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Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Truth About Our Very Own Guild of Students

The Truth About the Guild

I’m writing because I think everyone in this University deserves to know the truth about recent events, rather than be fed a diet of diluted facts and watered-down information by our very own Guild of Students.

On Friday 3rd February, the Redbrick front page featured an article titled, ‘Continued controversy as Guild relies on ambiguous act’. What that title should have read was ‘Everything you read below has been censored and/or written by the Guild in the form of Tom Goff’. Or, as our very own editor wanted to write, it could have read ‘Redbrick silenced’ with a short paragraph explaining how the Guild had systematically demolished the original article we planned to publish.

That article was credited to my name (as well as that of Matt Williams, our Editor, whose involvement in the case will be explained in more detail later). However, my input into what was eventually published was minimal. What I had originally written had been ripped to shreds and spliced with Guild propaganda, leading to:

1) The article making no sense whatsoever in certain parts, because so many people had contributed to it and edited it
2) The article not actually constituting proper news in any way (let alone front page news) given all of the new information I had procured was deleted from it
3) Myself therefore being credited with writing a piece that I not only disagreed with, but that made me look like a cretin, as it was so badly written.

So what did the original article actually say?

Admittedly, my original piece was inflammatory, given the already preciously balanced legal situation between the Guild and BUECU. It certainly should have been edited before it went to press. Nevertheless, none of what I wrote, as far as I know, was libellous.

I was tipped off by someone who had done an internet search on the Guild-BUECU affair and found some very interesting information on the legal grounds on which the Guild had based their case. What I found out was, in its original form, front page news. It included the following discoveries:

1) That the constitution of the LGBT Association includes this statement in section 4.2.1.1: 'Only the following shall be eligible for Full Membership: All Guild Members who self-define as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or as questioning their sexuality'.
2) That Richard Angell’s references to the 1994 Education Act were unfounded as the Act itself is applicable to general Student Unions – in our case, the Guild (does anyone actually know why we have that poncy name rather than Student Union?)
3) That the Guild constitution is not ‘legally binding’ in the way the Guild had led us to believe.

Now to clarify. I spoke to Stuart Mathers, VPSA of the Guild Executive, about point 1) concerning the LGBT Association. He explained to me that Associations, of which there are 6, are exempt from the same mandatory clauses as BUECU, because they are not societies. As the doctored front page of Redbrick explained to us, ‘he asserted that as an association is designed to protect the needs of unrepresented groups who may face discrimination, they are allowed to ‘positively discriminate’ for their members’. So basically because they are fighting for a group of people who face discrimination as a minority in society, they can exclude certain people from becoming members.

Fair enough, you may think. But there are two problems with this. First, the Guild asserted that it was in order to protect students’ interests that they de-recognised BUECU. Apparently BUECU were damaging students’ interests by not allowing everyone to become a member of their society. But there is no equivalent policy in the case of associations. What about all those hard done by students who want to be a member of the LGBT association but don’t class themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning their sexuality? Do they just have to put up with it because LGBT are an association, not a society?


The Guild and the Law

But here’s the real stinger. I looked up the Act and found some rather interesting info.

Here’s the bit of the act I assume Richard is referring to when he states, ‘We have to ensure by the 1994 Education Act that all of our societies are open to students' membership’:

(6) In subsections (2), (4) and (5) the expression "all students" shall be construed as follows—
... (c) in relation to an association or body which is a students' union by virtue of section 20(3), the reference is to all the students who by virtue of section 20(1) or (2) are comprehended by that expression in relation to its constituent or affiliated associations or bodies. (Section 22(6))



On surface value this may appear to corroborate Angell’s statement. Yet if we look under subsections (1) and (2) we find that the aforementioned ‘students’ unions’ are in fact bodies which represent the ‘generality of students’ and not what we refer to as ‘societies’ or ‘associations’. So the 1994 Education Act, as far as I can see (and please feel free to correct me), bears no reference whatsoever to anything apart from general students’ unions.

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. Let’s suppose that I’m right and Angell is wrong. That would mean that the 1994 Education Act is no basis whatsoever for suspending BUECU from the Guild (whether the Guild’s own constitution is or not is a different matter). On the grounds of the Act, BUECU should be let back in as a society.

