Monday, 14 December 2009

Can The Vervezine Survive?

Last week the magazine's editorial and writing team met in an angry face-off after the Communications Officer usurped the Editor's role.

Staff attacked the Communications Officer, Rishi Pancholi, for his role in the magazine's failure to publish any issues this semester. The meeting ended with the compromise to elect the new editor and work through issues after the election.

Visibly disappointed with Rishi's explanations for managerial failures, Steve stood in front of the team, accepted shared blame and announced his resignation. Rishi then stated that he would appoint a new editor, a measure met with howls of outrage.

In the end he compromised with an election by email. There would be open nominations from across the university, with the staff to vote for their choice.

Staff later received an email stating that the Student Council would have to select an editor. The elections would still be held, but the editor would only be in place for one month, equivalent to one issue.
In the name of democracy, I didn't realise that the procedure for electing an editor would be so complicated and now I have to forward the official election for the Editor to the next Student Council Meeting in Feb 2010.
- Rishi Panchol
Rishi apologised again, blaming the university:
I really do apologise if the whole Student Council thing upsets you. At the end of the day the University have really oppressed and segregated the Students' Union and if you also feel this way then please join us on Tuesday at 4pm outside the Moorgate Building to protest for their resignation.
- Rishi Pancholi
The response was quick and furious, with staff questioning the Council's authority to appoint an Editor, given that the Vervezine is not on the Student Union's list of societies or Constitution.

One staff member wrote to Rishi, saying:
[...]I personally feel that you have let us down. I remember a short while ago you apologised to us for your mistakes and feeling that you genuinely were going to put in some more professional input. The past week has shown us that not only are you not going back on your promise, but losing our trust more and more with your ridiculous attitude.
(Used with permission)
Staff are threatening to leave en masse, citing anger at the lack of action to date, an unwillingness to settle for a political appointee and anger at having nothing to show after a semester's work. In addition, London Met Watch has been told that the university may withdraw funding if the magazine does not publish.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

A Very Quiet Coup?

Rumours of an editorial coup have rocked the student body's monthly publication, the Vervezine.

The magazine, which has not printed any issues this semester due to a number of technical and managerial problems, will definitely not print anything until after Christmas.

In a surprise move the Communications Officer, Rishi Pancholi, has also replaced Editor Steve Gray. Rishi indicated to members of staff that Steve had chosen to leave on Thursday night, the final deadine for printing.

When asked about his decision, Steve denied having given up editorship, claining that "he [Rishi] hasn't said a word to me".

"I think I'm going to have to take over." - Rishi Pancholi

When asked why the magazine would not be published, Rishi claimed that the layout was not printable. When asked, Layout Editor Victor Delveccio confirmed that the magazine was essentially ready to go.

When asked abotu this, Rishi then claimed that the piece had to go through checking by the university. He alleged that Student Support Officer Eddie Rowley had committed "censorship" by removing a piece about the university's financial crisis. We have emailed Mr. Rowley regarding this claim and will update once he responds after the weekend.

Discussions with Vervezine staff make it clear that this is the last straw. Complaints include the failure to publish their work, the feeling that journalism students' specialist skills are not being taken seriously and concerns about the lack of a process to select the editor.

(Declaration of Interest: The writer is also a member of the Vervezine team.)

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Candidate Comment: Phillipe Chiarella

Phillipe Giovanni Chiarella stood as candidate for the role of Student Council member, for which he was ultimately successful. Here he shares his thoughts on the elections.

So, I am elected. I am not sure quite how to take the results however.

I obviously feel happy, and am looking forward to getting students views heard at London Met over the next year. I am looking forward to working with a group of people, most of which I don’t know.

I am not however using the short space to talk about that. I am using this to talk about what I think HAS to happen over the next year and what we need to do as a Union.

The first thing is that we need to do is engage with students, meaningfully! We need to be doing campaigns students want, helping societies in partnership with the Student Office, offering advice and have a real presence on campus. We need to restore the faith that you, the students, have lost in us.

The second thing is we need to start holding engaging elections. First of all, we need elections that get more than 1.5% of students voting. Secondly, we need a cross campus ballot for NUS elections – the NUS can run it so why not let them! Thirdly we need to change when elections happen – May is way too late and it is when we all have coursework and exams. I want to see February/March elections.

The final thing that needs to happen is that the University and Union needs to start working together. At the end of the day we both need to have students interests at heart!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Candidate Comment: Yeashir Ahmed

Yeashir Ahmed stood as candidate for the role of President, for which he was ultimately successful. Here he shares his thoughts on the elections.

