Pressure builds on NUS as Lincoln University votes to disaffiliate

Amelia Oakley 10 May 2016

The University of Lincoln Students’ Union (ULSU) has voted to become the first students’ union to disaffiliate from the National Union of Students following the row over the organisation’s controversial new president-elect, Malia Bouattia.

Bouattia’s election sparked outrage following the publicisation of allegedly anti-Semitic comments that she had made previously, including references to the University of Birmingham as “something of a Zionist outpost” and the British media as “Zionist-led”. Bouattia has denied anti-Semitism and countered that she has been criticised because she is “a Muslim woman in a position of power.”

Lincoln students voted for disaffiliation 881 votes to 804, a resolution that will take effect from the 31 December 2016. The student union stated that the referendum was called not in response to Bouattia’s comments, but due to discontent with the “general direction” in which the NUS was heading. The NUS has recently been castigated for a range of reasons, including votes against commemorating the Holocaust and condemning Islamic State, endorsement of the contentious policy of ‘no-platforming’, and attempts to suppress the social media app Yik Yak on grounds that it was being used for anonymous abuse.

Outgoing NUS president Megan Dunn warned that disaffiliation would deprive Lincoln students of “a collective voice” and £153,023.78 of reinvestment from the union. However, ULSU stated that “there will be no noticeable difference” for its members.

Opponents of the NUS will be hoping that Lincoln is a straw in the wind. On the 2 May, CUSU passed a motion to hold a referendum on disaffiliation from the national union, voting on which begins on the 24 May. Campaigns to disaffiliate from the NUS have been set up in at least twenty-five universities, and Newcastle and Exeter as well as Cambridge will shortly hold referenda on the issue.

Although many of the campaigns were founded in response to Bouattia’s victory, there are signs that their scope is broadening to encompass other frustrations with the NUS, which some have argued is becoming increasingly extreme, censorious, and authoritarian.

Following the appearance of NUS Vice-President Richard Brooks on the Victoria Derbyshire show on the 27th of April, a video circulated on Facebook that set some of his words to the National Anthem of the Soviet Union. The Nottingham campaign for disaffiliation, ‘No to NUS: Nottingham’, described the national union on its Facebook page as “an unaccountable and increasingly radical organisation”. The Cambridge campaign has mostly concentrated on allegations of anti-Semitism in the NUS.