But even if we assume Angell is right and the Education Act is referring to all affiliated bodies, the Guild are still firmly in the wrong. Let’s have another look at the words of that pesky little Act:

‘constituent or affiliated associations or bodies…’

Associations? Does that word ring a bell? Yet 5 of the 6 associations in our Guild DO NOT COMPLY with what Angell is saying BUECU have to comply with. Therefore even if Angell’s argument were correct, the Guild would be non-compliant with their own policy.

Interesting.

Moving on, remember what Redbrick reported in the previous issue (1283)? Probably not, so I’ll jog your memory. In fact, I wrote it. ‘Richard Angell… contended that BUECU was in direct contravention of the legally binding clauses [of the Guild constitution], of which the Executive Committee are trustees’. Now, given a member of the Guild Executive has to peruse each controversial article concerning the Guild and sanction it before it’s printed, I’m assuming what I said was correct here, as they didn’t pick up on it.

However, the Guild constitution is not a ‘legally binding’ document in the way that you’d think. Its mandatory clauses are not part of national law and the Guild are not required to use them by law. The Guild Council's own website endorses this. In an introduction to the online copy of their constitution, they state: ‘the Constitution is a continually changing document, something about either the Constitution or the byelaws changes at every Guild Council and this is essential as it is there to benefit the members of the Guild and the needs of these members are continually changing’ (grammar not mine). This shows how easy it is to amend the Constitution. Kind of different to the image of the constitution as a cast-iron document that the Guild were happy to project.

Nevertheless, one can still argue that BUECU had to be suspended because at the end of the day, whether the Guild Constitution is a legal document or not, it is still the Guild Constitution, and all societies have to comply with it.


The Guild and Common Sense (remember that?)

But the question is, as it is allegedly there ‘to benefit the members of the Guild’, why does it remain a document which leads to the expulsion of a society which was benefiting many members of the Guild? Here’s where common sense comes in. Look at the debate over the Post-graduate and Mature Students’ Association. Apparently they are being made to amend their constitution because it asserts that – SHOCK HORROR – only post-graduates and mature students can be members. That seems to be fair enough to me. Surely this is the very point of a society/association. Why should all students be allowed to join all societies? Why should I be allowed to join the pagan society when I’m not a pagan? Why should you be allowed to join the Labour Society when your allegiance really lies with the Conservative Party? It’s the result of a consumer culture gone mad, in which everyone demands to have rights to everything, and common sense gets thrown out the window in the melée.

As for arguments about ‘self-defining’ – pull the other one. Why on earth should a man be allowed to join the Women’s Association as long as he ‘self-defines’ as a woman? Because here’s some breaking news – ‘self-definition’ is just a farce. Someone is either biologically a man or a woman, and how they self-define cannot change that. Amazingly, this kind of talk has been outlawed in our insane culture which has swallowed a dangerous cocktail of political correctness and postmodernism. But hey, whether Angell et al like it or not, I’m grabbing free speech by the balls and squeezing it for all I’m worth.

In practice, no one was bothered by BUECU’s constitution. Anyone could go to their meetings. What’s more, why would you want to be a member of an Evangelical Christian Union if you weren’t a Christian? This entire affair has been based more on bureaucracy than the practical benefits of decisions.


The Guild and Free Speech

Now to why I’m writing all this in the first place. A condensed form of all this, based around the first three points I made, was the basis of my original article – which I admit once again was indeed inflammatory. Yet what ensued, following my writing it, was a flurry of frantic meetings between certain members of the Guild Executive and our Editor, Matthew Williams. Matt tells me that the gist of these meetings was the Guild telling Redbrick “You can’t print that”. Fair enough. But for a member of the Guild Executive to sit in the Redbrick office by the computer dictating – even at times typing – what the article should say instead? Smacks of propaganda.

Admittedly, the Guild has a point: they fund Redbrick. Furthermore, the article in its raw form would have added further fuel to the fire raging between the Guild and BUECU (or should I say BUECU’s lawyer), hence its ‘inflammatory’ nature. But to suppress freedom of speech to this extent and produce instead a botched article which doesn’t even constitute news, makes a mockery of the word ‘newspaper’. (Not to mention slapping my name on the front.) If Redbrick being a BUGS society means it cannot print the truth if it is critical of the Guild – well, that makes us into little more than a magazine that recommends what film you should watch this weekend.

The title on a recent issue of The Radish was the quote, from a Guild Executive member, saying that free speech was alright ‘as long as it is approved by us’. Well, they’re certainly ramming that policy home.


