On the 16th of May 2023, the President of the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) was Caleb van Ryneveld. On the 17th, it was Peter Walker. Now, it depends on who you ask.
As of today, the 2nd of June 2023, two individuals claim the presidency, and as such, the other’s illegitimacy. This conflict has precipitated a major conflict within OUCA as members choose sides.
Both Caleb van Ryneveld, the originally elected President for TT23, and Peter Walker, the President-elect, have represented themselves as “President” (“Acting” or otherwise), in communications to association members in the last week, and both have different stories to tell.
In an email sent to OUCA members on Friday 12th May, van Ryneveld warned of a “dangerous constitutional situation”. He claimed that a member of the Association had brought forward a motion for a vote of no confidence in his leadership, also referencing a member who “[declared] himself…to be returning officer of OUCA”. This “crisis”, van Ryneveld wrote, was a symptom of the “more serious ongoing issue” of a secret and unaccountable process for recruiting key offices in OUCA.
On the 14th, however, President-elect Peter Walker sent out a very different email to members. The message announced a “corporate complaint” against van Ryneveld, constituted of charges which apparently posed “a serious and urgent threat to the interests, objectives and reputation of the Association.” Accordingly, Walker announced a temporary suspension of van Ryneveld, and assumed himself the “powers and responsibilities” of the presidency.
Three days later, having been found guilty by the Disciplinary Committee on “three out of four counts brought against him”, van Ryneveld was removed from office. According to the committee, he was convicted on charges relating to behaviour that may “bring the Association into disrepute”, failing in his obligations as President, and “verbally abus[ing] a member of committee”.
Precisely one week after this however, OUCA’s Senior Member, Marie Kawthar Daouda, lecturer and tutor in French at Oriel College, intervened. ‘Senior Member’ is an appointed role for which only University staff are eligible, and which the University requires of “registered clubs”. OUCA’s Constitution grants to the Senior Member the ability to “act as a last court of appeal in respect of any decision by an officeholder or body of this Association regardless of any other Rules within this constitution.” The Constitution also holds that the Senior Member’s “decision shall be final.”
Daouda’s decision was that disciplinary action taken against van Ryneveld was “disproportionate”, and so she “annulled” it and restored him to the presidency. It has been alleged both that van Ryneveld and Daouda have a friendship, and that he contacted her outside of prescribed channels. At any rate, Daouda’s judgement was reportedly greeted with laughter by many in council.
This council was held in Christ Church, from which van Ryneveld is currently rusticated. His presence was therefore in violation of college rules, and he later exited the meeting with supportive committee members and decamped to Christ Church Meadow.
Peter Walker, either Acting President or President-Elect, depending on one’s perspective – though Daouda has said that he “is in no position to appoint himself President for Trinity 2023” – also commented on van Ryneveld’s claim of a Vote of No Confidence. Specifically, he reported to committee members that there is “no satisfying evidence [that] such a Vote of No Confidence” as reported by van Ryneveld was ever actually filed, raising questions as to why van Ryneveld claimed otherwise.
The dispute between the two presidents has riven OUCA, and no solution to the schism has yet materialised. The Senior Member has reappointed van Ryneveld, but some members refuse to accept an executive found guilty by the Disciplinary Committee of “behaviour which is abusive”. Indeed, OUCA’s website currently lists Walker as “President (Acting)”. Furthermore, holding future events at Christ Church, as the Association intends to, will present an obstacle to van Ryneveld’s attendance.
Peter Walker, Caleb van Ryneveld, and Marie Kawthar Daouda have not so far responded to requests for comment.