The race for the Graduate Officer is one that never receives as much attention as the other sabbatical races, mostly due to the limited voting pool of final year undergraduate students and current masters students. For the past two years, Niall Torris has held the position, running unopposed in both of his elections. It was this year that Torris brought the Graduate Officer role on par with that of the more glamorous President, Campaigns and Communications, and Welfare; with the Seanad registration campaign being the shining jewel of his tenure. His success with the role is one of the reasons that the race is contested, this election season. But what are we to make of the candidates looking to succeed him?
At a brief glance at both their manifestos, each candidate approaches the role in a different aspect, highlighting different concerns they feel need to be addressed. On one hand, Conor Anderson’s manifesto focuses more on the advocacy of student rights, whereas Uthra Lakshmi lends the majority of her manifesto to promoting events for graduate students on the Smurfit campus.
With very little previous SU experience, both candidates are coming into the role with half the information required. Anderson was unable to answer questions on what boards the Graduate Officer sits on and how many days of the week the Graduate Officer is constitutionally obliged to hold office hours on the Smurfit campus. Lakshmi did not not know the different groups that make up student council or the fact that there are currently 5 sabbatical officers within the Union. While both candidates are passionate about the role, and undoubtedly have good intentions to strengthen the ties between the Smurfit campus and the Belfield campus, this lack of knowledge in relation to both the university and union’s structure will only be of detriment to them implementing any successful and long-lasting change.
Another area of concern is the supposed casual nature both candidates had to the referenda being voted on by the student body. Anderson, while not holding a stance on whether UCD should rejoin USI, his passive remark on believing that UCD “probably will” join shows a carefree and frankly uninterested attitude that will not serve him well should another referendum be called. Lakshmi, on the other hand, making a split decision to support rejoin, despite only being given a brief explanation of what USI is, shows an eye-opening trait to make decisions without considering the other possibilities or ramifications. This was only strengthened when Lakshmi said that she would be in favour of the extension the Student Centre levy, despite having to be explained what the Student Centre levy is and that the intention of extending the levy is to fund the development of the Student Centre facilities.
Both candidates have some understanding of the part student casework plays in the role of the Graduate Officer, with Lakshmi prioritising casework as the primary function of the officer. Lakshmi explained her understanding of “anything to do with students and their academic council, any sort of issues with their professors, module coordinators and any other personal conflicts as well” as falling under the remit of the Graduate Officer. Anderson also acknowledges the casework aspect of the role, but emphasised increasing networking events on the Smurfit campus, stating that he intends to rely on “tricks and tips” to keep on top of his workload for the year. To their credit, both candidates shared the ideas of increasing networking events on the Smurfit campus, with Lakshmi having a clear plan of where the events could take place, showing that they have done their research in obtaining graduate specific events that will gather interest among their peers. It will be interesting to see if the cultural and fitness events that Lakshmi has planned, should she be elected, gather much interest, as the lack of fitness facilities on the Smurfit campus is an issue that has been brought to council before.
As both candidates have a background as international students in UCD, it was surprising to see that only one candidate specifically addressed the issues faced by international students. While Anderson only mentioned the networking events to aid international students in acclimatising and developing their contacts, Lakshmi mentioned visa requirements and the issues with booking appointments with the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS). Despite not having any clear and definite plans on how to advocate for faster appointment times for international students, the fact that she mentioned it shows she is aware of the issues faced by most international students, be they undergraduates or postgraduates. Surprisingly, Lakshmi was of the opinion that the disparity between the fees for EU and Non-EU students was “fair play” although, later she said that the Union should fight to reduce student fees “a little at a time.”