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EXCLUSIVE: Unpicking 165 Pages of KCLSU Rules After Anonymous Source Confirms Officer Suspensions

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Image courtesy of Photography Lead Emma Carmichael

Roar lays out the complicated King’s College London Student Union (KCLSU) rules to explain what’s happening with three student officers after an anonymous employee confirmed their suspensions.

In late November 2023, three Student Officers, Hassan Ali (VP Welfare & Community), Sadaf Abbas Cheema (VP Arts & Sciences) and Alizeh Abrar (VP Postgraduate), made two public statements. The first, issued on 28 November 2023, condemned the Union’s silence on the conflict in Gaza, including their fellow Officers and Union employees.

Roar understands there had been longstanding tension between representatives and employees at the Union about what any official statement on Israel and Palestine should include. This had led to the absence of any public statement from the Union. 

The second statement, issued a day later, alleged “intimidation and mistreatment” from “senior leadership” in response to their first post. They also claimed that the three had been initially verbally suspended, but that the Union had informed them that this was being re-considered.

On December 7, the KCLSU issued a public statement, referring to the incident but not commenting on the ongoing proceedings.

“We are aware of social media posts, related to our student officers. Due to ongoing proceedings surrounding this matter, we are not currently able to comment on the specific details of the social media posts related to our sabbatical officers.”

KCLSU, 7 December 2023

The Middle East Eye later reported that the three Officers had been suspended, but they did not clearly cite a source for this claim. Since then, neither the Union nor the Officers have publicly commented.

The Officers’ images and quotes are still being used on Union products and they are still listed as official Trustees with the Charity Commission, but the three have not been seen around Union workplaces since the incident. The KCLSU have also recently closed nominations for next year’s elections without confirming the status of half of the incumbent Officers. This has led to almost three months of confusion.

An anonymous source has now confirmed to Roar that the three Officers have been suspended. To help readers understand what this means for the officers, the Union and the student body at large, Roar went through all available KCLSU documentation to work out the suspension powers, investigation practice and removal procedure applicable in this case. 

The eight documents of interest are:

  1. The KCLSU Articles of Association
  2. The KCLSU Bye-laws
  3. The Governance Policies Procedure and Guidelines
  4. The Members Disciplinary Procedure
  5. The Student Officer Handbook
  6. The Full Time Student Officer Job Pack
  7. The Student Staff Protocol
  8. The Student Officer Employment Contracts (which Roar has seen an example of)

Summary

From an analysis of the KCLSU Articles of Association, there appears to be no publicly acknowledged way to suspend Student Officers as Trustees or Board Members. However, the Student Officer Contracts allow the Union to suspend Officers as employees during any investigation into potential misconduct.

Any ongoing investigations will be strictly confidential, as the Members Disciplinary Procedure, Trustee Code of Conduct and Student Officer Employment Contracts commit the Union and its Trustees to keeping information related to disciplinary proceedings out of the public domain. This explains why neither the KCLSU nor the three suspended Officers have public acknowledged the matter since December.

There is no answer as to why the process has taken, to date, over 60 working days.

Evidence from an investigation would be presented to the KCLSU Trustee Board. Since it is unclear how obligations as elected Trustees, employees and students are balanced, it remains uncertain if the three suspended Officers could sit or vote at such a meeting, or if their cases will be judged together or separately.

It seems likely that the case will revolve around Section D of the Code of Conduct, which relates the protecting the KCLSU’s reputation. If found to be in violation of the Code by the Board, their Student Officer Contracts could be immediately terminated by the Union.

Roar outlines the KCLSU legislation in full below.

Student Officer Positions

According to the Full Time Student Officer job pack, upon election Officers assume the multiple roles of KCLSU representative, campaigner, Trustee and employee.

The Union describes these elected positions as “crucial to ensuring student views are represented at senior levels of decision-making”. However, they also make it clear that there are other legal responsibilities incumbent upon those who represent the KCLSU, as legal Trustees and employees of a charity. The result is an awkward and potentially conflicting balance of democratic and legal obligations.

The Student Staff Protocol (which is three years out of date, but no updated copy appears on the KCLSU website) acknowledges this tension.

“The complex nature of KCLSU naturally leads to a number of ‘grey areas’ in terms of role of salaried Staff, Officers, Trustees, Directors and Managers that are, in most cases, managed informally”

KCLSU Student Staff Protocol

Suspension

An anonymous KCLSU employee has confirmed that Hassan, Sadaf and Alizeh have been officially suspended. The source did not specify to Roar under what rules or in what capacity this was enacted.

The Articles of Association are the constitution of the KCLSU. Clause 11 gives the Board of Trustees the right of “suspension or removal of some of the rights and privileges of Membership, including the holding of office”. The Articles also state that the details of this are to be outlined in the Members Disciplinary Procedure or the Code of Conduct. 

While suspension and removal actions are found in the Members Disciplinary Procedure, the document is explicitly not applicable to KCLSU Trustees. Appendix 2 of the Student Officer Handbook and Clause 13 of the Governance Policies Procedure and Guideline outline the Trustee Code of Conduct, yet the Code contains no reference to suspension powers.

