What Is A Student Union? 14

The recent wave of student occupations over Gaza has spread truly across the whole country, and constitutes a most welcome return of student interest in international issues. I attended University Court in Dundee yeaterday, and without any opposition the University divested from BAE Systems as the start of an ethical investment policy. This was a student-led initiative.

But I also walked into a furore which for me carried strong echoes of my own student days. An extraordinary general meeting of Dundee University Students Association had passed motions on BAE and on Palestine, but the student executive were refusing to implement the motion on Palestine. They had obtained a legal opinion that, as a registered charity, the Students Association could not take political stances.

This question of whether students unions could take an interest in the outside world – known as the ultra vires debate – recurred frequently when I was a student. The legal principles remain unchanged, although the precise legislation has altered. The generally accepted view was that the students association was quite entitled to express strongly held views on behalf of its members, but it would be wrong for it to spend any of its charitable funds for extraneous purposes.

That seems to me still a sensible position now. The bogey that the Students Union may lose its charitable status over a pro-Palestinian declaration is a nonsense. For one thing DUSA already has existing and longstanding pro-Palestinian policy that still applies. Student bodies have been making declarations on the state of the World for over a hundred years at least, and no students union has ever lost charitable status because of it.

The threat is a fiction, and the suspicion must be that pro-Israeli supporters – not one of whom turned up to oppose the motion democratically – have resorted to legal subterfuge.

Much more dangerous is the idea that the executive can ignore the will of the students expressed by a general meeting. The notion that students are not trustworthy in democratic process, and that the executive know better when guided by professionals, is something that actually is inimical to the whole idea of a students union.

The sad thing is that the Executive are under great pressure from “the Establishment” and are being told that they would act illegally if they acted on the resolution passed. It is very hard for them not to bow to the general move to dumb down and restrict student activity. It takes courage to rebel – but that is why we have youth. If not now, when?

As it happens, for the first time in many years DUSA has an executive who are genuinely active, altruistic and concerned, and doing a pretty good job. Then they found themselve faced with this situation, which puts them under pressure.

The Executive must act on the letter of what the General Meeting passed, until and unless they get it overturned by another general meeting or referendum (and interestingly it appears that what the general meeting passed may include seeking advice from the Scottish charities commissioners). That they have to obey the general meeting really should go without saying, but DUSA has become so unused to student activity and democracy that it is disturbingly not being taken as axiomatic.

The charities commission in Scotland is, of course, a New Labour body, as witnessed by its scandalous indulgence of the Smith Insitute.


The idea that it tolerates the fake charity that is part and parcel of Scottish New Labour, but would remove charitable status from DUSA over a few words on the massacre of Palestinians, is appalling.

I do hope our students find their backbone.

Allowed HTML - you can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

14 thoughts on “What Is A Student Union?

  • john

    I remember the ultra vires issue from when I was treasurer of a student’s union in the 80s, I was told I could be held personally liable for any money spent.

    I noticed a tendency among student representatives to get excited about national and international issues, but fail to show up for meetings that affected them directly concerning the actual running of the university. I now wonder where we should have been drawing the line.

  • researcher

    University students think they know a lot, yet they are the most brainwashed. And the moment they really know something, they are gone or not students anymore.

    Emotions drive us; giving them a prominent but clearly limited platform during the meetings can give room to rational reflection and exchange of ideas.

    Of course, without understanding the influence of big money and power on moles and shills and exposing their motives, achievements are limited to issues of little importance and no consequences.

  • lwtc247

    The shadowy figures that were present in my student days persist then I see. Actually I can’t say I’m the least bit surprised. The controling hand of the SU seem to have overlooked the small fact that they already spend their money on political groups anyway – via student societies.

    The Executive ignoring the will of its its members, sounds not unlike other unions Craig… NeoUnions that is.

    Proposed SU motto: “The Students Onion, helping to establish your drinking attitude.”

  • JimmyGiro

    Charity seems to be the problem here.

    When we give money in a purchase, then its a clear transaction, goods/services for money. And when we make a gift, it is simply passed over (no strings attached).

    But ‘charity’ seems to be the gift with strings; it is half way between a purchase (promise towards the intended good) and a pure gift.

    The solution is to drop all legal consequence to charity; if the recipients choose to abuse the funds, then those that donate must stop giving (assuming they wisely give piecemeal), otherwise they are purchasing a service.

