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This article is an opinion piece and should be taken as such. It is highly likely to be biased, but either the article itself or the ensuing discussion will probably be entertaining. Live! takes no editorial line on opinion pieces.

ICU Council: Was it right?

Jan 14 2003 15:03
Edward Piggott
Yet again, Council proves that it's not being run for the students.
ICU: What do you think?

Yesterday, Imperial College Union had one of it's best times to prove to it's members that it truly was run democratically for the benefit of it's members. Did it take the golden opportunity to do this? You'd be surprised to know that it didn't.

ICU had, for the first time since the 1980's, the chance to bring one of the most senior officers of the Union to account. Mr. Senthooran Ganeshwaranthan had a Motion of Censure against him with regards his running of the elections to the Executive Committee. At first, the discussion regarding this matter started constructively, with many good points being made on both sides, and it seemed that we could truly get to the bottom of this matter. But then, things managed to take a turn for the worse. It seemed that, whilst many people had turned up to the meeting wanting to add constructive points to the debate, some had turned up for no obvious reason. They started to profess that the whole meeting was boring, and wanted to move to a vote on this important issue. Luckily, they failed to force this the first time, however, after this they started to make irrelevant points to the debate and, ultimately, managed to get a move to the point on this issue. As can be expected, Mr. Ganeshwaranthan was not Censured.

Truly, ICU Council had throttled the Goose that layed the Golden Egg. At a time when the numbers of Students actually voting or standing in ICU elections is falling, we see a Council making no attempt to bring it's officers to account. They'd rather have a ?life? than run the Union for the benefit of it's members. Naturally, I was disgusted by this attitude, and felt that I had to say something about this. After all, when there's a Motion of Censure, the Constitution clearly states that members must have due regard for the gravity of the situation. I agree with many people that what I said may have been slightly over the top, but this can be put down to the heated nature of the debate. However I do not regret saying anything that I did, as it was necesary to do this, as I'm sure that the members of the Union should know how Council conducts itself. Perhaps we should have a forum where people can say what they feel without fear of repercussions.

In the end, this ended with a rather black blotch on a few members of council. When people need to hide behind petty insults, rather than try and engage in a discussion about the points raised, you have to wonder whether they deserve to be representing the members. I would also like to point out that I consider petty insults to have been left at the Infant School Playground, and have no place in a meeting of Council. Also, being thrown out of the Council meeting for Contempt can be construed as being an attack on the rights of members to speak out on important issues. After all, if people speak their mind, and Council doesn't like it, then you get thrown out. So why should a member come and speak at Council, when they are in fear of being held in Contempt for six months?

Perhaps something constructive can still come out of this. Perhaps it is time to review Council's role in light of last nights meeting. Even more fundamental, perhaps it is time to review the Election procedures and rules. I would hope that people will listen to their members for a change.

Footage of the meeting is available at Stoic

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Discussion about “ICU Council: Was it right?”

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.
Jan 14 2003 15:26

I think I've made it clear for some time that I believe Council should be abolished. It is a waste of space - dominated by chumps unable to hold sabbaticals to account.

Jan 14 2003 15:28

Weekly General Meetings held at lunchtime (like LSE) is the way to go.

Jan 14 2003 15:28

I afraid to say now that I agree with you completely. Its time we actually stopped talking about this issue and get on and do something.

Jan 14 2003 16:21

Ah Yes. But then you have the problem of always hitting quorum.

A simple idea was mentioned to me by a former "senior union member"

It goes thus: Make club budgets availability conditional on quorate meetings. Thus garunteeing quorum everytime as many members of various cubs and societies turned up.

This would mean that many people would have to see the process in action, and should have the ability to take part. More regular meetings would stop items being "so important they couldnt wait" like all these items that suddenly crop up 4 days prior to each Council.


5. Tim   
Jan 14 2003 16:22

Sounds like the monthly Prime Minister Press Conference. And the GM has to be televised on stoic (if we can..)

Then are the Sabbs going to manage and oversee the whole ICU instead of the Supreme Council?

Still I reckon the Sabbs will all talk s***.

