Oxford’s Student Union (SU) has passed a motion to cut financial ties with the Oxford Union, with 78.1% of those present voting in favour. This will likely prevent the Oxford Union from having a stall at the freshers’ fair and is likely to have an impact on new membership signups.
As the Oxford Union is not a student society, they are required to pay for a commercial stall at the SU’s annual freshers’ fair. According to the SU, this is “the primary situation where the two organisations overlap and interact”.
The motion resolved to “cease any and all commercial and financial relationships between the Oxford Union and SU” until the mandate expires in three years. The SU does have an Ethical Code of Practice for its commercial activities, according to which it “should take all practically possible steps to ensure the organisations they engage with for commercial purposes are committed to minimising their negative impact on the environment and the communities they operate in”.
The motion stipulates that the Student Council believes the Oxford Union should be able to “carry out its principles without creating a toxic environment which seems to encourage bullying, harassment, racial profiling, and a systemic abuse of power”. However, since the Oxford Union is a Private Member’s Club, it is not under the jurisdiction of the university and the SU is “unable to properly check Oxford Union matters… which affect students”.
In areas where the SU lacks direct influence, the motion highlighted that “they still have a duty to lobby for change”, or, if unsuccessful, take “necessary actions to safeguard all members of the Oxford student community”. The passing of the motion mandates the VP Welfare & Equal Opportunities and VP Access & Academic Affairs to review the SU’s relationship with the Oxford Union.
The Union told Cherwell: “The Union offers unique opportunities to its members, which range from meeting world leaders, to partaking in our debates, and joining us in our social events. The University’s compliance policy indicates that ‘free speech is the lifeblood of a university’, a principle that is upheld by the Oxford Union.
“It is unfortunate that many of the claims made on the motion are not factually accurate, and merely represent the views of a minority of the student body.”The possibility of turning the motion into a procedural motion was also discussed, which would have enabled all eligible members to vote, rather than just those present in person or online. A cause of concern, however, was that the list of eligible voters might be outdated, as the list was not updated since last term. Ultimately, 23 out of 29 present members (not including abstentions) voted against this.
Other concerns raised about the Oxford Union in the motion included the Oxford Union’s reliance on unpaid “vac days”, which the motion described as “exploitative”. The high cost of membership was also described as “antithetical to the SU’s commitment to access”.
Clay Nash, the motion’s seconder, told Cherwell: “I hope that it sets a standard of accountability for the actions of Private Members Clubs, like the Oxford Union, who do not fall within the jurisdiction of the University’s regulatory bodies.”
According to the motion, whilst “strong action” by the SU might “provide an impetus for the Oxford Union to improve itself for its members in the Oxford community”, the exact actions will be discussed at a later date. Jade Calder, VP Access & Academic Affairs and the motion’s proposer, told the Student Council meeting she believes that “the motion in itself, on a symbolic level, is a good start”.