One issue loomed large over last week’s internal feuds and censorship protests which met the wall of silence surrounding the election battle of Napier Students' Association: the constitution. The original article which caused the paper to be banned saw The Journal report attempts to pursue a motion of no confidence in President Kasia Bylinska, which was later passed, based on alleged constitutional breaches. And as the fallout grew last week, nobody from the Students’ Association was able to comment, again a result of constitutional constraints. But just how did the situation become so problematic?
Under the NSA constitution, the Election Committee is the absolute authority on elections. From the opening of nominations to the announcing of results, this group deal with the issues surrounding all aspects of the electoral process. As was discovered at last week’s Emergency Senate, nobody is able to challenge the decisions of the committee until the election is concluded.
This point was the source of much of the controversy surrounding last week’s developments. They took the decision to remove The Journal from all Napier campuses on Friday 5 March, and could not be challenged or consulted on this by any members of the student body, with the exception of those on the committee. No comment was forthcoming when voting records of students, including matriculation numbers, was viewable online. Would this mean the vote was illegitimate given the lack of anonymity, prescribed in the constitution? There was no figurehead that could explain and defend the decisions made. Anybody who contacted NSA to register complaints or ask for advice was told that nobody would be available to speak on election issues until the following Monday.
The fact that the President was standing for re-election added to the confusion. The President is the figurehead of the Association, and the first port of call for media contacts. Given her conflict of interests as a candidate, she was unable to comment. Despite the fact that this is not the first time that a President has stood for a second term at NSA, there was no protocol to deal with enquiries. Quite simply, nobody in the Association was in a position to act as a spokesperson. Until Monday, no explanation of what was going on within the walls of election committee meetings was forthcoming.
This was another issue raised at the Emergency Senate meeting. Given the disputes over election issues, from the banning of two newspapers to complaints on out of hours campaigning, some believed that the Senate—described in the constitution as “the Association’s supreme policy-making body in areas affecting student well-being and welfare”—should have the power to declare the committee’s decisions illegitimate. But whilst this remained a possibility, it could not happen until after the Election Committee had finalised its deliberations over the argument. The Senate could not pre-empt any decisions made by the committee, and could not formulate policy which would be binding on it. A new Senate would have to be called in the aftermath of the Committee’s meetings were any decision they made to be overturned.
The essence of these problems lies in transparency in the NSA. Minutes of the Election Committee’s meetings are not routinely published, nor are records of meetings of the Executive or Senate, which some believe means that those involved cannot be held to account. Under the constitution only minutes of Public Meetings must be publicised, within 10 days of the meeting being held. The student body as a whole has no point of recourse should it wish to challenge an election committee decision during elections, hence why nobody was able to challenge the banning of student media on campus for the duration of the election. Some issues, such as the result, can be contested afterwards. Others, such as the access to press coverage of the election, become obsolete once the election is over, and the decision, whilst it can be criticised, cannot be properly rectified. A wall of silence was erected once decisions were taken, and this would not be broken down.
This issue has been highlighted in the ongoing governance review, which is looking at the NSA structure. One respondent to the governance questionnaire said: “Even though I am a programme rep [sic] myself, I still don’t know and understand completely what the role of the NSA is and what they do.” While another noted that bureaucracy was a problem: “There seems to be an inordinate number of committees yet disproportionately little actually achieved.” The governance review is taking place at a time of great change and the students of Napier will be hopeful that last weeks events are considered when constitutional recommendations are put forward later this year.