In the most recent edition of the express, we read an opinion piece called ‘SU, Time to Improve?’. Firstly, we would like to express our appreciation for students who raise questions and highlight issues that they see within the SU, at the end of the day we are here for each and every one of you and if you have questions about how we function or comments on what we’re doing we will always want to hear them.
After reading the piece we wanted to write a response so we could address some of the issues and questions raised to give solutions and answers. For ease of reading, we have broken the opinion piece into individual queries raised.
The question was asked of who the SU is financially accountable to, and how students can go about viewing the SU accounts.
This year, the SU accounts will be presented to student council, and building on that, this year we will be also be publishing a summary of our accounts online to make them more accessible to students. A set of the SU accounts have also been sent to Diarmuid Collins the UCC bursar every year for the last 7 years. This year we are adamant that we will increase transparency and so we will be giving a rough update of how much and in what areas we have spent our money from June – December at the end of semester 1, and we will do likewise for semester 2.
If any students wishes to know more about our accounts or our budget for the year, please contact our President Alan Hayes and he would be more than happy to go through it, however we don’t send them out in all student email as students are constantly bombarded by emails from various different outlets so we try to keep them to a minimal.
We feel it is unfair to say that it is a failure of the union that students do not enquire about the accounts of the SU. Our accounts have always been made available to students who enquire, and they will be presented to student council shortly, making them easily accessible to anyone who wishes to attend student council.
Accountability for Actions
The next main issue raised was how the SU can be held accountable for their actions and what action can be taken where an officer is not fulfilling their role on the SU.
In relation to if a student can find out if the president is sitting on the committees he is meant to sit on to represent students, minutes are taken at all meetings and attendance is always noted. Along with this, the president and the rest of the sabbatical officers on the SU give extensive officer reports at each council where they update the students on every meeting they attended since the last council and a brief update on what was discussed at the meeting. At student council there is also a forum for students to question the officers, so if you want to know more about a particular meeting, or feel like there is a committee that we should have sat on then you can ask us at student council.
Following on from general attendance at meetings we would also like to speak about the overall accountability of the SU.
Since stepping into office at the end of June, we feel like we have been succeeding in our roles. However, we completely understand where students are coming from when they worry about what they have the power to do if an officer is not fulfilling their role. Student council is probably the most efficient way to hold officers to account on every aspect of their job, if you think we are failing on one aspect you can raise it at council. There is also a medium to mandate SU officers to act on a particular area through council as well, so if there is a campaign you want run, or an issue you want addressed, mandating us at Student Council is the most effective way to do so. That being said, of course, if you still believe that an officer is not fulfilling their role and is not acting for the students then you can call for an impeachment, a method which has become more widely known since the Katie Ascough Fiasco last october.
The writer of the opinion piece raised the idea of conducting a sort of mid-year review of the SU through a survey sent to students and we would like to note that this is something we are working on already this year. We are working on a survey to be released to students to get more of an insight into how much the students know about the union, where they think we can improve, how effective our election process is and much more. We hope to release this before the end of semester 1. From the results of this survey, we will then work to improve on the areas that the students’ union is falling down on
Next up was elections, and while we are completely aware that there are always some issues with elections, there are also some points that we would like to clarify on. Firstly, this year we are conducting a full review of our election process to see what changes need to be made and we are currently looking at the TCDSU election model. We feel it is important to note that flyers are not deemed to be under the umbrella of posters, therefore handing out flyers is not a means of circumventing the rules. Every year all campaign materials must be approved and stamped by our returning officer to ensure that they are suitable and we also have a 3 strike system in place whereby if someone breaks the election rules 3 times they can be disqualified from the race. At the end of the election each candidate must submit an expense report of everything they spent money on, and if the returning officer feels like they went over budget and have not submitted some receipts they can call a meeting with the candidate to go through everything involved in their campaign. We were also delighted with the most recent elections where we saw the highest voting turnout ever with over 5000 students casting votes on the day. While there are changes that need to be made to the voting system, we still believe, that with the high turnout we have, that it is a fair and democratic depiction of who the student body want elected.
Every year it is a concern that candidates will fill their manifestos with lies and then fail to follow through on anything. During elections every year we hold hustings with all candidates. After the candidates for each position gives their speech, there is a forum for students to ask questions on their manifesto promises. We believe this is the perfect forum to ensure that each candidate isn’t giving empty promises – during elections you can also approach any of the candidates to ask them about their manifestos.
Also on this point, and relating to candidates promising to work with certain organisations once elected and how the electorate can be sure if they contacted the organisation in advance; it has been done before during elections and it is encouraged, that where candidates say they plan on working with organisations and implement policies or procedures, that the organisation call them out if they haven’t been approached by the candidate or if they don’t think it is feasible.
The class rep system is something that needs to be reviewed and amended to ensure that every student has a class representative, and also means that the person was fairly elected to that role. The current way class rep elections are done is where our four part-time college reps are responsible for doing 500 class rep elections with the help of the Students’ Union Exec – this isn’t ideal and leads to classes being missed and a lack of notice usually, but it does give us 300-400 class reps each year. Each class rep election should be done in a lecture of a core module, and in courses or subjects where there is no core modules it’s generally done in the largest elective or else in two elective modules so more students are represented – we are sorry if this wasn’t what happened, but again things like this slip through the cracks in the current system. We are looking at alternative ideas of doing the class rep elections, and the one we’re looking at most is that the elections are done online through Blackboard – while this is a nice idea, it’s something we have to look at with IT services in UCC, and also test out on classes to make sure it gives a proper result. We are very conscious of the way class rep elections are and we want to improve that so every student has the best representation could have in each class.
Accountability of Accountability
The final point made was in relation to the autonomy of student media and suggested that the students’ union in some way influences or decides either where our student media spend their money or what they publish or speak about on the radio.
We want to make it very clear that no student media in UCC is funded or in any way influenced by the students’ union. All student media receives its own separate funding from the university through the capitation fee and the SU does not have any say in how the money is spent, nor would we ever feel like this is something we need to do. We encourage student media and we truly believe in the importance of journalism, particularly in making the student body aware of what is going on around college. We believe that the role of student media is to report to students on any story that is within the college and if this is something to do with the Student’s Union then it is completely valid. All we ask is that we have the opportunity to comment so that our side of the story is heard as well.
As a final note, we strongly encourage any student who has queries or issues that they see within the SU to let us know, we’re not doing our jobs if you aren’t happy with us. So please, come along to student council, email us, call up to the office, whatever forum it is, just engage with us because we’re nothing without the student body behind us.