The lead article in this week’s The Saint is almost identical to one run this time last year: a lament on the fact that, according to a very small survey (roughly 3.5% of the student body), most students don’t know who the sabbs are, what the SRC is or where they would go to speak to a sabb.
While that figure has probably changed now, thanks to said article, I maintain that the survey itself is both a skewed representation of student awareness and essentially irrelevant.
Firstly, the timing of the survey couldn’t have been worse. While the sabbs have been working since July, an entire academic year’s worth of students have only been here three weeks. A quarter of potential survey participants did not vote for the sabbs, have no concept of the politics of the Students’ Association and have largely been preoccupied with making friends, drinking, and shirking tutorial work.
Furthermore, the class of 2013, of which the current sabbatical officers were a part, have left the university. Gone are the people who would have known Chloe, Teddy, Kelsey and Dan the best – as a fifth year involved in several aspects of the university that coincide with their work, I am lucky enough to know each of them personally, but most of the people who were in class with them, lived in halls with them and socialised in the same circles as they did are no longer students at St Andrews. It’s no wonder very few people know who they are: they’ve barely had the chance to make an impression. If their recognition is to be judged, it should be done at the end of their serving term, not at the beginning.
More importantly, why does sabb recognition even matter? The sabbs, in a joint statement, said it perfectly: “It’s not who we are, but what we do.” Who cares who they are, as long as they continue to ensure the smooth, successful running of the Union?
I have a great deal of respect for all the sabbatical officers and the work they do for the university, but while each generation of officers is able to bring small, nuanced changes to the management of the Union, their “modus operandi” remains fundamentally unchanged. It is very difficult for the sabbs to make any major changes to the way things are run, especially as they are usually in office for just one year. This is no bad thing: maintaining continuity and stability is, in my opinion, the most important aspect of their jobs, which is why they are ‘trained’ by the outgoing sabbs the summer before the beginning of their tenure.
This is not to belittle the achievement of each officer in successfully being elected, as all current sabbs held great campaigns with impressive credentials and convincing policies. I see nothing ‘new’ or ‘revolutionary’ being done, however: director of student development and activities (DoSDA) Kelsey Gold – apparently the ‘least known’ sabb – has proven more than capable in picking up where Meg Platt left off last year in a job that centres around organisation, efficiency and administration; director of events and services (DoES) Dan Palmer organised a great Freshers’ Week with some well-known comedians and musicians, something every DoES has done since I joined the university; director of representation (DoRep) Teddy Woodhouse is working towards prioritising mental health by creating a new wellbeing officer position (as well as an employability officer) on the SRC, but such rearrangements of the SRC and SSC happen all the time; and Chloe Hill admitted herself, in an interview with The Saint, that her role is largely “being a diplomatic voice and putting across student views,” rather than bringing about her own changes.
I understand why the officers have continued to man Twitter accounts and blogs, but for me visibility shouldn’t be a priority. Yes, students ought to know about what their representatives are working on, but I’d rather the time spent telling us about what they’re going to do in their job was spent actually doing their job. And I think this new team have got things pretty spot on so far.