairly represents the views of young people, students, or those with university education.” The indicative vote showed more students against the motion, but a significant minority in favour and a handful of abstentions.
Critics argued that, “as the Union, it’s not actually our job to support the government”, and “about a year and a half ago, many people here in our Union did not have a chance to vote in the election [because of the voting age], not to mention international students.”
“We should represent students […] We should do what we believe is right. We should reject this motion and continue to fight to stay in the EU.”
However, a number of students voiced their doubts about the applications of the initial policy and the repeal motion: “What difference does it make if we do? Do you think Theresa May is sitting in her office reading letters from the Warwick SU […] Why does this exist?!”
An opponent to the motion commented: “This motion doesn’t simply repeal the policy, it asks us to support Brexit; which students don’t support.” Llewellyn, who arrived during the debate, declined to make a closing speech, which was made by the first speaker.
The motion, which mentions the “Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove” six times, suggests that the Union publicly backs the former education secretary’s 25-year plan, send Gove a letter of encouragement and aim to phase out single-use plastics at Warwick.
While the speaker for said it supported the government’s green initiatives, the speaker against called it unnecessary in light of ongoing SU policies.
A critic said: “The Warwick Tories are using trolling as a political tool. Haha, very funny, you truly aren’t making Warwick great again.”
A speaker from the Conservative Association defended the motion, commenting: “It’s a tongue in cheek sort of thing, it’s satire. … It’s a bit silly, that’s the whole point of it.”
The discussion turned into a debate over the merits of Michael Gove and student politics, before the indicative vote showed the room to be mostly against the motion.
The second environmental proposal had no speaker for the motion, so Education Officer Liam Jackson stepped in last minute: “We want a more sustainable Warwick, please vote for this motion.” There was no speech against.
The motion advocated for scrap paper trays to be made available in all campus study spaces and for the SU to lobby the University to publish the electricity consumption of every building on a termly basis.
The first commentator said: “I’m glad to see we’re getting some motions on climate change, but this is another pointless policy that doesn’t really do anything. I think this is a weak policy and it is a waste of our time to pass it.”
However, the majority of students supported the motion: “I like the idea of recycling, lets do some more of it.”
“This is not going to be a solution to the environmental policy at the university, but its a step in the right direction.”
Liam Jackson added: “I would love to lobby the university to provide scrap paper trays.” The motion passed the indicative vote with all in favour.
The motion proposed the introduction of a fixed foodbank donation point on central campus to combat food wastage and provide for the local community.
The proposer, Ben Newsham, called the motion “straightforward and convenient,” adding to the members in the audience responsible for ‘A Green Future’: “With the greatest respect, if you think the SU votes on irrelevant stuff, don’t propose irrelevant stuff. Propose easy-to-do, helpful stuff instead!”
A supporter added: “I think this is a really great motion, it is something we can easily do. I hope we could expand on this in the future, maybe to provide for students in need as well.”
The indicative vote passed unanimously, with no one standing against or abstaining.
Voting opens at 9am Tuesday (6 February) and will close at midday on Friday (9 February).