Constitution update
and role review

We’re updating the constitution to make things simpler for the union team and reviewing the roles which make up our union team.

Not much may have happened in the world since 2018*, but Central’s a different place in many ways. Back in 2018 the student centre was still just called the SAS (pronounced sass, not S-A-S) and lived around the corner from reception. We’ve had five principals and four presidents since then, the north block has opened and Avenue 100’s vanished.

We’ve been looking at our officer roles and whether they still work for you and the union. You might have seen questions in the ‘SU newsletter email thing’ (with the cats) or our posters and surveys to get your thoughts.

*sarcasm

The constitution

 

Our constitution is the legal document which creates the union and sets its basic rules. Every charity has one, though they have different names like ‘articles’ or ‘rule book’.

The Education Act 1994 requires Central to approve our constitution every five years. That last happened in 2012. A new version was written in 2017 which was approved by student council but never taken to Central’s governors for them to approve. It remains unapproved, so we’ve been working from two different constitutions which contradict each other.

We’ve written a new constitution based on the NUS model used by students’ unions across the country. It splits power between students, officers and trustees to keep people accountable.

You can read all 9,034 words below.

central-students-union-2022-constitution-for-approval-v6b-0000.png

What’s changed?

 

We’ve removed references to named officer roles because the constitution isn’t designed to be changed every few years. Instead, it allows bye-laws (extra rules) to be made by student council and the trustees which can set the officer roles.

We’re bringing back the trustee board to provide experience to the union and specialist advice on finance and charity law. As a charity, our trustees are legally responsible for what we do, our finances and making sure we follow charity law. Trustees will hold the union to policy set by student council and the team to account for its finances.

We’ll expand student council. New inclusion reps and society leaders will join course reps, so we hear a more diverse set of voices. This will return student council as the democratic hub of the union – setting what you think the union should be doing.

diagram.png

Role review

 

The union is currently made up of 26 people in 17 roles (shown on the right), of which one is vacant. Two are paid staff roles with the remaining 15 filled by student volunteers. All roles are elected by students except the support officer.

This structure started in 2018, replacing a structure from 2012 (also shown on the right) with two vice-presidents each being responsible for a group of officers. Liberation officers reported to the vice-president (democracy), who was also chair of student council, while operation officers reported to the vice-president (operations), who was also treasurer and secretary.

These roles were changed between 2012 and 2017. As well as minor modifications to role titles, the women’s officer role was introduced, the publications officer and web development officer roles merged and then closed a year later, and the technical support officer role closed.

  Officer roles from 2022
  • President​

    • Events officer

    • Inclusion officer

    • Postgraduate officer

    • Undergraduate officer

    • Vice-president

  • Support officer​

Inclusion reps from 2022
  • Carer

  • Care leaver

  • Disabled

  • Global majority

  • International

  • Jewish

  • LGBT

  • Mature

  • Migrant

  • Neuro-divergent

  • Trans

  • Women’s

  • Working class

…for example

  Roles since 2018
  • President

    • Vice-president (postgraduate)

    • Vice-president (acting)

    • Vice-president (contemporary performance practice)

    • Vice-president (theatre practice)

    • Activities officer

    • Campaigns officer

    • Entertainments officer

    • Environments officer

    • Welfare officer

    • Black and ethnic minorities officer

    • Disability and dyslexia officer

    • International officer

    • LGBT+ officer

    • Trans officer

    • Women’s officer

  • Support officer​

Roles from 2012
  • President

    • Vice-president (democracy)

      • Black and ethnic minorities officer

      • Campaigns officer

      • Disability and dyslexia officer

      • Gender and sexuality officer

      • International students’ officer

      • Postgraduate officer

    • Vice-president (operations)

      • Activities officer

      • Entertainment officer

      • Environmental officer

      • Publications officer

      • Technical support officer

      • Web development officer

      • Welfare officer

  • Support officer

What’s changed?

 

We’re introducing inclusion reps.​​​​​​​ Marginalised students are best placed to represent themselves. We know groups like carers, mature learners, Jewish students, and those from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities haven’t been properly represented in the past because of our rigid officer roles.

We also know not everyone from a minority group faces the same problems. We’re proposing separating the disability and dyslexia officer into a disability rep and a neuro-divergence rep.​​​​​​​ Not all international students are the same either. Maybe we should have reps for different regions or countries that significant groups of our students come from.

Importantly, we’ll be able to add to and adapt these roles to reflect our changing student body without needing to write a new constitution and hold an all-student vote.