  • concerned student

    isnt all of this coming from the same man who bankrupted the students union in the 1970s? it’s fair to say that rules have probably become stricter recently as a result of the sort of circuis tricks which characterised SU’s in the 1970s and 80s

  • Strategist

    Let’s look on the bright side: Dundee University has now divested itself of British Aerospace, the biggest bunch of corporate crooks, bastards and cold blooded killers in this country.

  • hand that rocks the cradle

    Phantom memory?:

    I suddenly seem to have a memory popping up that I wasn’t allowed to NOT ‘join’ the SU.

    Does anyone have a similar experience?

    I am a self-confessed conspiraloon. As such, possibilities that the state pulls the strings of organisations to ‘manage’ things, does not surprise me and has become my default way of thinking.

    That the shady hands of this, frankly disgusting establishment/government complete with their fascist bent, may be involved (or at best tinker) with the SU seems a very real possibility to me.

    But of course slimier to the divide between state and populace, there is a large gap between those who hold some kind of ‘power’ in the SU and those students who let their compassionate and humanistic values guide them to valiant deeds.

  • Craig

    concerned student

    That is simply completely untrue. The students union had a healthy surplus when I finished as President in 1984. I believe it did run into financial difficulties over ten years later – but not because of anything connected to the ultra vires issue.

  • AyeWeCan

    Victory to the PLO !

    May the flag of Palestine forever fly over the city chambers of Bonnie Dundee.

    Some wankers on the student union executve we can live with.

    Send them to Gaza – or let the Dundee Arabs lose on them!

  • Other John

    RESEARCHER writes: University students think they know a lot…the moment they really know something, they are…not students anymore…achievements are limited to issues of little importance and no consequences.”

    Chinese students have gone down in history for the action they took – everyone has heard of Tiananmen Square, and everyone has seen the iconic image of a man standing in front of a tank, “blocking” its way.

    Students can act as a catalyst, as the instigators of change, BUT ONLY if the rest of the population support them, and DO SOMETHING!

    In Britain, however, students are reviled as lazy, idle, know-nothings who spend their time partying at our expense. The British are their own worst enemy, fighting amongst themselves like a pack of wild dogs placed in a ring – while government ministers and CEOs look on and laugh.

    In any case, students now have loans to pay off. They are losing the opportunity to take risks. They have been turned into middle-aged men, concerned only with managing debt and earning money.

    The British, however, are not interested in society any longer – they are too busy chasing dreams of fame and fortune, particularly teenagers. A lie they’ve been sold, a fantasy they chase, when they could be showing solidarity with the rest of their citizens and making this country a place where one wants to live, rather than a country that makes one want to die.

    But that’s Britain today: utter selfishness! If it’s not conscious selfishness, it’s inadvertent selfishness – people are sick of life in this country, and want to escape.

    The better educated are not immune to this brainwashing, either. They are indoctrinated by the likes of Alan Sugar, with dreams that they, too, can become very wealthy businessmen.

    I stumbled upon a book in a library that had case studies of people who had set up businesses and failed. They had done all the right things – put in all the hours God had sent – but still failed. Some lost everything, including their homes, and ended up on the dole. I don’t have the book now, so I can’t give the statistics, but it’s just staggering how many businesses are set up that go under (tens of thousands), and how many were perfectly viable or well managed, and still slipped into bankruptcy due to no fault of the owners.

    Alan Sugar is a glorified shopkeeper – that’s all he is! He even sounds like a shopkeeper. Had he not got lucky, someone else would have. There is nothing special about Alan Sugar. Guys like him are ten a penny – and he’s about as bright as a bronze coin, too.

    I had the misfortune of sitting in a Chinese takeaway a day or so ago, listening to a government advertisement on the radio, with Alan Sugar doing the voiceover. He was talking about “go-getters”, people like himself, who “make things happen”.

    This is just a lie. Plenty of people make things happen that aren’t CEOs. Plenty of people go-get to provide for their family.

    Again, it’s more class warfare. No matter how hard you work, no matter how much effort you put in, you are only a “go-getter” – a person who makes things happen – if you are wealthy.

