Earlier this year, less than 4% of UCD students elected a new set of Students’ Union Officers for the year. The Graduate Officer, tasked with sorting issues relating to the education, welfare and student experience of graduate students, was left vacant after no candidates contested the race. Now, three students are running for a Graduate Officer by-election. Registration has now closed for the online voting and polls will open from 9am on June 10th until 9pm on June 11th. Final year undergraduates and current graduate students are eligible to vote for the Graduate Officer of their choice. The results will be announced this Friday at 5pm via Zoom. 

 

Rekha Vishnu Nargargoje

Rekha Vishnu Nargargoje (right) (30) is one of the candidates running for the position of Graduate Officer in the upcoming UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) elections. Nagargoje is currently a masters student at UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School where she is studying Digital Marketing. 

Nagargoje states that her professional experience and her leadership skills are what set her apart from the pack, while she admits that she does lack any experience of Union politics, Nagargoje said: “it’s not necessary to have experience in politics here”. She conceded that “it could be an advantage over my competitors” to have a history of involvement in the Union but that her lack thereof would not stop her from impacting change. Nagargoje would like to see a continuation of on-going engagement projects such as weekly coffee-mornings and hopes to plan more events in that vein. Should pandemic precautions stand in the way of these plans she hopes to move these events online. Nagargoje also highlighted the costs of the cafeteria on the Blackrock campus which she would hope to reduce in her role as Graduate Officer, possibility by opening another SU shop there.

Nagargoje was very uncertain about a number of aspects of the role for which she is running. Despite the out-going Graduate Officer Conor Anderson specifying the following areas as that which his successor should focus on in his end-of-year report, Nagargoje was not aware of what ‘Seanad Registration’ was nor was she aware of what ‘Direct Provision’ was, asking the interviewer to explain the concept to her. UCD currently takes part in the University of Sanctuary scheme, accepting into the college a number of asylum seekers from Direct Provision centres. 

Further, Nagargoje had little idea of what the ‘Conference Fund’ was. In recent years a portion of the Graduate Officer’s budget was spent to help students attend conferences, Nagargoje stated that she wished to increase the fund this year despite not knowing how much it amounted to last year, nor how many people were benefitted by the fund under the previous Officer. According to Conor Anderson’s final report, the fund amounted to €2,000, which made up more than 20% of the €8,925 Anderson budgeted last year. 

Nagargoje was unable to name many of the meetings which she would be required to attend should she be elected to the role of Graduate Officer, “class rep and ambassador” meetings were the only specific meetings she named, it is unclear exactly what she means by this. She correctly stated that almost all class rep constituencies for graduate courses are filled, however, Nagargoje said that she doesn’t think that existing Class Representatives are effectively engaging with other students, adding that “there are students holding that position, but they are just sitting idle. They won’t do anything.” 

Nagargoje stated that she believes the biggest issues facing graduate students are: advancing one’s career through study, rising rent costs and the difficulties of online learning. Nagargoje was unable to name the main policies of UCD Anti-Casualisation, a movement being run by graduate students to campaign for better pay and working conditions while performing academic work for UCD. Nagargoje also did not know who ‘Fix Our Education UCD’ were. Nagargoje’s manifesto does not feature a single policy on it, instead, it details her lengthy professional experience in the field of marketing and volunteer work. When asked why this was the case Nagargoje explained that she had never written a political manifesto before. She said that she hadn’t read the manifestos of previous year’s candidates because she wanted to focus her manifesto on her strengths “rather than copying other’s ideas”. When Nagargoje was asked whether she had closing remarks, the candidate asked the interviewer whether she should reformat her manifesto to include policies. In the interests of impartiality, the interviewer did not give advice to the candidate.

Asked how she would proceed should she be unable to convince UCD President Andrew Deeks to agree with her perspective on any points of contention that could rise, Nagargoje said that she would attack Deeks’ reputation saying “he’s at the top and loves his reputation, if someone or something is a threat to his reputation then he will take action against that.” To achieve this Nagargoje would first protest, however, should this be insufficient to change Deeks’ mind she would take the issue to the media. 

Hugh Dooley – Deputy News Editor

 

Aaditya Manoj Shah

Aaditya Manoj Shah (left) is a 23-year-old Masters student studying Engineering Management. When asked what experience he has to equip him for the role of Graduate Officer, Shah says that although he has only been in Ireland for 6 months, he has been a Class Representative with the SU, a Marketing Head and SU member at his home university in India and has observed the work of this year’s Sabbatical Officers. 

