Gav Reilly argues that the Students’ Union sabbatical officers’ work behind the scenes counts for more than people realise.
UCD Students’ Union (SU) isn’t a perfect institution. Nobody will, or should, try to convince you otherwise. It’s a flawed entity; it naturally breeds a certain degree of careerism, attracting people who want to pursue a full-time life in politics, and can be a playground for hacks looking for sparring partners with whom to argue inane, irrelevant ideologies. It is often irrelevant, inactive on things that matter, and far too distant from the everyday life of an average student.
Yes, all of this is true – but for all its faults, the SU is still a relevant, and very much necessary, part of life in Belfield and beyond.
The SU fulfils some extremely vital functions in the university that simply cannot be argued with. Given the size and bureaucracy of a university like UCD, it’s an unfortunate inevitability that the range of assistances open to students at different times of the year might go unknown.
It’s a rare student who has never sought financial assistance or an Extenuating Circumstances form, or who doesn’t have a friend who has. In the cold light of day, without the SU, a student might not have been aware of their chance to gain a more equitable treatment.
Further to the everyday assistance that the SU offers to students on educational and welfare matters is the constant representation that the SU provides at university level. Even if a student may have been informed of certain potential allowances by a Student Advisor, it remains undeniable that such concessions wouldn’t even exist in the first place, if it wasn’t for the input of the SU on countless university committees, all too lengthily-titled to name. Ever heard of university Undergraduate Programme Board? Possibly not – but the SU sabbatical officers and workers have, and have three representatives on it.
UCDSU’s involvement in decision-making in university stretches from everyday working groups such as the Library Users’ Committee to the supreme authority of the university, the Governing Authority, featuring three of the five sabbatical officers.
“That the SU are constantly frustrated in attempts to provide more services in such fringe buildings is both heartbreaking and heart-warming”
Away from the representative roles that wouldn’t exist without UCDSU’s longstanding input, there are other vital parts to its role. The SU is the biggest commercial vendor on campus, running The Trap, the bars and the shops, employing dozens of students along the way – services that simply would not exist otherwise.
To argue, for instance, that UCD would have opened a shop in the library building in the absence of the SU’s operations is totally false. If this were the case, then surely the university would have opened one in the Newstead Building. That the SU are constantly frustrated in attempts to provide more services in such fringe buildings is both heartbreaking and heart-warming with regard to the services that we all take for granted, but which otherwise would never be.
There are those who argue that student activism is long past its heyday of bringing thousands to the streets, engineering real and tangible social change at local and national levels. While this is certainly true to a point, the reality is that we simply no longer need to. The commendable rallies of yore largely achieved their goals; the abolition of third-level tuition fees, and of full student representation at every level of decision-making.
Today there is no need to take immediately to the streets at every major conflict. UCDSU today can, and does, work silently in university boardrooms to ensure that students’ needs are still adequately catered to; and when bigger threats like the return of tuition fees rear their heads, UCDSU is by far most prominent driving force in the nationally organised protests at keeping the wolves from the door. It’s an unfortunate reality that the SU is thus perceived inactive or out of touch. There simply isn’t any glamour to getting things done by slaving away in boardrooms.
It’s all in the name – it’s not a Student Union, it’s a Students’ Union. There’s a difference. It’s a union that isn’t merely comprised of students for their own aims, but for students, formed by themselves, to serve the aims and goals of the student population and to try and ensure a better quality of education and a more fruitful college experience. It’s about one simple point: if a UCD SU did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it.