EUSA decision making is widely regarded by the student body as at best weak and at worst entirely illegitimate. There exists a culture of political ambivalence which manifests itself through appalling turnout at EUSA elections and poor attendance at student council. This year, as few as 30 students have attended monthly student council meetings. EUSA officers vow to address this crisis of political disengagement, yet, they are at fault for encouraging apathy by privileging their own opinions over the few decisive democratic decisions undertaken by the student body.
The debate on EUSA supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) on the 31st March was a rare triumph for EUSA democracy. This monthly meeting had the highest attendance in over three years and the result of the BDS motion was conclusive. Almost 100 more people voted for the motion than those that voted against. This demonstrates as clear a mandate for BDS as any other motion in the recent history of student council meetings.
However, the Board of Trustees has chosen not to implement this policy. The hypocrisy of this decision is unjustifiable. EUSA officers frequently highlight the importance of democracy but, as this example has illustrated, respect for student decision making does not extend to policies they disagree with. Moreover, overruling decisions taken by the student body alienates students because they are unwilling to become politically active when issues they are passionate about are ignored. This decision will have given credence to an already widespread perception that student politics is bureaucratic and undemocratic.
In its statement, the Board justified its decision on the grounds that as a charity EUSA cannot legally expend financial resources on campaigning on policy unless that policy affects “students as students.” However, BDS does affect students as students because Palestinian students are affected by Israeli occupation on an academic and personal basis, and other students are implicated through purchasing products from companies complicit in the occupation. Urte Macikene, outgoing VPS, has argued “all parts of the policy are to do with students as students, who have the right to express concerns about the supply chain of our products as our main service-users, and social responsibility and sustainability practices of their institutions.”
Criticising this decision does not equate to disregarding the responsibilities of the Board of Trustees. Trustees must overturn parts of motions that cannot legally be implemented but they must have pursued all methods of possible implementation beforehand. In this case grey areas of charity law were referred to, without due consideration of all the relevant legal arguments behind it, in order to strike down the motion in its totality. The trustees should have chosen to work with SJP and the BDS national committee on the legal issues surrounding the policy. Urte Macikene has also stated that the ambiguity of the motion could have been addressed by returning the motion “to the proposers to explore wording which specified methods of campaigning clearly within the law.” Arguably, several trustees were seeking reasons not to implement the policy rather than exhausting all options for bringing BDS into effect.
This decision sets a worrying precedent, that policy with significant but minority opposition can be rejected without sufficient deliberation by the board, potentially in part due to personal views of the trustees on that policy itself. EUSA must use the opportunities that exist at our university to engage young people who are part of a worryingly apathetic and, therefore, marginalised demographic. The minimum requirement for encouraging further activism is to respect democracy by attempting to enact successful policy. In the case of BDS, EUSA has fallen at the first hurdle in its pursuit of democracy.
Image credit: Flickr: Takver