UCL challenges students' union over 'no confidence' campaign against provost

University College London’s senior administrative officer has pressed its students’ union to drop a motion of no confidence in the provost, Malcolm Grant.

December 17, 2011

UCL Union passed the motion in protest at Professor Grant’s decision to accept a government appointment as NHS Commissioning Board chair, the head role in the NHS under its controversial transformation.

The motion was set to be voted on by all students in a referendum in January.

Rex Knight, UCL vice-provost (operations), has written to the union’s trustees to say that the no confidence campaign has been “undertaken without any consideration of the potential huge reputational impact for both UCL and UCLU”.

Mr Knight says the meeting that passed the motion was inquorate, as the union did not seek the required approval from UCL for a rule change lowering the quorum threshold.

He adds: “I would urge the trustees must conclude that as the no confidence motion has not been validly passed, and in light of the other concerns I have raised in this letter, no further steps should be taken towards the implementation of a referendum on this matter.”

Mr Knight says the vote “is bound to have a significant impact on the relationship [between the union and the university], our approach to future investment, and our view of the roles and responsibilities of the union”.

The no confidence motion argues that Professor Grant has “a track record of actively undermining public services and public funding – including education – and has actively encouraged [tuition] fee rises behind closed doors”.

It also says the two-day-a-week NHS role is “inconsistent with a full-time commitment to our university”.

An open letter of reply to Mr Knight posted online by Michael Chessum, a UCL undergraduate and former union officer, accuses him of making “veiled and open threats that UCLU will be financially or strategically penalised”.

Mr Chessum concedes that the new quorum rules “had not been technically ratified by UCL”, but argues that “the union council called the referendum, not the members’ meeting – so there is no case to suspend the referendum”.

In a statement, Mr Knight said: “The council did not call a referendum…The referendum was triggered because the union failed to book a room large enough to accommodate all those who wished to attend, so a substantial number of students were left outside unable to participate.”

He added: “The point of my letter to the trustees was not to make veiled threats, but to remind them that under charity law they must act in line with the charitable objects of the union, and that the campaign in relation to the vote of no confidence was clearly ultra vires and contrary to Charity Commission guidelines on campaigning for student unions.”


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