6. tom t   
Jan 14 2003 17:39

In response to the headline. NO

here's a cut n paste (at risk of wrath from Mustafa):

ICU council should never meet again - it is a farce and achieves very little. Pro-activity and getting stuff done should be a priority, not making each other accountable to each other through long and tiresome motions of censure and reports. Last year I ran the Alternative Careers Fair, with no Union support, and no Union funding (small white lie, I did get ?125 contingency from SCC committee). Not even DramSoc support! It was a roaring success, such that ICU is now backing it and helping to organise. All without having ever gone to a single Council meeting...

If you want increased representation, you need to improve access to the money, the people who know, and make ordinary members feel that they can achieve something WITHOUT having to learn all the jargon, or knowing what REGULATION 2, SECTION A, CLAUSE 6 actually says. No wonder they don't want to go to council meetings!

Ed, I know that you have grievances with the way things have happened, and that open democracy is important to you. But I still passionately believe that actions speak louder than words, and if you want to change something, you can with enough persistence. Crying over spilt milk is something that also ought be left in the infant school playground.

Wouldn't it be much more interesting to table and debate a motion, proposing the abolition of council to be replaced with a more representative, accessible system? There seem to be plenty of ideas out there..


Jan 14 2003 18:03


Yes, I agree that action must be taken. I however also feel that my position as a student has been compromised. I have essentially been allowed back into Council on a leash held by a few members of Council. However, if ordinary students can be made to care about this issue, it could be more easily accomplished.

Jan 14 2003 18:10

Stop referring to me as 'a former "senior union member"'. It's very annoying!

Jan 14 2003 18:22

Sorry Mustafa,

What is the correct not named reference to your current (non)position?

just for the future....

Jan 14 2003 18:29

Hmmm... how about 'a former C&G President'?

Jan 14 2003 18:32

Oh and Tim, GM's should not only be filmed by STOIC but broadcast live.

12. Mum   
Jan 14 2003 18:46

In response to: "Make club budgets availability conditional on quorate meetings. Thus garunteeing quorum everytime as many members of various cubs and societies turned up."

And have a load of people in council who don't want to be there, don't give a f*** about what's going on and want to hurry through even more important votes?

You can't force people to suddenly take an interest in things. What IS important is that people are informed of what is going on (through Felix, posters etc)and that they have the opportunity to get involved IF THEY WANT TO and are well informed of HOW AND WHERE THEY CAN DO SO.

Jan 14 2003 19:22

While I agree with Nia (aka Mum), there's a bit of a problem - basically, Felix won't publish stories about what goes in at ICU, cos the editor reckons people aren't interested in union news, decisions, etc. (At least that's what he said yesterday in the bar). The idiocy of this position is, of course, plain to see...

14. Nia   
Jan 14 2003 19:45

Well a lot of people probably aren't interested in it and Felix should still certainly contain all the lovely stuff that it currently does. But if a page or two was devoted to highlighting the current main issues then that at least gives those who are interested (and they might not know they're interested until a word or two in it catches their eye) an opportunity to know what's going on and have a say. The other 98% of iCU happily ignore it and turn to the crossword.

Again, I will mention the option of expanding the role of "Felix Editor" to "Union Communications Officer" whose responsibility it is to communicate what the hell the Union is doing and how to get involed to its members. Felix being only a (albeit important) part of that role.

15. Rob   
Jan 14 2003 19:52

To someone who knows next to nothing about union politics (i.e. me) this all looks really petty.

16. Tim   
Jan 14 2003 20:20

Rob, lucky you who no longer sits on Council. :-(

It is damn ture that it looks very petty and I do not feel like I am representing engineering students on Council, but watching a muppet.. i mean puppet show.

Bring in the televised GM!!

17. Sunil   
Jan 14 2003 23:43

I don't see why Felix should cover ICU Council proceedings and the like. Felix does an adequate job of keeping average students informed about matters that actually are news.

Hack A bickering with Hack B is not newsworthy if nobody knows who those hacks are. Policy X is not newsworthy if in reality it only affects un-newsworthy hacks. Ad infinitum ad nauseum.

18. steve   
Jan 15 2003 00:32

I think the suggestion to bring clubs and societies members into council is a good one.

