Student Council express no-confidence in QMUL Principal Professor Colin Bailey

Student Council express no-confidence in QMUL Principal Professor Colin Bailey

Following an Emergency Meeting held yesterday evening by the Queen Mary Students’ Union, the QMSU Student Council has unanimously voted to express no-confidence in President and Principal Professor Colin Bailey. 

The meeting was called at the request of more than 50% of the Student Council, in a bid to urgently discuss the two pressing matters of the #QMFurloughNow campaign and, as a result of this, the leadership of Colin Bailey. This follows an email sent to students on Thursday 21st May by Bailey, in which he ultimately refuted the QMSU’s campaign for the university to apply for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) by stating that “it is a misuse of the scheme and contravenes the scheme’s guidance.”

Chaired by Deputy Student Council Chair, Joe Vinson, the meeting went straight into the first motion, proposed by Megan Annetts, Acting QMSU President and Vice President for Barts and The London. In firstly seeking the ratification of the Student Council’s support for the ‘QMUL: Furlough Our Student Staff Now’ campaign and also for QMUL to allow QMSU to access the CJRS, much of her reasoning echoed the second update of the Students’ Union response to the opposing claims of Colin Bailey. In emphasising the difference between the CJRS and QM’s proposed alternative financial scheme being over £500 each month for some student staff, she, much like the myth-busting strategy the campaign has recently adopted, spotlights inconsistencies in Bailey’s claims.

However, the meeting also revealed some new calls which haven’t been previously made by those behind #QMFurloughNow. For instance, Annetts opens up the opportunity for Colin Bailey to underwrite the same amount of money QMSU could claim through the CJRS, without actually applying for the scheme; perhaps a proposition that might appear tempting on his part as his determination not to access government aid is striking. In addition to this, she also advocates for Professor Colin Bailey to meet with QMSU’s student staff through a virtual Q&A session in order to explain his decisions, of which “affects their financial, mental and physical well-being”. This would aim to bridge the current declared communication gap between SU student staff and the Principal.

Annetts’ proposal was successful amongst the Student Council, as the motion received 100% support by student councillors. This led to the consideration of the second and last motion, titled ‘Should QMSU express no-confidence in QMUL’s Principal and President, Professor Colin Bailey?’. Put forward by Jedd Higgins, the Mile End LGBT+ Representative and seconded by numerous other Council members, the justifications for passing the proposal were not limited to the furloughing of Student Staff, as a variety of cases were raised, even ranging to the 2017/2018 academic year.

Higgins began her statement by referring to #OccupyTheOctagon, a student campaign from 2018 opposing the £317,000 cut from bursaries for students from low-income households, a decision which she states was made without student consultation. In doing so, she successfully highlights the longevity of the issue of senior leadership ignoring student voice, one which is substantiated with further concerns, such as the matter of institutional racism. By referring to the recent incidents of vandalism, where promotional posters of the university were graffitied with claims that QMUL are pro-colonial and institutionally racist, she speculates the Principal’s decision of merely concluding that this was the action of someone off-campus, rather than immersing himself in a thorough investigation to really understand the sentiment amongst the 69% BAME students that attend the university.

In stating that “the principal has taken several opportunities to stack the odds against his less advantaged students”, Higgins’ words were to be followed by a variety of officers showing their support by showcasing other such issues with the Principal, but the most striking examples are as follows. Maddy Stichbury, Mile End Sports Officer added her support to the motion with her frustration surrounding university decision to stop funding of the Merger Cup, a varsity style sports event held each year with a specific focus on fundraising for charity and one of the best-engaged student campaigns of the year. The fact that this was done so without student consultation and that no comment followed after an open meeting on Wednesday 27th May exhibiting student testimonials, only goes to support Stitchbury’s later claim that the Principal does “not listen to the opinions and experiences of his student, even when they are directly linked to student satisfaction.” 

Caitlin Gordon, Barts and the London Societies Officer, follows this with serious complaints about the lack of attention paid to the safety of those on Whitechapel campus. In stating that this has been going on for years, she spotlights a disregard for the security of medical students, who study on a campus exposed to nearby drug dealing and a rampant bike thefts. She asserts that nothing has been done to thoroughly protect students, with their area of study being a hotbed for illegal activity- all without sufficient CCTV and a lack of visibly patrolling security staff. This is furthered by the continued dismissal of a now year-long campaign to get the library door fixed, despite its courtyard being used for drug sales, all as well as accommodation being easily accessible to members of the public, making university an ultimately unsafe experience.

This was continued by Lizzie Hunter, Sustainability Officer, who has spent much of her time campaigning for the university to declare a Climate Crisis in order to work towards greater sustainability. Yet, when Bailey was directly confronted with this request at the Student Question Time in January, he responded with “we shouldn’t be making promises we can’t keep”. She states that no debate has taken place surrounding this topic, especially as QMUL has raised the Climate Crisis in a first draft of the Sustainability Strategy, but as they haven’t actively promoted this, it comes across as a meaningless gesture. With QMSU already having declared a Climate Crisis, and those in executive leadership positions also showing a similar enthusiasm about this, it was said that they have also faced challenges in reaching out to the Principal, emphasising a communication gap amongst his own staff.

These reasons, as well as many others raised by officers, were enough to gain a unanimous vote in favour of expressing no-confidence in QMUL’s Principal and President, Professor Colin Bailey. The immensity of this motion in symbolising that student representatives no longer have any assurance in Bailey as a leader highlights that changes needs to be made immediately if the Principal is to ever recover from this. It will be interesting to see how Bailey responds to these student testimonies, particularly given his response to dire student issues mentioned in this meeting; that is if he responds at all.