November saw an extraordinary episode in LUSU’s history, as its Chief Executive, Claire Geddes, resigned. Although no reason was given, her resignation (initially described as a secondment to the University) followed increasing pressure on her due to her central role in the Sugarhouse Scandal. Ms Geddes is now the University's Head of Governance Services.
The role of Chief Executive, formerly known as General Manager, is incredibly powerful in the organisation. Peter Elliott held it from 1978 to 2013, and he was able to continually consolidate power. His successor, Ms Geddes, took over following his retirement. Such is the extent of consolidation that sabbatical officers were shot down prior to the AGM for pointing out that there is no constitutional method for dismissing a CEO, no oversight of their work, and no established method for investigating complaints about them.
Ms Geddes was quietly seconded to the University in early November, and Jane Morgan-Jones, LUSU's Financial Controller, temporarily steered the ship before an interim replacement could be found. Antony Blackshaw, a management consultant specialising in students’ unions, was appointed interim CEO on 19th November.
Mr Blackshaw specialises in pushing through ‘change’ at the top of students’ unions during his interim spells as chief executive, although usually he spends more than a month there. For instance, in his 2017 governance review at Ulster University he concluded that student trustees should be appointed, not elected, that their number should be reduced, and that the number of external trustees increased. This is, of course, incredibly similar to aspects of LUSU’s 2016 anti-democratic constitutional reforms.
Mr Blackshaw has a working relationship with LUSU and has been brought in several times to conduct sabbatical officer training at the start of each year. He is also cited on LUSU's ‘Our Vision’ webpage as a 'critical friend' of the organisation.
However, Mr Blackshaw was only around long enough to set processes in motion. He oversaw the Sugarhouse and Trustee referendums, and the Trustee Board's decision to permanently halt the Sugarhouse sale. He is also, likely, responsible for the decision to hire an external consultant to conduct a governance review in early 2020. No permanent CEO had been hired in Mr Blackshaw’s term, nor had the process of hiring one even begun.
The end of term saw a new announcement – LUSU's Head of Marketing and Organisational Development, Misbah Ashraf, was to serve as interim CEO for 'around six months'. Ms Ashraf wears a lot of hats, as she is also Senior Venue Manager of the Sugarhouse, and LUSU’s Data Protection Officer.
And yes – for those of you keeping count – Ms Ashraf is now the fourth individual to act as LUSU CEO since the Sugarhouse Scandal broke, just a few months earlier. She is to hold the role until a permanent CEO is hired later this year, a job she is likely to be a top contender for.