My election Champaign had a very slow start. I did not have enough supports, and many of my friends told me not to go for it as I was not very much known by the vast majority of the students at our university. But it grew strength from the support of many young students as I run in every campus and personally talk to each and every student about the benefit of Student union and their role to create an effective student union that benefit all of us. During the Champaign I have spent hours after hours sitting with student at MET CafĂ©’s. Many students complained about the inactive role of past student Union with great angers and denied to vote for the Student Union. It was very difficult to deal with upset and angry students. But the experiences that I have gained while dealing with such situation are extensive and will help to design and create a faire and effective student union where all of us will stand together to revive the true nature of a union. I will always be honest about the challenges we face. I will listen to each and every student and with the best of my ability try to solve their problem in an effective that can create a very positive and harmonious relationship among us all.

Finally I congratulate all other elected METSU officers, and also look forward to working with them to renew this Union promise in the months ahead. Thank you. God bless you.

Yeashir Ahmed

METSU President (elect)

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Candidate Comment: Amir Ramin

Amir Ramin stood as candidate for the role of Vice President (City) for which he was ultimately successful. Here he shares his thoughts on the elections.

Fraud in voting which led to the cancellation of the election results last year disappointed many students who had taken part to build an actively engaging Union for the students. Prior to that and even until this moment, the Student Union (SU) remain a body whose activities and locations are unknown to many students in the University.

‘Where is Student Union? What does it do? Where is it located and how can it help the students?’ are questions that many students deserve to know and it is the responsibility of the SU to constantly engage with them to increase their awareness and also to help. Likewise, the University authorities will also need to provide the necessary means and support for the SU to reach those goals.

Fortunately, we have now succeeded to have an elected body who must understand the importance and enormity of their responsibility. There are challenges to be met and effectively dealt with in order to be able to make a difference. I am hopeful and optimistic that with the support of the students and the University we will make that difference.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank my dearest friends and classmates from the button of my heart who supported me to win this election. Let me also thank those who took part in organising this election. I very much look forward to working with the students and the University.

Vice President (city)-elect, Amir Ramin
Student Union, London Metropolitan University
14 May 2009

Monday, 11 May 2009

Candidate Comment: Steve Gray

Steve Gray stood as candidate for the role of Participation and Development Officer, for which he was ultimately unsuccessful. Here he shares his thoughts on the elections.

The first thing I’d like to do is thank everyone who supported me in the election campaign. To come so close (10 votes in the end) to getting the spot given the situation was testament to the faith they had in me, so thank you all.

The one thing struck me when I was read the results of the elections and that was the turnout. 459? That’s pitifully low. Depressingly so, even. That is why we needed people with experience and drive to take the positions on offer and, unfortunately, we only have a couple of people who fit that bill actually elected into office.

I am still astounded that people who don’t put any posters up and show no visible signs of campaigning can get elected into office. This occurs through what I like to call the ‘society effect’, or in laymen’s terms, a popularity contest. It’s more to do with who you know than what you have to offer and that’s a factor as to how the people with competition actually won.

I wish Tarequl all the best with his role as Participation and Development Officer because it isn’t going to be a stroll in the park, as is evident from the election turnout. Students just don’t care about the Union and he has to work to counter that. We shall find out whether he can fulfil his commitments and hopefully make more time for the job he is going to be paid to do than he did talking to students or attending hustings.

I shall deal with this setback by concentrating on the continuing development of the student magazine and shall come back even stronger for next year’s elections.

Student Union Elections: The Responses

With the elections over, we have invited the candidates (both successful and unsuccessful) to share their thoughts on the event.

We look forward to bringing them to you over the next few days.

Those Results In Full

The Student Union (SU) election results are out and can be found here.

The highlights are as follows:
  • Out of 30,381 voters, only 459 voted.

  • This is a 1.5% turnout, a new low.
The successful candidates were:

Presidential Officers:
  • President: Yeashir Ahmed.
  • Vice President (North): Richi Sethi.
  • Vice President (City): Amir Ramin.
Other Officers:
  • Communications & Campaigns Officer: Rishi Pancholi.
  • Participation & Development Officer: Tarequl Islam Khan.
  • Welfare Officer: Elliot Agbon Adu.
  • Postgraduate Student Officer: Adikwu Lawrence Adoli.
  • Diversity and Equality Officer: MD Aman Ullah
Student Councillors (City):
  • Phillipe Giovanni Chiarella.
  • Adikwu Lawrence Adoli.
Congratulations to the successful candidates and commiserations to the unsuccessful ones.

However even those successful the candidates have a great deal of work ahead of them.

The SU must now face the issue of whether or not it can survive in the face of clear disinterest and disconnection from the students. A 1.5% participation rate is phenomenally low and well below the 5% rate at which the university can elect to de-recognise and withdraw funds from the Student Union body.

