Education Officer Review: Master Class

 
 

Paul Lynam is confident of his performance as Students’ Union (SU) Education Officer: “We have kicked ass and taken names”. The vocal Social Science student argues that when asking for students’ vote last year he offered them more than double the promises that his successor sold himself on a number of weeks ago. And it’s difficult to find holes in Lynam’s performance.

lynamHaving run an unsuccessful campaign bid for Education Officer in 2007, Lynam gained experience with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). While he claims to have “always had [his] eye” on the role of Education Officer, it could have been the skills he learnt from his year with the national union that enabled him to communicate effectively with university authorities.

“Personability goes a long way. You really see that if you scratch someone’s back, you’ll be scratched back”. Lynam’s confident and on occasion, arrogant, personality definitely appears to have yielded results for students. The positive working relationship that he enjoys with the university certainly made fulfilling some of his promises easier.

“I was surprised because I’ve heard for years that no one listens to the SU but from what I saw we were very much listened to. They genuinely want students to be happy in college”. The recreational areas and water fountains that Lynam secured can be seen as an example of this as this initiative was supported by funding of €20,000 from UCD President, Dr Hugh Brady which saw new couches appear in most buildings across campus.

While able to answer for almost all his election promises, the Education Officer is most proud of his handling of the unanticipated threat to library opening hours in September. Describing the prevention of a cut in library services as a “sensational result”, Lynam was successful in ensuring that planned cuts in services were prevented before they could stand to affect students.

Education became more of a priority with the sudden freefall of the economy and Lynam says that he marked out four clear concerns. “I make no secret of my priorities – the library, books, programme offices and keeping modules that have a demand”.

His plan to ensure that all core textbooks are made available in the campus libraries was substantially reduced however Lynam is confident that he has brought positive improvements. Under his proposal, library staff worked with students to sort through book lists and source the most expensive texts for use in the library.

The Education Officer, while his promises have been scaled back, has at least made a push towards almost every item he promised to students, and this is difficult to say of his colleagues. While he cites the reduction in Programme Office opening hours as a particular low point, Lynam is satisfied that the staff are now working in a more efficient manner and doesn’t feel that students have been let down.

And for those students who were new to UCD and who struggled to juggle academic life with extra-curricular activities, Lynam worked to introduce a scheme whereby students are awarding academic credits for their work with societies, clubs and student organisations which is expected to come into effect in September.

However Lynam has not had a golden year. Having previously fought against equal degree weighting for second and third year Arts students, the Education Officer promised to continue his battle against the university’s decision. Yet he is refreshingly honest about this, stating that, “I didn’t fight that at all. There was no drive from students to do it. This year, a lot of students preferred the degree weighting so it isn’t an academic issue now. It was in my manifesto but it was null and void”.

Overall Lynam adapted well to the financial changes that may have restricted his plans however he was surprisingly silent when news broke of a ban on the recruitment of staff in the university. Despite fears of staff members that modules could fold and numbers in lectures and tutorials could grow, Lynam did not appear to push student concerns of the issue.

Arguing that this was “not really [his] brief”, Lynam views the recruitment freeze as more of a national issue. He states that his focus is on a local level and explains that as UCD is faced with the task of sourcing up to €35 million in order to clear its debt, he recognises that the money must come from somewhere.

“We have to find that €35 million and there are options; student services, the library. I’m not going to fight every cutback – we have to cut up the money”.

The Education Officer views his brief as containing four parts; “personal cases, policy development, campaigns and representation [for students on university committees]”. He doesn’t, as others have, hide behind a workload of personal cases and instead, stressing the importance of balancing all four – something he feels he has been able to do.

While he views the October protest against third-level fees as a personal high point, it appears that Lynam has managed to achieve success for a wide range of students, from international students who will now be informed of their total degree charge prior to moving to UCD to those who seek a 24-hour study area.

Small but noticeable changes include a ‘rate my module’ system where students can judge classes on the opinions of those who have gone before them and having all module information available on Blackboard and will enhance the student experience.

As always, Lynam speaks with confidence when discussing his performance for students and it appears that the Social Science student will not be the only one who is satisfied.

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