U-turn on university vote for Jewish society sees fresh poll announced
PUBLISHED: 15:28 21 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:54 22 February 2019
A poll asking students whether a Jewish society should be set up at the University of Essex has been pulled from the student union website ahead of a fresh vote, we can reveal.
Concerns had been raised by Colchester MP Will Quince and the Union of Jewish Students, who expressed their shock at hundreds of students voting ‘no’ to the question ‘should there be a Jewish society’.
More than 200 student union members – around 36% of those originally polled – had voted against its creation.
This sparked backlash from students and prominent politicians such as Mr Quince – and allegations of comments made by a member of staff at the university about the topic prompted the institution to launch an investigation.
Speaking to this newspaper, student Eleanor Goldberg said she hoped people were not discouraged from studying at the university following the row.
“I was so shocked that fellow students would vote against the right of Jewish people to assemble,” she said.
“I would be equally outraged if any other religious denomination was denied this right.
“Essex university is known for its acceptance of people from all walks of life and our students are known to be politically active and not take issues like this lightly.”
However, this afternoon the students’ union has announced there were irregularities in the poll – which had meant non-society members were able to vote in the ratification.
“As soon as this was brought to our attention we investigated, and as a result have declared the current vote null and void, due to us no longer being able to ensure the vote has been free and fair,” a spokesman said.
A fresh vote on the ratification of a Jewish society will open tomorrow and run for three working days, as per the societies guild constitution.
This means only members of the guild will be able to vote.
“We believe strongly in the power of democracy and as a Union led by students we give our members the opportunity to decide on everything we do, from who leads the organisation through to whether a society should be ratified,” a union spokesman added.
“It is important to us that this is process is followed properly and we therefore look forward to a free and fair vote concluding next week.”
Meanwhile, Mr Quince – who branded the original vote “shocking” and “terrible” – criticised the university’s response to it.
He tweeted his concerns about the use of the word “controversial” in their statement, supplied to this newspaper after the backlash.
A university spokesman said this morning: “We expect staff, students and visitors to be treated, and to treat each other, with dignity and respect.
“The ratification process has been a focus for strong debate.
“As a university, we promote debate and deliberation of controversial issues and, within the limits of the law, encourage students and staff to express views with rigour and conviction.
“Alongside our commitment to freedom of speech, we also have clear guidelines for student and staff conduct and we have zero tolerance towards harassment or hate crime and will always take appropriate and proportionate action.
The spokesman also said they are looking into allegations of comments made by a member of staff regarding the desire of Jewish students to set up their own society.
They are doing so in accordance with the university’s zero tolerance policy.
There are several religious societies currently ratified by the university’s student’s union – including those for Christianity and Islam.
The University of Essex has had a radical past – it was one of the factors which helped it snag its ‘University of the Year’ title recently – in the 1960s, it was a hotbed of student politics.
The UJS, who expressed their “deep disappointment” at the original vote, are calling for a full investigation and say they are supporting Jewish students at Essex with their next steps.