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College Changes Union Constitution

Jul 11 2007 10:42
The Dark Knight
The College Secretariat has unilaterally changed ICU's constitution and code of practice, to bring the Union under tighter control.
Tony Mitcheson, known by some in the union as "The Enforcer", is in charge of the secretariat

Last month ICU Council approved a new Constitution and Code of Practice, putting the final touches on a year-long governance review set to revolutionise the way ICU was run. The changes had massive support within the College, as the new trustee board structure would bring much needed long-term planning and strategic skills to ICU.

These changes are now in jeopardy after the College Secretariat made controversial changes to the documents before they are presented to College Council for approval. The ICU President was not consulted on or informed about the changes, discovering them only when he read the papers for the College meeting.

The most concerning change is regarding the Code of Practice, which governs the relationship between Imperial and ICU. This document has traditionally required the approval of both parties, which allowed controversial parts to be removed at the request of the Union. The secretariat has removed this requirement for mutual agreement, allowing College to impose anything it likes upon the Union without consultation.

A second change seeks to clarify some ambiguity regarding the legal status of the Union, but not in ICU's favour. The constitution passed by ICU states that the organisation "in law could be treated as part of Imperial College", however this has changed to "which is part of Imperial College".

As an unfortunate consequence they also flattened the numbering hierarchy, replacing 23 paragraphs with 114, making the document much harder to read.

ICU President John Collins has withdrawn his support for the Constitution and Code of Practice in its current form, telling Live!:

"I am extremely disappointed by the behaviour of the College and feel personally let down by the Central Secretiat. Unless this matter is resolved before the College Council meeting this Friday I will withdraw my support for any proposed changes to the Union's governing documents and explain exactly why to all present at that meeting. If the College attempts to impose these changes on ICU then I will consult solicitors about further action."

College is still at liberty to pass the constitution anyway, as it is able in law to enforce changes upon the Union. The spirit of the law, if not the word, indicates that this should only be done to keep ICU as a fair and democratic organisation operating legally. Passing a constitution without democratic approval from ICU nor the support of the ICU President would certainly be one of College's more bizarre decisions.

Should this political power play reach stalemate it is possible that the constitution will not be changed, wrecking the timetable for the introduction of the trustee board and requiring a new constitution to be passed at the start of the academic year.

At Monday's Centenary Ceremony the College Chairman, Lord Kerr, declared "independence is fun". Apparently ICU is not allowed the same luxury.

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Discussion about “College Changes Union Constitution”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
1. Hmm   
Jul 11 2007 17:15
 

This "Code of Practice" is a new name for the MoU, right?

So College would be able to unilaterally change the MoU without the Union having any say?

Jul 11 2007 19:45
 

No, I understand that they are separate documents. The Code of Practice is a requirement of the Education Act 1994 while the MoU is an agreement between the College and the Union about provision of facilities and resources.

With regards to the legal status, does anyone happen to have a copy of the new Charter and its Statutes? The old Statutes provide for the Union to be part of the College quite clearly (paragraph 11). The Union's constitution is a Regulation of the College Council (well, it was, and I assume still is), so it may be a tidy up exercise for this particular issue on the part of the College, though I personally interpret the clause "in law could be treated as..." as something which should not conflict whatsoever and indeed is flexible to stand the test of time for the Union.

Certainly it would be easier to defend if the Union was a corporate body, which currently it is not. The only fall back with regards to the CoP changes is to seek advice from a solicitor on the clear requirements of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 on the part of the College and the Education Act 1994 for both parties.

My tentative hunch, without having done current research on opinion and facts, is that the Union could simple refuse the imposition of a new CoP on the grounds that they haven't been consulted. I could witter on, but actually I'm constitutioned out!

Jul 11 2007 20:00
 

Just to clarify and add, that the Code of Practice specifically has to include provision for what services non-unionised students can derive from the Union and also the complaints mechanism.

Clearly, the EA94 doesn't restrict the Code's content and jurisdiction. The EA86 is all about 'freedom of speech' on university campuses, for which the current Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, when he was head of Liverpool University, was embroiled in. I forget the details, but the biscuits were nice...

