Looking at the constitution of the Royal College of Music Students’ Union

The Royal College of Music is, as British universities go, relatively small. As a result its students’ union is quite small too. In line with most unions of this size, RCM SU is an unincorporated association. This is a common legal form for charities in the UK. Most students’ unions began as charitable unincorporated associations and some still are.

As a result, the union does not exist legally in its own right. Legally speaking it is not separate from the college and the trustees of the union are legally and financially liable for its actions. Because it has no legal identity and, as an excepted charity, it is not required to register with the Charity Commission, its governing document has no prescribed format. This can prove an issue for trustees and officer seeking to establish their responsibilities to members. In this case, it also means the constitution is quite funny…


Royal College of Music #

Students’ Union Constitution #

Strong start. We’re looking good.


NAME #

The name of the organisation shall be the ‘Royal College of Music Students’ Union’ (herein referred to as the ‘SU’).

No real problem here. We don’t know what legal form (cough unincorporated association cough) we’re taking, but hey, there’s plenty to come.


OBJECTS #

The SU shall have for its objects:

  1. To promote a channel of communication between the students and the Director and other members of the management and administrative staff at the Royal College of Music.
  2. To promote co-operation amongst its members for social, cultural and leisure activities.
  3. To provide the SU President with support in the performance of his/ her role as a member of the RCM Council and Senate.

Woah, zero to 100. Charities in England and Wales have to be careful with their objects. These are the high-level aims of the organisation which mark it out as worthy of charitable status, rather than the practicals of what it will be doing day-to-day. The objects must be exclusively charitable. This means that they fall within the 13 purposes listed in the Charities Act and are ‘for the public benefit’.

For almost every students’ union the charitable object will be the ‘advancement of education of students at XYZ for the public benefit’. You can then expand how you’ll do this with examples like those above.

While we’re here, who’s this SU President person the union is supporting? Object 3 doesn’t belong here because the president exists to support the work of the union, rather than the work of the union being to support them.


RELATIONSHIP WITH THE COLLEGE #

The College will provide basic facilities for the SU including an office. The SU President and the Deputy Director will review the details of the facilities provided from time-to-time.

There shall be a complaints procedure available to all students or groups of students who are dissatisfied in their dealings with the SU or claim to have been unfairly disadvantaged by it. The procedure will include provisions to ensure that complaints are dealt with promptly and fairly, with effective remedies.

‘The College will provide’
Unfortunately, you can’t just write things into your constitution to make them happen or every charity would just make donations mandatory. (This doesn’t apply to the US Internal Revenue Service, who seem to be able to make anyone pay anything no matter where they are.) This is perfect content for a code of practice between the union and school, setting out how they’ll work together to allow the union to reach its objects.

I wonder where this complaints procedure is…


MEMBERSHIP AND AFFILIATIONS #

All students pursuing a course of study at the Royal College of Music (hereinafter referred to as ‘The College’) are automatically members of the SU.

Membership of the SU is encouraged, but students may opt out of membership provided they do so by the end of the first week of each term. They will continue to have access to all facilities, but may not stand for election to committees or vote at meetings of the SU. Opt-out forms can be obtained from the Registry. Access to facilities and facility subscriptions are unaffected by opting out of membership of the SU.

The SU may recognize and financially support student societies subject to the approval of the SU Committee and the Deputy Director. Where financial support is provided this will be reported by the SU President to students via the Intranet or at a general meeting

The SU shall have no links with external political or religious organisations.

The SU will not normally affiliate to any external organisations.Where the SU Committee decides that it wishes to do so, the details (including the name of the organisation and details of subscriptions, fees or donations) will be reported by the SU President in writing to the Deputy Director (for the Council) and to students via the Intranet or at a general meeting. The SU President will submit the current list of affiliations to the SU Annual General Meeting for the approval of members. If 5% or more of the SU members request it, the SU will conduct a universal secret ballot to decide on the continued affiliation to any particular organisation.

Lots to unpack here.

‘Pursuing a course of study’
Is this like someone pursuing a place on a course? Are applicants members of the union?

‘Hereinafter referred to as ‘The College’’
Actually, you’ve already referred to it like that twice. Did it mean something different before?..

‘Provided they do so by the end of the first week of each term’
They have to opt out every term? It doesn’t really matter – the Education Act s. 22(c)(i) gives students the right not to be a member so this is probably unenforceable.

‘Support student societies subject to the approval of the SU Committee and the Deputy Director’
Interesting that the college has to approve every committee.

