This year’s Campaigns and Communications race has three candidates: Ryan Oakes, Luke Fitzpatrick, and Sam Blanckensee. In their interviews with the University Observer, they talk about their manifestos and their goals for the year.
Running in the only contested race is second year Law and Social Justice student, Ryan Oakes. Currently B&L College Officer, Oakes believes that the role of C&C is still a relatively new role which can be built upon. A key element of the position, according to Oakes is making sure “what the Union is doing is available to the students and that they’re informed on…what’s going on and what the Union’s doing for them.”
While Oakes seems reluctant to criticise this year’s C&C officer, he does offer some reproaches of the campaigns that have been run and the standard of communications between the Union and students. Claiming that “it’s very much up to the current Officer to kind of define the role… you shouldn’t review someone’s performance until they’re actually completed,” Oakes does however question the state of the SU website. Noting that it is in “dire” need of an update, he also draws attention to a recent mandate passed by SU Council which allows the C&C officer to post social media updates during SU council.
The communication of the developments at council is key point in Oakes’ manifesto. He proposes that “informal” vlogs be posted every fortnight to coincide with council, which Oakes’ argues will engage students with the Union more effectively. “A vlog is more reflective of how we receive information in our current day and age,” he claims, explaining that this should be easily accessible to students. He did note however that he had never made a vlog before.
Another issue that is likely to be prominent in the next year is third-level fees, which Oakes does not specifically outline in his manifesto. He does claim that he wants to increase UCD’s voice nationally, stating that he does not want to take an official position on fees until the SU receives a mandate from students. Oakes is in favour of rejoining USI, though notes that “I’m not going to let it reflect upon my work.”
Oakes states that he would be in favour of a preferendum on fees in the first semester. When questioned about the recent SU position which “fully supports free fees and publicly funded third level education,” Oakes criticised the statement. “That stance hasn’t been mandated or put through Council,” he says.
The idea of consultation with students appears often in Oakes’ manifesto, with proposals for information drives which would consist of distributing pamphlets and holding panel discussions. Oakes claims that this would give people an opportunity to “come down and kind of genuinely educate themselves.” Issues that Oakes suggests to be discussed include fees and the possibility of reviewing the student code which he notes “places more importance on how you submit assignments then how you actually behave towards one another.”
Oakes claims that this approach will allow students to “engage in educated discussions on the issue” without having “the Union telling people where they should stand.” While the idea is admirable, it isn’t clear who will set the agenda of these discussions.
The class rep system also seems to be important to his consultation plans, yet Oakes does not mention them in his manifesto. Stating that “in the mechanism that is the Union they’re the most important cog.” Oakes outlines that class reps are key for the Union communicating with students. However he also acknowledges that engaging students can still be difficult.
With a number of constituencies not electing class reps this year, Oakes hopes to tackle the lack of representation by “ideally not having empty seats in the first place… getting people interested… and showing past work of the Union.” On keeping class reps engaged after their election, he suggests a more “lively” approach to Council by encouraging students to speak through public speaking training.
While Oakes’ manifesto tends to focus on the usual candidate trope of making promises on what to change rather than improve what is already there, the relatively new role of C&C calls for greater definition. The policies that Oakes proposes seem feasible and well thought out, though it remains to be seen if the regular nature of his proposals can be maintained.
Luke Fitzpatrick, a second year student of Information and Social Computing and Geography is one of the contenders for C&C, the only contested election this year. In his interview with the University Observer’s panel, he discusses his manifesto and plans for next year if he is elected to the position.
On paper, Fitzpatrick’s manifesto is suggesting new ideas to aid in a safer, healthier and more student engaged campus. His main objective appears to be creating an environment in which students feel more in touch with their Students’ Union, and to feel more at ease in making friends when coming into first year, something he says is particularly difficult for students in courses such as Arts or Science.
“I’m in Arts and I feel like people drop out because they don’t make friends quick enough. You’re put in a Peer Mentor group, and there’s 12 people you don’t know, you don’t see them after two days. I’m a Peer Mentor myself. I [tried] to hold on to mine for as long as I could, but there’s only so much you can do.” In order to tackle this issue, Fitzpatrick says he hopes to introduce a social media incentive called UCDCrew. UCDCrew is a group in which students can post plans and events that are happening, outside of the Student Union and societies in UCD. This is an idea which Fitzpatrick says is based on the GirlCrew Facebook page, and would encourage students to meet with each other in an environment separate from the events run by societies and the Union.
What he also hopes to improve is the sense of safety for students in UCD. Fitzpatrick intends to introduce a night link service that caters solely for UCD students, see the introduction of an app for safe drug use, and the introduction of an app for students to track their journey home after a night out, though he falls down on his ability to back these plans up with thorough research. Fitzpatrick also hopes to see Campus Service’s number printed on the pillars along the concourse. “Just one simple idea [I] was just suggesting to myself or talking to people, was that through the concourse, having campus services’ numbers available. There are security guards in UCD, they do roam the area, they do walk through, but they’re not going to be there at all times when you need them.”
