>AGM calls for new Chair of Meetings after UWESU member is suspended regarding recent allegations
Recent allegations have resulted in the suspension of uwesu’s Chair of Meetings. Students’ Union member, Matt Hollinshead, had been suspended to stand as chair at the uwesu Annual General Meeting, after he had already been democratically elected by the student body. The AGM is one of the Union’s most prominent events, standing as a focal point for students to voice their opinions and views on the current workings of the Students’ Union and the University itself. An announcement on the suspension was made on the uwesu website on Wednesday 23 November – a day before the AGM. It stated: ‘uwesu’s Chair of Meetings is currently being investigated following an alleged incident at St Matt’s bar, which we consider to be of a serious nature and as such he has been suspended as
The incident occurred in St Matthias’ bar on Friday 11 November, following a Reel World screening at the Campus. The charge brought before Hollinshead was made by fellow Students’ Union member, who remains anonymous, after overhearing a discussion in which the accused was a part of. Sources have disclosed that the discussion entailed a comment that Hollinshead made about the Conservative Party, and not towards the complainant himself. A complaint of verbal abuse was made against Hollinshead, whereby the complainant claims he was subject to verbal chants regarding his political stance. This would then raise the question as to whether students should be penalised for showing criticism towards the current political affiliation. Despite St Matthias’ Campus Officer, Daniel Hinchey, not being present at the time of the alleged incident, he commented: “Whilst I have at times heard the accused person express assertive opinions, I have never heard him being disrespectful or abusive of other people’s rights of expression. He believes firmly in people’s right to free speech.” Sources have also revealed that on the night in question, Hollinshead and the complainant were previously in conversation regarding the Conservative Futures’ supposed ‘witch
Hunt’ to remove Hollinshead as Chair of Meetings, because of his activist views. “At some point in the night I talked to [the complainant] about the […] issue of me chairing the meeting and we spoke amicably and came to the conclusion that it was in no-one’s interests to take anything any further and that we could and should simply get along,” confirmed Hollinshead. The ‘witch hunt’ is thought to be the Students’ Union’s presidential ploy to seek out members of the Students’ Union who oppose the executive’s inaction in the face of fees and cuts. Students’ Union President, Colin Offler comments: “When a complaint is put forward, it needs to be taken serious and the complaints procedure needs to be followed.” There are three courses of action, which can be taken once a complaint has been filed. In this case, the complaint had taken the route of being passed onto the Disciplinary Committee. It states in the document under Bye Law 9.3 That: ‘During the period of investigation the respondent may be suspended from Students’ Union activities and the premises.’ However, the reason behind Hollinshead not being brought to disciplinary by the Students Union is because the incident is under current investigation by the University itself. “The fact that the University is investigating the case as well shows the serious nature of the alleged incident.
If the University weren’t investigating the case, then we would be able to undertake disciplinary action in time for the problem to have been resolved for the AGM, whereby [he] could have [potentially] remained as Chair of Meetings,” commented the su President. Mr Offler then went on to explain that: “The University has added an extra layer of complexity to the matter,” and confirms that he has had no involvement in the investigation. In regards to the University’s involvement in the alleged incident, a uwesu member stated: “The fact that the University has also launched an investigation to him is also considered to be very dubious. With him missing the AGM, it is generally considered that this whole matter is all too coincidental.” Due to the incident being under investigation with the University, the aforementioned complainant declines to share comment. The immediate action that this incident has incurred, has raised questions throughout universities nationally. Royal Holloway’s su President has echoed concerns commenting: “It looks to me like [Colin] Offler is bringing the union into disrepute nationally.” In response to this, a source on behalf of the su commented: “We just didn’t want someone chairing the meeting who had had such serious allegations made against them.”
Social media has proved a vital hub for conveying concerning issues regarding the alleged incident and its outcome. The Facebook group, ‘Reinstate Matt as AGM Chair and let him back into the su’, had been created to encourage support for Hollinshead. Hollinshead commented on the page: “Thank you all so much for your support, but I feel that the best way to deal with this is to show how deeply political it is, and that we will not play their game – we can do democracy right – also this is not instead of the AGM but rather, it’s to make it better.” The page also promoted the event arranged by uwe Activist Network. ‘Defend Student Democracy: General Assembly’ to demonstrate against the dismissal of Hollinshead from being Chair at the AGM. The group called for ‘everyone in the uwe community to build a resistance to the attacks on the students not just by the government, but the organised apathy of the Students’ Union that we are members of’. Hollinshead stated: “I think, we should make something positive out if this whole mess up: try some real democracy like at Occupy Wall St – a general assembly is a non-hierarchical meeting where any [one] can speak and everyone has to listen – if the powers are playing silly buggers with the AGM then why don’t we give them a taste of what real democracy looks like.”
With the position open to apply for Chair of Meetings, aforementioned Facebook groups promoted to gather supporters of Matt Hollinshead to apply in unison for the position.
However, the beginning of the AGM saw third year Law student, William Harris, being announced as Chair of Meetings. The supporting attendees of Matt Hollinshead showed respect to the newly appointed chair, commenting: “I think he did a great job.”