Hustings Report Part Two: Sabbatical Officers
Part Two of the Tribune’s Hustings Report covers the five sabbatical positions.
Graduate Education Officer
Candidate: Niall Torris
The current Officer reiterated his 5 key manifesto points and heavy caseworkload. He suggested it may not be appropriate for the role, and pointed out that Trinity has someone specifically appointed to handle issues between postgrads and their supervisors. He also referenced running a Seanad voter registration campaign.
The panel asked is the role viable or should it be abolished. Torris said it brings a level of knowledge to UCDSU as he mainly does casework or research on policies and codes of regulations.
When asked why it is often an uncontested position, Torris attributed the lack of interest to the heavy level of casework putting off potential candidates. He noted the UCDSU Constitution envisaged the position as a postgrad community role, which he has learned is not possible. A Graduate Advisor who could handle these issues would help the role revert back to its original intention.
Questions from the floor included asking would he take on an intern, and how he would change the role. Torris wants UCD to take into account the various issues, including the abuse of power, that are facing the 9,000 postgrads and 1500 PhD students. He would seek postgraduate input into helping define what the role should be as part of a constitutional changes.
Campaigns and Communications (C&C)
Candidates: Kevin Brennan, Thomas Monaghan
Brennan spoke about his outside experiences in marketing and social media, alongside his role as Vice Auditor of Arts Soc last year. He mentioned more consistent communications, notice boards, the ENTs rebrand and wanting to organise more events on campus.
Monaghan praised the current team for covering the lack of C&C since November. The 3rd year class rep noted he is the longest serving member on the ENTs Forum. He mentioned upskilling and M.A.T.E campaigns, and promised to bring an ice cream fair to UCD. He designed a communications-based manifesto as campaigns do not work without communications, an area the Union recently fell down on without a C&C Officer.
The panel asked which is the biggest campaign outside of Repeal the 8th. Both chose fees. Brennan wants it to be broader and include the likes of accommodation and postgraduate costs. Monaghan said he did not include it in his manifesto as it is an ongoing issue. The pair referenced the recent Trinity protests.
The next panel question asked how they would engage with students who are not interested in the Union. Brennan said he would use noticeboards and look at accessibility issues. Monaghan blamed the rise of social media for making online communication too easy and being too heavily relied upon. He wants more face to face communication including lecture addressing.
An audience member noted the poor March for Education attendance and asked about change. Brennan said the Union needed small and simple changes to bring it back into each building and show it is not a clique. Monaghan said passion was the key; give them passion and they will follow.
The final question covered UCDSU’s mandate to campaign for a United Ireland and asked was there any sensible approach for a campaign on it which respected the variety of viewpoints. Brennan said he would support the mandate but noted there was no national campaign at present. He suggested trying to focus on supporting the ongoing issues in the North with the recognition of the Irish language. Monaghan said there was not much talk and thatinterest in a campaign may not be there at present. If there is interest in it, he will work on it.
Candidates: Christine Brown, Stephen Crosby
Brown discussed the ABC approach in her manifesto: Access, Balance, Communication. Crosby mentioned being a class rep and peer mentor, referenced his role in UCD for Choice, and said UCD had serious problems with issues like repeat fees and the waiting list for counselling.
The first panel question asked what they would do if the upcoming committee on repeat and resit fees did not suggest anything favourable for students. Brown praised the Trinity campaign but noted that blocking buildings in UCD would not be the same as stopping tourists in the city centre. Crosby agreed with hitting the college in its pockets, but noted there were ‘always other avenues.’
The next question asked which was the best upskilling course run by UCDSU. Crosby said the barista course was well attended, but safe pass training was not as well marketed. Brown said safe pass and other specific ones needed for placement were the best, and was an example of UCDSU stepping in to provide something not being done by UCD.
The first audience question was about repeat and resit fees, including the upcoming report. Brown hopes the repeat fee is less than €100. If students are not happy with the recommendations, then there should be an immediate protest. Crosby wants repeat fees abolished but thinks a €190 charge used in DCU would be a stepping stone and more workable with UCD.
Another person asked how they would engage with students on long-term placements. Brown said they were so geographically spread out that social media is the best method. Crosby said there were plenty of resources available, and would use College Officers to get information about classes on placements.
The cost of appealing grades and not being able to view exam scripts before paying to appeal was also raised. Crosby said that there should be a university wide equal approach on this. Brown referenced her exam feedback plan and noted the university would be hesitant about it as it creates extra work for staff.
The final audience question asked if resitting modules with an uncapped grade is fair. Brown noted the idea of repeating modules to improve GPA but said it was unfair for someone who unexpectedly fails only being able to get a D- on their second attempt. Crosby mentioned that UCD was closing the loophole of allowing students to switch out a failed module by paying the €230 for a different one which was uncapped. Now everything is uncapped, which is unfair.
Candidates: John Kerr, Kylie Roche, Melissa Plunkett
Kylie Roche was unwell and left before speaking.