Jul 11 2007 20:31
 

The CoP is the new MoU - it was renamed to bring it into line with the EA94.

Jul 11 2007 22:57
 

How strange. I'm sure there was a separate CoP when I was on Council, then again, it did ring a bell that the MoU contain the CoP...

Anyway, a moot point.

6. Simon   
Jul 11 2007 23:57
 

I'll be well p***ed off if all those long meetings and that cut down rainforest worth of paper was all for nowt.

Oh, and that college is telling ICU to bend over and take it like a b****, bloody minded gits. No wonder student satisfaction ratings are so low when college blatantly doesnt give a rat's ass what we think or want.

Hopefully saner heads will prevail, however this is one hell of a load to dump on next years sab team if it can't be sorted.

Jul 12 2007 01:39
 

Why don't you all give up. It's all a pile of old bulls**t.

Jul 12 2007 10:20
 

I like John's attitude, if in doubt Sue the bastards!!!!!

Jul 12 2007 12:51
 

for a copy of the new Charter and its Statutes see Page 85 of the College Council minutes Nov 2006

http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/portal/pls/portallive/docs/1/13821697.PDF

Jul 12 2007 13:40
 

"In so far as it shall further the educational purposes of the University, there shall be a Students' Union of the University (hereinafter referred to as "the Imperial College Union") for the benefit of the students of the University and in their interests as students. The constitution of the Imperial College Union, its governance, powers and functions and all other matters which the Council may think proper to regulate shall, subject to the provision of this Our Charter, be approved by the Council."

Jul 12 2007 20:19
 

Hmm, well if there is nothing else that that (I haven't ready the minutes yet), then the College must follow the amendments procedures as laid down in the Constutution - that is, any changes must be approved by the Union itself, first, by the Union Council of its own motion (i.e. not the College's Council's own motion). Ha!

When I was SOAS Returning Officer, I sought legal opinion from Clifford Chance, on a similar failure to follow the amendments procedure, which affected the manner of the election of the Honorary President - the SOAS Union approved a motion to effect change and then proceeded to illegally hold an election, prior to assent being given by the SOAS College governing body. The Governing Body then tried to back date the amendment and trying to use some conjuring trickery retrospectively declare that the constitution had been changed. I didn't agree with this, so they tried to no-confidence me (the College, not the Union).

The legal advice stated that I was protected from their no-confidence as they had failed to follow the Code of Practice with complaints about their Union and also that their failure to follow the amendments procedure, was thereby ultra vires.

Talk about an air-punching moment.

Though this never went to a court or to the Visitor, I would be more than happy to pass my legal advice with this matter to the ICU President as some guidance for how to proceed and what to look for in various pieces of documentation. If anyone is interested, I can email a PDF of teh advice, which runs to some nine pages.

12. Sense   
Jul 12 2007 22:23
 

That all sounds very NUS Rob.

I am sure with a few polite words in the correct ears sense will prevail and College will be quite happy to admit their 'mistake'. This is all a case of one person getting a bit too big for their boots. I imagine College are just as dismayed at this vagrant disregard for procedure and the college Secretariat can only emerge with his tail between his legs. Have faith - I doubt having spent an excellent year rebuilding communications with the Students' Union that College are about to throw that away.

Plus you wouldn't want to start off the year with Steve Brown on the warpath. It could end up very embarrassing.

Jul 13 2007 00:02
 

Yes, I understand what Sense says; indeed it would be wonderful if the College have a change of tune and consider it an error of judgement on their part. However, surely common sense should have prevailed earlier with discussion and agreement on changes to these rules and respect for the Union's autonomy.

How is this 'very NUS'? If you mean my determination that people and organisations should follow their own rules, which they have all agree to, then I have to say that if we just believe in 'good faith', trust the 'wrong actions will be reversed when they see their disregard' for the rules' then we may all just act with all rules treated as 'a la carte', a pick and choose menu of what suits us not and what does not. People who act in good faith and use their discretion usually end up being the fall guy after having been manipulated by others, who are not publically exposed.

Having said all of this, I wish the ICU President well in his discussions with the College on this matter - let us hope Sense prevails ;)

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