What appears to be missing from his manifesto is the issue of accommodation, something which is a pressing problem for many students, not only in UCD, but in Dublin generally.
In regards to fees, Fitzpatrick vows to take a “realistic approach” to the matter. He says that he will work with whatever option is decided from the Cassells’ report, even if it means the fees will not be reduced. “Realistically, there’s only so much you can do for fees. And I think that when UCD do decide, or when the government do decide what they want to do, I feel like you have to take it realistically and not be like “I can promise you no fees,” because that’s unrealistic. There is money, money has to go around.”
On the issue of the Students’ Union joining up with USI again, Fitzpatrick fails to give a definite stance on his opinions of the matter, but confirms that “if the students want to join the USI, I would like to be elected as the campaign manager and will campaign for them.”
Sam Blanckensee is one of three candidates running for Campaigns and Communications Officer this year. A fourth year veterinary nursing student, Blanckensee sees the role as involving being able to improve the conversation between the SU and the student body. “I say conversation rather than speaking to, because I think conversation is very much a two way street and very much something where you’re listening to people and not just talking at them.”
Blanckensee recognises the difficulties that the C&C role has faced this year in its first year back following its abolition three years ago. “I think that because it’s the first year that it’s been back, it’s been quite a difficult role to reforge. Especially because Cian [Byrne] wouldn’t have been around when it was here before. I would have liked to have seen better two way communication because a lot of the time the campaigns weren’t very visible and there was issues getting out mandate books and making sure minutes were up online. And I think those are very basic things that needed to be changed.”
Blanckensee is no stranger to running campaigns, both in UCD and further afield. As the UCDSU LGBT coordinator from 2013 – 2015 and the founder of the Harry Potter society, he has been a visible participant in university life for several years. His major plans for the year involve campaigns on life hacks, anti-racism and a continuation of this year’s consent campaign. On his Anti-Racism campaign, he says “I would like to see that very much led by people of colour, by people of marginalised ethnicities. So I will be consulting with different groups outside campus; the migrant rights centre, Pavee Point which is one of the Travelling Community groups as well as students within UCD, so African Society, Islamic society, trying to consult with them and see what they want to happen.” When asked if he knew how many UCD students are members of the Travelling community he said, “I don’t but I know it’s very very few.” He added, “I think it’s [racism] something I’ve never seen talked about in UCD properly so it’s a conversation I want to start and I think it’s important to do so.”
He also mentions allowing extra time for class rep training and that smaller group sessions are the way to improve the impact it has. He hopes to implement training in certified skills for class reps, such as social media and public speaking. Although Blanckensee admits that “as a final year I haven’t managed to look into [international funding] entirely”, he mentions that corporate sponsors and European funding streams such as Erasmus plus might be interested in funding this training. Like many C&C officers before him, he also hopes to improve the engagement with class reps, calling it the “eternal question”. “I think the ways to get class reps engaged is to make them part of something they want to be involved with, that they care about, to give them a Union they believe in and I’d hope the rest of my manifesto will give them that passion for the Union because they feel like it’s something they can take ownership of.”
Blanckensee has strong feelings about student fees, saying “I would be campaigning for free fees, in the way that the students asked for in the Preferendum in 2012 or 2013”, and reaffiliating to USI: “I would be pro the SU rejoining USI. My first campaign in UCD was the USI back in 2013, my first year anyway, and I haven’t changed my position since.” Although he is a member of the Labour party, he adds that “If I am elected, and when I am elected, I do not believe that an SU officer should be openly affiliated to any party. So I will not be active within Labour next year and I will have no problem with campaigning against a Labour policy or campaigning against a Labour TD if I feel that is the best for the Union.”
Analysis: Talking their way to the top
A key characteristic of all the candidates for C&C has been the recognition of the need to improve on certain elements of communication in the year ahead. All of the candidates note the necessity to improve interaction with students and general student awareness of the Union, with Blanckensee proposing an online student hub, Fitzpatrick putting forward the idea of UCDCrew while Oakes is more in favour of panel discussion and face to face communication. All of the candidates also have significant experience in working with the SU already, which will benefit the winner of the race.
None of the candidates give any indications that they will greatly revolutionise the role of campaigns and communications officer, but all of them have said that they hope to move the focus from fundraising this year to campaigning definitively on student issues. Two of the candidates have outlined a preference to rejoin USI, while Fitzpatrick doesn’t give a definite stance on the matter.
Based on the manifestos, Blanckensee appears to have the upper hand, with a number of ideas for campaigns and for improving the state of communications within the Union. However, it is clear that the implementation of these ideas has not yet been fully thought through. Meanwhile, Oakes performs best at backing up the campaigns he has planned on students’ rights and updating the university’s student code with adequate research, and his regular contributions to Union Council meetings will not go unnoticed by voters. The likelihood however is that the fight at the polls will be between Oakes and Fitzpatrick, who has a strong presence and support base in spite of his less thorough plans for campaigns.