Kerr said his platform was based on little things which can make a big difference, covering health and safety in the community. He mentioned lobbying for more counsellors, getting outside charities to come in and take part in events, nap rooms, crisis pregnancy help with the Irish Family Planning Association, consent campaigns at the start of both semesters, rainbow week, noticeboards and setting up a Welfare Fund.
Plunkett noted her 15 years’ experience in welfare. She mentioned lobbying for more counsellors, using online supports, more feminine hygiene products, the re-introduction of the childcare grant, and putting more UCDSU information into the welcome packs that are sent out to incoming students.
The first question from the panel asked if they had contacted the relevant authorities about their plans. Kerr spoke to the current Welfare Officer, met Sandra Tighe, head of Counselling Services in UCD, Aishling Kennedy-Dalton in UCD Residences, Jason Last, Dean of Students, and Students’ Union Officers in other colleges, including the Welfare Officers at DCU Students’ Union and UCC Students’ Union. Plunkett said she spoke to Students’ Union Officers, Sandra Tighe, Aisling O’Grady, Head of the Student Advisers, Kennedy-Dalton in Residences, Brian Mullen, Head of Healthy UCD, and Fiona Gammon, UCDSU Chief Operating Officer.
The next question asked if how they would be able to handle students in crisis situations. Kerr mentioned his psychology studies, being Auditor of the Psychology Society, his Childline training, and working at St. Peter’s School which helps pupils with disabilities. Plunkett referred to her 15 years of training, including being an emergency medical technician and working with the Order of Malta. She has also attended sexual assault disclosure training and picked up a variety of skills as part of her midwifery studies.
Next up was the long waiting list to see a counsellor. Kerr said that lobbying for more counsellors works. He mentioned holding more positive mental health events, moving Mental Health Week to week 3, and having a Meet Your Student Adviser event. Plunkett said she would lobby for more counsellors, but could not make any promises, and more online supports, including peer led ones. She agreed with Kerr about holding more mental health events. She mentioned Healthy UCD and her ideas including ones based on UL’s Operation Transformation events, and step-by-step gym tutorials.
Kerr noted he had discussed LGBTQ+ issues with several people, including friends, and asked the society about plans covered in his manifesto. Plunkett gave a similar answer, and noted she had also spoke to society members.
The next question came from someone who said they had contacted the Union for supported but never received a response and wanted to know how they would manage being contacted by so many people looking for help. Kerr said his door would always be open, while Plunkett referenced her 15 years’ experience and leading teams in clinic tents when having to prioritise who is helped first. She also mentioned having to look after everyone when working as a midwife.
Another question from the audience noted the 200 people who were on a 3 month waiting list to see a UCD counsellor. The student declined outside help and said that nobody listens to students, they do not know where the counselling office is, and that they do not want online support. Kerr mentioned noticeboards, advertising Niteline and criticised UCD for letting students fall through the cracks while building a Private Club and allowing the top floor of the New Student Centre be turned into offices instead of a counselling centre. Plunkett talked about initially dropping out of UCD after 3 years. She said online supports are only an extra, and she is ready to protest the lack of care from UCD.
The final question asked how would they better support students on exchange and on placement. Kerr said he would co-operate with the Education Officers, the Student Advisers and use email. Plunkett would prioritise online services for those abroad as it is the easiest way to keep in contact.
Candidates: Rosie Aljohmani, Amy Crean, Juliet McFadden, Barry Murphy, Breifne O’Brien, Ryan Oakes
The Deputy Returning Officer stated that Amy Crean was unable to attend.
Aljohmani spoke of her experience as one of the College Officers for Arts and Social Science, including the introduction of flowcharts in lectures which contain relevant numbers for students. She wants UCDSU to be more physically and visually present, like having all Sabbatical Officers at the Welcome Addresses for incoming students.
McFadden spoke about being the Auditor of the German Society, wanting to implement consistent weekly events over certain event-heavy weeks, getting more tables and study places, especially for Science, making the campus greener with more recycling and proving free hot water in the Union shops, while communicating to students about how to use the Dignity and Respect policy.
Murphy, the incumbent President, said he had only been in office for 65 working days. Sabbatical Officers often run twice when the Union is in crisis. He will be able to keep up the pressure on management as this always slows down when a new team takes over. He mentioned mental health services and resit fees. UCD is trying to impose a new levy on students for an extension to the student centre. He is in negotiations to try get something out of it for students.
O’Brien, The College Officer for Ag, Food Science and Vet, said that he would use the role to get more students involved by using different tactics. He spoke about raising money with Ag Soc over the past four years. There needs to be more social events. RAG week was a success but needs more ENTs involvement. He hit out at students paying high costs for washing machines in the Residences, the cost of car parking, and the use of clamping on campus.
Oakes spoke of his vast Union experience over the past four years. He has faith in UCDSU to improve people’s lives, whether that is by them reaching out for help at a time of need, or something more simple like being able to use loyalty cards in the Union shops. He wants to give a voice to the voiceless, and stop landlords and UCD Residences from ripping off students.
The first panel question addressed engagement issues.
Aljohmani said engagement leads to other things. Issues like fees are solved with more bodies out protesting. UCDSU has made years of promises but is not getting enough engagement.
