The number one takeaway from this Students’ Union Election Special is that students should vote. No matter what candidate you choose, exercising your opinion will lead to a better Sabbatical team. Fundamentally, with a greater number of students voting, there would be an increased number of candidates, more choice, but also as a result stiffer competition, and therefore a better Students’ Union.
Engagement is a perennial issue in the UCD Students’ Union. In his column, Gavin Cassels ponders whether some Sabbatical positions be voted on in October in order to provoke first-years and other students to become involved from the beginning of the academic year, instead of ignoring manifestos while cramming before the end of term exams. Every year candidates are asked, “do students care about the SU”, to which they inevitably answer some semblance of ‘unfortunately not’, which is followed by “what would you do to remedy this lack of engagement?” Despite the inventive and thoughtful answers candidates come up with, every year when election interviews come around, engagement is still an issue.
From the Sabbat Updates and the regular SU competitions on their social media pages that this year, we can assume that the SU team this year at least made some effort to try to connect to students. However, in a year that has been, as predicted, almost entirely online, it seems disappointing that this sought-after engagement wasn’t capitalised on. In a way, students have never before been so directly reachable to the SU, and so it begs the questions, is engagement really a big issue, or does it get put on the back burner once Sabbats are elected?
Running unopposed to make decisions for over 30,000 students shouldn’t be a regular occurrence, in fact, it shouldn’t be an option. This year, the only thing that seemed to stand in the way of Sabbatical hopefuls and their seat and pay-packet for the coming year was seventy-five signatures (and maybe RON, if he’s feeling spicy). This means that there are a number of candidates who can become part of the SU who do not have even the most basic knowledge of UCD and its management structures. Having a manifesto with the promise to boost student supports doesn’t really hold any clout if you are unaware of the budget available to you, or where the money comes from, or what FRAMC is.
One of the most interesting questions asked of candidates this year was their view on the self-professed more ‘radical’ move of this year’s Students’ Union. From the outset, it politically aligned candidates, and gave a clear indication of how their time in office could look. There are many valid reasons to oppose radicalism and protest as a catalyst for change. However, for the multitude of students who struggle and work hard to fund their university experience, believing that UCD and the government will happily increase grants and funding once you explain the issues students are facing is frustratingly naive. While innocence can be endearing, to be so uneducated about financial governance when running for a paid, official position as a student representative - whose job is to fight for a better and more equitable experience for all - is really just startling.
So even if the presidential race of militancy v ‘can we just talk’ v something kind of in the middle doesn’t rouse the spirits to motivate you to head to the virtual voting booth, vote anyway, and encourage your friends to also - even if it’s just to ensure that five of the six Sabbatical Officer roles are not filled by default.