The Mancunion has seen documents that provide an astonishing insight into the activities (or lack thereof) of 2017-18’s Executive team.
Some Officers, such as Riddi Visu and Jack Houghton, have had exceptional attendance at Committee and Board meetings, as well as achieving most (if not all) of their manifesto points.
However, some have been found to be either largely unavailable or completely absent at key points in the year.
Leading the line, Campaigns Officer Deej Malik Johnson racked up an expenses tab of £985 between late October and mid December 2017 — coming close to the Exec’s £1000 total annual expenses budget.
However, The Mancunion has seen attendance records which show that, during this time, and other than in the Students’ Union Senate, Deej was largely inactive in his role.
His attendance at the University’s University-Union Relationship Committee (UURC) — which scrutinises Executive officers and the Students’ Union as a whole — was the worst of any of Exec officer, at 33 per cent. He made no apologies for the meetings he did not attend, which is a requirement for Exec officers and other invitees.
He has also not submitted any UURC reports over the course of the year, which is also a requirement of the Exec officers.
Attendance at trustee board meetings is another crucial tenet of Executive officers’ roles. At these meetings, the trustees of the Students’ Union — including the eight Exec officers, external representatives, and the Union’s directors — meet to ensure the accountability of the Union’s leadership. Deej did not attend any until January 2018, and did not apologise for his December absence.
He did attend Senate in November, and passed a policy which proposed Academy 2 be renamed to Academy X, in honour of human rights activist Malcolm X. However, since this policy passed, no signage has been installed to indicate this change, nor is there any recognition of the change on the Students’ Union’s or Academy’s websites.
Deej told The Mancunion that his absences were due to “serious issues” in his personal life, and that, as a result, his mental and physical health throughout the year has been “stretched.”
He continued: “I’ve tried to make the team aware of what’s been happening — hopefully things have been communicated on from that, I’ve tried to meet my commitments as an officer as well as I could do given extraordinarily difficult circumstances this year.”
During this time though, he attended various NUS conferences (in his capacity as Student Parent and Carers representative), and claimed travel expenses from the University of Manchester Students’ Union.
During Deej’s absences, there was also another notable absentee: Wellbeing Officer Saqib Mahmood. According to SU staff, as well as friends of his, he left his position due to mental health problems in December 2017 and has not returned to work since.
However, a document on Companies House shows that his employment was formally terminated on 13th April 2018. As Companies House records require updating within 24 hours of a termination of employment, this would suggest he was still employed and paid by Students’ Union for four months after he stopped working as an Exec officer.
Additionally, Senate attendance records show that he has not officially been a member of Senate since at least February.
It is also not clear whether the position’s remit was distributed or managed in any way between the remaining Exec officers.
When confronted with this information and asked for comment, the Students’ Union said that the resignation had been made in March, Companies House had been updated in April, and that he had been a member of Senate until his resignation. They claimed that the records The Mancunion have seen are incorrect.
When asked whether they were aware of Companies House’s requirement for organisations to update records within 24 hours, the Union changed their answer, claiming that Saqib’s resignation was actually made on April 13th, in line with the records shown on Companies House.
When approached, Saqib refused to comment.
Another notable resignation was that of Education Officer Emma Atkins. Companies House shows that she left her post in March — at the height of strikes over lecturer’s pensions.
It is not clear who was responsible for taking up the mantle of dealing with this pertinent issue during her absence, although General Secretary Alex Tayler has liaised frequently with the University, as has Communities Officer Jack Houghton and other Students’ Union staff members.
Julie Henri, a representative of Take Action, the student group protesting for strike compensation, told The Mancunion that Emma could have done more to help at the time of the strikes, and at one point the then-Education Officer had said “that there was nothing she could do.”
However, incoming Education Officer Olivia Meisl said that “Emma’s departure hasn’t affected the PTOs [part time officers]”, and that “we’re also lucky to have a very supportive education team at the SU who are always there if we need anything.”
Emma also defended her record to The Mancunion, saying she left because she was offered a job which was “exactly” what she was looking for, and discussed it with the rest of the Exec and other staff at the Students’ Union before accepting, to ensure her leaving “wouldn’t put anyone in a difficult position or be troublesome.”
She insisted: “I didn’t leave the SU in the lurch at the height of the strikes, I did loads of work and lay lots of foundations down to support students and hope that the other members of the team continued after I left.”
She also said that the initial policy passed through Senate to support the strike should have fallen under the remit of the Campaigns Officer (Deej) anyway, but “probably” did the most work on the campaign regardless.
Other student leaders have noticed the absence of some of the officers. The Society and Citizenship Committee scrutinises the work of the Campaigns Officer, namely Deej Malik-Johnson. In the Student Union bye-laws, it states that these committees are required to meet twice per semester. This particular committee met just twice over the course of the academic year, and Deej did not attend the first meeting on the 5th of December 2017.
Jack Swan, a member of this committee, told The Mancunion that the other members of the committee were “very keen people” who were “willing to take up some of the work” that would have arose from the meetings. However, he explained that “the workload was unclear and the fact that we only met twice in the whole year definitely meant that we didn’t achieve a lot.”
He continued that, in his capacity as a scrutiniser, “obviously there wasn’t a huge amount of work to scrutinise”, but that this was due to Deej’s “personal issues,” and that therefore this should not be taken as a criticism of his work as a whole.
Adding to his previous comment, Deej accused the Students’ Union of not providing him with appropriate support during a difficult time in his life: “next year, as Welfare officer, I’m going to prioritise making sure that student officers and volunteers get the health and mental health support they need. It’s something that the union hasn’t been as good at as it can be, but that will change.”
However, last year’s General Secretary Alex Tayler refuted this: “student officers at the University of Manchester Students’ Union are provided with an excellent support package.”
This package, he says, includes each Exec team member being allocated a staff mentor, an “extensive training package”, and free counselling.
He went on to say that “if an Officer did not make the most of such support mechanisms then I am not sure what additional support the Union could provide.”
Finally, he said of Deej’s prolonged absences that “it is not easy to accommodate someone that is completely unable to meet the requirements of an extremely demanding role.
“It is recognised that the performance of some officers has been below the standard that students can reasonably expect and we are in the process of reviewing [our] scrutiny and accountability processes.”