    Alan Sugar now, apparently, wants to be the mayor of London. I only saw a headline outside a newsagents (I no longer watch the news or any political programme), so I could be wrong. However, if this is true, then before voting this glorified shopkeeper into a position of power over the rest of us, consider how Alan Sugar treated others to get to the “top”:

    The team who created the Amstrad computers had a lot of bad things to say about Sugar and the way he treated them. Sugar also sold computers like refrigerators, even though customers wanted – and needed! – proper after-sales support, because computers – especially in the 1980s – were not like refrigerators, they didn’t just plug in and go! I do not, now, remember the details, as I read all this a long time ago; however, Sugar needed some software for the computers he was selling. He rang up the firm that sold the software, and pressured the guy on the phone to give him a price there and then. The guy, if I remember right, was not in a position to strike a price – he didn’t have the costing in front of him, either. Sugar, however, wanted a price there and then. The guy agreed to a price offered by Sugar that was far too low. Sugar, however, was delighted to screw others out of their fair share of the profit. Sugar did not renegotiate – he said, this is what you agreed to, so this is what I will pay. Alan Sugar is adept at exploiting the hard work of others.

    Do we want a CEO as mayor? What the hell is wrong with this country? CEOs are not only stealing from us, they are taking away some of our citizens’ will to live.

  • Other John

    >As it happens, for the first time in

    >many years DUSA has an executive who

    >are genuinely active, altruistic…

    There is NO SUCH THING AS ALTRUISM. As Richard Dawkins’ oversimplified version of evolution has failed to convince you of this fact – even though you are an atheist – let me explain it in physical terms.

    The sun gives us warmth, bathes us in light. Is it being altruistic? No! It is merely obeying the physical laws of the universe. If the laws were such that the sun would have to roast us alive, it would do so.

    Humans are made of matter, too, and, thus, obey the laws of the universe. Even consciousness is DEAD MATTER according to atheists – strange, because consciousness is not a physical substance, so how can it be matter? We’ll overlook that inconvenient fact because the atheist-corporate agenda is what rules Britain today, so THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS GENUINE ALTRUISM BECAUSE THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CONSCIOUSNESS.

    Even rape, murder, torture, objectively, are not what they seem. If I smash one rock against another, is it murder? Humans are made out of the same stuff rocks are. And matter is DEAD, it has no feeling!

    And why should rapists and murderers be imprisoned? If you and others believe in evolution so strongly, let nature take its course. Let anything go. Let the genes that are most popular spread throughout the population. Animals rape other animals – even dolphins do! – and animals kill other animals. This is evolution. Let it be. Stop interfering with it. Have the courage of your convictions.

    Again, we must overlook the fact that scientists have been wrong time and time again when it comes to living things. They originally viewed animals as nothing but beasts and brutes, but that was wrong, and it took less distinguished – but more open-minded! – individuals to show that animals are far more than mere beasts. Anyone who has a pet knows this. Scientists also originally believed animals had no consciousness, and hence didn’t feel any pain – they’ve been forced to change that view, too. And now the likes of Richard Dawkins wants to tell us what humans are – just what are his qualifications for doing so?

    Why do you think Palestinians were slaughtered in cold blood? Because of religion, as Dawkins would have us believe? No, it was because of atheism, of evolution, the mindless belief that we are NOTHING BUT DEAD MATTER. It was this belief that permitted Hitler to kill so many people, and attempt to create a master race.

    The “Jews” who carried out the slaughter of Palestinian children do not believe in any god. That is why they can do what they do.

    As for the praise you heap upon politicians, particularly the Tories, they are going to get rid of unemployment benefit for everyone, and let people sink or swim. Just as Labour are doing.

    Politicians give themselves fat pay rises, refuse to resign from their jobs when they act wrongfully or incompetently, get guaranteed pensions, get all sorts of other perks, and now they are going to make others pay for their thievery like the bunch of spineless crooks that they are. They act as if the country belongs to them. They let the bankers bring the economy to the brink of collapse in the name of greed, bail them out to the tune of hundreds of billions, and then punish the most vulnerable in society.

    And if you’re an atheist, if we are nothing but DEAD MATTER – and it must be true because DARWIN SAID SO – then let those who want to die, die. Many attempted suicide victims end up in hospital, and die slowly and painfully. Why put them through this? Do atheists enjoy this kind of sadism? But, I forget, sadism doesn’t exist either – it’s all just matter and the laws of the universe.

    There is no altruism, there is no reality, there is no life, there is nothing but dead matter and the laws of the universe.

    Politicians believe that, that’s why they can do what they do – ruin lives while ensuring their own happiness.

Comments are closed.