“Keep things Simple, Stick to the basics,” his manifesto reads; Shah said that the Graduate Officer should “stick to the rules” of the SU. “You are basically there for the graduate students, and you need to help them out, and you need to help out the Campaigns & Engagement Officer to get the students on board.” Shah did not elaborate much is non-specific mantra but emphasised that the SU should not exclude graduate students on the Smurfit campus. 

In an interview with The University Observer published on Monday, Shah had no knowledge of the Finance, Remunerations, and Asset Management Committee (FRAMC), which oversees UCD’s finances. When asked in our interview with him a day later, Shah still had no knowledge of what FRAMC was or its function.

Similarly, in his interview with The University Observer, Shah was unaware of the largest campaign this year for graduate students: UCD Anti-Casualisation. When asked about his knowledge of this by The College Tribune, Shah was still in the dark, saying, “I actually don’t have a clue what that is.”

In his end of year report, outgoing Graduate Officer and incoming President Conor Anderson stressed the importance of Seanad elections as a “central pillar of the Graduate Officer’s duties,” admitting that he “failed” to make it one of his. When asked about his commitment to this area, Shah said he “will shoot a mail to all of the graduate students, stating the importance of [the Seanad elections], and ask them if anybody is interested and can organise a Zoom call” and “inform them what exactly things are and why they should register.”

Anderson also stressed the importance of assisting students affected by Direct Provision in UCD, as the university takes part in the University of Sanctuary scheme, accepting asylum seekers on campus. When asked do demonstrate his knowledge of Direct Provision and the University of Sanctuary scheme, Shah was unaware what either of these terms meant. 

Shah wants to collaborate with student societies on the Smurfit campus, using the International Students society as an example. He also wants to organise events outside of the university campus for graduates, such as a pub crawl. 

Shah also proposes “career development events” almost identical to the existing one’s organised by the Careers Network. He plans to survey students and gauge interest in a particular business, and the one’s with highest interest would be invited in for a talk. He said instead of a company spending a whole day at a careers fair, coming in for a specific presentation means the company doesn’t waste time. When asked what makes his idea different, Shah said the “majority of students are not aware” of these fairs. Shah’s statement is at odds with the frequent university-wide communications about such fairs in O’Reilly hall. 

Shah also aims to introduce alternative food options on the Smurfit campus, but admits, “I haven’t spoken about this to anyone yet.” He went on to say that it has been eight days since he entered the Graduate Officer race, owing this to the reason he hasn’t researched this manifesto promise. Union Council mandates that the Graduate Officer “investigates avenues of reducing the cost of food and drink for Smurfit students.” Although Shah has pledged to reduce the cost of food in the Smurfit campus, it is understood that the SU has no links with the food retailer on campus, making it an unlikely promise he can fulfil. He suggests bringing in alternative venders for several days each week, as mandated by Union Council. Shah didn’t appear aware of the plans currently in place to introduce multiple permanent food stalls within the new ‘Student Village’ as part of the UCD Residences Masterplan on Belfield campus.

Shah’s most notable qualification with the SU this year has been his involvement with the Students for Fees Compensation movement. When asked if this is dead in the water, Shah replied, “kind of, I’m just occupied with one of my assignments…” When asked if he now supports a tuition strike in protest of no fee compensation, as Anderson has expressed in the past, Shah said he does “not want the students to suffer,” as without the tuition paid, they will not receive a degree.

When asked what he could do better than his predecessor Conor Anderson, Shah replied: “Everything.” He offered his intent to improve on Anderson’s work this year, although could not provide specifics on how he would do this. He admires Anderson’s work and praised him for his approachability in Smurfit campus from students in need of assistance.

When pushed on what he can do specifically better than his opponents, Shah said: “I’m not too sure what their background is. I’ve seen their manifestos, but it’s quite different. They are not trying to engage graduate students to get involved in on campus activities. […] It’s in different ways they are trying to [fulfil the role].” When asked to explain any of Rekha or Carla’s manifesto promises, Shah failed to name a single one.

Shah finished by encouraging students to vote in the elections, and vote for the “correct candidate”. He said: “Every vote counts for all the students. Read the manifestos definitely. Yea that’s pretty much it.”

