A number of students have criticised Imperial College Union (ICU) for poor planning and execution of this year’s Leadership Elections, which finish today.
Students have highlighted problems with communication, organisation, and enforcement of campaign rules. During the past week, a number of candidates and students have voiced their concern over students breaching election campaign rules. Candidates running for positions in Machine Learning Society and Finance Society have been accused of breaching election rules by making use of existing mailing lists and unsolicited communications.
While students raised complaints to the Deputy Returning Officers (DROs), many felt their complaints had not been dealt with properly. One student told Felix: “The complaints process is not transparent at all…complainants aren’t updated about how their complaints have been dealt with – and if they are, they are only told that complaints are ‘handled’. I find it absurd how there are candidates with clear bribery on their manifesto who have not been disqualified.”
Earlier this week, however, seven candidates were disqualified from the Leadership Elections in response to “persistent breaking of rules and acting against [ICU’s] values despite warnings from the [DROs]”. They said the students had broken rules by coercing voters, campaigning in languages other than English without a translation, and use of pre-existing mailing lists.”
In a statement for Felix, a Union spokesperson said: “We’ve had about the expected number of complaints this year and the DROs have been dealing with them swiftly and effectively; candidates should bear in mind that this is not always visible from the outside. The vast majority of offending candidates receive one warning and don’t reoffend.”
Outside of these complaints, students have also cited problems with the general organisation of the Leadership Elections. Candidates who spoke to Felix said there was a lack of clarity from ICU over the timing and details of events, and responses to emails were poor.
“One candidate said he had been ‘left in the dark’ over many aspects of the election”
One candidate, speaking to Felix, said the elections this year were “disappointing”: “As a candidate, I have time and time again been left in the dark about many aspects of the election process, most notably the election debate, which seems to have been totally forgotten until the last moment – totally inexcusable when Meet the Candidates has been a feature of all recent spring elections.”
“The Union needs to have a good hard look at itself and decide whether it truly believes in democracy or just in window-dressing popularity contests. I for one hope that it chooses the former.”
Criticism was also directed against ICU’s live debate, which aired earlier this week.
On Wednesday, 7th March, ICU organised their “Debate Livestream”, at which candidates for major positions were asked about their plans if elected. Out of the eight positions advertised as being included in the debate, only four sessions were able to go ahead, after a number of candidates did not attend. In total, out of 30 potential candidates, only six attended.
Students questioned the timing of the debate. Kelvin Zhang, a first-year computing student, told Felix the debate was “very poorly organised”: “if you check the voting proportions for last year’s elections, you’ll see that more than 2⁄3 of those who could vote at this point had already done so. Most people who will vote have already voted. It’s completely ridiculous that a debate is being organised almost at the end of elections.”
Other students also raised criticism of the moderation of the debate, particularly when the moderator responded to claims about ICU and cut candidates off after a 30-second time limit. Writing on Facebook, one student said it was “quite appalling that a debate between students is being mediated by someone who ‘corrects’ any time the candidates make a criticism of the central Union and staff.”
Zhang said: “the debate format was poor, with the moderator being Union staff…and interrupting the candidates after thirty seconds, leaving no time to actually hear useful content.
In response, a representative of ICU said: “Please note we have not addressed any criticism directed at the Union, but only corrected factual errors such as Board decisions and the bars having professional managers.”
The debate, which in previous years has been organised by Imperial College TV (ICTV), was organised internally by ICU, after ICTV pulled out of the show, saying they “were unable to receive the required timely support needed from the Union to do the broadcast.”
In a statement for Felix, a Union spokesperson said: “We know there have been mixed reviews of the new elections timetable this year, with a small percentage of candidates viewing it negatively; we have consistently received requests from candidates to shorten the timetable in previous years and we’re pleased to have put this new model to the test.”
“Separately, several candidates were understandably unhappy at communication regarding the Live Debates, which we have fully accepted and acknowledged directly to candidates and student societies.” “We’re happy to receive feedback from all members on the elections, and we’ll be surveying all candidates about their experiences as well. Overall, we’re pleased to have once again delivered a nation-leading election turnout and engaged more candidates and student groups than any other student election in history.”