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Student Officer and Trustee Election results!

The results and the what your Officers-elect campaigned on [+]

Your Student Officers and Trustees for next year have now been elected! We’re proud to announce that your 2020-21 Student Officers: Seun Twins (SU President), Nailah Haque (Undergraduate Academic Officer), Sarah McAllister (Postgraduate Academic Officer), Anna Marshall (Opportunities Officer), and Ewan Swift (Welfare and Liberation Officer).

The elected Officers have proposed various areas they intend to dedicate attention to improving. You can learn more about their ideas by clicking on their names above.

And your Student Trustees are: Ensharah Sodha (present-until 31 July 2020), Max Kirk (3 August 2020-30 July 2021), Kamil Hepak (3 August 2020-30 July 2021), and Yash Raju (3 August 2020-30 July 2021).

The elected Student Officers will start their roles at the beginning of July, and will represent the voice of Durham students and lead the direction of the Union for that academic year. One of your elected Trustees, Ensharah Sodha, will start their role immediately, filling an empty student trustee place on our board. The others will commence in at the same time as Student Officers, for the 2020-21 academic year.

A massive thank you to all our 4311 members who voted in the election and had your say in who you want to lead your Students’ Union next year.

And of course, congratulations to all candidates for their passion and commitment to their campaigns, and to their campaign teams for all their hard work. We hope you’re all incredibly proud of putting your vision for Durham forward and talking to students about the issues and challenges they face in Durham - we know this can be incredibly challenging, but it’s vital to making our University better.

Let’s be honest - this year was particularly tough for the candidates. They all deserve recognition for continuing to run excellent campaigns and talk to students about how they want to make the future better for students, alongside an active campaign for Re-Open Nominations.

So what was the complaint that delayed the announcement of the results? [+]

Durham SU cannot share information that would or could identify either the complainant or the complainee, and we ask our members to recognise that this is to uphold the rights of privacy and confidentiality to the individuals involved. However in order to also recognise voters interest in, and right to transparency we have provided as much information as can be anonymised.

The complaint was from a voter about a significant breach of our election rules, (standing order C12) that “students in positions of authority will not be permitted to use resources that others generally do not have the ability to access.”, which concerns encouraging students to vote in a particular way within a broader regular mailing to a College community. It was against a member of the campaign team for the candidate Re-Open Nominations who had access to the content of the mailing because they are also a member of University staff. As with any other candidate, a complaint against a campaigner for a candidate is considered to be a complaint against the candidate. The complaint was investigated by the Deputy Returning Officer and upheld, with Re-Open Nominations disqualified from the election as a consequence, on the basis that it had used this resource to campaign in a way that unfair to voters and other candidates. This decision was then reviewed by the external Returning Officer, Peter Robertson, the Acting Chief Executive of NUS, on the request of the Deputy Returning Officer due to the severity of the complaint and action, at which point the decision of the Deputy Returning Officer was upheld by the external Returning Officer. We understand that not being able to announce the results while these investigations were ongoing has caused distress, especially for candidates, but given the nature and complexity of the complaint, it was necessary that the complaint be resolved before the election could be counted. If you would like more information about Durham SU election complaints process, you can find it here.

OK - but even if the Re-Open Nominations campaign did something dodgy and was disqualified, I still think they had a point. Are you just ignoring that? [+]

No.

It’s the top of our agenda right now, and it will remain there because it’s our job to understand and shape your Union around you, our student members. The Re-Open Nominations campaign has reiterated that the campaign was NOT about the candidates. We believe (and if you disagree there’s space below for you to say so) that campaign for Re-Open Nominations wanted fundamentally to make important, critical points about how students are represented by their Students Union and raise issues impacting other student organisations in Durham. This was a protest vote about the Students’ Union and the current situation for Common Rooms - not a vote against the candidates running for the roles. And by going against the election rules the campaign was unfair to voters and other candidates - and voters have a right to be angry that that meant their votes couldn't be counted as a result of the rule breach. Voters were trying to raise more fundamental issues about the SU and Durham - and we believe that we can and should work to hear and address these, despite the rule breach that resulted in the disqualification. 

Students don’t all agree with each other about everything, and this is true of those who campaigned and voted for Re-Open Nominations, or any of the candidates - but clearly there were common threads amongst the Re-Open Nominations campaign. We talk about some of those below, which we’re able to do now that we’re not at risk of influencing the election by doing so.

We need to listen to you and understand better[+]

Not everyone who campaigned and supported Re-Open Nominations did so for the same reasons - and we have to respect and accommodate that. What we heard from the campaign was:

  • Our democracy can feel confusing or hard to engage with.

