The Rectorial Elections: A joint statement by The Saint & The Sinner

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This morning Catherine Stihler (MEP) was elected 52nd rector of the University of St Andrews, an ancient and unique role that has historically been filled by academics, explorers, comedians, activists and the crème de la crème of the literati.

Let us be clear: we don’t doubt the worthiness of Ms Stihler’s candidacy as a suitable ambassador for the University. Since being appointed as Rector, she has vowed to lobby for an increase in accommodation, protect St Andrews’ traditions and help students connect with alumni. By all accounts, students may have been convinced by Ms Stihler’s pledges. Our problem lies with the fact that students were not given a chance to have their say over a current politician serving as their Rector.

At a joint council meeting of the Students’ Representative Council and the Student Services Council on 15 September, the Rector election rules were signed off without the slightest opposition from those present. Clause 19 states: “In the case of one candidate being validly nominated, no election shall take place and this candidate will be automatically appointed”.

Whether the clause was skimmed over or members’ hubris blinded them to the possibility of only one candidate standing is unclear. It has now emerged that students have launched a petition urging for the rules to be changed and further members of the SRC have signed it. Their petition is too late now. The SRC should have been doing their job to begin with. Not one member voiced any opposition.

The process of approaching potential candidates is a long and extensive one. Three days to formally nominate a candidate is simply not enough. A large proportion of students (particularly 1st years) will know very little about the position of Rector. It is worth noting the very group whom the Rector will represent for their whole St Andrews career is the very group that has had the least opportunity to get involved.

What is at stake is St Andrews’ long and rich and history of promoting democracy, a history that has been tarnished by what amounts to little more than an appointment. The decision – backed by University Rules or otherwise – to forgo an election entirely, throws into question how this student representative can ever really be representative of students. In all other elections across the University, a candidate must be voted in regardless of whether they face their opposition. Students are given the opportunity to reopen nominations. It is a poor example of democracy and Ms Sithler’s legitimacy to speak on behalf of the whole student body that a mere 20 signatures is assumed to represent over 8,000 students.

The lack of student engagement in the nomination process is concerning and casts doubt on the result – to quote the Scottish Rectors’ Group document ‘Introduction to the Role of University Rector in Scotland’:

The credibility of any election outcome may be undermined in the event of a low turn-out, especially if it falls below 30%. Rectorial elections are not alone in this; other features of Court democracy may be even less robust in the face of scrutiny. That said, there have been periods when the turnout for a rectorial election has indeed been disappointing. However, recent elections have shown considerable improvement, with a renewal of lively interest in the benefits of candidates who are appropriately competent, committed, and available. Nevertheless, this criticism of past experience should stand as a warning to all student bodies that the outcome of the rectorial election depends for its credibility on a relatively high level of electors exercising the franchise.

The Saint and The Sinner believe that depriving students their right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is an egregious betrayal of students. The Students’ Association, normally champions of the democratic process and known for trotting out such mottos as “Your Union. Your Voice”, have remained reticent. Pat Mathewson, Association president, has said that the role itself is far more than ceremonial – but that cannot be said for the selection process.

 

Read The Sinner’s statement here.

Mr Jonathan Bucks – Editor of The Saint

Mr Elliott Brooks – Editor of The Sinner

Saint logoThe Sinner

17 COMMENTS

  1. “Whether the clause was skimmed over or members’ hubris blinded them to the possibility of only one candidate standing is unclear. It has now emerged that students have launched a petition urging for the rules to be changed and further members of the SRC have signed it. Their petition is too late now. The SRC should have been doing their job to begin with. Not one member voiced any opposition.”

    I would like to say, as a student who is behind one of the petitions going forwards, that I would hope our student press would join me in condemning the procedure and look for a solution, rather than someone to assign blame.

    Nobody saw this outcome. To expect our student representatives to be infallible is ridiculous. There are 7800 students at this university and not one of us raised a concern before now. We are all to blame. Press included. I would expect a good student press to scrutinise our association bills far more than I would expect them to cover national news.

    I am too late to change this election. Indeed, I actually think Catherine Stihler was an excellent candidate and would quite possibly have voted for her. I didn’t get that chance.

    It should be as disappointing for her as anybody else, as she has been weakened as Rector by the fact she lacks a democratic mandate. We should have been given the chance to give her that.

