Year In Review: Sabbatical Officers
After spending the last month pouring over this year’s UCDSU candidate’s manifestos; asking quizzing them on their experience and their plans to implement their ‘big ideas’, we began to reminisce on last year’s election and the manifestoes of the sabbatical officers that are finishing their time in the Union soon. What enticing promises did they make during the campaign and which, if any, could they actually follow through on.
It’s important to emphasise that much of the work that the Union does for students happens behind closed doors; helping students on a personal basis or representing all students on various boards. Yet, as the year comes to an end, we thought it might be important to look back on what grand pledges of change our current sabbatical officers made during the election and what they actually achieved in office.
President Barry Murphy
This time last year, Murphy was running as the incumbent, having won the Presidential By-election after the Ascough impeachment. Staying on in the role was definitely of benefit to the Union and the incoming sabbatical officers. Murphy used this to his advantage in his campaign last March, focusing on UCD management’s habit of using the first few weeks of June to address important issues, like the counselling service, where Murphy could maintain consistency.
Over one year on from, the president and C&C officer being mandated to update the Students’ Union website “ideally over the summer of 2018”, the new website has finally arrived. The major complaint that fuelled the demand for the website redesign was that the previous was “difficult to navigate” and rarely up to date. The new website is certainly sleek and easy to use, but as for its need to be constantly updated with council and executive meeting minutes, students will have to wait and see.
Murphy’s greatest success this year is the new UCDSU Constitution that was passed by referendum last week. Murphy has highlighted his desire to bring the previous constitution up for review in his manifesto, previously describing it as “a weighty document that was made at the time in reaction to going bankrupt and pushes all the power back on the President.” The constitution’s major changes include the reintroduction of the Entertainment Officer, taking that aspect of the job from the C&C Officer’s role and reforming C&C into the more refined and manageable role of Communications and Engagement Officer. Other changes include reforming the Union’s Class Rep constituencies, raising the quorum needed at Executive meetings and changes to the rules of calling referendums. The writing of the new constitution was a year-long process and was discussed by a Constitutional Review group and reviewed by Union Council. Ultimately, it was Union wide endeavour, but also an achievement by Murphy.
Murphy’s manifesto mentioned his wish to introduce online voting for UCDSU elections. Though it would most likely allow for uptake in voting, the idea of online voting has often produced some scepticism. There were mentions of it being trialled during a mock referendum, but it’s unclear if this will ever materialise. On the topic of SU elections, Murphy also expressed a desire to move the voting to before the March break for the benefit of “student welfare”, though this did not happen this year.
Graduate Officer Niall Torris
Niall Torris was also an incumbent this time last year, running uncontested to continue in the role of Graduate Officer. Torris’ work is quiet and usually goes unnoticed by undergrads. His most visual success this year was his Seanad voter registration campaign; ‘Opening Up the Seanad’.
During Torris’ two years in the Union, he has been instrumental in reforming the role of Graduate Officer. During last year’s election campaign, he highlighted his desire to work toward the hiring of a Graduate Advisor, explaining that the amount of casework that the role of Graduate Officer involves was ‘preventing the graduate officer from becoming a community role that the average student would prefer it to be.’ According to the minutes of Executive meeting 8, the Advisor should be hired by next September.
Torris also led the campaign to vote yes in the Constitutional Referendum, which passed easily. He was consistent in the Union’s message of using the new constitution to put the power back into the hands of the students and pivot the Union towards a prosperous future and away from the constitution that was written during a time of financial crisis.
Education Officer Stephen Crosby
Just as Crosby took office, it was announced that resit fees would be reduced to €180.
His ‘passion project’, a UCD Undergraduate Research Showcase has been in the works since he entered his role last June and will take place on April 17th. It’s an opportunity for students to display and present their work, that often goes underappreciated during student’s undergrad years.
Crosby’s manifesto also focused on funding for students and this is another point that he has succeeded on. During his term, €900 travel scholarships were available to students going on Erasmus, as well as UCDSU’s Cygnets programme that has €2000 in funding available to students with business or social enterprise ideas.
Welfare Officer Melissa Plunkett
The role of Welfare Officer is mainly casework. It requires an approachable face that can respect student’s confidentiality, as they work to provide support during difficult and stressful situations. This all happens away from student’s eyes, therefore we can really only comment on the external work that the Welfare Officer does; the campaigns they run and the campus-wide changes they advocate for.
Plunkett’s manifesto promised to advocate for more online counselling services to cope with the immense demand. In October, UCD launched the SilverCloud app in the Health Services. The idea of a triage nurse position being instated in the Health Service to combat the large waiting lists was something mentioned by President Barry Murphy during his campaign. It would involve a nurse that would access students needs at the health centre and then direct them down the appropriate, be that doctor, counsellor, student advisor etc. In June of last year, it was announced that funding was in place to hire more staff and the minutes from Executive Meeting 7 show that candidates for Triage positions in the Health services were being interviewed.
Plunkett’s manifesto mentioned wanting to have free contraception available in student accommodation buildings, but the minutes from Executive Meeting 8 show that she was still trying to get condoms in Res.
Plunkett’s manifesto included her aim to bring SHAG Week ‘Back to basics’. Though this was entirely achieved, some of Plunkett’s most interesting Sexual Health events were overshadowed by students who were frustrated by some ‘immature’ aspects of Semester 2’s SHAG themed games, such as ‘Willy Toss’, ‘Condom Olympics’ and the SU offering a dildo as a prize. Lil’ Shag in October was perhaps a more successful week, that involved collaboration with more student groups; UCD Students for Sensible Drug Policy, UCD LGBTQ+ Society and Consent at UCD.
LGBTQ+ inclusion in SHAG week was also an important manifesto point for Plunkett. While panel discussion on Chemsex and HIV did achieve this, the scheduling of semester two’s SHAG week and Rainbow week on the same week did appear as though they were being separated. The jury is still out on whether a strong one week campaign or consistent events throughout the year generate more student involvement.
Campaigns & Communications Officer Thomas Monaghan
Monaghan was heavily scrutinised last semester on his performance in the Communications aspect of his role. His manifesto listed his hopes to have weekly updates on Facebook and the website on SU Activites. This did not happen. The College Tribune reported in November that Monaghan was in breach of a number of his mandates. One of this was to redevelop the website, which was explained by Monaghan’s lack of skills in this area and would be fixed in the foreseeable future ( which it had been, as of April 2019). Perhaps the most significant mandate that Monaghan was in breach of for the first semester was to provide significant updates to students on what discussions occur at Council via the Students Union social media platforms. In response to the Tribune’s highlighting of this breach, Monaghan recognised his faults and promised to work to improve this.
Monaghan biggest success this year was the ice cream fair that we had on his manifesto. In March, Monaghan successfully led a collaboration event with ice cream company Arctic Stone to set a Guinness work record of the most hand-rolled ice creams made in 24-hours. Though they fell short of the record of 40,000, the event was a testament to Monaghan’s Ents skills.
In conclusion, this year’s sabbatical team had a number of missteps but also a number of very significant victories. Their legacy will be the fundamental positive changes they’ve made to the Union; rewriting the constitution, hiring a Graduate Advisor and implementing a triage system in the Health Service, that will remain long after they leave their roles in June.
By Muireann O’Shea – Co-Editor