Conor Anderson, a 31 year old with a M.Sc in World Heritage Management and Conservation from UCD, is the sole candidate running for the office of President of UCDSU. He currently holds the role of Postgraduate Education Officer.
The experience he has gained in his current role is primarily what he believes qualifies him for the role of President. “I have been working closely with the current president Joanna Siewierska as we took our more militant turn this semester...which I thought were quite successful.” One of the benefits of Anderson having worked for a year in the SU is that he is very knowledgeable on what the role entails, successfully naming the boards and committees that he would sit on as President.
“The other thing I would touch on in terms of my experience and work style would be the conference fund, which gave out €2000 in €100 awards to 20 PHD students to help them fund attendancy conferences, and I specifically structured it in a way that it is done as a payment in cash, upfront, and didn’t require reimbursement.”
Anderson believes that the primary role of the President is “to be the spokesperson for the union. There are a number of roles a president, the president is in some ways the boss, but because of the way sabbatical positions work, not really. So the primary role is to be a public face and a spokesperson for the union. And that's the central role, there are other roles in terms of managing the team and leading the team and resolving conflicts and they arise.”
When questioned on the fact that he is running unopposed for the role, he admits that he feels conflicted. “I don’t know what went on there. The role that is always contested now isn’t. I don’t know what it means, I wonder if it’s because I’m an intimidating candidate, which I think I kind of am. Probably because of the rent campaign we didn’t put enough effort into promoting elections.”
When asked about the perennial issue of building engagement between students and the SU, Anderson says that “I think I have a pretty good track record of building engagement in my role. Now keeping in mind that the current role I’m in is a relatively small segment of the student population. Masters and PHD students, I think there are like 8,000, 9,000 total graduate students at UCD, but building from very little engagement on Smurfit campus to the level we have now, and also my work with the conference fund and working with UCD anti-casualisation. So I have a relatively good track record and I would hope to continue it in my role as president.”
In relation to the online voting that is being brought in due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Anderson is somewhat skeptical, stating that there is “no good option. No matter what we do, it will be possible to make the claim that these elections are not democratically legitimate. Because the online voting has never been done before, it's gonna be a dry run, we don't know if people could vote twice, if people could hack it, fake the link, there are any number of IT questions that could come up.”
However, he stresses that elections must take place this semester, and lays a lot of the blame at the feet of UCD; “ We’ve been trying to move towards it but the University has been dragging its feet, we need access to Sisweb or Brightspace and they will not give us access to it, it’s been sitting on someone’s desk for two years. One of the few positives to come out of this situation is that it has forced the university to jumpstart the online voting process.”
Anderson is upfront about how he would work with the University, saying that he would go in “guns blazing - with the understanding that because there is a big turnover of people there will have to be some quieter base building work done before we can go in guns blazing but I harbour very few illusions about the efficacy of using UMT subgroups to affect change. I have had high level members of management [say] that ‘there is no money, there is nothing to be done, we appreciate your enthusiasm, but you’re just a kid you don’t know what’s going on’, and then carte blanche rubber stamp €3.3m for new res. I think there has to be some strategizing on how to do it, and it doesn’t mean I want to have a strictly antagonistic relationship with the University, I want to maintain cordial working relationships, but I am not interested in being fobbed off anymore, and telling me that there is no money when there are cranes going up all around campus is not going to cut it anymore.”
Having been heavily involved with groups such as Fix our Education UCD and UCD Anti-Casualisation, he believes that there is an appetite for change on campus. When asked about the relatively low turnout for the rent protests (in comparison to the total number of students on the Belfield campus), he explains that “physical turnout is the tip of the iceberg. We had 3000 signatures gathered. This was done on very short notice. I think given three months on how to get turnout, how to build a movement and build participation and get people out there, then we could get a lot more people.”
He expresses his disappointment at the lack of any candidate to replace him in the role of Graduate Officer, saying that it is something he is working on. “Two candidates came forward and subsequently backed out. Graduate is a tough role to fill. PhD students can’t take a year out due to their funding, and masters students often have jobs. The returning officer fumbled which led to the first candidate bowing out, I am very frustrated at that, but there is nothing to be done.”
While he has nothing but praise for the current SU President, Joanna Siewierska, Anderson does not harbour any illusions about working with UCD President Andrew Deeks; “I am not interested in campaigning for more government funding of higher education in Ireland with Andrew Deeks. Even if he is sincere in his desire to increase government funding, which I have my doubts about, our goals are so out of alignment that I don't think there would be any point in working with him or members of his management team.”
He qualified this answer by saying “I am happy to work with Andrew Deeks on some things, but I do not think we would have a fruitful collaboration on most things because as I said, our goals are distinctly out of alignment. Andrew Deeks is interested in prestige projects and milking international students for all they’ve got, I’m a little more interested in a sustainable world and making sure students can get the dyslexia accommodation they need from their lecturers. I don’t see what the point of weekly meetings with Andrew Deeks would be.”
Ultimately, Anderson is a more radical candidate than many who have come before him. Having seen how little the SU was able to achieve through official channels, he hopes to carry the momentum from the rent protest into next year. Save some major upset, Anderson will be elected, however it will be unclear just how much support his more radical approach will actually have amongst the student body, given that there is no other candidate to challenge him.