BEFORE the break, UCDSU saw the election of its new sabbatical team and the results of two referenda. While there were a number of surprising and controversial results, this union team now needs to focus on how they want their year to develop. While not everybody may be 100% satisfied with the new officers, they have been fairly elected and must be given the chance to fulfil the role.
As the union emerges from debt, it has to seriously consider its future aims and implement a long-term strategic plan. Many of the newly elected officers, including Katie Ascough and Rob Sweeney, ran on broad, populist manifestos. However, in the wider scheme of things, you hope that the people who run for these positions ultimately have the best intentions of the students at heart. Regardless of what their actual campaign promises are, you believe that ultimately the union’s sabbatical officers want to focus on making life better for students, in whatever way they can.
For the last number of years this seems to have largely resulted in information campaigns and a ‘softly-softly’ approach with the university. This has seen some well-run campaigns on consent and repeal over the last number of years. However there has been a large focus on these campaigns and not much pressure on the University. As a result, the approach the union has taken to the University has seen a somewhat unequal relationship develop.
A clear priority of the union in the last five years or so has been to maintain a good rapport with UCD. As one sabbatical officer put it recently, if the union does not have a good relationship with the University, then they’re not invited to the working groups of management committees. As a result the union loses out on the opportunity to effect any change within these decision-making bodies.
The union is not, however, affecting changes to these bodies, or if they are it is only very rarely. The union is not a member of the University Management Team, the highest decision-making body in the university. This group often makes decisions, which are then just rubber-stamped by sub-committees, the ones that usually have union members on them. However, even here the union is out of the loop, as it does not have a vote on all of these influential committees.
If the UCDSU expects to affect change on behalf of students and to make student life better within UCD, then how does it do this when it is cut off from the main decision-making bodies?
Granted, the union can maintain a relationship with the University and be involved in certain boards and working groups. But often there is very little achieved from this position.
If there is something pressing that’s under review, the union should question it in detail. When there is proposed increases to fines, to campus rent, to resit fees, the union should be fighting these in whatever way possible. To simply say, “oh the decision was made by the University but at least we were there when they did it” is not good enough.
Not only does it undermine the very purpose of the union, it also hurts students.
This new team need to look at their election as coming at a particularly poignant time. There is uncertainty over many things in student life: funding for higher education, accommodation, job prospects and many others.
As UCD remains outside of USI, the union needs to focus on how to improve things for students at a basic level here on campus. They need to pick a strategy and a direction for the union and stick to it. Otherwise the union is just a waste of time.