I disagree that it would bring people who don't give a f*** about the union into play - these are the people who are meant to be represented, after all - and if you genuinely want their views, then you have to tolerate the fact that they aren't interested in bloated bureaucratic bulls***, but in getting stuff done.

I think a slight alteration would be better, however - have a 'council service' system (like jury service) in place; we don't need every representative from C&S to turn up every week, the organisation would be a nightmare. Just have 15-20 representatives per meeting, and inform clubs and societies at the beginning of the year which dates they must turn up on.

The fact of the matter is that at present, a large part of the union hierarchy is self contained, unapproachable, and meaningless to a student body whose apathy and willingness to sit back is fading away as time goes by. We need a decent election this year, with far, far more coverage in the standard publications - I believe in Felix last year, the main candidates had between one and three paragraphs each with which to put their case forward, in a single week of Felix. Inform the people, and they will make a choice.

19. Eddie   
Jan 15 2003 01:06

Interesting problems here. Its almost like everything is a trade off.

  • Meet regularly, and have less to discuss (shorter meetings) or have less meetings, but with much business, and no oportunity to be able to reflect on things for a week or two then bring it back.
  • Have loads of members so that everyone is represented by clubs, by departments, by whatever, Or have a smaller number of people who always turn up, and are motivated to keep informed
  • Have "hacky" members who have spent a year or two working their way up the structure, or have many fresh faces who dont know what the COnstitution and Regs are.

So what are the simple answers that are going to give us a utopian ideal? Maybe there isnt one. We can work to make things better. Communication certainly will be key. Maybe the informaion policy will play a part. Maybe there is a place for felix and/or a Communcications Sabb. Maybe we decentralise, maybe we centralise more. Do we want Clubs&Societies? Welfare? Education Representation? Cheap Beer? Cheap pens? Accomodation advice? a JobShop? Campaigns? Advice?

Or do we live with what we have got? It may not be perfect, but its what we know? Or do we continually tinker and adjust?

Any other questions?

Jan 15 2003 08:34

I'm afraid that what we must do is not just "tinker and adjust", rather conduct a critical re-evaluation of Council's role in the future. What we have to get to is an idea that will work for the students, be that "GM Service" or some such arrangemnet, but we must also reasses the agenda of meetings. What I would envisage would be a meeting where the students could bring their officers to account. If students feel they can make a difference, they are more likely to get involved.

Jan 15 2003 11:20


For the record I would like to point out, as I can as a past returning officer of the union, that voting in the sabbatical elections last year increased both as a quantitative number and as a proportion of the electorate. I therefore find your comments about 'less people voting' unjustified.

Furthermore, given the exceptional turnout for the NUS referendum in March, I hardly think an argument can be put together that ICU is removed from its students.

Jan 15 2003 11:39

Two questions?

A) How much?

B) What about elections for non-sabbatical officers?

Just because you only conducted an election for Sabs, you cannot generalise this with other elections.

Also, the NUS referendum was NOT AN ELECTION. You cannot use it to generalise election results. Also, it was something that affects the Students DIRECTLY so they CARED ABOUT IT. Things students aren't bothered about (ie. Union Governance) they'll take an interest and vote.

Jan 15 2003 12:35

Also, before I forget,

I said that ICU COUNCIL is out of touch with the students. Seeing as Council is the soverign body, it can be quite easily argued that Council represents the Union, and as ordinary Students cannot, under any circumstances, except by referendum, approve or reject a piece of policy. Therefore, Council is essentially the "Union", not the Students.

Jan 15 2003 18:36

Wow...someone with some sense. I agree with everything in this article.

But please don't tinker with council....just follow the rules that are there....if you did that it would work.

If sen was brought to account for his inefficient paperwork then it would be different. Council doesn't work becuase people who come are too scared to think that the sabbaticals may be wrong. If you're not interested in council, don't come and distrupt it for those who want to be heard.

I was also very disappointed in the performance of the chair, albeit under difficult cirumstances. Barry - stand up to Sen and tell him to stop spouting confusing tat every time he opens his mouth on union matters. Make him answer the questions!

Jan 15 2003 18:38

I also refer people to the part of the regs that says "Members must think before voting". I doubt very much that any one listens to the (always shortened) debates and changes their view based on what they heard after they walked in the door.

