By Mark Ross, Co-Editor-in-Chief
The Students' Union Annual Members Meeting (AMM), which took place on Monday 13 February, has faced criticism from students following a series of controversial debates and procedural difficulties.
The SU’s largest democratic event of the year, the AMM is a chance for students to have their voice heard by the Students' Union. Individuals can propose motions which, if passed, must be implemented by SU officers for at least three years.
It is also a chance to decide whether to renew previous motions, which expire after a three-year period.
Tensions escalated when the motion ‘Let’s Disarm Bristol! Lobby the University to End Ties with Arms Trade Companies’ was raised to be renewed. The motion directed the SU to call on the University to ‘to divest from arms trade companies linked to alleged human rights abuses’, and ‘to support any student movement against arms trade links in the University of Bristol’.
It sought the University’s divestment from ‘arms companies linked to human rights abuses’ through targeting careers fairs attended by these companies and pushing the SU to lobby the University to ‘create a progressive plan to divest from arms trade companies’.
The proposal was opposed by members of AeroSoc, the University’s Aerospace Engineering Department Society, who argued, among other points, that this motion has a disproportionate impact upon the career prospects of Aerospace graduates.
Annual Members Meeting is underway! If you are feeling nosey, you can check out the Motions up for debate this evening on our website https://t.co/c7j4hXb4gj— Bristol SU (@Bristol_SU) February 13, 2023
Keep an eye out on our Instagram for your Student Council Chair's round-up later in the week! pic.twitter.com/eanwHjadbO
The motion prompted a series of impassioned speeches on both sides of the debate. Speaking on behalf of AeroSoc, Reuben Bouchard-Saunders proposed the motion be split to find a middle ground, a move which generated procedural confusion and exasperation amongst audience and organisers alike.
Unfortunately, the debate prompted certain individuals to resort to abuse and aggressive behaviour both in-person and online. One individual, speaking via Microsoft Teams, is reported to have stated the Aerospace students ‘will never see the light of heaven’ for their connection to these companies.
An in-person speaker responding to AeroSoc’s arguments is also reported to have likened the department’s students to ‘murderers’.
In an open letter to the SU, Bouchard-Saunders has raised concern with the lack of ‘clear and effective’ responses to this behaviour, stating that ‘this is not how fair and free debate should be carried out’.
Concerns were also raised regarding the procedural handling of the event. There were allegations of individuals being photographed while voting, without consequence.
The hybrid nature of the event allegedly also led to votes being collected via emoji reacts to group chat messages.
AeroSoc raised concerns regarding the Chair’s comments on the validity of the results. Organisers stated that the threatening online messages implied that the results (which are normally ratified) may not be by the student council.
In the open letter, Bouchard-Saunders stated that ‘this suggestion that the results of a vote could be effectively thrown out was backed up with zero supporting arguments, and felt simply like a statement to reassure some voters that the result was potentially invalid.
‘It is appalling that the Chair of a democratic and impartial committee would attempt to suggest the results obtained were potentially invalid with no justification.’
The full results of the Annual Member’s Meeting are still to be published by the Student’s Union.
The Students' Union responded:
'Thanks to everyone who came to our recent Annual Member’s Meeting. We take our democratic processes very seriously and these were strictly followed by the elected students of the Democratic Standards Committee and elected Student Council Chair. We are obviously concerned about the feedback that we’ve received from some students who attended the meeting.
'Everyone who has contacted us directly has been given the opportunity to meet with our democracy team – we’re more than happy to discuss any issues students wish to raise, as well as suggestions for the future. I am also speaking to key staff members and our Democratic Standards Committee to look at how we can improve the experience at future democratic events.”
- Adam Michael, Union Affairs Officer
How do you think student democratic events can be improved in the future?