Prospective LeadLUU candidates have written and submitted an open letter to the Leeds University Union, decrying a ‘discriminatory’ policy and asking for a resolution.
The letter, signed by over 30 students, was prompted by a new rule in the LeadLUU elections. This new rule was a ‘letter of commitment’ which requires current candidates to abstain from taking annual leave from the 15th of June to the 7th of August. This has led to multiple would-be candidates dropping out prior to the race that kicked off on this Monday on 24th February.
The letter alleges this discrimination affects three different types of students in particular: international, working-class, and those on summer placements. These are groups they argue would be unable to easily cancel trips back home, pre-booked holidays, and degree-required internships and work experience.
It details two requests. The first one is that the LUU ‘responds to the letter no later than the end of the week (Friday 28 February)’. The second is that ‘LUU also reaches out as soon as possible in order to arrive at a resolution to the issue that does not discriminate against any candidates regardless of their background’.
It’s found especially disappointing that their notification of such a statute came on the 14th February, when many ‘had already invested tremendous amounts of time, and physical and emotional energy in preparing for their campaigns by this time’. The letter went on to say that ‘while this posed an inconvenience to some it has actively discriminated against others’.
Safyan Rahman, a candidate for Education Officer, spoke to The Gryphon about the open letter and how he has been personally impacted.
Though the rule was only included on the 14th of February at a candidate briefing within a handbook issued to all candidates, not every candidate was made aware of the new rule at the time.
One candidate, Andrea Loftus, told us “it was much later for me, […] about two days before campaigning began.” Andrea only found out she was not able to run after noticing her photo was not included in a wrap-around advert of the paper.
Safyan had heard about the issues Andrea was having with LUU and went to speak with a member of the senior management team. It was there that he learned then that “a handful [of candidates] had dropped out”.
Speaking with the LUU Student Exec afterwards, he “realised this new rule was a major barrier in many ways as I outline in my letter. And so I wanted to do something which would LUU to account in a non-antagonistic way”. With the collaboration of other candidates as well as multiple Liberation Co-ordinators, “we wrote the letter and then I publicised it online. I think it’s really important that students have an active voice in how LUU runs given it is an institution run by an exec of students for a body of almost 30,000 students. Hence why I organised the letter”.
Leo Adams, a Liberation Co-ordinator at LUU said that the rule essentially shows that “an institution [like LUU] can’t profess a commitment to liberation when processes that exclude marginalised students are built into its democratic structures”.
A Leeds University Union spokesperson confirmed that current LeadLUU candidates have been directly contacted to reiterate LUUs commitment to ensuring that their experience as a candidate and as an Exec Officer is positive, and to further explain the need for a clear induction period.
It was also clarified that this information has been available to candidates since January. Candidates have been encouraged to speak to the Political Engagement Team if they have further concerns.
On the necessity of this new rule, Safyan mentioned that in his correspondence with the Student Exec, it seemed as if it had never come up as a problem that needed to be addressed in previous years. Safyan also referred to a previous Education officer being “on annual leave during the handover period”.
When asked why he was still running considering his prior summer commitments, Safyan said “I’m running because I had a campaign prepared by the time I spoke to LUU and I have a manifesto which I’m extremely passionate about. Obviously, I cannot predict what will happen but I’m hoping sending off this letter will encourage some dialogue on the issue.”
Andrea Loftus, the former candidate for Community officer, spoke to us about what exactly happened prior to dropping out. “It turns out that after my enquiry about the restriction with holidays, […] I was withdrawn as a candidate but not told in any capacity, hence my image isn’t on the ‘players’ graphic on the Gryphon this week”. This realisation didn’t come until a mentor meeting after headshots were already taken. “Though I was reinstated, the series of delayed or cancelled meetings and lack of coherence made this process really stressful and at times upsetting. I’d also lost valuable time that was needed to prepare material for my campaign”.
She also had been given conflicting reports as to what previous summer arrangements meant, “from it being ‘fine for prior commitments’ to ‘it may mean not running at all’”, and said it felt unfair to be held to “a clause that was not included in any of the masses of marketing material and hadn’t been clearly communicated or mentioned in person until the candidate briefing just over a week ago”.
Ultimately, Andrea making the decision of dropping out “was a really tough choice […] and I didn’t feel like it was one completely in my hands”. Andrea closed off by wishing “the best of luck” to the only community officer candidate she believes is still running.