Jan 15 2003 22:58

Face it: You are a clique of union hacks. There are about 5 people who have written on this page and you all know eachother and can say the stuff you want without having to write it down.

And that's why non-clique persons don't come to, or care about council. We don't understand a word of the petty squabbling that goes on. We don't know the ins and outs of election rules, and frankly that's not really such a huge issue when there are more pressing and relevant issues that need action and not procrastination and paperwork.

If you want to involve more people, stop messing around with minor consitutional points and deal with some real problems facing IC (sorry- Imperial) students.

Jan 16 2003 01:08

As far as i can tell, without schitzophrenia, there are 12 people posting on this thread. I know 10 of them. Yes i would be classed as a hack.

However if elected Union officers actually read the constitution and regulations (just once, i'm not asking for photographic memories here) they'd know what these people are talking about.

As i'm sure President (Emeritus) Common could explain, in law, ignorance is never a defense.

Jan 16 2003 01:17

OK odd one out, what issues have you brought to council that affect IC students that are more important than arguing over whether elections at ICU are run properly?

Surely the starting point for getting the views of IC students properly heard and represented by the union is by making sure that elections are fair, so everybody's vote is equal and counted?

Jan 16 2003 12:01

Let's face it. As summed up by one person at the council meeting, members of council are a "bunch of tossers".

Sen is a lazy, lying, incompetant president. Wake up and see it. It needs sorting out. Who is going to do it? No one on council because those who try get knocked back my a bunch of a*** kissing t***s.

Why do I say those things of Sen?

Lazy - papers are rarely distributed until the last minute before meetings, making it hard to read and understand them. Minutes are left to last minute and recalled from memory. He can't be a***d with STV, because it takes too long. He's nearly always last into the office. There's a big difference between being busy and being productive as well.

Lying - he accused two of my friends of lying, and by doing that accused me of lying. I know none of us did. He presented evidence to "prove" that we lied. It was questionable at best, and the whole disciplinary procedure is pretty screwed anyway.

Incompetant - his career as president seems to be mistake after mistake. He thinks he knows everything. In fact, he has few life skills. He is poor at communication (by which, I mean he spends a long time bulls***ting in meetings when a yes or no would suffice).

And I really hope I can be held to account for writing stuff on here.

Jan 16 2003 12:27

Dear "odd one out",

You seem to think that people who write on Live! don't wan't their comments written down. I personally have said here basically what I said in Council. I would hope that what I said in Council will be minuted Verbatim, thus giving a record for years to come, lest anyone wan't to accuse me. Also, any student is entitled to come to these pages and look at what's been said. You will find that the majority of people who have written here have used their real names, feeling that they wan't to be associated with their comments.

Perhaps if you used your real name you would understand.

Jan 16 2003 13:12

I would like to say two things.

1) The whole point about having a democratic system is that when a decision has been made and you don't like it, tough. What you think is the appropriate outcome may not be the general opinion.

2) If the students are apathetic about the workings of council, maybe it's because these committees spend too long dealing with relatively unimportant business and the really relevant stuff (to your average student) is buried. No normal student looks forward to going to council because they consider it dull. Perhaps more time should be spent on business that your average student considers important than business that only a small majority is interested in.

32. Agenda   
Jan 16 2003 13:54

But it's the students who write the papers that form the agenda for council.

So what buisness should we discuss? Or should we stop the discussion if a matter of buisness/paper is boring?

Jan 16 2003 14:45

The whole point about a democratic system is that if a decision is taken and you don't like it, then tough (I agree). But what if it is unclear whether the people who were elected were elected fairly? Then what do we do?

Jan 16 2003 15:39

Dear Edward,

One of the first points about most elections is that votes can be cast anonymously right? This is to protect the voter from people using his/her opinions against them in none election issues. I choose to remain anonymous here for the same sort of reasons. I know some of you, but not very well. This way, i can say more things. Things i wouldn't normally dare to say. As they're not rude or nasty or intended to offend in any way, surely this is a good thing? Come one people, stay unknown and say the stuff you've always wanted to say!

Jo - You're absolutely right.

