AGAINST CAMPAIGN: Why you should vote against the change from a biennial Students Association Conference to an online Annual General Meeting (AGM)

On the one hand it is claimed that this change is essential for the future of the Association and on the other that it will be a complete disaster.

Click here to read the For campaign’s blog on ‘Why should you vote FOR the change from a biennial Students Association Conference to an AGM?

On the one hand it is claimed that this change is essential for the future of the Association and on the other that it will be a complete disaster, so who should you believe and how should you vote? Unless you’ve been around the university and the Students Association for a while, it’s hard to understand why some of us are so enthusiastic about “Conference” and why we are recommending that you vote against this resolution.  

The last Conference that was held face to face on the OU campus in Milton Keynes took place in 2018, which is quite a long time ago. Some students who are studying full time will not have had the chance to attend a Conference at all, having arrived and left in the three years since the last one took place, and only part time students who are in their fifth year of study will have had the opportunity to attend one… 

So, what is the fuss about and why do we believe so passionately that students should continue to have this opportunity in the future? 

In normal times the biennial Conference is one of the cornerstones of the association. It is the one time that ‘regular’ students who aren’t Association volunteers get to spend time on our beautiful campus, meet fellow students, explore the faculties, see our library, attend demonstrations by various different schools, visit exhibitions by the library, talk to members of our clubs and societies, and maybe even see a giant robot arm, or space itself via the telescope! 

Because Covid forced the 2020 and 2022 Conferences to move online very few of you have had the chance to come to campus and see all that the University and the Association have to offer, you haven’t been able to meet other students, and get to know your elected Central Executive Team or the reps who work so hard to keep the university aware of our needs as students. And you haven’t had the chance to let your hair down a little bit and party with other students till unreasonable hours and then get up first thing to attend a business session! 

And it’s this business session that is the whole heart of our Conference. Every two years, hundreds of students descend upon campus to discuss and debate the events of the last few years, and to discuss rule changes, and directions for the way forward. Hundreds more students listen in online, and they also get involved in the debates and vote to set the course of the Students Association. We listen to the proposals, people give differing opinions and debate different courses of action, and then we decide how to cast our votes.  

This is democracy, it has quoracy, it takes hundreds of students to confirm a decision, and we have a whole weekend to discuss these matters. All the other events are nice, but the fun is definitely secondary. However, taken together, the different elements of Conference are the platform on which our community, our Association family, is built. 

The proposal to replace the biennial Conference with an online Annual General Meeting is flawed, and it is unnecessary. The Association’s legal obligations to approve financial statements and appoint auditors can continue to be met (as they are now) by the Board of Trustees and the online element of Conference can be expanded to allow all students to vote on Association business. 

As we saw in 2020 and are seeing even more strongly this year the online business format reduces democratic engagement. We would like an opportunity for students to discuss or question the proposals in more depth than under the current arrangements.The use of composite motions means that it will not be possible to vote against proposals that you disagree with and vote for other parts of the same motion that you would like to support.

This year, we are being asked to sanction a major redesign of the way that the Association works: how it is run, how it is managed, and how it feeds back to students. We are required to cast our votes before we can engage with any Conference activity. There is no opportunity for students to ask for Resolutions to be split into parts so that we can support some proposals and reject others.  

A case in point, and why there needs to be full debate of each of these motions at Conference rather than a simple yes or no vote on a direction of travel – the idea that we need to be more inclusive and diverse in our recruitment of volunteers is a noble one that nobody rejects. We would like to see a commitment towards investigating the use of robust anti-racist and anti-discriminatory recruitment practices so that we can ensure a safe environment for all students. We need to show that we are the best place to engage and support all of our students, we are not convinced that these proposals will do that. 

At the start of the Association’s Fiftieth year, we are being asked to consign the face-to-face Conference to oblivion and replace it with an online business meeting which is unlikely to be massively appealing to students. Meeting students who are already actively engaged with the Association is one of the best ways to encourage new students to become involved.  The move to an online AGM will reduce democracy rather than increase it and consequently reduce student engagement with the Association.  

Please reject this proposal and save our biennial conference so that the Association can continue to be what it has been for the last fifty years, an organisation that is run by students, for students. 

Click here to find out more about the Governance Reform Conference resolutions.

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