However, page 7 of the Student Officer Handbook states that Elected Officers are also bound by the Student Officer Employment contract. Roar has seen a sample Student Officer Contract for 2023-24. The Disciplinary Procedure clauses in the agreement allow for suspension when allegations of misconduct are raised against an Officer.

“The Union may suspend you on full pay to investigate any allegation of misconduct against you or so long as is otherwise reasonable while any disciplinary procedure against you (either as an employee, trustee or member) is outstanding.”

KCLSU Sabbatical Officer’s Agreement, Clause 14.3

Roar therefore finds it reasonable to suggest that the three Officers have been suspended under their Employee contracts, pending investigation.

Investigation

In their December statement, the Union implied that an official investigation into the case was ongoing. They referred to “clear governance policies and procedures, which must be followed”.

The Bye-Laws sets out the broad steps of an investigation into Officer conduct.

“Staff members are encouraged to resolve issues regarding conduct and behaviour of Student Officers in an informal manner. However, in extreme circumstances the following should be followed:

  • The letter should be raised with the Chief Executive
  • The matter will then be discussed with the Trustee Board
  • The matter will be investigated, and the staff member will be informed of the outcome of the discussions.”
KCLSU Bye-Laws, Appendix 4, Clause 7.2

However, this alone does not explain why both the Union and the three Officers have refrained from publicly acknowledging the suspensions or investigation. 

The Members Disciplinary Procedure suggests an answer, as this document expressly mandates the confidentiality of KCLSU investigations.

“KCLSU is committed to dealing with disciplinary issues discreetly, protecting the confidentiality of those involved. No member, KCLSU Student Officer, Staff or Trustee should comment publicly on any incident that is being dealt with under this procedure, and no formal reports will be published. In cases that the incident has the potential for reputational damage for KCLSU, the Communications Lead for KCLSU, in consultation with the Trustee Board, may make a public statement.”

KCLSU Members Disciplinary Procedure, Clause 4.1

Clause I38 of the Trustee Code of Conduct further specifies that the Elected Officers are not allowed to share confidential information about the Union during or after their tenure. This is also the case in Clause 16.1 of the Student Officer Contracts. This means that any information which is not already in the public domain, including the details of this ongoing issue, cannot be shared.

These two clauses explain why the Union and Officers respectively have not publicly commented on the case before the investigation has been concluded and result announced officially by the KCLSU.

Which rule(s) might the three Officers be being investigated under? The Trustee Code of Conduct has several potentially applicable clauses, relating to the Union’s reputation, Trustee obligations and bringing the Union into disrepute.

“6. I will not speak as a trustee on behalf of KCLSU to the media, in social media, or in a public forum without the prior knowledge and approval of the Chair and Chief Executive. The Chair must obtain such consent from the Chief Executive and Vice-Chair. 
7. When I am speaking as a trustee of KCLSU, my comments will be considered and where possible researched, and will reflect current KCLSU policy even when these do not agree with my personal views.
8. When speaking as a private citizen, I will strive to uphold the reputation of KCLSU and those who work in it, remembering that even in this capacity my responsibility to KCLSU is not diminished.
[…]
11. I will not willingly, or knowingly, engage in activities or behaviours that might bring KCLSU or King’s, or the office of Trustee into disrepute.”

KCLSU Trustee Code of Conduct, Section D (Protecting KCLSU’s reputation)

Roar does not take a position on if these rules have or have not been violated.

Removal

If found to be in violation, how would the three Officers be permanently removed from their position?

Clause 40 of the Code found in the Governance Policies Procedure and Guideline includes an acknowledgement that “breaking the provisions of this Code may result in actions being taken by the Board under the KCLSU bye-laws (see bye-law 2, clause 12), and the process for holding Trustees to the Code“.

Bye-law 2.12 pertains to the removal process, stating that the decision to remove a Trustee will be made by the Board of Trustees on the evidence outlined to them about the potential breach of the Code of Conduct. 

Roar has not located a separate documented process for holding Trustees to the Code, however the Officer Contract states that “the disciplinary and grievance procedures applicable to your employment are detailed in the Officer Handbook”. The Handbook outlines the same removal procedure as the Bye-laws.

“Selected Trustees may be removed via the Trustee Board, following a simple majority vote at a quorate meeting of the Trustee Board.”

KCLSU Student Officer Handbook (p. 11)

The Board consists of the six elected Student Officers, four elected Student Trustees and four ‘lay Trustees’ who are “recruited for their expertise in specific areas”. These representatives are responsible for collectively deciding on cases of alleged Code of Conduct violation.

Clause 8.1 of the Governance Policies Procedure and Guideline requires the Board to meet at least four times a year. The next meeting of the Board is not expected for a few weeks.

Should the three be found by the Board to have broken the Code, they would hence be removed from political office. Under the Student Officer Contract, the Union would then be entitled to immediately terminate their employment “without notice or payment in lieu of notice”.

In response to Roar, a KCLSU spokesperson said, “Owing to the confidential nature of such matters, we are unable to discuss specific details at present or engage in future discussions on the topic. KCLSU remains dedicated to ensuring that all matters are handled in strict compliance with our established processes and procedures.”

Roar have contacted the three suspended Student Officers for comment.

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