As student elections approach, The Saint looks back on Joe Tantillo’s year as Director of Representation (DoRep), evaluating his endeavours, failures and achievements to date.
Winning the election by a narrow margin of only six votes in March of last year, Mr Tantillo’s manifesto showed initiative, originality and ambition. His main policies included promises to incorporate more students in the University Court, extend deadline negotiation to non-sports players and improve the relationship between student and advisor.
Thus far, however, he has failed to complete many of his manifesto commitments, admitting that his approach was perhaps overly ambitious and “bright-eyed”, saying: “There are many more projects I would love to begin during my time as DoRep, but unfortunately one year simply isn’t enough time to fix every issue, as the role is incredibly demanding.
“Much of my time is spent working on curriculum approval, doing academic monitoring, or meeting with students who are just having a tough day.”
More detailed analyses of each of his promises are given below.
One of Mr Tantillo’s key policies was to increase the number of students who profit from the University’s academic flexibility policy. Currently afforded only to sport players, Mr Tantillo promised to extend the right to negotiate deadlines to students involved in societies, theatre and volunteering. Though a noble policy and unsurprisingly popular among much of the student body, it has not yet been actioned. Nonetheless Mr Tantillo stated that a review of the policy is currently underway, though he was unable to say more owing to confidentiality issues.
In addition to this, the incumbent DoRep has been involved with revising the extension policy for students with extenuating circumstances; reconfiguring the academic alert system and developing the marking scale in order to encourage tutors to use it in its entirety, from 0-20.
Viewing the student-advisor relationship as a “30 seconds” affair, Mr Tantillo aimed to improve this, specifically by increasing the amount of academic support provided to every student by their advisor. Whilst on paper little seems to have been achieved in this area, Mr Tantillo said that he is again unfortunately constrained by confidentiality on this matter. He did say, however, that he and the School Presidents have begun efforts to enhance the face-to-face aspect of advising, whilst an IT restructure is also underway which should also help to address some of the issues.
Like almost every DoRep candidate from 2012 onwards, Mr Tantillo promised to tackle the problem of not having a reading week in semester one by securing a period of time without coursework deadlines or class tests. Unfortunately, nothing has amounted from this arguably unrealistic (though attractive) promise. The University seems resolute on this point and perhaps future DoRep candidates would do well to drop it from their manifestos altogether.
In this area Mr Tantillo has most excelled. Having pledged to increase Mental Health First Aid training for students in contact with large numbers of students, Mr Tantillo created Wellbeing Class Representatives (Class Reps). Besides, enhancing the overall Class Rep system, Wellbeing Class Reps also provide a vital link between Student Services and individual schools. So far they have been well received. Mr Tantillo also confirmed that a member of staff is currently being trained as a Mental Health First Aid Trainer.
Mr Tantillo also promised to assign all first year students a Student Services’ counsellor. This was an ambitious proposal which has not been fully realised, however a test of the wellbeing advisor system was instigated. This paired assistant wardens and members of Student Services with incoming students in order to facilitate their transition to University.
In addition to these changes, the current DoRep created the StAnd Together Initative, a joint Union-University wellbeing enterprise which will continue after Mr Tantillo leaves the University, undertaking a new mental health or wellbeing project every year. This year, the project was “Got Consent?” which aimed to tackle sexual violence and how this might be prevented by bystander intervention. Also resulting from the project was a change in University policy regarding sexual violence, which Mr Tantillo explained he was extremely proud of having effected.
One of the aims outlined in Mr Tantillo’s manifesto was to increase the productivity and inclusiveness of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC). Whilst substantial SRC reform did take place this year, Mr Tantillo was not responsible for this, though he did express his wholehearted approval and support for the reforms.
Mr Tantillo was sadly unsuccessful in his aim to include more students on the University Court.
Library and Study Space
Another of Mr Tantillo’s promises entailed providing additional study space for individual departments and procuring plans from the University for a second library. Though unsuccessful in his negotiations, Mr Tantillo remains optimistic that a second library will be secured in the future, though sadly not during his year as a sabbatical.
In the meantime, Mr Tantillo has helped introduce the new parking ticket system in the library. This aims to combat seat monopolising by issuing a “parking ticket” if belongings are left at an unoccupied seat for more than one hour.
He has also negotiated with the University to provide gender-neutral toilets as part of the future library redevelopment programme.
The Saint’s Assessment
Overall, though Mr Tantillo achieved few of his manifesto promises, the positive contribution which he has made to the University is undeniable. While in hindsight many of the proposals he made last year seem a little impracticable and overambitious, he has clearly tried hard to ensure as many as possible came to fruition. With four months left as DoRep, Mr Tantillo’s determination and commitment to help students at the University will hopefully lead to further achievements, especially in the areas where negotiations are currently underway.
Though Mr Tantillo is proud of what he has accomplished, he too states that he would of course have liked to achieve more: “I think you always hope to do more. I think that’s just the nature of the type of people who go for these kinds of jobs.”