  2. The fact that SRC members didn’t read a motion they passed, discovered that said motion contained something they opposed too late, and then returned shocked — shocked! — to demand that something be done shouldn’t surprise anyone. As much as it pains me to say it, this is criticism of the Association well-leveled and well-deserved. Students need to demand far more of their elected representatives.

  3. There are 3 people at fault for this ridiculous affair.
    1) Ondrej Hajda (DoRep)
    2) Pat Mathewson (President)
    3) Joe Tantillo (Chair)
    The first 2 proposed the rules for this election, are on the election committee and should have read through what they proposed.
    As Chair Tantillo should have read what was proposed and as the bureaucratic head of the Union ultimately the responsibility lies with him.
    All three should consider their current positions very carefully. They have completely failed 3 generations of students.

  4. Every present student – bar first years – will (or should) have known that the present Rector’s time in office was about to come to end. If they are so monumentally feckless that they can’t find more than one candidate is their problem and not the problem of the process.

  5. This discourse shows how little the student body knows about the rectorship. It is a strange beast: a university official chosen by the student body. The students do not own the rector, regardless of how they come to be chosen. Frankly you should just be grateful you managed to find one good candidate.

    The second thing I would say is that if you remember the “Moffat Machine” of three years ago you will feel no less cheated by this result. The political establishment at St Andrews effectively got right behind someone who was (undisputedly at that point) “a pretty good candidate” and consequently he was the only candidate the student body really heard about. The other four candidates wasted their breath. Look at the names involved with Catherine Stihler and you will see that the exact same thing would have happened here too. You have saved yourselves a lot of hot air. Celebrate with her, show her you appreciate her interest, and find some real issues to get your knickers in a twist over!

  6. I blame the Sabbaticals for the lack of raising awareness. The fault lies wholly with them.

    She seems like a capable candidate so I have no qualms with her but I’m sure myself and many others would have appreciated the chance to vote.

    • I’m going to take off my metaphorical Fight-The-Power-Student hat and put my School President one back on to respond to your comment.

      Firstly, why do you feel you were not aware? I can state that since September, an email has landed from myself about the Rectorial Elections into every history student’s inbox weekly. Even though it’s not my expertise, I made it clear I would be happy to advise. There are 1300 students on my mailing list, that’s almost 1 in 6 students at the university. I know other school presidents did the same, as did the DoRep and President. Every student should have heard about this through that medium alone, and not reading emails is not an excuse.

      There have been posters put up, teams on the north haugh and outside the library, and a fairly high social media presence. The elections committee did their very best to convey the importance of this election, and they cannot be condemned for us students not taking an opportunity to ask questions if we didn’t know the answers, and ultimately actually show some initiative.

      The only problem with publicity as far as I’m concerned comes from the lack of candidates. Without several candidates to get excited about, word didn’t spread as much and people didn’t engage as much as in the past. As the Sabbs cannot nominate however, they cannot be blamed for this.

      Frankly, I think mistakes may have been made in some areas, but to blame publicity is a cop-out and a way of trying to shift blame off ourselves. I think that’s silly, and that we should just admit to the fact that a significant number (and we are talking thousands) of people didn’t get involved that could have.

      We are too quick to look for individuals to blame while responsibility in reality lies with all 7800 of us for not making a bigger effort to ensure the election would be contested and therefore would go ahead in the first place.

      Let’s not look to find fault with people, it’s not productive, but instead find the fault with the procedure and amend things so that we have a different outcome next time which empowers our Rector with a democratic mandate, and makes them accountable to all students.

  7. Catherine Stihler has yet to win a meaningful electoral contest, despite being in politics for over 15 years… I am apprehensive about her being appointed to yet another post without any form of mandate.

  8. Why is the Sinner a joint signatory? Who the hell cares what they think? Also, SRC and Sabbs entirely at fault. They crafted the rules, they approved them. That really is all there is to it.

    • Well who the hell cares what The Saint thinks?

      I think the real ‘hard hitting’ questions should be why The Stand isn’t a signatory? Or why they haven’t said a word against it?

      Or why any other student media (Owl Eyes, STAR, etc) is not bothered about this sorry state of affairs?

    • As this was actually a university election (a fact much overlooked here) I doubt the Students’ Association actually “crafted the rules”…

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