Response to Warwick SU

On Tuesday 18th June, Warwick SU declined to formally support Protect the Public University – Warwick, preferring to give only a muted reiteration of their core principles, the spirit of which are identical to our own.

In their statement they spoke of “free education” and “widening participation” and their belief that “education is a positional, not a market good and should not be commoditized”..

If the SU support our objectives why are they unable to pledge their support? The NUS does not have any specific guidelines that can stop individual student unions from supporting such actions. Far from being constrained, student unions are autonomous bodies that have full control over their individual stances. The UCLU, for example, has issued a statement of full support for the occupation and its stated aims [1].

The Students’ Union claims it is unable to provide backing because it is “bound by legal constraints”. But, in the past the Union has pledged its support to other “unlawful direct action”, such as the Occupy Warwick movement of Winter 2011[2]. We are driven to ask if this decision is genuinely motivated by legal concerns or if it instead proceeds out of a desire to maintain a good relationship with the University. We argue that such a priority is contrary to the Union’s mandate to represent the student community.

The SU is unwilling to make a stand on its own principles, and therefore is not fit to deliver on their mandated policies. This reinforces our assertion that student representation is merely tokenistic within the university. In the hope of making any changes, the sabbatical officers must keep the University on side. The problem cannot be rectified within the ‘democratic structures’ that exist, as new sabbatical officers would be under the same undemocratic pressures as the current ones. The SU lacks the will to act on their own principles. Therefore the Students’ Union is not the students’ Union.

It is clear that either the relationship between the Students’ Union and the University must change, or we must create new, alternative channels for genuinely representing the will of students. We have created a space for working towards a radical vision of the public university in which students have a genuine democratic relationship with their institution, and have made one of our objectives a review of the university’s governance. These are complex issues, and we have not acted to speak for students, but to open a space in which their marginalized voices may be heard. It is a shame that the Student Union is unwilling to act to secure the rights of its own members.


 

[1] http://uclu.org/articles/warwick-university-occupied-in-defence-of-public-university

[2] This was passed through a General Meeting. This does not change the issue of legality.

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29 Responses to Response to Warwick SU

  1. George Whitworth says:

    The trouble is there is nothing to say that what you have created is representative of anything other than the people in the room. Which means precisely jack shit, to be frank.

  2. Peter Hawk says:

    @George Whitworth The entity by which you are represented is morally, intellectually, politically and now also economically bankrupt. Then again your representative ideology has always been worth jack shit. Sorry, this is me only being frank.

    • George Whitworth says:

      I’m not sure which entity you are talking about. Perhaps my personal entity, which is the only thing which truly represents me. I suppose if you include student debt on my balance sheet then I am fairly bankrupt, too.

      • Peter Hawk says:

        “Perhaps my personal entity, which is the only thing which truly represents me.”

        Aah, a true individual anarchist! Virulently anti-(liberal) democratic, that is what I like to hear!

  3. So last year even when there was a policy to support Occupy Warwick those involved disliked the idea of the Union representing them, even though it stopped further legal actions from taking place through successful mediation. Double standards :).

  4. David Willetts Worshipper says:

    Everything must be run by the government! David Willetts is a hero, the world’s best man, so he must be in charge of all universities. All power to the Coalition!

  5. Jonty says:

    The Student’s Union is the Student’s Union, you are just an annoying minority.I wonder if anyone inside the council chambers has ever stood for a position on one of the elected councils here?

    • Elusia says:

      Yes. Next question?

      • Jonty says:

        Get elected? I wouldn’t’ve thought so. Hopefully over the next few days you’ll all realise how few people actually agree with what you’re doing here. As usual, the loud few are drowning out the silent majority…

    • To the contrary, over the last few days we’ve realised just how many people actually agree with us, a number that grows whenever someone is willing to actually engage with us and not just post limp rhetorical insults. If you have a critique of our arguments, or our aims, or if you think that what is happening to the university system is a good thing, and have reasons for that belief, then please come and talk to us. For our part, we think what’s happening is bad, we have good reasons to think it, and we are trying to get a conversation going.

