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Trustee Board to Over-rule Council Decision?

May 16 2008 09:28
Ashley Brown
The trustee board may over-rule ICU Council's changes to the Code of Practice, in an effort to protect failing Union departments from criticism.
More of this to come?

The recently-created Trustee Board may reject changes to the Union's Code of Practice, which were proposed by ICU's media outlets and approved by the students on Union Council. The changes, approved last term, give ICU's media the explicit right to criticise Union departments, while still protecting individual staff members from criticism or media harassment.

Key members of ICU's media thought change was necessary after Felix felt it had been prevented from publishing stories which cast certain departments in a poor light.

The Code of Practice forms an Annex of the ICU constitution, so changes to the CoP follow the same procedure as for the rest of the document. Due to changes which, according to some, were snuck through last year, Council can no longer change the ICU constitution by itself. Previously, two readings of Council with 2/3 majority were required to make changes to the Union's core document, but now they must pass through one reading at Council and one at the trustee board.

The trustee board - which until recently has met in unpublicised meetings and published no minutes - has expressed concern that such criticism of ICU would go against the responsibility the organisation has to its employees, so has delayed its decision (and any changes) to consider it further.

The net result could be the gagging of student media in relation to staff-related activities, including catering and finance.

Live! has been concerned about the relationship between the trustee board and the media since the very first meeting of the trustee board, when the Live! Editor was asked "who controls what you publish?" by the chair, Ram Gidoomal.

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Discussion about “Trustee Board to Over-rule Council Decision?”

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. Chris   
May 16 2008 18:43

Some people seem to have something they seriously worry about being published... fingers crossed Live! will remain as it is.

May 17 2008 14:41

Free the cat!

May 17 2008 14:48

apparently the rector impregnated a fresher ... a male fresher ...

May 18 2008 01:18

Doesn't really make the Trustee Board sound like a very democratic and transparent body now does it.

May 18 2008 12:58

what doesn't make it sound very democratic and transparent? because it disagrees with council? or rather more true to the situation, a few members of the trustee board have some concerns about the changes?

May 18 2008 20:24

Perhaps, Ryan, and indeed the article's writer, should think about what the Trustee Board's aim really is. It's not trying to gag anyone, it's trying to keep the Union from being sued into oblivion for what could well be serious breaches fo employment law. I think that in itself is more important than a criticism of the catering policy: sued = huge payouts = no union.

May 19 2008 09:45

The trustee board has to stop us getting sued, but it also has to stay out of the way as much as possible.

The changes presented aimed to explicitly allow criticism of areas of the union which were causing problems (for example, when food was taking ages to arrive in catering, or now when finance paperwork takes forever to get processed), but without identifying any specific members of staff.

If they don't pass the changes, then nothing really happens. Articles can still be written saying that the service in the bars is slow, or that paperwork is taking forever to be processed.

It just requires that the article is spun to blame an elected officer (e.g. DPFS or President), even when they can't do anything because its an "operational issue".


  • We need to be able to criticise departments


  • Sabbs need to be able to change things without "it's an operational issue" coming up

If sabbs can't change something, we can't blame them for it. If they don't like it, the Trustee Board should propose a better solution rather than throwing it out.

8. well   
May 19 2008 12:17

It's not the remit of the trustee board to suggest a better solution so they shouldn't propose a better solution.

I agree that the Trustee Board shouldn't interfere where it's not neccessary, clearly the disagreement stems from differing views on whether it's neccessary in this case.

Some Trustee Board members felt that passing the amendment might get us into legal trouble and furthermore they indicated that staff had voiced concerns over the changes.

The Trustee Board has simply decided to go away, evaluate the situation further and then make an informed decision at the next meeting.

May 19 2008 12:17

Having been at the Trustee Board when this was discussed I remember this slightly differently.

Concerns were rasied over the changes which were very valid. However, I hope that these worries will be eradicated once the members have read the full version of the Staff Student Protocol. Most of those present had not read the full document and therefore the committee has postponed the decision until the SSP document could be circulated to all members to be considered. The changes by themselves, with no background into why they were necessary or what they were changing, do cause alarm. In actual fact they are only minor and do not have the wider implications that members of the board were worried about. I don't think the changes are as 'bad' as they may have come across, I hope there will be no problem with them passing at the next meeting.

