Current Graduate Officer Conor Anderson is the sole candidate for UCD Students’ Union (SU) President this year and is aiming to blend his experience as Graduate Officer with big-picture ideals of what a Union should be and can achieve during his term as President. Anderson sees the President as the “face of the union in addressing students, media politicians and labour unions” and as a team leader in a Union that should be there when students face difficulties or a lack of resources. We have interviewed Anderson and all other SU Election candidates, grilling them on their manifesto promises which can be found on social platforms online.
Anderson’s manifesto for President is quite light on specifics, much like his manifesto for Graduate Officer, though given the lack of any opposition, this is unlikely to harm him. Speaking to The College Tribune, Anderson said he “wanted to avoid the farce of promising 20 more microwaves across campus” or other such promises and instead wanted to be focused more on the bigger issues affecting students across campus, such as rent and fees. He is also concerned that given the dire financial predictions that the University will aim to cut student supports citing or increase fees and charges, placing students under further pressure.
This was certainly the case in the last financial crisis which saw registration fees rise to their current levels, grants become more restrictive and also the emergence of insecure contracts for university staff and tutors.
He is keenly aware that with the unprecedented upheaval currently being faced by UCD and the world as a whole, it is unclear what can realistically be accomplished over the next year. The issues that the Union will face are wide-ranging and short of easy solutions. He is however optimistic about what the Union can achieve, noting the recent work of the Fix our Education campaign and Anti-Casualisation groups in gathering 2000, and 1000 signatures respectively demanding changes from University management. This work he says was done with the cooperation of the Union, though these groups remain separate from the SU campaign structure. This does demonstrate the kind of “symbiotic relationship between an activist Union and activist groups” that Anderson seems to be aiming for with his coalition building.
This blurring of lines between student activists and the SU has had mixed results in the past, with Consent at UCD in effect being side-lined by the Union’s own campaign group in the area. Conversely, the Repeal the 8th campaign despite raising questions from some quarters about how activist a Union should be, is an excellent example of how a well organised SU campaign can be a massive asset to both the reputation of the Union and a national effort.
Anderson seems to be aiming to continue the Union’s recent turn towards direct action, or “milatism” as he has calls it, saying the recent protests with Fix our Education were a “proof of concept [that] the Union can get people protesting if they put their mind to it”.
While commending the work of current SU President Joanna Siewierska, Anderson said that he wouldn’t “waste the first term trying to affect change through University boards,” and would instead be aiming to build a movement against University management from the outset. This would be a marked departure from recent years where SU Presidents and officers have for the most part aimed to work within the system to affect change, with this current sabbatical team only changing tact part way through the year.
He noted that there are many difficulties in increasing student engagement with the SU, something that nearly every candidate for SU President over the last four years has mentioned in their manifestos. Anderson sees “consistency as the really key thing” in improving engagement and ensuring that they are “addressing student needs in a way that the Union is a place that students [will] go when they have an issue”.
He does also believe that while direct action is the best route for achieving the results he wants, the form that action needs to take may need reviewing, saying that protests and rallies on campus may be a bit out of date and that “I’ve maybe put too much focus on those”. Anderson says he is would look at the ongoing “No-Detriment” campaign which has sought to sway lecturers and target individual members of UCD management with email campaigns could provide a good template for future campaigns. At least 200 students have emailed Deputy President Mark Rogers or another member of staff in an effort to bring about a No-Detriment policy in UCD for the remainder of the trimester.
Anderson has in the course of his time as Graduate Officer managed to fill all bar one of the Master Class Representative positions, and through his weekly coffee mornings on the Smurfit campus, has connected and engaged a group of students that were historically disconnected from the Union. Despite this apparent increase in engagement, no candidate to replace him as Graduate Officer has emerged.
Anderson is leaning heavily on his experience as Graduate Officer as part of his campaign, arguing that continuity in approach and action, along with his experience will be pivotal going forward. Though the Graduate Officer role is typically more focused on casework and behind the scenes work as opposed to the front-facing President.
Anderson believes there really needs to be a change in what UCD prioritises and strives to deliver, saying that the money can always be found for “buying houses, or building buildings” but never for student services.
He is cautious about the move to online voting, though notes that it’s really an impossible position given the circumstances. Acknowledging that there could be and are real issues with the process, he said it could “cause issues of legitimacy for myself [Anderson] and other sabbats” though given the unprecedented circumstances, no solution could avoid that.
Aaron Bowman – Former Tribune Editor