‘No links with external political or religious organisations’
Only the internal ones ;-)
Jokes aside, this is probably to stop the union affiliating with political parties, but would probably also prevent affiliating with NUS UK (the political campaigning arm of the National Union of Students).

‘Will not normally affiliate to any external organisations’
…except when the committee wants to. Luckily this is followed immediately by a framework explaining exactly how to affiliate. What a strange clause. Presumably this is only ‘proper’ mission group affiliations rather than business relationships. Difficult to open a bank account without affiliating with a bank.


OFFICERS #

The SU shall be supported by an Executive Committee which will report to the SU Committee. The SU Committee will be chaired by the President. The Executive Committee comprises of four Officers of the SU. The other members of the Committee shall represent the student body in Faculty and Programme Committees and as required and shall not exceed 13 elected representatives.
The Officers of the SU will be:

  1. The Director of the College, who shall be patron.
  2. The President – elected annually by the members for one academic year.
  3. The Vice-President – elected annually by the members for one academic year.
  4. Other such officers as appropriate

‘The SU shall be supported by’
This is getting a little confusing. We already know a key objective of the union is to support the president at all costs. The executive committee supports the union to do this by reporting to another committee chaired by … the president! It’s like a Mexican standoff except everyone wants to support someone else.

Spiderman meme

‘Comprises of four officers’
Everyone got that? There are four officers.

‘13 elected representatives’
Jeez, where did they come from? Are these 13 other members in addition to the two already elected or is 13 in total?

‘The Director of the College, who shall be Patron’
*Chokes on words* Sorry, what? The college sits on the committee of this independent student-led organisation? Someone was clearly on a wild power trip when this was written to have also made the head of the college the patron. Hey, it’s official though.


ELECTIONS #

The election of the President and Vice-President and committee shall be held in the Summer Term by a universal secret ballot. The election process shall be overseen by Deputy Director.

To stand as a sabbatical President, the student needs to be completing a course of study in the year preceding the Presidency.

The President and the Vice-President may each stand for a maximum of two one-year terms. Terms of office run from 1 August to 31 July.

Exceptionally, the post may be filled on a non-sabbatical basis by a student currently registered on a fulltime course of study (undergraduate or postgraduate) who has been offered an unconditional place to study for the academic year in which the Presidency would be held, subject to the approval of the Deputy Director.

Any student intending to stand for election as Vice-President or as a member of the SU Committee, must ensure that they have a place to study at the RCM for the following year. Failure to secure a place at the RCM will nullify the election of that individual.

In the event of the resignation of a serving member of the Committee, or of no representative being nominated in any category, the President shall have the power to co-opt a member.

‘Needs to be completing’
A little odd. Most unions allow a break in studies to act as a sabbatical officer, y’know, because sabbatical.

‘Filled on a non-sabbatical basis’
That’s very odd. They might mean you can also run between years while you’re a student but it’s worded in such an odd way, explicitly marking it as non-sabbatical when to take a year out like this would be the definition of a sabbatical role. If not, it must mean performing the role alongside your studies. As per usual, it’s up to the college.

‘Must ensure that they have a place to study at the RCM’
How often to students not progress to the next level? I suppose it could be targeted at graduating students. Either way, do people know if they’ve passed or been accepted for further studies before elections run?


ROLE OF THE PRESIDENT #

The SU President is elected by the Students’ Union in accordance with the provision of the RCM Students’ Union Constitution approved by the RCM Council. The SU President, who is responsible for ensuring that the SU operates in accordance with the Constitution, is an exofficio member of the RCM Council and chairs the SU Committees. The SU President represents the students in regular liaison between RCM management and administration and provides student feedback on current issues.

‘In accordance with…’
You could probably just say ‘this constitution’ or ‘section six’.

‘Exofficio member of the RCM Council’
Again, you can’t force an officer on to a committee you don’t control.

In addition to the duties above, the duties of the SU President will include the following:

  1. To contribute regularly to the collection of student feedback
  2. To represent regularly the student body on committees and working parties
  3. To represent the College externally at the request of the Director
  4. To be available to take part in special College events
  5. To meet regularly with the Deputy Director and the Director
  6. To organise SU representation on College committees
  7. To organise student activities
  8. To control all financial expenditure from the SU account, to prepare and adhere to annual and special event budgets and to ensure that annual expenditure is contained within annual income.

On a day-to-day basis, in all matters concerned with SU affairs, the SU President liaises with the Deputy Director. The Deputy Director is the senior member of College staff who is responsible for the Students’ Union.

