Starting his day with a cheeky bowl of Weetabix, Brian was about to spend a whole day with me. Madness. He was surely eager to see me at our 8:30am meeting as he beat me to it by a quick minute. Formerly named in the Tribune as “The Thinker”, your SU’s Education Officer agreed to give me a behind the scenes look at an unseen side to the Union. The Cashel native spends up to 60% of his working time on something that never makes headlines, and never gets the recognition it deserves in UCD.
The Students’ Union do a lot of things that Belfield at large pays no heed of. Not to say that their work isn’t important – giving the student voice a seat at the table on UCD boards and governance is pretty cool – but there’s a lot that goes on that doesn’t get flashy press releases or Instagram stories. This huge part of both the Education Officer and Welfare Officer’s roles is dealing with individual students, something that usually avoids the spotlight. To find out more about the man himself and what goes on with student cases, I spent the day with Brian – more or less.
According to Brian his role is “to advance the student body with regards to anything of academic interest. That could be from assessment to appeals to maintenance grants, different kind of academic policies within the university and how they interplay with the lives of students.” As well as sitting on more boards than he can count, Brian deals with individual student cases every day. Students often turn to the Union for a last resort when the existing University structures fail to help them. Brian says that students would “bounce the idea off the university and student advisors or whatever service, and it comes back at them and it’s not quite solved.” He also suggests that “students might feel a little bit more comfortable coming to us for peer-to-peer support.”
A lot of student queries come via email, sometimes teasing out simple questions, other times students would pour their hearts out into an email. The kind of problems students usually come to Brian with are regarding lectures, lecture slides, academics not correcting assessments on time, SUSI grants, extenuating circumstances, academic questions around exam time, etc. But these simple queries aren’t the only thing he’s tasked with. Many students have meetings with Brian, coming to him quite stressed out about academic troubles. Brian is enthusiastic about helping students, devoting huge amounts of time to “day to day issues students go through” and then adapting policies on an institutional level that reflect the needs of students.
On the day I spent with Brian, he had an individual student case meeting. It was confidential so I got to take a breather from his Tip accent for a bit. When we met up after, he explained the general issue and how it was solved. Classic Brian.
He’s also keen on improving UCD’s academic structures through tackling “local issues.” Surprisingly, there’s a relatively low number of formal complaints in this area in the university, making it difficult to formulate accurate improvements within the academic structures. Because students can’t make anonymous complaints in UCD, Brian says that students are sometimes afraid to speak up through formal structures. He explains that it’s often because of students that come to him that policy is revised to reflect the needs of students following particular cases.
We then took a break for lunch; Brian bought a chicken and brie sandwich at the library’s SU shop and we chatted in the Tribune office for a bit. He really likes chicken, it’s not really relevant but I thought you might like to know.
To summarise what makes student cases important to Brian, he tells me: “Fundamentally we are here to represent the voices of our students and the concerns that they have. […] When [students] do come into us, it is rewarding to be able to try and solve the problem that is specific to them. But also, to see their personal story in a broader picture within the university and see the inequality and how it plays out. I think it gives you a great picture of what the university is.”
Brian, a graduate of Social Science here at UCD, is planning on running again for his position as SU Education Officer next year. He’s also applying for Masters courses at UCD as a cheeky backup.
I asked Brian what he does when he’s not at the office. He responded jokingly “student politics.” Although we joked about it, the reality is that those running the Union and calling the shots give up a hell of a lot of time for UCD students.
Alas, the day was coming to an end. Brian may have saved the day for every student he met and emailed, but that sort of stuff usually doesn’t make the headlines. He’s like an underappreciated Superman. Good man Brian. He went home late that evening after telling me all the top-secret Union gossip (that’s a joke – don’t come to me looking for Union gossip) and then told me he was planning on having Chicken Carbonara Pasta for dinner. As well as being a big fan of chicken, his actual favourite food is pasta. It may have been a regular day at the office for Brian, but for the students he helped in small ways, he was an everyday hero.
Thanks to Brian for being sound and letting me follow him around for a day.
Conor Capplis – Editor