Hull University Convocation consisted inter alia of alumni of the University. It had a Standing Committee, elected annually, which met four times per year and which could debate and submit a representative view on any issue affecting the University. The Chairman was also elected annually, and Convocation had one representative on the University Council and five on the University Court. I was appointed to the Committee by the Chairman at the Annual General Meeting in June 2004.
In Autumn 2004, I circulated a letter giving my views on the future of Convocation - which was being discussed - and its relationship with the University's Development & Alumni Relations Office. The case for giving alumni a say on University matters may not be obvious, given that their only connection with the University is that they used to study there. However, I said that alumni have been able to use their degrees and other aspects of their University experiences, with varying success, following graduation; they therefore know how useful their experiences have been and are able to give feedback on them. In the same letter, I suggested that local, regional and national alumni groups could act as a channel for communication between their members and the Standing Committee, and added that I had asked several alumni for anything they wanted me to raise at meetings. In March 2005, it was proposed that an umbrella organisation, possibly called the Hull University Alumni Association, be established to cover the aforementioned bodies. Following this, I suggested copying an idea used by Nottingham and Southampton Universities, where alumni can apply for an Alumni Association membership card that enables them to use University facilities.
At the December 2004 meeting, it was reported that the University had decided to close its Mathematics Department, on the grounds that falling student numbers meant it was no longer viable. I suggested that to reverse this decline, the University could use articles and lectures to promote mathematics to potential students. In the meantime, the Mathematics Department could be merged with science subjects.
In September 2007, I circulated my suggestions for an Alumni Association website. In Autumn the following year, I met selected members of the Standing Committee and the Development & Alumni Relations Office to discuss the website further.
In 2008, I was elected as one of the Convocation Representatives on the Court. This is a large body, consisting of representatives of organisations within and outside the University. Its main function is to receive reports on the running of the University.
In the event, I attended only two meetings of the Court: the AGM in February 2009 and an Extra Ordinary General Meeting in July of the same year. The latter was called in order to elect two representatives to the Council. However, the Chairman of the Council told the meeting that the decision had already been taken. Nevertheless, the agenda for the 2010 AGM said the Court had chosen the members. On another point, it is good that the meetings were held in rooms large enough to accommodate all those attending, otherwise we would have had a squash Court.
In 2009, a Working Group set up by the University proposed that Convocation be renamed the Hull Alumni Association (HAA). They also proposed replacing the Standing Committee with an Advisory Group consisting of seven members appointed by the Vice-Chancellor, two members elected by the alumni and three ex officio members. The Chair would be selected by the Council from among its own members. The Working Group recommended that the Vice-Chancellor appoint people from different social and academic groups in order to reflect the diversity of the alumni; presumably, they hoped this would make the loss of democracy seem acceptable or even desirable. Finally, alumni would lose their representative on the Council. Due at best to a lack of foresight, however, there was no provision in the new rules stating that the Standing Committee and the representative on the Council would stay until all the places on the Advisory Group had been filled.
(For a short time prior to December 2009, Convocation and the Court nominated, instead of electing, their representatives on the Council, the Council deciding whether to accept those representatives; their places on the Council now go to six co-opted members. And it was decided that the alumni representatives on the Advisory Group would be nominated. However, I use the term "elected" for convenience.)
A special meeting of the Standing Committee was held in May. I had circulated an E-mail message giving my views a few days earlier. I said that while I see nothing wrong with a change of name or with the proposal to remove all but the senior members of staff from (automatic) membership (Staff have other channels of representation in the University), I oppose the reduction of the right of alumni to elect their representatives. In addition, I suggested that non-alumni staff in the Development & Alumni Relations Office be made ex officio, non-voting members of the HAA.
At the AGM in July, the agenda provided for the election of the two alumni representatives on the Advisory Group; however, the Chairman abused his position by allowing only one to be elected. The agenda also provided for the election of a new Chairman and a new representative on the Council, while the existing members of the Standing Committee would retain their positions until the Committee was abolished.
The necessary changes to the University's Charter, Statutes & Ordinances were approved by the Privy Council in December. The University therefore terminated the Convocation Standing Committee and removed the Convocation representative from the Council. Outrageously, however, they also removed the Convocation representatives from the Court, even though the only change from those representatives' point of view was that the organisation they represented changed its name. They even removed the alumni representative from the Advisory Group on the (absurd) grounds that the HAA did not exist at the time of the AGM.
The first AGM under the new name took place in November 2010. However, elections to the Advisory Group and the Court did not take place. Appendices to the proposed HAA Constitution did propose that the two members of the Advisory Group be appointed by a committee appointed by the HAA Chair and that the five members of Court be appointed by the Advisory Group (even though the main part of the Constitution states that the HAA shall elect both groups). But I was told that these rules would depend on the Senate approving the necessary changes to the Ordinances, which if anything would happen after the HAA meeting. Furthermore, the Chair tabled a motion allowing the HAA to appoint its representatives on the Court; and another member proposed that the appendices be amended in order to allow both groups of representatives to be elected. The Constitution and amendments were passed in a single vote. Elections should therefore have taken place.
In June 2010, the University's magazine Insight told alumni how to apply for a place on the Advisory Group. But for some reason, it was only when the next edition was published, in March 2011, that alumni were told how to apply for a place on the Court. I applied for a place on the Advisory Group, but in July 2011 I was told I had been unsuccessful. When I asked when the election had taken place, I was told that the power to select the members in question had been given to appointees of the HAA President (as the Chair was now called), in defiance not only of the amendment to this rule but also of the University's Ordinances (to which the HAA Constitution is supposed to be subordinate) and the main part of the HAA Constitution. It later emerged that one of the places for a so-called HAA Representative had been left vacant.
For any members of the University who support the right of members to choose their representatives, I have set up the Hull University Democracy Campaign Facebook group; basically, the members of the University are the staff, students, alumni and members of University bodies.
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