At the last meeting of Student Council on February 9th, Councillors voted to amend the Students’ Union Constitution. The change would mean that those wanting to run for Sabbatical Office, no longer have to meet specific criteria of being in ‘good academic standing’ at the time of their election and during their period in office.
This isn’t the first time that the, ‘good academic standing’ rule for those seeking election to a Sabbatical position has been raised in this session of Council.
QUB Student Councillor Sarah Wright had proposed the constitutional change at a Student Council meeting on the 4th December 2014, however at that time the amendment was defeated as it did not achieve the required support needed for the amendment to pass.
When Sarah Wright proposed the constitutional amendment again on the February 9th meeting of Council, this time it did receive the required support.
For a constitutional amendment – voted through Council – to come into effect, it usually has to be approved by students at Queen’s in a referendum, and then endorsed by the University Senate before the change can formally come into effect. It is expected that this process will take place between now and July 2015. However, amendments can also be approved by a Union General Meeting, but the usual process is through a referendum.
As the Student Leader elections are fast on the horizon, with QUB students going to the polls on the 3rd March, the Returning Officer, Keelin McGrogan, has exempted all candidates from the rule requiring them to be in ‘good academic standing’, despite the fact that the Constitution does not give the Returning Officer the power to bypass either a referendum, or the Senate.
It is thought that the Returning Officer has been able to exempt candidates from having to be in good academic standing because the Constitution creates a certain ambiguity.
The Constitution sets out that the Returning Officer can exempt a person from an election regulation if he/she is satisfied that the person’s failure to comply with said election rule is out of their control.
The Constitution does also clarify that this decision can be challenged by an Election Court upon petition.
Reliable sources have informed The Scoop that the reason for this decision being taken by the Returning Officer is due to past inconsistencies in application of the ‘good academic standing’ rule that have become apparent to the Returning Officer.
Despite Council’s decision, it has been highlighted to The Scoop, that any decision by the Returning Officer to exempt a candidate from an election regulation, is independent of any decision made by council.
Even if this constitutional amendment to the Students’ Union constitution was approved by Queen’s students in a referendum and by Senate, the University’s Regulations can technically remove student officers from their post if a student is not in ‘good academic standing’.
The Scoop understands that some Student Councillors may be planning to challenge this decision, based on the fact that they believe that due process has not been followed on various occasions throughout the amending of the Constitution.