We’ll stop pretending that inclusion reps should be ‘held to account’ because what would you put in their job description and how would you measure their success?

We think inclusion reps should be volunteers who nominate themselves, rather than being elected. Elections are a powerful symbol but often become a popularity contest. They also make it difficult to express your identity as you want, because we’d have to come up with a list of roles you could stand for. That takes us back to where we started – needing a system to approve groups someone wants to represent.

Course reps will be brought closer. They’ll work directly with officers and sit on student council to make sure we hear from students across the school. We’ll also give them the opportunity to sit on learning, teaching and student experience committee (LTSE) and the academic board.

We think the course rep role is really important, but there’s a misunderstanding between students and Central about what it involves. Course committee will change next year as the department structure is introduced, grouping undergraduate and postgraduate courses together in new ways, and we’re pushing for the structures to be simplified to focus on what students care about. We’d like our officers to be more involved with how your feedback is shared with the school, perhaps by running course committee meetings for you, rather than just sitting and listening.

Society leaders will join student council. They do a lot of work in their own time and for no reward that we don’t properly recognise. None of our societies, from football to knit ‘n’ natter, could run without them and they deserve more support than they get. On student council, they’ll get more input into the direction of the union and what it’s up to.

The officer team will be made simpler and more accountable. Officers are there to do the work of the union. From organising events to gathering feedback, they need clear roles with achievable aims. The president will be joined by a single vice-president, an inclusion officer, events officer, undergraduate officer, and postgraduate officer.

We think the vice-president should be a paid sabbatical role so they’re able to support and be supported by the president to achieve more. We need Central’s support to do this because it would cost around £25,000.

From next year, we’ll pay all five part-time officers a stipend (a small salary) to recognise the work they do and enable some of those who couldn’t take an officer role because of work commitments to consider it again. This will likely be around £1,200 per officer per year and, combined with a clearer set of responsibilities, will increase accountability to student council by being paid in instalments.

rep2.png

What’s wrong with the roles as they are?

 

Little clarity. There’s never been a solid understanding of the 2018 vice president roles. Sometimes we don’t have even one candidate for the vice-president (acting) and vice-president (theatre practice) roles. With no clear portfolio, officers in these roles have felt like ‘glorified course reps’, in some cases acting as more of a social media marketing officer for their programme.

Similar or overlapping titles also confuse people. The activities officer and entertainments officer roles are often confused, even within the team, and there is no split between LGBT+ officer and trans officer responsibilities.

Confusion about where roles sit within the team. The vice-presidents are automatically members of the executive committee – the ‘upper house’ in our bicameral structure. The committee is relatively weak, and the vice-presidents don’t usually stand in for the president, leading to confusing around their different status to the other officers.

Responsibility for day-to-day work isn’t shared equally. Some roles hold a lot of responsibility and officers can find it difficult to share this load with others. Freshers’ fortnight, despite being the single biggest thing the union does each year, is planned almost entirely by the entertainments officer. Similarly, the activities officer is responsible for managing societies, their membership, finances and room bookings, even where societies align with other officer roles, like trans society.

 

The vice-presidents are expected to attend course committee meetings but don’t hold any other direct responsibilities, as with most liberation officers. It’s important that officer roles reflect the needs of the union while also representing students.

Difficult to lead a large team of volunteers. The president​​​​​​​ is expected to lead a team which has grown significantly in recent years as more officers are elected in pairs. The flat hierarchy means 15 elected officers – currently 24 people – report directly to the president.

Lack of accountability. The large number of officer roles, confusion about responsibilities and failure of student council to meet in recent years means there is very little between officers and the students who elect them. Officers can’t be held to their role if nobody knows what their role means.

Confusing elections. The number of roles and rules about who can stand and vote for which roles makes the election process needlessly confusing for students and difficult to manage for the union. We can’t legally limit who votes for ‘major union offices’ – probably the president and vice-presidents in our case – but we do exactly this with the vice-presidents.

Low engagement from students. Officers are elected, in many cases unopposed, by a relatively small number of members. Some roles have gone unelected recently. We ran the October 2021 by-election to elect five roles which received no nominations the June before. Two candidates ran unopposed, and we still don’t have a vice-president (acting).

Expenses but no pay. Despite working long hours in some cases, officers are not paid for their time. Instead, they can claim reasonable personal expenses when working on union projects, like travel home late at night, and we provide a personalised uniform at significant cost to the union.

Questions? Speak to an officer or email us at [email protected] and we’ll do our best to help.