Conor Capplis – Editor

 

Carla Gummerson

Carla Gummerson (centre) is 32 and is a public policy graduate student.  Evidently, she is no stranger to campaigning and activism in UCD, having been the auditor of the Mature Students Society and a Peer Mentor for two years.

When asked why she had chosen to run for graduate officer this year, she admitted that she did not know the role existed until recently. Carla decided to run for the position as she felt her diverse experience gained from working in the Mature Student Society as well as campaigning for previous sabbatical officers such as Melissa Plunkett and Brian Treacy would stand to her in the role.

Conor Anderson is the outgoing Graduate Officer of the Students’ Union. In his recently published Annual Graduate Officer Report, he cites not making Seanad registration a priority one of his failings in the role. He puts this down to a lack of familiarity with Ireland’s political system – something which Carla certainly doesn’t lack. Although it is not mentioned in her manifesto, she told The College Tribune that she is dedicated to encouraging postgraduate students to register to vote in Seanad elections.

“Having studied public policy and sociology, I have a keen interest in the Irish political landscape and the influence of institutions like the Seanad. Although we have just recently had a Seanad election, I will definitely be handing out forms to students at events regularly and encouraging them to register.”

Getting graduate students involved in events on campus is one of Carla’s promises in her manifesto. “I felt completely different coming into UCD as a masters student compared to when I was an undergrad. There can be a real feeling of isolation, and joining societies really helped me to feel a better sense of community.”

She accepts that significant challenges lie ahead for societies and events this year, and it may be more difficult to get graduate students involved in campus life due to the COVID-19 restrictions. One of the suggestions in her manifesto is a 5km fun run, which she thinks will be a great way to meet other postgraduate students, even if it is online.  

When asked if she had considered the prospective difficulties involved in organising campus events next term due to restrictions she replied, “Yes, I’ve kept this in mind while writing up my manifesto and I have been discussing it with my campaign team, who have come up with some great ideas for remote events such as Zoom coffee mornings.”

Carla’s manifesto also mentions the creation of a postgraduate media platform to advertise funding opportunities. When asked what this platform might look like, she suggested the creation of a Facebook page for all postgraduate students on which people could post funding resources. Her manifesto cites this social media suggestion as a separate objective to the funding platform, but they seem to be the same in her description. She said that “in the current times, social media is where we interact the most so there is a definite need for a social media page for all UCD graduate students.”

Increasing the Conference Fund Capacity for PhD students, a fund established by the outgoing Graduate Officer, is something that Carla is very passionate about. She has stated that she will seek an increase in her budget as graduate officer for this to be attained. When questioned as to why she proposes to use this extra money for this reason over other objectives such as organising graduate events, she seemed very certain. “It is hard to find funding for graduates that is not means-tested and has no barriers to access. When Conor set up the fund there was a waiting list straight away, which really shows the need for this funding.” She also recognised that if larger events go online, they will be less expensive to run, and this money could be used for students availing of the Conference Fund.

There are some campaigns in which Carla has not been directly involved but whose objectives she supports. In regard to the UCD Anti-Casualisation campaign, she says “I have been following their posts and I think what they are fighting for is really important. Graduate workers will continue to be a key part of online learning for a lot of students, and we need to make sure they are not further impacted by any austerity measures which may be introduced.”

Similarly, when asked about the Students for Fees Compensation campaign, she stated that “just because it doesn’t affect me personally doesn’t mean I wouldn’t fight for it.” Carla explained that she receives the SUSI grant, so her income is not affected by college fees. She sympathises with the students who have lost their UCD experience and are still being charged full fees – “I don’t necessarily understand UCD’s position on this. It is unfair on students who have bad internet connection, and international students who are being charged more for online learning without the campus experience.”

Finally, Carla was asked what advice she would give to incoming graduate students starting in UCD in September. “It’s a tough one given the circumstances”, she contemplated, “I suppose I would encourage any UCD student to get involved in societies, even if they are online. This is where you are going to find people who are on your level. It is so important to be a part of what UCD is.”

Blathnaid Corless – Assistant News Editor

One thought on “UNION ELECTIONS 2020: Grilling the Graduate By-Election Candidates”

  1. Best of luck to all. After reading the interviews in this article, I would see Carla as the strongest, most involved in students issues, articulated and a well rounded person. So I would defo give Carla my number 1. I hope other students see this and vote Carla number 1.

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