UMSU President Resigns18 April 2016
On 21 March, James Baker resigned from his position as President of the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU), effective 23 March. In an official UMSU statement released on Facebook on 24 March, it was announced that Baker had made the difficult decision to step down for personal reasons.
“I would like to thank all of the people that have helped me throughout my tenure at UMSU,” said James in the statement.
“I also hope that I have been able to educate as many people as possible on all of the outstanding work that UMSU does for the students at the University of Melbourne.”
Farrago can now confirm that Baker was asked to resign by members of his ticket and other elected representatives on at least two occasions.
Despite having been elected on the Stand Up! ticket in mid-September last year, Baker was a member of More Activities!, an apolitical grouping which focuses on funding clubs, volunteering and providing activities to students. Members of More Activities! currently hold the Clubs and Societies office, the Activities office, as well as five seats on Students’ Council, the governing body of UMSU.
In the third week of Semester One, a meeting was called by members of More Activities!. At this meeting, Baker was asked to resign after concerns over his behaviour at a number of events in the first few weeks of semester. According to members of More Activities!, they felt his behaviour on multiple occasions were not appropriate as the President and a representative of UMSU.
“In the meeting, we didn’t just talk about him resigning from a political standpoint,” a member of More Activities! said.
“The reasons we asked him to resign were because it was bad as a working relationship between everyone involved, we didn’t tolerate or accept his behaviour.”
“We believe he didn’t have any malicious intent at all,” said another member of More Activities!.
“This was completely ignorance. Unacceptable ignorance, but it was absolutely just ignorance.”
This request follows multiple meetings with Baker by his peers, alerting him that they felt his behaviour was inappropriate.
Baker was additionally asked to resign by another Office Bearer for similar reasons on 17 March. Concerns were also raised over his relationships with the UMSU autonomous departments. One autonomous Office Bearer stated, “there were communication breakdowns and a lack of working relationships with the other departments”.
“It was my read that he was not likely to resign after [More Activities!] had spoken to him… After I spoke to him, it was clear he was going to resign,” said the autonomous Office Bearer.
Baker declined to comment on his meetings with More Activities! or with other Office Bearers.
In the 10 years of UMSU’s existence, no president has resigned in the first semester. Constitutional clauses do not provide any clear protocol to deal with casual vacancies within the first semester of an Office Bearer’s term.
“It’s unusual for a resignation to occur this early in the year but where resignations have occurred in the past, often they’re in Semester Two,” said General Secretary and Acting President, James Bashford.
If there were to be a casual vacancy within Semester Two, a by-election would coincide with the annual general elections held in September. However, it is unclear whether it is necessary to have a by-election prior to the general elections. In the meantime, an interim president will be elected by Students’ Council. UMSU is currently seeking independent legal advice which will determine whether it is necessary to have a by-election prior to the annual general election.