‘In all matters’
So the president has to talk to the deputy director about everything that happens day-to-day? As before, you can’t specify who will be responsible for you. That’s for the college to decide.

On financial matters the SU President liaises with the RCM Head of Finance or a nominated member of finance staff. The SU President is expected to maintain appropriate accounts of all SU income and expenditure, with associated receipts. The SU President will be briefed on simple account keeping by the Head of Finance or a nominee prior to taking up his/ her position. A handover session will take place at the end of the academic year between the outgoing and incoming SU Presidents and the Head of Finance or a nominee. In the course of the academic year the SU President will be expected to present termly updates of the SU Accounts to the Head of Finance or nominee, prior to the release of grant. Annual accounts must be approved by the Council, usually at its Autumn meeting, together with a budget of planned income and expenditure for the new academic year.

‘Will be briefed … by the Head of Finance’
They better not change job title. Same thing; it’s nice that the college do this, but they can’t be held to it here. Copy and paste into a code of practice.


GENERAL MEETINGS #

An Annual General Meeting will be held once a year, usually in the Autumn Term, when the accounts will be presented. All other General Meetings shall be termed Extraordinary General Meetings.

An Extraordinary Meeting must be convened by the President of the SU at the written request of any of the following:

  1. The Director
  2. Any of the Officers
  3. Any 15 members of the SU

At least fourteen days’ notice shall be given of all Annual General Meetings, and at least 48 hours’ notice of all Extraordinary General Meetings.

The majority vote of those members present and voting at a General Meeting shall be accepted.

The Quorum for any General Meeting shall be 20 members of the SU.

‘Extraordinary Meeting’
Didn’t we just establish they were called Extraordinary General Meetings?

‘The Director, Any of the Officers’
Isn’t the director an officer anyway? Either way, why does the head of the college need to be able to call a formal meeting of the union?


THE SU COMMITTEE AND SU EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE #

The functions of the committees shall be generally to direct matters appertaining to the welfare of the students and social, cultural and leisure life of the members in the College; and to carry out the wishes of the general student body as far as these are practicable.

The Committee shall ordinarily meet once every other week during term time. No two consecutive weeks during term time should pass without a meeting. Committee meetings are to be chaired by the President or Vice-President, or, in their absence, by a member of the Committee elected by a majority of those present.

An extra Committee meeting can be called at any time by at least two of the four Officers or three other members of the Committee. Requests should be made to the President in writing at least 24 hours in advance.

A quorum for a Committee meeting should be at least a third of the current total of Committee members, of whom two must be Officers.

Minutes shall be kept of all Committee Meetings and General Meetings; minutes are to be provided promptly to the Deputy Director.

All financial expenditure shall be controlled by the President as advised by the Committee.

Each member of the Committee shall have one vote when present at a meeting, with the Chairman having the casting vote in the event of a tie.

Any member of Committee failing to attend three consecutive meetings during the year of office, without apologies having been accepted, shall be considered to have resigned.

Neither the President nor any member of the Committee acting on behalf of the SU shall have contact with the press or media outlets without the prior permission of the Director. Permission will not be unreasonably withheld.

‘Appertaining to the welfare…’
Otherwise known as ‘the objects’.

‘The Committee shall ordinarily…’
Is this the committee or the executive committee?

‘The four Officers’
Does this mean there can only be four officers? We know there are four categories of officer but earlier it said there can be ‘other’ officers.

‘Three other members of the committee’
Wait, who else is on the committee? Are the ‘elected representatives’ not considered in the ‘other’ officers category?

‘Of whom two must be Officers’
Again, who’s on the committee but isn’t an officer?

‘Financial expenditure shall be controlled’
Yes, we read about the president role.

‘Shall be considered to have resigned’
Could be awkward if only the ‘core’ officers are in post and the Director and one other officer miss meetings, or one misses meetings and one resigns. Under the quorum rule the committee can’t meet without two officers … but there’s a way for there to only be one (or none).

‘Prior permission of the Director’
The director has to give permission for the director to talk to the press about the union. Quite restrictive for an organisation established, in part, to criticise the college.


AMENDMENTS #

Amendments to the Constitution may be adopted by a two-thirds majority of those members present and voting at General Meetings.

At least two weeks’ notice (in term time) of any proposed amendments to this constitution shall be given by the President.

Any amendments shall become operative only after the approval of the Council.

KAP

18 November 2003

Revised November 2014

Approved by Council November 2014

‘November 2003’
It’s only been ‘revised’ in the past 19 years? This confusing document has lasted almost two decades‽

 
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