A question was raised over whether the Union was in fact responsible for academic representation within departments and years following complaints against the conduct of two year reps. ICU Court has been asked to rule and more than just gaping holes in the constitution have been discovered.
Soliciting Money for Representation
Two academic representatives from the Engineering Faculty were "suspended" for soliciting money following a successful negotiation with the department on behalf of their year. The students approached one of their lecturers to ask that a test should be made non-assessed due to excessive end of term deadlines leading up to the end of the Autumn Term. Having succeeded in this aim they sent an email to the rest of the year asking for money and also approached students on an individual basis.
The email sent by the reps to their year read:
"Now this wasn't easy, as you would guess, so we would like to kindly request a donation of only £1 from each of you (we've already got a few people donating already) for our hard work which resulted in your backsides being saved."
The result was numerous complaints from students within the department, a number of whom had been coerced into donating and were unhappy with the methods used to solicit money from their peers. One student claimed that the pair had come "begging" for money and had been so "damn annoying" that they eventually gave in. Another student said "Believing the request to be a joke at first, I donated money under the false pretence that it would be used for the purpose of organising events. I think that it was rather opportunistic of our reps and am hurt that they should ask so directly for money."
The Departmental Society and Representatives were quick to respond with an email to the year being sent later in the same day insisting that no donations should be made. The Dep Rep suggested that those who wished to thank the year reps should "Buy them a drink if you appreciate their effort." However, a suspension was later announced following the proposal of a meeting with the Head of Year, Senior Tutor and Head of Department.
A Matter of Constitutionality?
The Chair of the Departmental Society, in consultation with the Dep Reps, took a lead in contacting the department about the matter and informing the reps and students that the suspension had been put in place. The Departmental Representatives were named as the interim Year Reps until further action had been decided upon. The involvement of any Club or Society in suspending academic representatives is worrying in itself and the Officers were quickly informed that they did not have the authority to do so by Academic Affairs Officer, Alex Grisman. Referring the matter to Deputy President (Education and Welfare) Hannah Theodorou another, equally unconstitutional, suspension was placed on the reps by the Sabbatical despite the authority being reserved only to the President.
Meeting Staff Expectations
A hearing was scheduled within the department to determine whether or not complaints of soliciting money and misuse of departmental mailing lists should be upheld. The panel for this meeting was to consist of the Departmental Representatives, Senior Members of The Departmental Society, the Departments Senior Tutor and the Departments Head of Year. The meeting was cancelled after an informal decision between the Year Reps, Departmental Reps, Dep Soc Chair and CGCU Academic Affairs Officer was reached to hold the elections again. However, Departmental Staff back-tracked on this agreement when it became apparent that the year reps intended to stand again, calling for a vote of confidence in a lecture amid boos from some of the students. The Head of Year stated in an email that "I was given reason to doubt my wisdom in agreeing [to cancel the hearing] and also in taking for granted the sincerity of the apology of the reps." They also continued, "These students are not contrite at all, they are simply manipulating us all through a maze of rules and regulations".
The meeting was held on Tuesday 10th December with the additional presence of the DPEW, Hannah Theodorou and CGCU AAO, Alex Grisman. The year reps defended themselves, claiming the request for money was meant to be a joke but the panel were not convinced due to the fact that money had been taken from some of the complainants. The Staff present decided not to press for disciplinary action from the college provided that the Union removed the students from the posts and prevented them from running again. It was also warned at the hearing that neither of the two students would be welcome at future staff-student committee meetings. The Head of Department also stated with regards to the role of Year Reps within the college that "we expect year reps to conduct themselves with integrity and be seen to do so... the behaviour of year reps also reflects on the department and a break down of trust with Year Reps would impede some of the things a department expects to be able to do."
Determination and Deliberation
ICU Court was invited to rule on the matter of authority to suspend academic reps and whether or not the reps could re-stand for the position. It was while the Court was looking into these matters that a concerning question arose as to ?whether academic representatives were part of the union at all.? On the surface a laughable question with an obvious answer but the Court have highlighted that ?the Union constitution and regulations makes no mention of the department and year level representation?, hardly a small omission from such an important document.
The academic reps are, thankfully, mentioned in the CGCU Constitution as part of the AAO?s job description and the Election regulations. However, the wording varies with ?Academic Taught Student Representatives of their department? being mentioned on numerous occasions while Departmental Representatives sit on exec and act as Returning Officer for ?year rep elections?.
Unable to rely on the constitutions of either ICU or the Faculty Union to define the nature and relationship of Year and Departmental representatives, Court was forced to refer to the Code of Practice between ICU and Imperial College. This defines the purpose of ICU as to ?represent the needs and interests of its members to College?, a shaky but authoritative statement to support our autonomy over disciplinary actions.
Following the recommendations of ICU Court, a No Confidence Motion against the reps is to be brought to CGCU Exec in the Summer Term. In the meantime the reps are under a suspension enforced by the ICU President, Jenny Morgan. Court has also ruled that year and departmental representatives are Union posts but recommends that ?the roles and and status of academic year reps within the Union? is made clear?. Quite how we managed to get into a position where such a fundamental role of the Union could be questioned is beyond Live!.
Live! has reported on this story for several reasons but has chosen not to name the reps or their department to protect the students? identity. The reason why it has been reported now, rather than in December, is because the Court Determination has only recently become available in the Public Domain. It should be noted that while Live! has taken measures to ensure the anonimity of the suspended reps, the Court Determination uses their initials, year, department and position allowing them to be easily identified from these publically available documents.