Maybe we need a second council, an action committee. That way, those who wish to go and muddle with the petty, paperworky stuff can do, but it doesn't take time away from stuff that bothers the "average" student.

Let's take the silent protest. See all those non-union hacks that showed up? That is the nonapethetic student body who have been waiting for someone to organise them into protest. Unfortunately, organising around here isn't an easy thing (you might unknowingly break a few union rules and find yourself accidently up against a disciplinary getting a ?100 fine)unless you know the right people, which means you guys.

The balls in your court. Do something with it.

35. tom t   
Jan 16 2003 15:41

There is not much to say here:

>300 people (non hacks) turned up to the first top up fees emergency council.

They were interested, and it was an issue that affected them.

<10 people turned up to censure Sen.

I contend that it was as dull as dishwater.

I could go on - but really council just has to get on with finding important issues, like fees/war in iraq/etc that people care about.

Oh, and get the unaccountable sabb called Felix to get on with earning his keep. One big trouble is that no-one even kows that council meetings happen regularly!

Jan 16 2003 16:20

Can I just throw a brief point into the ring: Council is dull. It's supposed to be dull! The job of Council is to lay down policy and rules in within which the union can work. It's the base of the pyramid upon which all the fun stuff (eg clubs and socs) are based - and no matter how boring it is, if you pull out the base then the whole structure comes tumbling down...

Jan 16 2003 18:31

Council is not supposed to be dull, I'm fairly certain that isn't written in the constitution!

It seems to me (from the comments above) that a lot of council is rushed because people find it dull, long and boring. If you rush issues, no matter what they are, and move to a vote before everyone has had their say, you are denying them the ability to represent the views of the people that elected them to the position of office they hold. Thus above arguments on how important it is to ensure that elections are run fairly and squarely are completely and totally hypocritical. If matters need to be discussed at length, then it should be the case. If you can't hack (sorry about the pun) the length of the meeting or have something better to do, then you are failing to fulfil your duty as an officer of the union and should resign forthwith! That goes from top to bottom.

You are right, Oliver, council meetings should decide the structure with which Union policies, workings, actions and even fun stuff are based. However I'm sure the point of designing something is not to constantly redesign without spending sometime using it, i.e. council is not purely for bickering about constitution and it is not council's or the sabbs jobs to year in year out change the way the union is run union. Just because you're in, doesn't mean that change has to happen. That isn't in the constitution either. At some point in time you actually need to work with the system, which is something that needs to dispel to the student populus if you ever want the union to be a union of students and not a "clique" of hacks. How many students do you know that 1) never venture inside the union after freshers week. 2) Do come to the union regularly but don't ever venture up to the first floor (and so consequently don't even know that elections other than those covered in felix, if they are, even exist!)

I see a whinge of elections being run fairly being the most important thing. Surely getting the students involved is the most important thing, something which time after time this union is proved to be bad at. If all students were involved in elections for instance there could be no slant on your democracy anywhere. Convince the apathetic to join in. That is your remit. There are tons of students out there who i've talked to in the last five years that don't even know the kind of services that the union has to offer. As a union, we consistently fail our electorate.

Find things that people give a hoot about and all of a sudden you'll see direction and action. As tom says, 300 for council over fees, less than 10 for busting someone. There is no point in buying a car if all you're ever going to do is tinker with the engine.

Yours, an ex union hack.

Jan 18 2003 12:18

There's a lot of sense written above. Council is not the ideal way to represent the student body - a General Meeting where everyone turns up and they're all interested in every decision is the ideal way. But that's not realistic, simply because there will always be boring bits and there will always be apathy.

Almost every year, the constitution has been tinkered with or completely rewritten because of Council's highly laudable wish to have the best, most efficient and most representative system. But if the system is only ever tinkered with and never used, it could be the best system ever, but no one would ever know.

There have been enough rewrites of the rules, especially after all of last year's arguments. If you don't have the system you want, you certainly have the system you deserve.

But now that system must be made to work. Just because something goes wrong doesn't mean you need to change the system to make it right again - you need to use the processes that are there and hold people to account. Yes, its long and tedious, and, yes, holding a sabb to account may appear daunting if you are new to Council, but that is your job and 10,000 students expect you to do it. If you can't do it, or if you don't want to do it, resign.

