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I am writing this letter in response to the recent opinion piece by Michael Tuohy (“UCDSU has been an ineffective mess so far,” published online 5 October 2020). I want to largely agree with Mr. Tuohy’s broader point, but to offer an additional perspective.
To put it bluntly, the Sabbatical Officers, being six individual students, can only ever accomplish so much. A good sabbat can be very effective as an advocate for individual students. A good sabbat can even, with a great deal of time and energy and some luck, shepherd a project through the morass of UCD’s bureaucratic structure and create some kind of small, lasting change (Niall Torris’s two-year effort to get a postgraduate student adviser hired being a good example).
But the kind of change that Mr. Tuohy asks for in his column can only ever be accomplished by concerted, mass organizing on the part of the student body itself (a fact he himself recognizes). And that is a difficult thing to achieve; look at last year’s rent protests. I certainly view them as a success, but Andrew Deeks looked at our turn-out and dismissed us out of hand. What is 150 students gathering on the quad compared to a student body numbering in the tens of thousands?
I agree that this is the time in which students can take back some control of the University. It will require numbers and commitment on a scale UCD has not seen in years. Everything that I have been doing as SU President over the past months has been with an eye on facilitating that change. I hope that the publication of our communications with management about the speculative figures of in-person class time establishes some credibility. Even though the campaign run by Students for Fees Compensation never took off, I hope that students will remember it when the next bad decision by UMT is handed down. My consistent message to every student who has approached me with these and other concerns has been “talk to your classmates, bring them together, and get organized.”
Now, I will say that I disagree that the SU has been an “ineffective mess” so far. The students who have approached me since taking office, who are interested in organizing with their classmates around issues of fee hikes and unfair treatment, I think would also disagree. Yes, the SU has a chronic problem of connecting with the student body at-large, but I believe that this year’s team is well-positioned to start addressing that problem. And, of course, it is difficult to organize a protest when students are out of class, as they are during the summer!
Some might say that it is the SU’s job to organize students, and that is true in a sense. Our job is to provide a platform for students, to provide advice and support in formulating their demands, and to bring our resources to bear in promoting those student’s efforts. But none of that can be done without students first coming to us.
I have been working with students across multiple schools and colleges since the beginning of summer, and though I can’t tell you about the details just yet, I believe we are in a strong position to start making demands of UCD for better treatment, lower fees, and more accountability.
My great hope is that one win will beget the next win. When students see what can be achieved when they pull together and draw on their inherent power as the single-largest constituent group in UCD, they will go on to demand more and better.
I look forward to seeing you, and many others, on the front lines of this struggle.
Conor Anderson, UCDSU President