As Students’ Union President Pat de Brún announces financial reform for the SU, Kate Rothwell reflects on the task he has undertaken
To say that 2011 has so far been a year of financial unrest is an obvious statement, but it is still disheartening to see the new semester open with news of a worrying fiscal situation. UCD Students’ Union President Pat de Brún this week told the University Observer that he has initiated an examination of the SU’s current financial situation, and has so far discovered that there is an unknown but “not insignificant” amount of debt to be addressed.
De Brún’s comment that “the structures and the way we’ve done business in the past haven’t been strong enough” gives little indication as to where (or with who) the exact root of the problem may lie, but whatever the nature of the beast may be it is grave enough to lead the new President to propose a complete overhaul of the Students’ Union financial system. His ambition is to be admired, but it is the eventual success or failure of this endeavour that will be a key factor in defining his tenure.
However in order for de Brún to come good on his promised reform, some of his colleagues may have to cut their prized manifesto highlights. The SU President has stated that “frontline services” in education and welfare will be prioritised, but even they cannot be granted cutback-immunity. Mammoth-scale events in the 02, smartphone apps and the printing of class rep handbooks are, one would imagine, projects which will be have to be cut before they have even been begun. Reports of increased revenue earned from sponsorship and advertising is encouraging, but they can only stretch so far. No hard and fast guarantees have been made about what we can or cannot expect to be cut; the exact financial implications of the ongoing investigation are still a mystery to those who will be affected by its outcomes.
Being forced to withdraw vote-winning but overly ambitious promises made in the heady days of the election race is reasonably understandable in such financially frugal times, but it will take more than a cancelled concert or two to keep this year’s student body content. The newly-registered students of 2011 are still stinging from a registration fee of over €2,000, and are wary of the fact that full college fees may well be on the agenda as soon as next year. Those who were in UCD last year have already had their faith in university authorities shaken by the revelations of €1.6 million of ‘unlawful’ allowances being paid to UCD staff, as well as five UCD staff members being listed among the ten highest paid educators in the country. The students of UCD have been let down by those in the upper echelons of the University; their representatives in Students’ Union must prove to them that they are worthy of their trust.
De Brún has pledged that the examination of SU accounts and restructuring of the financial system will be a transparent operation, and he is no doubt aware that this is a promise that he cannot afford to break.
One of the first expenses that students will expect figures on will be Class Rep Training, an event that is now infamous for its often ludicrously costly price tag. For students who have little or no contact with their own Class Rep this seems like a futile expense, and even those who do appreciate having an appointed representative will admit that it is extravagant. If de Brún can ensure a substantial decrease in the cost of this year’s training, he will have made at least one step in the right direction.
He who promises great things must be prepared to overcome equally great challenges, and also make unpopular decisions. Promises are only words until coupled with actions – this is not the first time that we have been assured of the publication of SU accounts, and the student population is used to being let down by those in charge. Pat de Brún has not chosen an easy cause with which to start his presidency. Should he make sufficient progress in reorganising the financial setup of the SU, he could make great strides towards stabilising a brighter future for the entire Union. Should he discover that the task is too great, he could also find that what may be well-intentioned efforts will bring him more trouble than acclaim.