Assuming that the SU continues in some form, the participation rate makes it clear that the student body is on life support. It will have to work hard at building up recognition and trust. Hopefully it will be given the time and resources to do so.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

A Little History

The London Metropolitan University Student Union suffers from a blighted history of elections. Very little data appears to exist, but we have tried to create a timeline based on what we have uncovered.

We have asked the Student's Union office for details of previous elections, but were told that they do not retain any data. We also contacted the NUS to ask about their relationship to the university, but they did not get back to us.

Before 2006
  • No data found.
  • Only 1367 ballots were cast for the candidates.
  • According to a university spokesperson, this amounted to a mere 3% participation in the 2006 elections.
  • We had calculated a 4% participation rate based on the 2008 student population (34,000) as we could not find details of the 2006 student population, although this would suggest that student population was higher in 2006 than 2008.
  • In addition, control of Student Union functions was handed over to the university.

EDIT: We have received a spreadsheet breaking down the 2007 vote and so have updated this section.
  • 3,632 ballots were cast in this election.
  • The 2008 elections, conducted in the Spring semester, were voided due to election fraud.
  • Some 700 votes were tampered with.
  • If the voting level remained around that of 2006, over 50% of the votes would have been tampered with.
  • The 2008 elections were suspended until the Autumn semester of 2008, but then had to be taken into 2009, due to a lack of nominations.
  • The current elections (2009) have still not attracted a full lineup. One position (International Students Officer) has not attracted any nominations, while 5 positions have only one candidate.
Although data is extremely limited, what there is suggests a serious problem. This correspondent has talked to various figures, one of whom talked in apocalyptic terms about low turnout and low overall interest could destroy the Student Union as a functioning entity. Certainly, the Student Constitution, recently ratified in 2008 (even though we understand the ratifying body, the Student Council, to be currently disbanded) states that:
In the event that the % vote is less than 5% the University will not be bound to recognise the Union or to fund it.
In addition:
Recognition and funding shall be at the discretion of the University through approval by its Board of Governors and confirmed or otherwise at each Board meeting during the year.
As such, all that's left to say is: vote - it matters.

Candidate Interview: Steve Gray

Steve Gray is candidate for the position of Participation and Development Officer and kindly agreed to be interviewed by our correspondent Charlotte Sundberg.

For the ongoing London Met Student Union elections, Steve Gray is running for Participation and Development Officer. He is the current editor of the Vervezine. One of his challenges, if he gets elected, is to encourage the students to participate more in the life of the Student Union (SU).

“We need more people, more involved in more events around the university,” Steve explained. The attendance for the events organized by the Student Union has been poor this year and they haven’t been promoted well enough.
"They [previous SU officers] sat in their offices at lunchtime, even though students needed to see them"
“Right now the web site isn’t very visible,” Steve commented on the state of the Student Union’s web site. “We need to make sure we’re our own entity rather than a link,” he continued. “Visibility will have more people looking at the site and more people will know about events that happen.” The goal is that a more visible and up to date website, sending out e-mails and messages will help promote the events.

“The events are the same sort of thing week in and week out,” Steve commented. The idea is to have more varied events in the future, so the concepts don’t go stale.

The new administration of the SU needs to engage more with the students. “One of the problems we’ve had with previous administrations in the SU is that they haven’t engaged with students. They sat in their offices at lunchtime, even though students needed to see them for advocacy stuff,” he explained, wanting to change that for next year.
“We say we’re an independent body, we’re not that independent".
The Student Union has struggled with a lack from the students and the University this year, as the last election was subject to fraud. The constitution of the Student Union was also ratified a while ago, so that every decision has to be run through a body of the University.

“We need to work with the University to show that we can be trusted.” “That’s what the SU needs; trust,” Steve commented. He wants to show that they can get a good turn-out, be self-sufficient and a body that the University to trust.

“We say we’re an independent body, we’re not that independent,” he comments on the current situation of the Student Union. The Student Union is being run through the Student Services and the Student Office.

The student magazine has had issues of censorship from the University over the past year as they have been the body that has checked the magazine, especially when it comes to the ongoing process due to the economic difficulties the University faces. “That won’t be an issue next year because we’ll be held accountable to the Student Council rather than the University,” Steve explained.

“If I were elected, I would definitely relinquish the editorship given that there was someone interested in taking over,” he said, seeing the potential conflict of interest of being the editor of the student magazine and having a position as Officer.

Mr. Gray has an election blog here, with additional details about himself and his campaign.

Voting ends at midday on May 8th and the editor urges everybody to vote for the candidate of their choice or to vote Re-Open Nominations if they cannot find a candidate of their choice.