Members of Union Council met for 3 hours 30 minutes last night to decide the fate of the Deputy President (Graduate Students), who was defending herself against a no-confidence motion brought by the Deputy President (Finance & Services).
The last no confidence motion was brought against Union President Mustafa Arif, who successfully defeated it. Members of Council should have read all the documentation beforehand - it ran to over a hundred pages, with over 20 pages of no-confidence, nearly 70 pages of defence and a 23 page Court determination all to be considered.
During the meeting a number of Graduate Students' Association (GSA) committee members spoke in support of the DPGS, mostly students new to Imperial for their postgraduate courses. They praised her approachable nature and events ideas, but it seemed they sometimes failed to grasp the concept that the position was both GSA chair and a Deputy President, so required more than just organising events.
This theme continued throughout the evening, with GSA members expressing their view that it was unfair for an undergraduate majority to decide the fate of this particular Deputy President. However, there were quite a few voting postgraduates in the room, most of whom spoke at some point during the evening, to give support, identify shortcomings or even do both. It was also highlighted that as a Deputy President the role spans the whole Union, even if the core welfare role is for postgraduates.
A Fair Hearing
It was clear from the start that few people in the room had any clue as to how they would vote (even those who seconded the motion), allaying any fears that Council as a whole was on a witch hunt. The mammoth defence was picked away at, with a number of perceived inaccuracies discussed. At a number of points the atmosphere turned distinctly frosty as Council members and other sabbaticals identified shortcomings and questioned the DPGS about them.
The Council Chair handled the meeting in a fair and dignified way, with a good balance of speakers preventing an all-out attack on the DPGS for any length of time.
Paid vs Volunteer
The controversial evidence, such as monitoring of the DPGS' arrival times and information from the DPGS email account was barely discussed, as Council had more pressing concerns. Nevertheless the DPGS apologised for her lateness on several occasions, insisting that she was 'trying' to arrive on time. It was queried as to why she was merely 'trying' and not actually arriving on time.
As volunteer officers many felt particularly concerned that a paid officer was unable to turn up to important College meetings on time and submit correct documentation. Among the problems identified were:
- the GSA stall not being setup at freshers fair until the afternoon
- the DPGS drinking in the bar while other sabbs and volunteers were clearing up freshers fair
- failure to attend the meeting with the Deputy Rector
The sabbaticals also raised concerns about the Deputy President regularly missing, or arriving late for, management planning group, the meeting where Sabbatical Officers and staff discuss activities for the week. Problems with finances were also raised, with the DPGS admitting that she had problems filling in the budget spreadsheet. One Councillor asked why a paid officer was incapable of doing it when volunteers running the Union's 280 clubs and societies successfully fill them out on a regular basis.
However those all occurred before the verbal and written warnings already given to the DPGS. More concerning seemed to be the lack of regard for her predicament, with a number of serious failures occurring after the motion of no-confidence was submitted. These included being late for the Strategic Education Committee (SEC) where PhD funding was discussed and on Friday failing to submit the GSA budget on time. After requesting an extension the DPGS was told that Friday 4pm was the hard, immovable, final deadline for her budget (other clubs had theirs in by 31st January), yet did not submit it until close to 5pm.
As the meeting drew to a close the mood softened, with a number of people speaking out to show that the DPGS was an approachable, friendly person who has helped increase GSA brand awareness this year. Despite missing much of freshers fair she did attend many introductory lectures in the Tanaka Business School and other postgraduate courses.
With this in mind, it was suggested by a number of people that the punishment should fit the crime and that perhaps dismissal was too harsh, particularly given the good work the DPGS is perceived to have done by some members of the GSA. During a brief recess it certainly seemed as if people were still unsure how they would vote because of these mitigating factors.
The Deputy President (Education & Welfare) suggested that it was far from clear that a no confidence was the correct solution, requesting that it be dropped to a censure. A censure is essentially another formal warning, calling for the behaviour described in the motion to change. It is however a final warning: once a censure has been passed, any further disciplinary motion must be a no confidence - a person cannot be censured twice.
A couple of Council members expressed the view that in light of previous warnings a censure was not appropriate: this was not a first or second warning, but way past that point. It was voted on, with 17 of the 27 in the room agreeing it should drop to a censure. A number of people Live! spoke to afterwards felt they had no choice, as despite believing a no confidence was in order they thought it would not go through.
With the motion reduced to a censure, the mood hardened, with a clear attitude amongst Council that they wanted to move to a vote. The Chair permitted some final summing up, before the prosecution and defence were taken outside as votes were cast and counted in a secret ballot.
The new motion of censure passed by 25 votes to 2, becoming the first censure in over 20 years and passing by an overwhelming majority. At least one of the opposers stated to Live! that he wanted a no confidence, so voted against the censure. He described a censure as "totally pointless", sharing the view amongst some Councillors that enough warnings had already been given.
Picking up the pieces
ICU President John Collins is now left with the job of reassembling his team after a night which at times appeared brutal, at times caring, with people speaking passionately for both sides. In any event a clear message has been sent, that the DPGS must improve her timekeeping and meeting attendance and the other Sabbatical Officers are to assist her with any procedural shortcomings.
This article was originally posted just past 19:00 on 5th February 2007, with a headline of "No Confidence Underway". By 22:17 it changed to give the result of the motion. The current version was written the next morning, giving more details.