Pro-choice debate dominates Student Senate

The first Student Senate of the decade: Three out of five proposed motions were passed by Senators last week. Source: Tomos Evans

By Charlotte King and Sam Tilley

The Student Union’s Student Senate met last week to discuss a variety of matters submitted by members of Cardiff University’s student body on the Union’s website. There were five matters up for discussion, including motions on pregnancy advice, the protection of religious freedoms and whether or not societies should be allowed to charge new members more than existing members.

The first motion submitted to the Senate demanded the Students’ Union lobby for the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) Pension Fund to divest. The USS is one of the largest principal private pension schemes for universities and currently has investments across a range of sectors, including in the fossil fuel industry. This motion was proposed by VP Postgraduate Nick Fox and passed with 12 votes in favour, eight abstentions and one vote against, and gives legitimacy to the Union’s Sabbatical Officers to lobby the University to push for the divesting of the scheme.

The second motion of the night was put forward by Christopher Dunne and demanded changes to society membership fees, calling for it to be impossible for societies and sports clubs to charge different membership amounts for different students. Dunne specifically cited the activities of both the Law and Optometry societies, accusing them of charging returning members half the amount of new members or charging students different prices depending on their year of study. Dunne argued that it was unfair for societies to continue with this practice and “it needs to be justified”. This motion was also passed by the Senate with 17 votes in favour, one abstention and one vote against.

The third motion was proposed by Luke Doherty and attempted to commit both the Students’ Union and Cardiff University to enshrine a commitment to freedom of speech. The motion promised to end the system of “no-platforming”, to end the censuring of certain newspapers in the Union, and to eradicate a “culture of intolerance” present on campus. Speaking for the motion, Doherty argued that university should be a place where students “acquire new knowledge, challenge their existing opinions and beliefs, and engage in healthy and constructive debate”, however believes Cardiff University campuses are currently plagued by intolerance towards certain opinions, referencing the two university lecturers who called Conservative voters “vermin” and “without social conscience” following last year’s General Election.

Doherty’s motion called for the Students’ Union to “make a bold commitment to freedom of speech” by taking a “default stance of neutrality”. Opposing the motion, one Senator argued that it was a “thinly-veiled” attempt to set aside the Union’s pro-choice stance and could see campus becoming a platform for hatred. However, another Senator supporting the motion argued that the past six months have been particularly “tumultuous” for Cardiff University and this is an opportunity for the Union to “set the record straight” and ensure students are protected.

Following a long discussion, some Senators insinuated that Doherty’s motion was attempting to strip the Annual General Meeting’s (AGM) power to set policy but this was proven unconstitutional. Following a long discussion, the vote was ultimately cancelled after a procedural motion was carried out by one of the Senators.

The fourth motion was also proposed by Doherty and dealt with the pregnancy support offered to women on campus and called for pro-life organisations to be featured on the SU’s website alongside links to NHS services to “eradicate stigma against pregnancy” on campus.  The motion was condemned by a number of Senators who argued that there was enough research already available on the SU website, and some also argued against the motion on the grounds that it directly contravened the outcome of the pro-choice motion at the AGM. However, after an amendment to remove the term “pro-life” from the demand, leading to the motion calling for “links to organisations” who offer counselling and support to women be made available alongside NHS support, it passed with 12 votes in favour, four votes against, and five abstentions.

The fifth and final motion was the third proposed by Luke Doherty and called for the protection of religious freedoms on campus, again linking to a perceived “culture of intolerance”. Discussion regarding the motion focussed primarily on the Catholic Society who withdrew from the Guild of Societies following last year’s AGM, but an opposing Senator argued that the Union allows for religious societies and again, the motion is coming from an “anti-choice agenda”. Ultimately, this motion was also subjected to a procedural motion which cancelled the motion.

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