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No 6344

Thursday 24 April 2014

Vol cxliv No 27

pp. 457–494

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Lynn Gladden was presiding, with the Registrary’s Deputy, the Junior Proctor, the Deputy Senior Proctor, and four other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 4 March and 5 February 2014, on student membership of the two bodies (Reporter, 6341, 2013–14, p. 424).

CUSU – Cambridge University Students Union

GU – Graduate Union

PdOC – Postdocs Of Cambridge

Mr D. A. Weldon (Coordinator, Cambridge University Students Union):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak today as the Coordinator of the Cambridge University Students Union, a sabbatical position to which I was elected in 2012, and re-elected in 2013.

My position is a wide-ranging one within the union, which positions me well to identify areas for improvement and change. I thoroughly welcome the recommendations regarding election to the central bodies contained within this Report, which serve in large part to fix the technical problems regarding eligibility for these positions which arose during the CUSU-GU Elections 2013 and which had unfortunate consequences – including for example, the need to hold a bye-election for the undergraduate position on the General Board in 2013 which saw a candidate elected to this body in an election with a turnout of just 3% of all undergraduate students compared to the turnout of 19.4% from amongst all students in the main CUSU elections that year.

The central bodies are of great importance within the University’s governance structure and provide vital relevance to organizations such as the students’ unions, which exist to represent students’ interests across the breadth of the University’s governance. Making these technical changes, and cementing the relationship between the students’ unions and the University in Special Ordinance will be of great benefit to both the students’ unions and the University in ensuring that students are represented throughout the governance of the central University.

This is a positive step for the Collegiate University, and I also ask that the University seeks to continue this work in reviewing areas of University governance in the future.

This year, CUSU (previously referred to as the SRC, and the CSU), turns fifty; and it is unfortunate that this should coincide with a year in which our elections saw fewer candidates than expected and a lower than usual turnout in our elections of 14.1% compared with almost 20% the year before, and just slightly below the national average of 16%.

However, speaking on behalf of my team of sabbatical officers, it is not our job to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the challenges that face the students’ union. Indeed, it is our job to – professionally and without undue drama or hyperbole – assess these challenges and devise a plan to address them for future generations of students.

The students’ unions have changed significantly since their foundation in the 1960s, and so too has the student body. The University’s student body today is a brilliantly diverse mixture of individuals aged from 16 to over 60, and from over 140 countries. Whilst here, they are grouped into 31 College communities, all the while being members of the central University community, as well as Departmental, Faculty, School, society, and other communities.

As students continue to pay more for their education, they are rightly demanding more of the University and more of their students’ unions. Students’ unions in Cambridge are challenged to meet these demands – for example, we lack a large central space to welcome our members and provide the services they demand; and in an age of ever-changing digital communications, we are not well-resourced at present to communicate with the entire breadth of our members. However, we plan to tackle these challenges, amongst others, head on, as we shall demonstrate with the launch of CUSU’s first ever strategic plan in the coming weeks.

Having consulted with our members about how to improve their educational experiences, and their students’ unions, we call upon the University and the Colleges to work with CUSU to assist in its implementation. Finally, as I urge Regents to support the recommendations in this Report to solve the technical issues regarding eligibility for membership of the central bodies, I would like to thank the Registrary and the Unified Administrative Service for their work to fix these issues and draft these changes.

Dr S. J. Cowley (University Council, and Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am a member of the University Council, but did not sign this Report. Unlike Henk-Jaap Wagenaar (another mathematician), this was not because I think that CUSU sabbatical officers should not be ‘rewarded’ (if that is the right word, which probably it is not) with ex officio seats on the Council. In over seven years on the Council, the impression I have of CUSU sabbatical officers is overwhelmingly positive. They have been conscientious in representing student views, and fighting their cause. However, a student member of the Council is also a Charity Trustee, and at times his or her legal duty as a Charity Trustee may come into conflict with the immediate interests of the CUSU and the GU. This is recognized in the CUSU Constitution, where clause F.5 states:

CUSU shall not be able to mandate the student members of the University Council in any way, except that they shall represent CUSU policy as well as other student views to the University Council.

This overrules clause D.1 that states:

Within the limits prescribed herein, the CUSU Council shall be the principal representative, policy-making and administering body of the CUSU. Except in the exercise of functions granted only to other bodies within the CUSU laid out either herein or in Standing Orders, the Council shall have primacy in all matters pertaining to the CUSU, and all sanctioned CUSU campaigns and Officers shall be bound in the exercise of their functions by the mandates of Council.

As far as I can tell from a quick search, there is no equivalent clause to F.5 in the draft GU Constitution. However, there are clauses in the GU Schedules that state:

Ordinary Motions to form Graduate Union Policy. Such motions may mandate Officers to certain actions.


Emergency Motions, as defined in paragraph 13, which will form Graduate Union Policy. Such motions may mandate Officers to certain actions.

In order to safeguard the GU President’s right to speak as an individual at Council meetings, which in certain circumstances may be legally necessary, a clause similar to F.5 should be added to the GU Constitution, or at least the GU Schedules.

Finally, it is unfortunate that no graduate student has chosen to stand as GU President this year. However, while this is not a reason for the GU President not to be automatically a member of the Council1, this and other events over the past few years in the GU may indicate that a review of the role of the GU and its relation to CUSU, the PdOC Society, and the Office of Post-Doctoral Affairs might be in order; especially since there is inevitably some overlap between the interests of graduates and post-docs – and post-docs are non-graduate members of the GU in the draft GU Constitution.


  • 1Indeed, it is not unknown for no members of the Regent House to stand for election to Committees and Boards.

Report of the General Board, dated 28 February 2014, on the establishment of a Readership in Transfusion Medicine (Reporter, 6341, 2013–14, p. 428).

No remarks were made on this Report.