McFadden said the President must take the lead in getting students mobile, through lecture addressing and protesting, which is key. She suggested holding protests when international visitors and partners are present on campus.
Murphy spoke about supporting a team and reps, sitting on boards, and spending hours preparing for meetings where there are only five minutes at the end to make the key deals for students.
O’Brien said UCDSU must seek out students to get them engaged. Working with societies and sending in reps will help.
Oakes spoke about fostering a culture of activism by empowering students to make a difference. This would include using UCDSU resources to better help people.
The next question noted that sports clubs receive a fixed sum of funding and asked if candidates would support reducing UCDSU’s share of funding in order to give more to sports clubs.
Aljohmani disagreed and noted the difference between the Union, sports clubs, and societies. UCDSU must be a priority as it represents everyone, not just certain groups.
McFadden mentioned her experience as Auditor of the German Society and noted how university funding is crucial to small societies and clubs. She said there was gender discrimination in funding sports clubs. The solution was to raise awareness and have a discussion about the larger issue of funding.
Murphy explained how UCDSU, societies and clubs receive university funding. He noted sports clubs often need once off capital investments for equipment, and said clubs did not have enough information about how to make these capital requests. Murphy said there could be a broader discussion over the issue.
O’Brien said that robbing Peter to pay Paul will not work. Clubs could try look for money elsewhere, and UCDSU could help them through activism and by financing and organising events with clubs.
Oakes, the President of the Lacrosse club, said the issue was more complicated than a ‘no’ answer. Both sides must look for mutually beneficial agreements. Students in clubs are looking for help, so they cannot be simply dismissed. UCDSU must take a long-term approach to the issue.
Candidates were asked what they would do to improve mental health in UCD outside of lobbying.
Oakes would work with external groups like Pieta House to help get through busy points when there is a high demand for support service.
O’Brien would focus on communication and ongoing work.
Murphy would focus on activism ,and referenced the success of the undercover housing campaign during the summer in getting government officials to speak with them. He stated that UCDSU Officers often switch between pro and anti-UCD stances each year which creates difficulty when dealing with the administration.
McFadden would demand accountability from the administration and hopes that current Sabbatical Officers would communicate clearly with the new ones regarding all relevant issues.
Aljohmani said she would keep up the past Sabbatical work and wants to put an accomodation tab on the UCDSU website which would make it easier for students and landlords to connect, as there are ongoing issues of scammers.
An audience member asked what promises they have actually followed through with in the past.
Oakes said he handled a variety of issues as a class rep and College Officer, like academic ones, was involved in the UCD for Choice committees, and helped organise events like the Dominoes Ball with the ENTs forum.
O’Brien said he increased co-operation between ag and vet students as College Officer, which included hosting a successful fight night.
Murphy as C&C Officer was involved in the undercover housing campaign, showing consent videos to incoming first years and has been called the ‘crazy pro-choice guy’ for his Repeal activities.
McFadden said she was an active representative for her German class and was involved in the UCD for Choice voter registration drive.
Aljohmani said she organised a class rep trip away, more postgrad workshops and panels, various events including Christmas Week the Keeping up with Newman Page.
If a lack of engagement is the key issue requiring a silver bullet, what would each candidate do to solve the problem?
Oakes said a high standard of engagement and ENTs are key.
O’Brien said the key was getting to the route of the problem.
Murphy said lecture addressing and fact-to-face communication was key.
McFadden would ask students for information, and gave an example of those studying environmental issues.
Aljohmani mentioned power points at welcome events.
The next question covered the treatment of staff in UCDSU shops, their wages and general operations.
Aljohmani said the matter was more for the office, but there needs to be a bigger connection between the shops and staff.
McFadden said communication with the manger is key. She spoke to Murphy about being President who told her that dealing with running the shops is an ongoing commitment.
Murphy said that he has been speaking to shop staff and wants to introduce monthly performance management meetings for them. He wants a review of working conditions and pay scales to reward longer service staff.
O’Brien would look into and review the matter.
Oakes said that working in the shops can be a nightmare due to practices ingrained over the years. The President should look at interacting with staff but should not get involved in HR disputes like handling complaints as it would cause potentially serious legal issues.
The final audience question noted that students are disengaged and often vote against the Union’s wishes, and wanted to know how they would bring back those who hate UCDSU.
Aljohmani said she saw hostility towards UCDSU when collecting signatures. If you want to change it, you need to get involved.
McFadden noted that people are unhappy and feel left out.
Murphy mentioned discussions with pro-life students who felt left unrepresented, and how there would be an upcoming abortion debate between the sides.
O’Brien wants to have a meeting to discover why students do not want to engage with the Union.
Oakes also referenced the abortion debate and said that one mandate was not the be all and end all.
Aljohmani mentioned the job was part of a bigger team.
McFadden stressed she would represent every student and focus on inclusion.
Murphy said he can fix the Union’s issues with a team, he has the experience, so the key is for him to continue on next year.
O’Brien asked for students to give him a first preference vote, or any other since transfers are key.
Oakes wants to make you proud.
Cian Carton – Editor