SRC votes to remove President from office after the AUU threatens to defund SRC
Words by Felix Eldridge
Last night the SRC held a special meeting to vote to remove SRC President Henry Armfield from office. This was called for on the basis of a letter from the AUU to the SRC regarding allegations of misconduct that brought the AUU and SRC into disrepute.
The letter was written earlier this week by AUU Vice President Angus Heaton on behalf of the AUU Board to SRC General Secretary Isaac Trumble and stated that the AUU would freeze funding to the SRC unless the SRC President was removed from office by the end of the week (today).
The letter outlined allegations that the SRC President breached University By-Laws and the University misconduct policy by displaying disorderly conduct and using indecent language on campus, as well as more serious allegations. This was allegedly directed at AUU President Stella Woo. A redacted version of this letter (excluding the threat of funding freeze) along with Armfield’s response will be attached to the official minutes of the special SRC meeting.
The SRC voted in favour of removal by a majority of 14/17, surpassing the 4/5ths threshold required to remove a member. All political factions on the SRC except Climate Action voted for the motion, including members of the President’s own faction Unite.
The letter and subsequent successful vote raise several concerns.
Firstly, the letter effectively constituted an ultimatum to the SRC. If the SRC did not comply with the AUU’s request then the AUU would cease funding all SRC services. This level of high stakes sabre rattling on behalf of the AUU constitutes a genuine threat to the autonomy of the SRC.
The AUU budgeting process was not designed to be used in a manner where the AUU could, in effect, direct the SRC to vote in a certain way. The SRC was put in a position where it must either vote to remove an elected office bearer upon allegations alone, or to lose its funding. This was a decision that may have impacted member’s voting intentions at the meeting, especially since the motion passed.
Secondly, the AUU’s threat to freeze SRC funding if the SRC does not comply with its request is highly questionable. The SRC provides valuable services to all students including representing students on University committees, providing advice to students, organising stress less day and other events. By freezing funding, the AUU would not be punishing an individual office bearer, but the entire organisation, and by extension the thousands of students who benefit from its services. It makes little sense to threaten an entire organisation and its beneficiaries for the alleged actions of one member, especially at a time when many students are struggling due to the COVID –19 outbreak, and might require greater assistance than usual.
Thirdly, the AUU and SRC have treated the allegation as though they were proven facts, however the independent committee that this matter was referred to has shown that the allegations were partly untrue. At the time of the vote however, the committee had not returned it findings. It would appear the AUU and SRC have overlooked this and instead attempted to pass premature public judgement rather than leave internal matters to be dealt with by the appropriate University channels.
On Dit wishes to note that the independent committee investigating these allegations today returned their findings, showing that while Mr Armfield was found to have used profane language (a fact Mr Armfield admitted to) and aggressive body language, this was the extent of truth to the allegations. The allegations alleging Mr Armfield of more serious misconduct were found to be untrue. The committee’s findings have been corroborated by CCTV footage, and the University are taking no further action against Mr Armfield.
Furthermore, the AUU’s official reason for sending this communication to the SRC was to prevent perceived damage to the organisation. While this is a legitimate concern in theory, in practice, airing such allegations in a public forum along with potential backlash from the SRC, may have dragged the AUU’s name into even greater disrepute, especially now that the independent committee has found the allegations to be partly untrue.
Finally, the final vote necessary to trigger the removal was procured by interpreting the SRC Constitution in a certain manner. Immediately after the votes were counted, Trumble proclaimed the vote had been carried. The SRC Administrator Mark Pace advised him that this was likely not the case as the constitution implied that it required 15/18 votes as it needed 4/5ths of the votes of all filled positions. Trumble and others disputed this and moved a procedural motion to discount the de-facto vote of the SRC President who had abstained and left the meeting. This was moved on the basis that as he had recused himself from the vote he was not a ‘voting member’ as per the constitution and thus could be discounted from the tally.
On Dit wishes to clarify that in this instance, an abstention or apology to the meeting was a de-facto ‘no vote’ since it was not a member in attendance exercising a ‘yes vote’. As Armfield had not voted yes, his ‘vote’ had effectively blocked the proceeding in conjunction with the apology to the meeting and the two negative votes.
The procedural motion passed and the total number of eligible voters was brought down to 17, allowing the initial motion to be carried.
On Dit wishes to note that the interpretation adopted by the SRC was contrary to the advice tended to them by two AUU staff members including the SRC Administrator.
The SRC President vacancy is likely to be filled in the coming weeks.
Disclaimer: Felix ran as a ‘Unite’ candidate in the 2019 student elections.