June 3, 2014
The historic Oxford Union debating society is in ‘disarray’ after another committee member resigned in the wake of its president being arrested over rape allegations.
Ben Sullivan, 21, was taken in by Thames Valley police earlier this month over accusations from two female undergraduates.
Sullivan, a history and politics student, has face repeated calls to resign from the society, which is seen as a training-ground for politicians and has been led by Boris Johnson and William Hague.
A number of high-profile speakers have pulled out of engagements at the Union due to concerns over Sullivan, who denies the charges against him.
Several officials have also deserted the society due to the scandal – the latest of whom is standing committee member Anna Bazley, 19.
Miss Bazley, a history and politics student at St Peter’s College, cited ‘an irreconcilable conflict in personal loyalties and priorities’ in her resignation letter.
Treasurer Charles Malton stepped down four days after Mr Sullivan’s arrest, saying: ‘The way in which many within the Union have handled this situation over the past few weeks is not behaviour that I would wish to associate myself with’.
Before Sullivan’s arrest, the Union’s librarian, Kostas Chryssanthopoulos, stood down citing ‘repeated and constant attacks, which have been personal from the start’, as did another one of its committee members, Katherine Connolly, who said the environment was ‘untenable’.
The society was already facing criticism for authorising Sullivan to use members’ money to gag student newspaper The Tab from reporting his past association with an elitist drinking society.
Sullivan, who has not been charged with any offence, maintains he should stay on as president. He is due to answer police bail on June 18.
Prior to the arrest, Mr Malton voted for the Union to pay £1,200 in legal fees for Sullivan to take action against a student news website.
His arrest has cost the society visits from significant speakers, including Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble, who was scheduled to address the chamber yesterday evening but later cancelled.
In a statement he said: ‘my advice to Ben Sullivan would be either to resign or take a leave of absence until the criminal investigation has been completed’.
Other speakers to pull out include David Mepham, UK Director of Human Rights Watch and Julie Meyer, the American entrepreneur and judge on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den.
Sullivan said in an interview this week: ‘I have every faith in the criminal justice system and I am confident that the truth will come to light’.
He had been due to face a vote of no confidence on Thursday, but members decided to abandon the exercise.
Meanwhile, disgruntled students have taken to hosting disenchanted union speakers in alternative venues across the university, challenging the historic institution.
A number of students, led by Barnaby Raine, 19, arranged for Wadham College to host a debate with speakers originally scheduled to attend the Union.
The speakers included Norman Finkelstein, the leading scholar on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Palestinian journalist Mouin Rabbani.
Mr Raine, a history and politics undergraduate at Wadham, said: ‘Ben Sullivan has to go. The Oxford Union is in disarray – speakers are pulling and so many officials are resigning that events are having to be cancelled.
‘The president has said himself that the organisation is falling apart. It’s now extreme stubbornness in the face of reality for the president to refuse to resign’.
Following Miss Bazley’s resignation, Mr Sullivan released a statement which said: ‘We are very sad to hear of Anna’s resignation.
‘She made a great contribution to the Society while on Standing Committee and helped to organise an excellent debate earlier this term. We wish her all the best for the future’.
The Oxford Union was approached for further comment but did not respond.