Clodagh Power argues students have legitimate concerns about the extent of the work put in by their SU representatives.
In the upcoming sabbatical elections, the mention of the UCD Students’ Union (SU) will bring different expressions to different faces. Not content with apathy, most students seem to either love or hate the whole idea and perhaps with good reason. Yet it is somewhat questionable whether such people understand the cause for their bias.
In theory the SU is a good idea. It performs valuable and arguably vital functions by representing and facilitating services for the 20,000 odd students of UCD. However, in the exercise of its functions the SU sabbatical officers are paid an exorbitant and steady income annually from those students. It therefore follows that we have each earned the right to question the effectiveness and necessity of its performance.
The SU is a representative body. Yet exceptionally few people understand how the SU works or what it does. In the spring of each year, five students are elected to serve as sabbatical officers. Getting students to bother voting is a task in itself. Some sympathy must be had for the campaigners in achieving this accomplishment alone. Student turnout is dismal and very few people read the manifestos or base their vote on the pledges contained therein.
Therefore officers are not elected by the entire student body. Yet from these elections the officers go on to manage a very large budget with relatively little training. The five sabbatical officers are paid handsomely to do their job. And thus we arrive at the controversial enigma that is the finances of the SU.
“The huge potential of the SU is then left open to be squandered on unnecessary and expensive initiatives which most students are unaware of”
Simply put we do not know how the Union spends the money it receives almost directly from our pockets. It places little burden on itself to complete a financial audit or publicly disclose the checks and balances of its accounts, only releasing basic accounts to class representatives who rarely, if ever, pass these details onto their class mates.
The lack of transparency is an utter disgrace, particularly when put in contrast with student societies, which are mandated to produce a detailed account of all expenditure at their AGM. The huge potential of the SU is then left open to be squandered on unnecessary and expensive initiatives, which most students are unaware of. Worse, the annual class representative weekend away invariably ends with reports of its high costs and damage to property. The consequence of this expedition is that the elected representatives begin their year by giving UCD a widely publicised bad name.
Maybe students would be happy to accept the scandal, if the SU stood up for us and acted on our needs. Unfortunately it does not. Instead of addressing problems faced by students everyday of the week, huge time and effort is put into formulating irrelevant and aimless responses to global situations, from climate change to the Gaza situation. With the focus appearing to remain on issues outside of SU influence, it’s not surprising that students rarely think of approaching their class representative with issues to resolve.
Therefore, we must ask if it does not represent the best interests of students, how can the SU adequately provide the services we require? Within the union there are conflicting interests. We are left in the dark about the allocation of its incredible pile of resources yet when over €100,000 per year is spent on posters, there are evident discrepancies.
UCD is the size of a town. It is comprised of a group of people extraordinarily susceptible to serious welfare issues, from mental illness to sexual health problems. Particularly troubling here is the dubious qualification of a welfare officer who is supposed to be equipped to head up the response to these issues. Might such a representative be better replaced by a permanent professional?
Certainly the student body should have a representative addressing their problems but the main role of the SU is to pour its considerable resources into allocating professionals to tackle these problems.
It is easy to be cynical but the SU is simply politics. Election results, posted on politics.ie, have been famous for securing the future candidacy of aspiring politicians. The SU bears the hallmarks of a well oiled political machine, purporting to be the vanguard of egalitarianism and alluding to social democracy in its tagline ‘it’s your union, we work for you.’
And wouldn’t it be excellent if it did. Cynical but unpleasantly true.