To begin with, this council wasn't like the others. The session began with an AGM or an 'annual general meeting'. Athletic Union officer Fergus Mainland took to the chair and addressed council on the five key things we had to get through and vote upon before we could move to the general point of council.
First, we had to ratify the trustees and auditors appointed to the union. This included all elected sabbatical officers, two students and two external trustees. These were a few short votes that were hands raised in the room that both passed.
Next up, we had to approve the annual accounts. Fergus handed things over to Simon Gerry, the Chief Executive for a rundown on the accounts. Simon mentioned to council a £26,000 deficit in finance from the Union last year. However, the deficit going into covid was a predicted deficit of £136,000.
Simon explained, "The Student Union have got a target of having £300,000 reserves. So, if we do have a particularly difficult year, we don't have to switch things off."
He added that the union is aiming to have a £40,000 surplus, which he said "That is a very good position to be in... The finances are looking okay going into the few years ahead where we're trying to rebuild engagement and student experience."
We then had to vote on the accounts, where it was approved. The impact report was next, in the form of a short video filled with statistics. Some highlights included 93% of students rating NUSU satisfactory or above. 89% of students would recommend to a friend, and 80% stated that NUSU contributed positively to their university experience.
When this was finished, we had to vote to accept the impact report. It passed.
At last, it was time for the second act of council. We passed the minutes of the last meeting. Then, we had to pass the Steering Committee report and the Disciplinary & Scrutiny Committee report. This is where things got interesting.
Fergus Mainland raised an objection to the report, which he said "The reporting levels we've had this year haven't been up to standard." He added that it was "quite vague." We then had to go to a vote where we had to finally decide wether to pass it. It didn't pass, with the tally coming in at 33% for and 67% against.
After that, it was time for our very own George Boatfield to deliver the state of the union report. This is the part where council is briefed on what the SABBS have all been up to. First up, George told us that Briana, Welfare and Equality officer, has been working on spiking prevention as well as mental health and wellbeing. She's worked closely with the alcohol education trust for research into student experiences surrounding spiking.
Briana has also collaborated with the It Happens Here society for drink testing kits, spreading awareness and taking action on the spiking epedemic. In terms of health and wellbeing, Briana has met with Sally Ingram to discuss the mental health issues current students face and the negative experiences students face with counselling services.
Next, onto Activites officer Haris. Haris has been working on the engagement with student that's been back on the rise following the winter break. Boatfield added "January assessments are over now, so students are back onto campus, back engaging in societies and activities there." Refreshers was also mentioned, as it gave students a second chance to get involved in societies across campus.
The Athletic Union update was next, with Fergus' thrilled news that despite Newcastle's low sports funding, we've managed to rise to 7th on the BUCS leaderboard. There was also the news that for the first time in 4 years, varsity is back! Newcastle will battle Northumbria in April to see who will reign supreme. Elsewhere, Fergus has been in discussion with the university regarding transgender participation in sport.
Onto Education Officer Livia Scott. She's been working with the governance team to develop sessions on the importance of inclusive language here at Newcastle. She's also been working on a new structure and approach for personal tutoring.
Eleanor, our Postgraduate officer, has also been busy. Her main focus has been the 'Just for Postgrads' campaign finished a week or so ago and this was all about combatting postgraduate isolation, and providing ways for them to come together and socialise. They've organised things like a quiz night, CBT and wellbeing workshops as well as give it a go.
Lastly we moved across to George himself. George has been working on elections planning with the newly appointed elections planning committee. This is NSR, NUTV and The Courier all co-ordinating how to give the student body the best content across the election period. George also touched on new recruitment at The Courier, as well as NSR's new red logo, just in time for SRA Con in April.
One member of council had a question for Postgraduate Officer Eleanor. They asked, "With the UCU strikes being planned for the next couple of weeks, and postgraduate students sitting in an interesting place in the Students Union and UCU, what is the Union doing to support these Postgrad students during that time?"
Eleanor stepped up to the podium and stated "Obviously our poll came out and the Union is in support of the strikes, that's our stance, so we'll be re-iterating that in key meeting to university staff and emphasising that we want the dispute to be resolved as quickly and easily as possible with little impact on all students."
"To those PGR's in particular, many of whom may be striking themselves, coming into the union is not classed as crossing the picket line... the union will be here as a space throughout the strike action."
After this we moved onto the main part of council and what we all wait for: the motions. The first motion this week was to change the title of LGBT+ officer to LGBTQ+ officer. George Wood was invited to the podium to present.
George explained the motion does what it says on the tin, and that the title change "bring(s) the title in line with the most common abbreviation used by the community."
He continued, "The reason for those of you that don't know, the term LGBTQ+ is widely accepted is a widely accepted abbreviation because the 'Q' can stand for queer or questioning depending on who you ask... it covers quite a broad span of identities and a lot of people within the community can identify with the queer title."
Meg Howe was invited to speak for the motion. "I seconded the motion, not only because I believe that this new abbreviation does encompass everybody in the community, but it's also really important to be current with the abbreviations that are being used."
The motion passed, with 85% for and 15% against.
Next up was a late notice motion in an attempt to get the Student's Union to act in support of strike action. Proposing this motion was Caitlin Halfacre, who was invited up to the podium. "I submitted this motion because I wanted to give the student voice something concrete to say."
She continued, "University institutions listen to students because students pay. I'm well aware that strikes impact students but I want us to think about how the issues being fought for affect us as students, not just the strikes themselves."
Halfacre mentioned the pay gaps between men and women, disabled and non-disabled and also the pay gap between white, black and ethnic minorities. "This is why I want the students union to support the strikes in specific ways. I want to mandate the Sabbatical officers to be able to stand up for the student experience."
The floor was opened for speakers for or against the motion. Education Officer Livia Scott was invited to the podium to speak for the motion. "I just want to speak on behalf of all seven of our sabbatical officers that we support this motion going through."
Elias Al Dahan spoke against the motion. "My time at University, as mentioned, has been very fractured. Very disrupted. Wether it was the pandemic or the continuous attempts to strike that have failed. They've achieved nothing. I think that's something we need to remember."
After a short while of debating back and forth, voting commenced. The motion passed, with 76% for and 24% against.
After just over an hour, we had one final motion to discuss. Put forward by William Hayes, the motion urged NUSU to build any new buildings in a 'traditional style'. Wether that's gothic, Jacobean or classical.
"This may seem parochial, irrelevant and unimportant in the modern age, but I think aesthetics and beauty should be a priority when it comes to development."
He continued, "There have been many studies and social commentaries on how architectural styles used in the past make us happier and that modern architectural styles are both repressive, oppressive and depressing... great monoliths that clutter our skylines that really offer no romance, emotion or beauty."
Hayes also made parallels between architecture and modern history, "A lot of modernism in style is rooted in an early 20th century attempt to uproot the styles... largely by people with slightly bizarre views." He then went on to say the father of modernism who pioneered style used in the modern age was a French Nazi.
Then came the questions, of which there was a few. George Wood asked first, "How on earth have you managed to draw parallels between architecture, nazism and Stalinism?"
Muslim Taseer was up next, asking simply, "Are you serious?", to which Hayes replied "I take matters of romance very seriously."
If I were to list the for and against speakers and the rest of the questions this report would be very, very long. After a while, the motion went to a vote. 24% voted for, whilst 76% voted against.
Finally after a long session, we all disbanded and headed to Luther's for some well deserved pints. Student Council will be back for episode 5 in March.