SU Election 2020: Carla Gummerson - Graduate Officer

Image Credit: Carla Gummerson

Outgoing Mature Students Society Auditor, 32 year old Carla Gummerson is currently studying a Masters in Public Policy, and is a candidate in the upcoming Graduate Officer By-Election.

A more seasoned activist than others candidates running in this race, Gummerson has been active in the Sabbatical officer races of Úna Carrol, Melissa Plunkett, and Brian Treacy. She also was involved in the campaigns for Marriage Equality and Repealing the 8th amendment, and against water charges. Her experience with Fix Our Education is limited, but had been involved in exploring issues for student parents with Fix Our Education organisers early in the year. In relation to the protests and actions UCDSU and Fix Our Education executed early last trimester, Gummerson declared “I love it” . While not a member of any political party, she cites both People Before Profit and the Social Democrats as having similar political beliefs to her.

Having also completed her undergraduate education in UCD, Gummerson is no stranger to the political and organisational landscape of UCD. She has been part of committees on student engagement within the College of Social Sciences and Law, auditor of the Mature Students’ Society, and a Peer Mentor. That said, Gummerson was not aware of some of the basic responsibilities relevant to the role she is running for. While she knows the Graduate Officer sits on “Many” committees “From the top down” in University Management, she failed to name a single one. She also had not heard of the Finance, Remuneration and Asset Management Committee (FRAMC), which oversees the financial affairs of UCD.

Gummerson views casework as the most important aspect of the role, citing “..The broad needs of graduate students, it ranges from mature students, students with kids, right the way through to people with disabilities who are finding difficulty finding UCD accessible...The Case load for me will be significant”. Continuity of the work Anderson started is also important to Gummerson, saying “That’s why people feel ‘Oh the union do nothing’ and that’s because they don’t get the time, 9 months is a very short period of time in the grand scheme of things”.

She particularly wants to continue and expand Anderson’s PhD conference fund, where PhD students attending conferences may receive €100 cash up front and non-means tested to help cover expenses. She says she will put less money from her budget into events, “especially as we won’t be doing the same level of events”, to cover the expansion. Gummerson is also a passionate defender of the fund not being means-tested, saying “If you’re going up as a PhD asking for €100, you need it. You’re not just asking for the sake of asking... €100 is not really a lot of money at the end of the day... I think means-testing puts barriers on it, puts limitations on it, you’re ensuring a lot of people don’t get it”. Anderson gave the fund to 20 students this year, and Gummerson is proposing to expand it to 35 students, costing a total of €3,500.

Her experience as a campaigner is very relevant to her platform, as she promises to fight for causes such as the Anti-Casualisation Campaign and Students For Fees Compensation. Although she has not yet approached Anti-Casualisation organisers, she says this is  to “not overstep the mark...I know Conor [Anderson] has only had a certain amount of involvement because he doesn't want to overtake what they are doing” and  “I haven’t been so much a part of that but I’ve obviously been following [it] as everyone else has”. She believes “The way they are treated is unreal, especially now”. She says if elected her first private message will be to that campaign. 

On Students For Fees Compensation, Gummerson stated “Great strides have been made...The only reason I wouldn’t speak on that is I get SUSI, so for me that’s not my money...But for those who are above the threshold or are international, they are going to have to sort something”. As UCD have flatley refused even partial refunds to the ‘Students For Fees Compensation’, Gummerson’s claim about “great strides” is debatable.

When asked about the apparent contradiction between refunding degrees and better paying student workers, Gummerson responded “[Graduate students who work as tutors and lab demonstrators] should be paid regardless of who is going to the university and who isn’t”,while accepting that the university is “learning” to cope with coronavirus and that they are “as new to all this as anyone”. She did add “They are a business at the end of the day, they are making a profit, and have done for a very long time...Once you commercialise it like that there is no way that that college is not making millions”. Despite UCD’s significant commercialisation, this understanding is still at odds with the systemic underfunding in Higher Education in Ireland found by the Cassells Report of 2016. 

Gummerson proposes using media to promote funding for postgraduate funding.“In the Career Development Centre they actually do it, but when you go onto it some of their links are actually broken”, saying that she will be teaming up with the Career Development Centre. However she believes that all internal and external funding should be advertised and updated monthly, on the same platform: “hopefully a page on the Students’ Union website”. While she hasn’t yet approached the Career Development Centre in relation to running joint workshops or this page as graduate officer, she cites the fact that as Auditor of the Mature students society she has already worked with them on similar events, having run two workshops on CV building with the society and Career Development center. 

On the historically difficult issue of engagement among graduate students, Gummerson believes that the belfield campus has been “Kind of left at the wayside” by Anderson’s otherwise praise worthy efforts in the Smurfit Business campus. She understands the issue, saying “I do feel that disconnect, I have to say that about coming into the masters and it’s not the same experience and that’s coming from someone who’s made a bit of a home for themselves in UCD for the past three years”.She proposes solving this using social media and student societies. She believes events will have high attendance “If you utilize a society that has a significant amount of postgrads in it’s membership”. She proposes these events be “Workshops and charitable events”. Disputes over organising have occurred between societies and the union before, but Gummerson argues “I personally know one or two [auditors]...Because I have made personal relationships with people...And when you get to know people like that you take out the authority figures of Societies and unions and it’s just you and them collabing to do something good”.

Ultimately Gummerson’s candidacy is based on continuing the more radical moves of the union last year, and she has a decent record as an activist, but her incomplete understanding of the finances and governing of UCD may derail much of what she hopes to achieve.