The cornerstone of this, of course, is the assumption that the representation of students is fair, unbiased and democratic. I wasn't at Council (and probably never will be again) so I'm not in a position to comment on the particular issue over council/exec elections.

But if there is even an appearance that this is not the case, there must be an investigation, and swift and drastic action must be taken against any perpetrators, whoever they are.

It has to be said that communication is the main problem the union faces - both commmunicating between the hacks, as well as communicating what the union is doing to the wider membership. It is your responsibility, not just the President's to make sure you know what you're meant to be discussing. If you don't have any papers three days before a meeting, go and harangue him until you get them - don't just sit back and blame him after the meeting. If he's being lazy over handing out the paperwork, it's because you let him.

The Union also has to let its members know what its doing, what services it offers and (most importantly) how they can get involved. This doesn't mean that you have to change the Felix Editor's title or job description. What you need is to persuade him that it's in the best interests of the students that a page or so is given over to union business. Will's a reasonable guy, he'll understand. And one more page of Felix that isn't read by everyone would hardly make a difference, would it? And use the structures that are already there. The reporting heirarchies for clubs, FSA's, welfare and whatever work both ways - you can pass things down as well as up and information will get dispersed. Use the website, Live!, Stoic and IC Radio to get your stuff out - that's what they're there for. If need be, make posters, print leaflets - you've shown it works over fees. Everything is already in place to enable you to let everyone know what's going on. You just don't. And the question is, why not?

39. Seb   
Jan 19 2003 22:22

There is another way other than council.

Having spoken to a seriously old timer (he's now a lecturer), the Union used to have UGM's instead of council. Everyone had voting rights, everyone had speaking rights, and people could raise issues from the floor.

When it was just a case of dealing with presidents reports, few people turned up. When it was a serious matter, then many people turned up.

Apparantly it worked well for a long time before UGM's were abbolished in favour of council.

Perhaps a potential solution would be UGM's, but with the current members of council *mandated* to always turn up.

Jan 20 2003 07:29

The Officers of the Union would be mandated to turn up. Plus, it means that when an issue affecting a large body of the students comes up, it would be easier for the students to give their views, and they'd also have a vote, so they'd be more likely to turn up. Ultimately, a UGM wouldn't be about beaureaucratic(?) bulls, but instead allowing students to make a difference.

Jan 20 2003 11:57

Who got rid of these UGMs then (and more importantly did they have a good reason for it?)and how does one go about bringing them back?

Jan 21 2003 12:25

I was concerned with one aspect - namely, that Barry accepted a "motion of contempt" from the floor when Mr Piggott expressed himself in an unsubtle manner at the end of the Motion of Censure.

I have racked my brains, and searched the constitution, and can find nowhere any reference to motions of "contempt" in our rules. I did find the following part of Regulation 4, Part B, which may have been useful at the time:


The Chair may require an observer to leave upon repeated disorder or breach of standing orders. The meeting may require a member to leave upon repeated disorder or breach of standing orders, having provided the person with an opportunity to proxy their vote. If grave disorder should arise, the Chair, acting on their discretion can declare the meeting adjourned, and quit the Chair; and by that declaration the meeting is immediately adjourned, and no business may subsequently be transacted.

However, I don't think Mr Piggott could be accused of 'repeated disorder'.. but anyway. Mr Piggott is an observer, not a member, therefore there was no call for a vote whatsoever - Barry's ruling would have been sufficient (and challengable).

I don't believe it should be possible for Council to vote to exclude non-members for reasons of democracy. I appreciate that Barry, like other senior Union Officers may feel that time and convenience call for a liberal reading of the constitution (i.e., we'll make it up as we go along), but if I were Mr Piggott, I would certainly consider demanding an apology from the Chairman and from Council. What happened on Monday was tantamount to making it Union Policy that Mr Piggott be excluded from Council (I don't recall a time period being placed on the motion); thankfully the Constitution overrides policy, and the constitution (not that anyone seems to care what it says any more) protects Mr Piggott's rights as a member of the Union.

43. ....   
Jan 27 2003 14:45

Lookie here, look what I found!

Thought it might be appropriate:

Closed This discussion is closed.

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