Student Union President accused of abusing power

Becky Sage - Deputy News Editor 4 February 2010

Cambridge University Student’s Union (CUSU) President Tom Chigbo is being investigated for his conduct during the NUS affiliation campaign.

In an email leaked to The Cambridge Student (TCS) this week, ‘No’ campaigner Grayden Webb argued that Chigbo had “breached his contract of employment” during the referendum campaign.

The leaked email, addressed to Clare Tyson and the Elections Committee, levels a number of accusations against Chigbo, who is head of the ‘Yes’ movement for whether CUSU should re-affiliate with the National Union of Students (NUS).

In particular, Webb states that Chigbo is not speaking in an explicitly personal capacity while campaigning, thereby giving “his speech on NUS re-affiliation apparent CUSU support”.

However, the CUSU President has labelled criticisms regarding his conduct during the NUS affiliation campaign “a desperate attempt to smear the ‘Yes’ campaign through personal attacks”.

The complaints against Chigbo suggest that he has contravened the latest clarifications from the Elections Committee, which were issued on Tuesday of this week and state that CUSU Officers may campaign for voters to vote ‘Yes’ “solely in a personal capacity”.

Chigbo’s critics were not limited to those connected with the ‘No’ campaign. One JCR President, who wished to remain anonymous, said that “it’s great to have someone who passionately pushes what they believe in, but when that person is an elected representative, they need to make it clear whether they are representing their personal beliefs, or those of the people who elected them.

Tom does a great job, but he needs to be more careful, treading the fine line he walks between personal and presidential.”

Webb’s complaint states: “to all intents and purposes, it seems to the voter that is speaking with a CUSU hat on” and using his position to sway voters, despite the students’ union having no official position on the debate.

Furthermore, Webb argues that Chigbo is devoting insufficient time to CUSU during the referendum campaign. This, he suggests, means that the President is neglecting other CUSU issues.

Chigbo’s contract states that he should work at CUSU at least 36.5 hours a week, and this week’s ruling from the Elections Committee explicitly re-states the Sabbatical Officers’ expected hours of work.

The rules additionally emphasise that “any xxxx@cusu address that an individual holds may not be used in relation to the NUS Affiliation Referendum”.

Webb claims, however, that Chigbo told him at the debate at Magdalene on Monday that he was allowed to use his CUSU email address for campaigning.

Despite this, when speaking to TCS, Chigbo insisted: “I have not broken the referendum rules or breached the terms of my contract”.  In addition, he stated that “it is disappointing that some still seem more interested in dividing and weakening the student voice than working constructively to improve it”.

Regardless, it is evident that some consider the CUSU President to be guilty of foul play. In his email, Webb voices suspicions that Chigbo is contacting the NUS from the CUSU offices to ask them about what to say in the pro-affiliation debate. In addition, he states: “I wish to make a formal complaint about the fact that the External Affiliations Report did not conform to the CUSU policy which brought it about”.

Ben Towse, Churchill External Officer, raises similar complaints on the Churchill JCR website arguing that “the extremely pro-NUS, pro-UKCISA President has produced a pretty biased piece”. Fellow ‘No’ campaigner Chris Lillycrop has also raised concerns regarding Chigbo’s conduct. When contacted by TCS, he cited “anti-democratic attempts by the Yes campaigns” as the cause for the fact that “Yes votes will almost certainly outnumber the No votes”.

In his email to Clare Tyson, Webb concluded, “I believe the fairness of the referendum has been permanently dented… the only action I can take is against Tom himself”.

In response to the accusations, Chigbo stated that “It’s a shame that the ‘No’ campaign would rather make up false accusations than engage in serious debate about NUS affiliation”.

CUSU coordinator Clare Tyson, who will be investigating the complaint, declined to comment.

Becky Sage – Deputy News Editor