Restructuring of Churchill JCR angers students

Jenny Steinitz 12 February 2015

Students at Churchill College have been outraged this week by the restructuring of the JCR. The changes involved almost halving the size of the JCR, and included the removal of the Women’s Officer from the committee, and the reversal of the recently passed motion to create a Disability Officer.

After the outcry, the role of Women’s Officer has since been reinstated, although Disability Officer remains a role limited to the welfare committee.

The restructuring process was twofold. Some roles were judged to be unconstitutional by current JCR President Freddie Downing, including both the Women’s Officer and Disability Officer roles, while several others were removed simultaneously by a consensus of the JCR committee, such as the External Officer.

Much of the anger has been derived from the method in which the decision was reached. Rather than the normal route of consulting the broader JCR either through Open Meeting or Referendum, the JCR President instead approached the College Council (made up of senior members of staff) to pass the reforms. A survey taken of 50 students by Churchill JCR a week before the changes took place suggested that 88% of students were happy with the work of their JCR.

The JCR President was able to approach the College Council on the basis of alleged consensus within the Committee, although members of the JCR present at the meeting have since questioned the streamlining proposals.

Students were first informed of the change via email on 28 January, giving them just over one week to react to the changes before manifestos were due for the upcoming JCR elections, which took place on 6 February.

Many female students were particularly angered by the removal of the role of Women’s Officer, especially given the 70:30 male-to-female ratio at Churchill College.

The current President of the Churchill Women’s Society commented to The Cambridge Student: “I was very shocked to hear about the abolition of the Women’s Officer position, not least because of the incredible work that Anna, the current officer, has achieved in her year in office. The move represented a practical and symbolic step back for feminist and women’s issues in a college in which women are numerically in the minority.”

She continued: “I am very pleased that, once the issue was finally put to a student vote, the position was re-established to continue its important work in the JCR.”

Churchill JCR President Freddie Downing stated: “nothing ‘untoward’ has happened here at Churchill College”, pointing to a constitutional rule stating that 50 members of the JCR had to approve the creation of any committee roles. A motion to create the role of Women’s Officer received only 27 votes at an open meeting in November 2013, of 27 attendees.

Senior Tutor Richard Partington wished to state that “Churchill College unequivocally supports advocacy for disadvantaged groups”, but also emphasised that “students’ unions should be substantially independent.”