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A Guide to Union democracy

A guide to democracy, voting and committee in the University of York Student's Union

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As University of York students, you will all automatically become members of YUSU - The University of York Students Union. Yes, it's true the acronym doesn't quite fit, but it's best not to worry about it too much. The union is run by students with the support of staff, and includes full time officers, or sabbs (short for Sabbatical officers) and part time officers (who work for the union unpaid while studying), as well as many more who fill positions on a wealth of committees helping one some of the broad range of things YUSU does.

As an introduction to the union, I'm going to explain how we operate, and then our elections.

As a democratically run organisation, YUSU is supposed to answer to all students. One of the ways any of us can influence what YUSU does it by setting policy. What YUSU campaigns for, what we believe, is all set by policy. As a student, you can suggest pretty much anything to become policy. For example, YUSU as an institution is against the recently introduced increases in tuition fees. But we also have some lighter policies - We officially call the Study Centre in Heslington Village "The Brian Blessed Centre for Quiet Study." As far as I know we've not managed to persuade the University management to adopt the name, but you never know!

The point is you can suggest anything you like, as long as it isn't illegal or totally against the core principles of the union. "No people over 6 ft tall in the library" would not go to a vote, as it would restrict a whole section of the student body from a core aspect of their studies.

So if you have an idea, you submit it to Democracy Committee, a small group who then decide which part of the union would be best to decide on whether this becomes active policy. It's an independent committee headed by the Union Chair (that's me), which also holds elected officer's to account if they aren't doing a good job.

Most policy ideas will go to an Assembly. Assemblies are forums and decision-making bodies that are based around issues - academic life, campus community, student wellbeing and extra-curricular interests. They provide opportunities for collaboration between different officers and between ordinary students and the various committees that make up the Union. Assemblies have the power to pass Assembly Policy, and give the job to an officer to work on achieving it when it is a specific task or goal. Assembly meetings have independent chairs who are able to raise unfulfilled policy commitments and ensure that what members have asked for gets carried out; they're supposed to nag officers into doing their jobs. It's also a pretty interesting role if you're looking for a new experience.

There are 4 assemblies

Academic Assembly: Working closely with the University, it is through the Academic Assembly that YUSU helps to improve your time studying at York. You can suggest things that you think could be improved, from library opening hours to assessment and feedback, to teaching quality
Community Assembly: This Assembly is where students can influence their experience on campus and the City of York. It covers the Entertainments YUSU provides, our environmental and ethical impact, and it brings together all the Colleges to unite the student voice.
Liberation & Welfare Assembly: Through the Liberation & Welfare Assembly YUSU can ensure that the issues that most affect students' personal and social lives are raised and ways that we can help them are considered. There is representation at the Assembly from officers for LGBT, Women, Disabled Students', International Students, Mature Students and Racial Equality, as well as college welfare reps.
Student Development: York has extraordinarily high levels of student participation in societies, sports, volunteering and RAG. Through this Assembly students can suggest ways that these activities can better work together to provide fun opportunities that allow students to achieve great things.

Any student can come to these meetings, have their say, and vote on policy discussions. They are separated like this so you don't spend time listening to things you aren't so interested in, so people can go to what they like.

Not everything can be decided at an Assembly though. For big issues where a lot of people have opposing opinions, and where an Assembly can't come to a clear majority in favour of a certain action (usually because it's a big decision or issue) YUSU has a referendum. Referenda occur twice a year (Autumn & Summer) and should raise questions that most members have an interest in and may be moved to campaign on. These are usually questions like 'Should YUSU stay affiliated to the NUS?' but may also have certain actions, facts or opinions attached to them. You can join either side of the Referendum to campaign for the outcome they believe in, with the final vote taking place on the YUSU website, where everyone can vote.


Most of the part time officers have a committee who support them in their work for the union. The more campaign based of these are called a network, and can be as fixed or fluid as its members feel they need. There are few fixed rules about these groups, so they can vary depending on the officer responsible. As a union member, you will be able to join the Networks that you are interested in and receive regular information about the campaigns they are running, the meetings they hold and the events they put on. Each Network has a committee to organise their activities, as well as holding Open Meetings several times a term for anyone to come along to. You can join as many as you like. There is also a Campaigns officer who helps all of these groups, as well as coordinating between them.

Disabled Students' Network
Environment & Ethics Network
International Students Association
LGBT Network
Mature Students' Network
Racial Equality Network
Women's Network

Other more fixed committees include

RAG (raising and giving) the charity fundraising branch of the union, and:
YUSU Volunteering, the...well, volunteering.

Larger than most committees within YUSU, these usually attract a big membership because of their reputation for being laid back and a lot of fun.

There are four other organising groups; York Sport and Societies Committee who help with all the sports clubs and student run societies, making sure YUSU supports teams and socs when they need it. Then there's Entertainments committee, running YUSU social events and supporting colleges who run their own. Finally YUM (York university media) Committee coordinates the effort of our 5 main media societies.

As a democratic organisation, YUSU elects students to various positions to represent their peers and to help direct what we do as a Union. Almost all elections are done online through the YUSU website and any student is able to stand for election (although in some cases there may be a requirement for you to self-identify, e.g. as a woman, as disabled). There are elections for the following:

Autumn Term

Junior Common Room Committees (by College):
Alcuin - Derwent - Goodricke - Halifax - James - Vanbrugh
Network committees: Disabled Students' - Environment & Ethics - International Students' Association - LGBT - Mature Students' - Racial Equality - Women's
Coordination committees: Campaigns - Entertainments - Volunteering
NUS delegates: 4 students are elected to represent York at the National Union of Students annual conference

Spring Term:

Full Time Officers: President - Academic Officer - Student Activities Officer - Welfare Officer - York Sport President
Part Time Officer: Campaigns - Disabled Students' - Entertainments - Environment & Ethics - International - LGBT - Mature Students' - Racial Equality - RAG - Volunteering - Women's
Union Chair: this independent elected student is responsible for the democratic openness of the Union and holding officers to account

Summer Term:

Network committees: International Students Association - Mature Students' Network
Coordination committees: York Sport - Societies - RAG

You can:Stand for a position
Campaign for another candidate
Vote in elections

Please email any questions and enquiries to unionchair@yusu.org

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