Sporting his usual spiffing bow tie and a preppy blazer, Maxwell Baldi is not hard to spot as he walks into the Union bar for our meeting, looking more than a little out of place.
But then again, anything to do with the Students’ Association is Maxwell’s home turf. As the Association chair, he assures me that nothing gets past him.
There are three elements to the job: most obviously, he chairs the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) and Students’ Services Committee (SSC) meetings, ensuring that everything runs properly and smoothly. “But that’s kind of the smallest component actually,” he tells me. “[As chair] you are the chief administrative officer for the students’ side of the Association.” In this capacity, he works with everyone involved in the Association from high to low, and has good working relationships with all of them.
The third element of the job is an advisory role. “You advise all of the officers, but particularly the sabbaticals, on procedural laws, on how to do what they want to do within our structures and how to do it in the best way possible.”
“The other component of the role that’s critical is that you have to be absolutely impartial.”
I ask if this is tough, but Maxwell assures me it isn’t. “I give the same advice to someone whether they’re asking me to do something that I think would be a great policy or I think would be really stupid… because I know that the role has to be impartial and because I really respect the position of chair, it doesn’t really tempt you to go outside of that.”
Throughout his year in office Maxwell has made various changes to the way things are done. He admits that not many students really care about what goes on at meetings, though. “The changes I’ve made are the sort of things that not a lot of people notice and even fewer care about, but I think they make us better.
“My approach has always been, I’m going to put this information out there, I’m going to make it as easily available as possible.”
He sees his biggest achievement as rewriting the Association’s set of standing orders – the rules which govern how Association meetings work. “The set we had were just byzantine; they had been written in the 80s, tinkered with in the 90s. I made a few changes in my second year, but I came in and I completely rewrote them and they make a lot more sense now. They, I think, do a better job of doing what they are supposed to do; which is making sure a minority can speak and then a majority can do what it wants to do.”
He has also reformed the way in which SRC and SSC consider joint business. “We tried to do it in a way which protects the right of each council to engage in debate on the things that they have the right to debate on.”
In addition, Maxwell has been in- volved in the Association’s governance review. “We’re in an ongoing review of our governance. I’ve been involved from the start and as of a few weeks ago Chloe Hill’s asking me to lead the last third of it to completion. But I’ve been working on things like the motions which went to the SRC over the last couple of weeks about clarifying remits, about referenda, there’s one coming this week about how officers are accountable and can be removed from office.
“They’re ambiguities which often- times you don’t need but when you hit a critical moment, we had a sys- tem that didn’t quite work… I think that might have the longest lasting impact.”
He has also introduced an open forum which allows any student to speak for up to two minutes at the beginning of meetings. In addition, any student can now gather just 25 signatures on a petition and they will have the right to present and debate a motion on anything in front of the Association. However, so far no student has taken advantage of this ‘powerful weapon’.
“I think having those in place is great but I have struggled to get students to care.”
Though Maxwell regrets not doing more to encourage students to use this opportunity, he hopes that his successor will be able to build on this.
A similar innovation was ensuring that all of the minutes of meetings are published online. “Our business is public business… I think students should have the ability to see what we’ve done, if they want to read the minutes read the minutes, and then come and question what we’ve done or object.”
With plenty of information available online about what is happening each Tuesday, he hopes that more students will come along to meetings and take part in the debate in the future.
I ask if he thinks this is likely. “Hope springs eternal. I know that there is the potential for it to happen, and I think it just has to be the right issues and the right set of students.”
He insists that his role as Association chair is his priority: everything else comes second. There have been some instances in which his work for the Association has come close to having a negative effect on his academic work, but Maxwell is not worried about this. Time management is key to being part of the Association and he seems to have a good way of dealing with this: “I don’t sleep.”
It may be a lot of work, but Maxwell loves his role as Association chair: “I love every moment of it… actually chairing meetings is the most fun part, but I think that the reason I enjoy it is that, you know, I love the Students’ Association as an institution and I feel a really deep loyalty to it. I really appreciate having the opportunity to serve it and help every part of it do what it wants to do and do it well… Because the position encompasses absolutely everything there’s no area where I can’t help and that’s a wonderful opportunity.”