Societies attack DSU over website fiasco

The Students’ Union is facing increasing criticism

The Societies Committee have criticised the Durham Students’ Union for their handling of its new website.

The committee – which represents the views of student societies at the Union – voted unanimously to censure the activities officer for failing to communicate the implications of the changes.

The decision to formally censure Krystina Warrington is intended to express their dissatisfaction with the Students’ Union, which they say has “unnecessarily impaired” the activities of almost every society.

“To have been told repeatedly that the website is compulsory only to be informed this week that it is not, is naturally frustrating.”

The committee is particularly concerned about the apparent inconsistency of communications from the activities officer regarding whether or not societies were compelled to use the website to retain financial support.

According to the motion proposing the censure, Miss Warrington repeatedly stated that use of the website was “compulsory” for student groups at the Societies Forum on 8 and 28 October.

However, when pushed on the issue of whether the Union had the power to force societies to use the website, on 8 November she admitted that the number of members registered online would in fact only be considered alongside about seven other factors.

Yet this statement was apparently contradicted in an email on 13 November when she described how the Union would react if societies did not attend website training sessions.

“If student groups do not attend the three compulsory training sessions then it is unlikely that they will receive funding from the Union as attendance at training sessions is taken into account.”

Adam Symonds, Games and Hobbies representative to the Durham Students’ Union Societies Committee, told The Bubble:

“It’s the job of the activities officer to support student groups, and to offer open and honest advice to them. It was quite apparent from speaking to society executives that this had not been occurring.

“So the Societies Committee decided to censure Krystina, focusing particularly on a series of statements she’d made at various times which very much confused the issue of whether or not societies were required to use the website, when actually they never were.”

The Union’s organisation of the Freshers’ Fair attracted widespread criticism. The normal sign-up process of compiling a mailing list of those who showed an interest in a particular society was replaced with an electronic system based on QR codes introduced at the last minute.

This irritated many of the exhibitors to the extent that many societies simply ignored the rules, causing a considerable amount of confusion.

Mr Symonds also explained that the website is still plagued with technical difficulties that have still not been resolved despite it being online for several months.

“Some societies are still waiting for membership additions or withdrawals from their account that they gave in at the start of the term to be processed.

“I’m still waiting to even be added as an administrator for my own society’s group on my website.

“We were assured that these problems would be sorted quickly, even in a matter of days, but that clearly hasn’t been the case.”

The cost of the new website – which stands at £10,000 per annum – is currently being paid by the Union to a third party supplier, ‘NUS Digital’.

However, from Epiphany term onwards, societies will be expected to pay a transaction fee of 7% for each new member they sign-up to contribute towards this total. The Societies Committee have expressed their opposition to this decision.

“All of this is destroying students’ trust that the DSU has their best interests at heart, or even the ability to organise itself effectively.”

Student groups are concerned at what they describe as a lack of communication between the Union and its affiliated student groups.

Despite the unanimous condemnation of the new website at society forums, Union staff still insist that the system enjoys widespread support.

One society president, who wished to remain anonymous, commented:

“To have been told repeatedly that the website is compulsory only to be informed this week that it is not, is naturally frustrating.

“The website is by no means easy to use; empty ‘help’ boxes are hardly useful in a website that is already far from simple.

“It would be far better for the DSU, their reputation, and their relationship with societies if they consulted societies more (indeed, if they consulted them at all) before making radical changes that severely affect them.”

However, she was keen to emphasise that blaming all the failings on the activities officer would be unfair.

“I do not hold the Activities Officer solely responsible for the miscommunications nor the fact that the DSU did not consult us on any of these changes; it is the responsibility of the entire DSU to ensure that students are happy with what they are doing.”

Krystina Warrington said that the Union had worked with societies to make the introduction of the new website “as easy as possible” and that it had been a “huge success”.

“More than 7,000 student members have signed up with minimal fuss and many student groups have a much more clear and visible page.

“We know we have a lot more work to do on the site but it is a phenomenal improvement on our previous system. We have received a lot of positive feedback from students and societies to support this.”

Mr Symonds argued that the Union’s actions are damaging its reputation among members of student societies at Durham.

“All of this is destroying students’ trust that the DSU has their best interests at heart, or even the ability to organise itself effectively.”

“I hope that our action will demonstrate to the DSU that we’re serious about opposing these poorly thought-out, sweeping changes that cause such difficulty and frustration among students – especially when they are implemented without proper consultation.”

Miss Warrington added: “Before we wrote our strategy, we consulted with over 3,000 students and approximately 100 student groups on campus.

“Some of the top priorities listed by societies were additional support, a better website and more grant funding. We are working hard on all of these (and more).”

She declined to comment on the decision of the Societies Committee to censure her, explaining that the matter is currently being discussed by the Governance Committee.

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