The Guild and I

Being one of the News Editors of Redbrick, I don’t know what the repercussions will be if and when I decide to publish this in paper form. The Guild Exec may well bring Angell-fire down on my head as retribution. I could be ‘fired’, although I really hope not. But I really hope that that doesn’t happen, because free speech should not come at a price. Redbrick pays through the nose for it.

Let me re-assert that as far as I know none of this is untrue. However, if it is, please let me know and I will change my views accordingly. I would love to be proved wrong as I don’t particularly want to think that ‘our’ Guild of Students is acting in this manner. But for now, no one has successfully refuted these arguments. If you would like to try, please contact me (missrebeccaking@gmail.com).



Rebecca King

8 Comments:

  • Have just read "High Society" by Ben Elton, and can only say that, like Paula, you need to choose your moment well, have cast-iron facts, proof, and perhaps even take some legal advice before going public on these issues, especially your assertions on men and women. Also, make sure your Redbrick colleagues are with you on this, unless you are so convinced of the rightness of your case that you are willing to face the fire alone. "truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey." (Isaiah 59:14,15.)

    By Blogger Cora, at 9:14 pm  

  • That's an astonishingly brave article. Whether you are allowed to publish it or not, I'm very proud of you.

    Tom x

    By Blogger Tom, at 10:14 am  

  • It's now been published in a trial paper form, which I have given to people at BUECU to peruse and make sure it's factually correct. If it's not, I won't distribute, obviously. If it is I'm going to have to make a very hard decision, because this is completely independent from Redbrick and I'm going it alone (albeit with the support of loads of people at uni). My editor read it yesterday and told me the Guild Exec would probably put a lot of pressure on him to get rid of me. So it's a question of whether I want to stand up for free speech or whether it really doesn't matter that much and I should just keep my job at Redbrick, which I love.

    I personally think I'll publish it. I don't want to compromise my beliefs and I don't want the Guild to get away with all this, if indeed it's all true.

    Fight the power!!

    By Blogger Bec, at 12:17 pm  

  • Hi, Bec.

    Best wishes,

    Paul

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 6:14 pm  

  • Are you concerned about Freedom of Speech? Or more concerned that your name was put on an article that made you look like a 'cretin'?

    By Blogger Jon, at 8:40 pm  

  • Hey Bec
    i just wanted to say that while it may not mean much, i think you're doin a right standup job.

    By Anonymous mattymac, at 8:22 pm  

  • Unfortunately, whlist not a cretin...
    (Noun-1. Someone suffering from cretinism. 2. loosely, offensive: An idiot.
    Derivative: cretinism
    Noun-A chronic condition caused by a congenital deficiency of thyroid hormone resulting in dwarfism and mental retardation.
    Derivative: cretinous
    adj

    Etymology: 18c: from Swiss dialect crestin, from Latin christianus Christian, human creature, emphasizing their humanity in spite of their physical and mental deformity.
    I am quite slow, and understand very little, if anything at all, about what you ave just written!
    Though I trust Tom's judgement when it comes to articles of length and therefore applaud your efforts.

    Go team Bec!

    By Blogger mrjohnfernandez, at 3:42 pm  

  • I've just read the relevant part of the Act in its entirety (Part II of the Education Act 1994.) It’s open to interpretation but if a Society is an affiliate of the Guild (SU) then the Act will apply to that Society. (See S.20 (3)(a)&(b))

    If that is the case, should the ECU be affiliated with the Guild or Students Union, then the relevant parts of the act will apply. If affiliated then the Unions committee would have to be elected by means of a secret ballot.

    I’m no expert in Tort law although legally the Guilds constitution may be a Contract, which would make it legally binding. However, the Education Act would take precedent over the Contract, it being legislation and the contract not.

    It’s difficult to see why the Guild has frozen funds & more importantly what power it has to do so. Also I’d argue that Christians are not an underrepresented group at any establishment, although that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a representative group which has a restricted membership.

    Personally I think you should publish the article. The Guild seems a little power mad, especially when it comes to such trivial matters as "man" and "women". They should take a look at criminal law and note that it always refers to "He" rather than "He or She" or "they".

    Should the Guild win a quote from Orwell springs to mind:

    If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.

    By Blogger Jimbo, at 5:06 am  

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