Why A Self-Absorbed SU Keeps Failing UCD Students, Societies and Itself

With RAG week failing to amaze, outgoing auditor of UCD Medical Society Shane Kelly gives his two cents on UCD Students’ Union. 

Never has there been more reason to hop aboard the anti-UCDSU bandwagon than in the wake of that sorry excuse for a RAG week. You’d be easily forgiven for not noticing. After all, the SU seem to have decided that it’s not even worth the hassle to tell us what the total raised was. Or rather, they’re too embarrassed to admit that they would have been better off taking the money they wasted renting out Funderland and the dregs of S-Club 7, and just donating that to Pieta House in the first place.

But what do we expect? Sure isn’t wasting vast sums of money just a rite of passage for any self-respecting UCDSU executive. Up there alongside making empty election promises and a good old impeachment controversy. The collective apathy of the overwhelming majority of students towards the Union is at the very least understandable if not thoroughly justified.

Compared to the service provided by societies for the student body, the SU shows a pretty measly return on our investment

For most, the SU make little to no visible contribution to their college experience each year. SU diehards are quick to point to important behind the scenes work that ‘unappreciative’ students just don’t notice day-to-day. Perhaps instead of the increasingly desperate attempts at going big to win hearts and minds across campus, the SU just needs to learn to derive satisfaction from doing this essential but not as high-profile or glamorous work. It’s student politics. It’s supposed to be dull.

The part of the SU’s vanity that actually upsets me is the opportunity cost that comes with it. At over €600,000, the UCDSU receives over double the total amount allocated to societies through The Student Activities Committee. The group which is tasked with dividing the funding ring-fenced for student-centred activities between Societies, Clubs, and the Union.

In reality, that funding originates as a small slice of our fee payments. Compared to the service provideded by societies for the student body, the SU shows a pretty measly return on our investment. Think about how many balls societies manage to run from their skinnier portion of the spoils, how many shows, how many trips, how many debates and guest speakers, screenings and conferences, juggling competitions and jazz recitals. Compared to the Union, societies provide so much to so many, on both superficial and deeper levels. All the way from pure entertainment to personal development and lifelong friendship.

How can the Union justify having room in its budget to produce a monstrous 120 square foot banner to display the darling faces of its four remaining officers, and drape it across the concourse outside James Joyce?

Our sorry RAG Week exemplifies the inefficacy of the union compared to societies operating on a fraction of the budget. AgSoc, MedSoc, and others annually raise many tens of thousands of euro for charity. Imagine the amount SVP or UCDVO could raise if they were in a position to run a carnival and bring in some washed-up 90s popstars.

Societies do it all without the luxuries of the eight full-time employees the SU needs for its efforts. When recruiting new committee members, societies don’t need the €8,000 euro the SU sees fit to spend recruiting class reps, nor the thousands more that the Union deems necessary to train them. How would they ever manage to order class hoodies and book a hostel in Prague without the free weekend away that they all get in the first semester?

“Oh but societies are more commercially viable in other ways, the SU can’t raise money like that” comes the bleating from the Union chambers. Well yeah, obviously, because (and here’s the big secret for any SU election hopefuls) the services provided by societies are actually popular with students. They actually meet a demand and fulfil a need. In fact, they are so popular that students are often even willing to put aside significant proportions of their budget for tickets to balls, trips, shows, or whatever this week’s activity entails. This concept may be difficult to grasp for anyone heavily involved with the SU.

While many are in a position to pay to get involved, these prices can often be prohibitive for many others, preventing them from getting the opportunity to engage with other students outside of the classroom. Societies are not for-profit organisations, so if societies were to receive a bigger slice of the student activities pie, they could conceivably be in a position to lower their prices or alternatively expand on the range of activities offered, catering to even broader tastes again.

Our soggy RAG Week exemplifies the inefficacy of the union compared to societies operating on a fraction of the budget

When this is the case, how can the Union justify having room in its budget to produce a monstrous 120 square foot banner to display the darling faces of its four remaining officers, and drape it across the concourse outside James Joyce. Actually my apologies, two such banners. It was imperative to the student body that we got a fresh one to “Welcome Us Back to Semester 2.”

If DramSoc or MusicalSoc wanted to do something similar to promote their biggest shows of the year, something students might actually be interested in seeing displayed, their grant proposals would be met with either derision or disbelief from the societies’ finance committee.

As we enter into what is sure to be another apathetic election season, I have one message for the candidates, many of whom I know well, respect, and call friends. Those involved need to ask themselves does the SU really need the big image, the big branding, and big events in order to provide the best service to its members. They need to be able to admit that the SU is not the answer to all of campus’ problems, and if they are going to continue to steer funding away from alternative groups, they better be able to justify it.