      • Jonty says:

        I’m afraid I can’t really be bothered, as I know that everyone in that room will be of the personality type that refuses to back down from their opinions under any circumstances anyway. When you have more than 14,166 people signed up for your cause (half the total number of students and staff, according to Wikipedia), then we’ll see if people actually care.

      • So half of a population is required before an issue is considered worthy of ‘care’? I’m sure, given the long and obvious history of social issues which were initially championed by a minority and then come to be seen as just common sense, i.e. basically all of them, that you don’t really mean that. And the idea that ‘everyone in that room’ is of a single personality type that refuses to back down… you ‘know’ that do you? It appears to be you that is refusing to test your opinions, and it makes me wonder whether that’s because they are just unexamined knee-jerks, rather than an actual informed position.

      • Jonty says:

        Fair enough. I actually know nothing at all about politics or education, and generally couldn’t care less. My informed position is that while you’re sitting on the floor painting posters and chanting about how everyone deserves a university education, kids are catching diseases and dying by the second in third world countries, and I don’t see any students staging sit-ins about that. I wish there was a way to block the colour yellow from my browser and I whole-heartedly hope that the university lock you all in tomorrow and pretend that the council chamber is a store-cupboard for the duration of the open day.

      • No need for that Jonty. A bit weird that you’ve gone to all this trouble to attack us though, given that you couldn’t care less. Your idea of what we’re doing inside is, again, pretty knee-jerk – if you look at the research that goes into the fact sheets and docs published here and handed out every day, all that takes a lot of work, and we’re all learning a lot every day. As far as wider social problems are concerned, would it surprise you to know that everyone in there and supporting them outside also spend their free time fund-raising, working for charitable causes, and organising events and Warwick societies like p&p, amnesty, giving what we can, oxfam and Syria relief? It’s obvious if you think about it. There’s nothing more dead wrong than the idea that these are lazy students. The very reason they are the ones doing this is because they are already the ones doing a load of similar stuff. Come and talk to us Jonty! We’re not the stupid children you think we are!

      • Jonty says:

        I know you’re not stupid children, otherwise you wouldn’t’ve got the grades to get in here in the first place (although these days who knows…). I just think you’re doing everything wrong. Unfortunately as you have probably already realised by now, I am the worst debater in history, and I have an acute social anxiety that means I would rather walk in front of a bus than sit down and try and have a reasoned discussion with anyone, not just you. It’s just difficult to distinguish that desire in terms of my illness as opposed to my disapproval of the things you’re trying to say. 😦

      • Fair enough mate. If you change your mind, you know where to find us 🙂

    • KImberly says:

      Dear Jonty, if you know nothing about education and politics and don’t care to want to know about it (these are your words not mine), then why all the reactionary screaming? Why all the hate?

      • Jonty says:

        Because the only practical effects of your occupation are to damage the reputation of the SU and University that I have spent the last 3 years pouring my heart and soul into, an establishment made of the best friends and coworkers I have ever had the pleasure to work with. You may attack my beliefs, my way of life, heck, my frankly ugly and unkempt appearance, but do not attack my SU. 😀

    • KImberly says:

      Nobody is attacking your “way of life… frankly ugly and unkempt appearance [don’t be so harsh on yourself, you are not ugly and do not have an unkempt appearance]”.

      I am sure the students in the occupation (I am not one of them) have the best of intentions with the university which is exactly the reason why they are there in the first place. They are trying to safe Warwick’s reputation as a centre of free and creative thought and ideas. A university where all students are happy and able to learn without having to pay a exploitative price. They also want to safeguard the future of potential students. And to make sure that all the staff remains employed, including the cleaners, the people working in the library and beyond. Thy want to enable other students to enjoy the life that you have had here for the last three years. Surely that is worthy of your support? No?

      • Jonty says:

        Not like this it isn’t. All I can see is an open day tomorrow where parents and kids are dissuaded from applying here because the base message the occupiers are emanating is that Warwick is doing everything wrong. (not to mention that it might attract similar minded people 😉

    • KImberly says:

      I do not think many people were dissuaded. Protests have been part of universities since at last 400 years (if not longer). What has harmed the reputation of the university are maybe the latest Guardian ranking.

