UWE Bristol ‘democracy’: Report and statement regarding UWESU’s 18 February Student Council

On 18 February, I participated to UWESU’s Student Council to present a motion of no confidence against the Chair of Meetings and because I held two motions which I was unable to present at the AGM for reasons which I believe to be related to a broad ongoing democratic crisis within UWESU.

I believe there were breaches to the democratic process in the preparation of, and within, that meeting and as a first documentation of these problems, I have put together the following statement and requested it to be included in UWESU’s minutes:

  • Benoit Dutilleul did not receive any comments nor answers to his email requests, nor to the voicemail message he left to Duncan Stokes on the day at 16:30, about the Student Council meeting and its procedures.
  • Nerys Neath told Benoit Dutilleul that his requests would be considered “at the beginning of the meeting” when he signed up as an observer of the Student Council.
  • Besides Kaytie McFadden, Editor of the WesternEye, who was acting in a different capacity (UWESU Chair of Meetings), no journalist from the WesternEye was present to observe the Student Council.
  • Benoit Dutilleul’s request to hold a speech was dealt with after the procedural motion of no confidence against the Chair and the reports, without consultation with him.
  • The text of the motion of no confidence was not displayed on the screen nor was it printed and distributed to members of the Student Council, unlike all the other motions that were discussed at the meeting, and even though the text was sent to UWESU sufficiently in advance.
  • Kaytie McFadden was the first person to speak against the motion of no confidence. She was not replaced as Chair for that part of the meeting, she did not explicitly step down of her role as Chair and no-one else highlighted a possible change of role. We thus have a problematic situation where the Chair decided that she was entitled to speak against a motion of no confidence targetting her, and where the Chair decided that she would be the first person to speak after the motion was presented by me, which was precisely the motivation for the motion.
  • Hannah Khan, VP Societies and Communication, spoke against the motion of no confidence. Her main argument was that the Chair does not get to vote during UWESU meetings.
  • Carly Channell spoke in support of the motion of no confidence. One of her arguments was that even though the Chair of Meetings does not get to vote, she has a lot of influence over the democratic process.
  • Neither the Chair nor anyone else read the “resolve” part of the motion of no confidence before the vote, contrary to the way all the other motions were handled by the Chair later on, during the same meeting.
  • After the procedural motion was dealt with, the Student Meeting proceeded to address a number of reports.
  • Nerys Neath reminded the Chair of Benoit Dutilleul’s request to speak to the Council just before moving to the motions part of the meeting. The Chair then immediately asked members to vote and two members voted in favor.
  • One member of the Council then asked if the Student Council could hear what the speech was about before making a decision. The Chair asked Benoit Dutilleul to justify the speech “very quickly”. Benoit Dutilleul spoke and then stopped speaking because he was interrupted by the Chair. He was given less than twenty seconds to make his point.
  • This very brief intervention included the following keywords: “UWE and UWESU’s duty of care towards students”, “freedom of expression”, “right to protest”, “academic values”, “intimidation, repression and criminalisation of politically active students”, “UWE involvement” and “systematic obstruction from UWESU”.
  • After this twenty-second intervention, Benoit Dutilleul’s request to speak was again put to the vote and seven people voted in favor of hearing him. However, there was no majority so the Chair moved the request to the last part on the agenda (“Any other Business”).
  • When the meeting reached “Any other Business” (around 9pm), the Chair invited Benoit Dutilleul to speak to the Council.
  • At that point, Tom Renhard asked the Chair to put again Benoit Dutilleul’s request to speak to the vote. Contrary to the first vote about the speech, which was about whether Benoit Dutilleul would be allowed to speak before the motions, this was request to vote on whether Benoit should be allowed to speak at all to the Council.
  • The Chair put Tom Renhard’s request to the vote and a large majority voted in favor of Benoit Dutilleul speaking.
  • Benoit Dutilleul made a speech that lasted about 10mn. The speech concluded with a request to Student Council members to support him as well as other student activists who are currently trying to hold UWE and UWESU accountable for their actions during and following the “UWE arms fair” as well as ongoing democratic issues.
  • The speech was followed by some questions, answers and comments, some of which are listed below.
  • Charlie Roper said that UWESU officers could not comment on those issues because a complaint had been filed about this.
  • Megan Edmunds said that we should all work together and said that UWESU should support student activists.
  • Benoit Dutilleul stressed that the complaints he has filed focused on narrow aspects and limited facets of the problem, and that there is currently no complaint covering the breadth of the issues he spoke about, nor about the most serious issues involved.
  • Benoit Dutilleul stressed that the two complaints he has filed were only submitted a few days ago and that UWESU had taken no action until the complaints were filed, despite several request by himself and other students he is aware of.
  • Benoit Dutilleul highlighted that UWESU relayed no information whatsoever about the protests of UWE students against the ‘UWE arms fair’. Moreover, UWESU and the WesternEye relayed no information whatsoever about the issues raised by UWE student activists about the way UWE and UWESU related to the protests or about the policing.
  • Benoit Dutilleul stressed that UWESU’s silencing was again demonstrated at the Student Council meeting, where the officers’ reports did not mention anything about the 20 November protests by UWE students (all UWESU members), even though UWESU claims that it welcomes, encourages and strives to further participation from its members, and even though the reasons for protesting were strongly articulated with students’ interests and sustainability, an ongoing campaign of UWESU.
  • Benoit Dutilleul was ignored, and then explicitly not allowed, by the Chair to take part in discussions about the motions on the argument that he was an observer of the Student Council. He was only allowed to ask a question about a report by UWESU President by permission of the UWESU President.

I also withdrew my two motions (Magna Charta Universitatum and Students’ Interests) and requested, during the meeting, the following statement to be included in the minutes:

“The motion holder withdrew his motion for two reasons and publicly requested those reasons to be included in the minutes. Firstly, he claimed possible breaches of the democratic process. He highlighted that his request to speak to the Student Council on issues that he judged more fundamental and urgent than all the other issues on the agenda was voted down, and that the Chair gave him less than twenty seconds to present them to the Council before the vote, only after a member of the Council requested the Chair to hear him say what this was about. He claimed UWE students do not have sufficient information to take action about ongoing democratic crises within UWE and UWESU. Presenting the motions would have been a tacit admission that the democratic process was safeguarded. In relation to the vote of the motion, he claimed that this lack of information would also affect the ability of Student Council members to make an informed judgement and a decision about the relevance and importance of the motion. Secondly, based on the tiredness of the audience and since several members had already left the Council, he decided to withdraw both of his motions to increase his chances of still having an audience for his speech at the end of the meeting, and to encourage Student Council members to stay until the very end for the speech.”

To be continued…