May 19 2008 12:23

Sorry, the Trustee Board is supposed to be an experience pair of eyes and its well within their remit to give feedback on things they think are questionable. Otherwise you get a situation where you spend months trying to pass things with the board going "don't like it", but not saying why they don't like it.

If their experience shows them a better solution, they should recommend it. Otherwise what's the point of having the experience there.

May 19 2008 13:38

And in this case, members of the board appeared to voice concerns to the effect of "this will victimize staff members in small departments without a specific right of reply, hence bordering on employment law breaches." If they were to give an alternative solution, there would no doubt be cries of the board being unconstitutional, because it is council's job to propose changes in a democratic manner, and the Trustee Board's purpose to ensure these are constitutional, and more importantly, legal. Their experience shows that this is an area that will land the Union in legal difficulties- that's what it's there for. If not, the changes would have sailed through we'd have already had writs served by now. (Notwithstanding the fact that the board appeared to think the changes weren't necessary, and as such not to propose a solution is probably justifiable).

I think the real issue is to do with Sabbs here. They are accountable for the union's performance, they are democractically elected, and it is up to them to take the flak for poor performance. It's like having the front page of a national newspaper blaming poor profits on one or two employees of a local McDonalds and runing their careers(?) when really the poor profit should have been dealt with at a higher level, i.e. board of elected directors?

This is all of course speculation, premature at that, in the sense that we won't know a decision until the next meeting.

May 19 2008 15:10

hear hear

May 19 2008 16:12

"If they were to give an alternative solution, there would no doubt be cries of the board being unconstitutional"

What a load of rubbish. If they were to enforce a solution it would be unconstitutional and undemocratic. Using their experience to suggest a solution is a perfectly sensible - and desirable - thing to do. Council can always go "no, don't like that".

During the governance review I was in favour of a trustee board so there was some experienced oversight. There's no point having the experience there if it can block things without suggesting an alternative which might achieve the same goals, but avoiding the hazards they have identified.

"If not, the changes would have sailed through we'd have already had writs served by now."

Except we've been doing what the changes say we can do anyway, and haven't had any writs.

"the board appeared to think the changes weren't necessary"

Yet there's no written report to Council saying why they think the changes aren't necessary. Until the minutes were finally published a few weeks ago, Council had pretty much no idea what the Trustee Board were doing - meeting dates moved, no minutes etc. Besides, its not their job to decide if the changes are necessary. Perhaps they could also decide that approving funding for clubs wasn't necessary, or that the environmental policy was going to cost some money so also wasn't necessary?

"I think the real issue is to do with Sabbs here. They are accountable for the union's performance, they are democractically elected, and it is up to them to take the flak for poor performance."

Entirely true, however the phrase "operational issue" has been used in the past to basically tell sabbs to sod off and mind their own business. It's ridiculous to blame a sabb for poor performance in that situation.

Here's an example: for years people (including sabbs) had apparently been asking for a log book for the safe in the finance office. One did not appear until after a story was published about missing money. It's not fair to blame the sabbs - they requested it, it did not appear.

"It's like having the front page of a national newspaper blaming poor profits on one or two employees of a local McDonalds"

No, it's like having a national newspaper blame the chaos at T5 on the managers who decided to move all the flights in one go, without testing it properly first. Their names have been mentioned several times, as they ended up falling on their swords.

There is probably scope to make a different change, talking about "discussion of ICU's activities", which does not allow criticism of the form "department X is slow to react", but does allow us to say "activity X has not kept up with other changes in College".

The Trustee Board will not be meeting for another month. If it rejects the change, there will be no opportunity for Council to try and make a different change this year - there will be no more Council meetings. This was originally approved by Council in March - it will have taken three months to get the Trustee Board to say yes or no!

We must be able to say things like "the catering service is incredibly slow". Equally, we should be able to say "the evening menu is much better, well done ICU". A severe interpretation of the SSP by an ICU President could ban that.

Feedback on what the Trustee Board has been discussing and deciding has been appalling so far - a bit more democratic accountability would be nice. As far as I can see the proposers of the original paper were not invited to discuss it, were not told it was going to that particular meeting and were not informed that the Board had reservations about it. A second reading at Council used to have the proposers there to provide extra feedback.

14. aaagh!   
May 19 2008 19:50

somebody is wrong on the internet!

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