      • Jonty says:

        Heh, maybe if you’d all gone and protested before they decided the league tables we’d’ve jumped back up another 2 places. 😉 I know I’m far from an ordinary student (I pride myself on being one of the most extraordinary in many regards (that was sarcasm)) but I never really paid that much attention to league tables. My decision to come here was almost entirely decided by the open days by the university and Engineering department. My dad, on the other hand, bought every guide book and league table in the bookshop…

  6. Sean Hoggard says:

    The SU does not draw legitimacy from its numbers. Its draws legitimacy from its ethics. Numbers do not mean a thing! That much is clear after the protests in Turkey and Brazil.

  7. Sceptic says:

    I am totally supportive of the occupation’s aims and the issues it raises etc but sad at this juvenile opposition-ism. The Sabbatical Officers have done exactly what they are elected to do, they’ve expressed support in line with the policy that mandates them to, while not deciding to unilaterally back the occupation without any democratic input from the 23,000 students they represent. Its extraordinarily arrogant of the 20-odd occupiers to declare they are representing the student voice when they have literally no idea that they actually are. If they were more aware of how the Union/University is run then they would realise that the Sabbs will be the only ones actually trying to stop them being evicted. The occupation should focus on the University and stop engaging in immature holier-than-thou controversialism because they need to feel validated in their ‘radicalism’.

    • Elusia says:

      In fairness, I think the point was more that the SU ~can’t~ support them regardless of whether or not there’s democratic input regarding this specific occupation, and that this is a demonstration of why “proper channels” as per the insistence of the university are compromised.

      The University has engineered a situation where the student voice is a small and relatively powerless voice in a sea of voices when it comes to taking a stand against the major thrust of university policy itself.

      • George Whitworth says:

        You seem to think that either a) The university actually WANT the vast, recent changes to HE policy or b) the University can act to actually change what the government wants to do to any serious degree. Both of which, in my experience, are fairly naive.

        Also, the “student voice” is a misnomer. There is, here, in this protest, a number of students vehemently opposed to creeping privatisation of university services. There’s probably a similar number of students who would strongly oppose them. THe vast majority of students don’t give a fuck, will go to lectures, sit their exams, and care far more about the sports facilities and state of accommodation than any sort of higher level thinking on national and international higher education.

        So, how should the SU direct it’s limited human resource over the year? I can almost guarantee that this small group of students has taken up a vastly disproportionate amounts of SU staff time.

        Please note, I’m personally largely in agreement on the aims of these students. But I also know, and as Mr Glover made quite obvious in his letter, that the University will not take the blindest bit of notice of you, so your ideas about constructing some sort of alternative student representation are dead before they have even begun.

    • Sean Hoggard says:

      Dear Sceptic (sic),

      Like I stated already above; numbers do not convey democracy. A significant amount of students does not care about politics, the SU or anything that is happening on campus in general. What does that say about the legitimacy of the SU? The SU does and cannot draw legitimacy from the number of people that voted for it.

      It must instead take an normative position based on a certain kind of ethics. It is unethical to follow the “policy that mandates them”. Any politics student that know his/ her Ahrendt will be able to tell you that evil comes from following laws and mandates.

      And please stop engaging step down from your ivory tower because there is no need to feel validated in your ‘left liberalism’.

      • Dear George,
        Far from a naive belief on our part, the Russell Group are currently lobbying the government to lift fee caps and lower the number of bursaries (see the literature we have published onsite). They have a voice in policy, and are encouraging what is happening right now, pushing for it to go even further. We are trying to start a conversation, because we believe that to be wrong. It’s great to hear you agree with us, and you should come and talk to us if that is the case. On your final point, we don’t expect to change the world in one go, but just because something can’t be achieved in one go, is no reason not to try, try again. Our message is aimed at everyone, not just the university. And if support grows, maybe one day they will listen.

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