We know, and we’ve been conducting the first stage of a review over the last few months. Soon we will outline the findings of the first stage of this review and launch plans for a wider listening exercise to gather insight into how students perceive and want to engage with democratic decision making. This will then inform our student leaders and help shape and adjust how we do our democracy. Common Room leaders and Union Reps who had booked consultation slots didn't attend for the first stage of this review, so we know that for stage two we need to reach wider and involve more students and more student leaders as views and opinions from students so far have differed greatly. (NOTE: Apologies are offered for the original wording of this information, which wrongly implied that all Reps had agreed to consultation and didn't turn up, this was an error on our part, and we can now confirm that it was only some, not all, Reps and Common Room Presidents who received the invite and agreed to come but then did not attend.)

  • Common Rooms have it tough - and they want more from the SU and from the University.

We know - and we need to work with Common Rooms student leaders and with broader students to understand the top priorities of our members in regards to this. This will start with a mediation process of meetings and discussions facilitated by Durham University and kicking off over the coming weeks, and continue in discussion with Presidents based on what we learn through that process.

  • We need to do more listening and work out what students want to change

We have a lot of mechanisms to do this - our officers, our assembly, our student voice tool, our committees, our elections, etc. But having more ways just gives us a better chance of reaching more people, and being more accessible to our members -- and what we’ve taken from the Re-Open Nominations campaign is that we need to do that. Assembly have already mandated the creation of open forums at their last meeting, which we’ll be kicking off soon. But while the election and your Union is top of mind, we want to invite you all to contribute your thoughts, comments, and concerns about how you think your Union should change and what the challenges of the student ecosystem are. You can do that below. 

Have an opinion or idea you want to share with us? We're committed to listening to what you think your Union should be and what you believe students need from us, and the student ecosystem in Durham. Please give us your thoughts here. This isn't for statistical analysis this is for us to hear what you think and create a space for us to who may not feel you can get through to us through our other structure - that means we'll read, compare and think about the feedback you give us, and use that to inform the understanding of our various decision making bodies (Officers, Assembly, our Board etc). 

What about the external review of the election? [+]

Durham SU requested that the University Secretary enact her powers under the education act to satisfy University Council that Durham SU’s elections are fairly and properly conducted. Durham SU made this request during the voting period because the election rules were raising questions from students and not being understood, and conducting an external review felt like an appropriate measure to address these concerns.

We'll provide further information on this as soon as possible. 

But the Re-Open Nominations campaign did claim the election was unfair because candidates couldn't be penalised if Officers or Trustees didn't remain neutral - what's the SU'S response to that? [+]

No Officers endorsed candidates in this election - but it is true that a rule against Officers endorsing or campaigning for candidates cannot be implemented by the Returning Officer (e.g. a candidate cannot be disqualified from the election because of an officer or trustee not remaining neutral).

Simply put, this is because our articles of association say “all sabbatical officers employed by the Union and Student Members shall be entitled to the benefits set out in the Code of Practice”. These benefits include the right to vote in an election that could be assured as free and fair by the governing body. The interpretation of Durham SU’s board of trustees was that removing the rights of a specific group of members to participate in the election was not within their power (or that of Assembly) under their obligations to oversee an election that could be assured as free and fair. Durham SU believes that the right of all our members to hold opinions, campaign for change and challenge and exchange views with others is fundamental to our existence as a Union, and furthers the education of students at University - and that it is not within our gift to remove this right when it is so integral to our purpose under the education act. Assembly was informed of this in the Board update paper from the Board's People and Culture Committee on December 3. 

Officers and trustees do not have a role in administering SU elections, and our rules prevent them from using any resources which they have access to by virtue of a role they hold (as per our elections rules). We understand that this is different to how elections are run in many Common Rooms - but the Students’ Union isn’t a Common Room, and being different to the status quo isn’t the same as being unfair.

Have an opinion or idea you want to share with us? We're committed to listening to what you think your Union should be and what you believe students need from us, and the student ecosystem in Durham. Please give us your thoughts here. This isn't for statistical analysis this is for us to hear what you think and create a space for us to who may not feel you can get through to us through our other structure - that means we'll read, compare and think about the feedback you give us, and use that to inform the understanding of our various decision making bodies (Officers, Assembly, our Board etc).

The delay in announcing the results has been due to an investigation into a serious complaint regarding the improper use of data and resources by someone campaigning to Re-Open Nominations. As with any other candidate in our election, the behavior of those campaigning for the candidate is considered to be the responsibility of the candidate. We needed to take our time to consider the impact of this complaint, and this has led to the decision by the Deputy Returning Officer and an independent Returning Officer that RON has had to be dis-counted.

The campaign to Re-Open Nominations is not something we have any plans to ignore. We are actively listening to your concerns and want to ensure student democracy in Durham is working well for students. We’ll be updating you soon on our next steps. Further stats from the election will be provided as soon as possible, which we anticipate being next week.