After six years, I have been asked to write this letter of reflection. Six years in St Andrews which have changed me fundamentally are obviously hard to summarise. St Andrews is the place which allowed me to come out and embrace my identity, which has a strength of community which saved me from the depths of a serious health crisis, and which granted me the opportunity to be heard as the representative voice for almost 9,000 people.
Being your Director of Representation has been a tremendous honour and privilege. It has been a job which has had ups and downs, and the pace has been phenomenal. In just two weeks I will know the two people who will follow me into the roles of Director of Education and Wellbeing. The sabbatical split will probably come to be my legacy at the Students’ Association and wider university. My personal view is that we have created an opportunity to deliver excellence of a kind which became very challenging in the overburdened DoREP role. I hope that you will choose candidates whose drive and ambition will define their new roles, and shape the split into a positive change to the benefit of the whole student body.
My personal view is that we have created an opportunity to deliver excellence of a kind which became very challenging in the overburdened DoREP role.
To reflect upon what has been achieved during my term of office when I’m only two thirds of the way through has been a challenging experience. I do not yet believe that I have completed what I set out to do, but a cursory review of my manifesto suggests otherwise. Of the thirty-two promises I made to students, over twenty-nine have now been fulfilled. However, the things which I consider to be the high points of my term of office have nothing to do with my manifesto. These have been the moments where a student came to me in need, and I was able to offer a solution for them. I have gained an unexpected and encyclopaedic understanding of the academic appeals system. To know that someone’s student experience has changed direction completely as a result of your direct intervention is at once humbling and rewarding. Theirs will be the faces I will remember long after this job comes to a close.
There are some unfinished manifesto promises which I will happily admit at this stage that I will not pursue. This is purely because the benefit of experience has taught me that fulfilling these promises would, in reality, add little value for the student body. For example, a promise such as inviting senior management to meetings of the SRC in order to increase transparency make the patently ridiculous assumption that the university’s senior management team would willingly subject themselves to an evening of student politics. At times, I’ll admit, I hardly manage myself.
Being involved in the student government has been an odd experience, although not without its rewards. I have seen many great things. Lorraine’ Callaghan’s new representative group for life-long learners is an achievement of the first magnitude, and one which I believe will open fantastic new doors within the university. Similarly, my decision to throw the Students’ Association full-into the campaign for lecture capture technology is one which should, I hope, usefully direct our student politicians in the coming months. The final result when this technology eventually rolls out will be a better learning experience for all our students, especially those with disabilities or additional support needs. I am immensely proud of the members of the Association Councils this year and how hard they have worked to improve the student experience. The introduction of our lecture capture policy is a good example of this.
We are treated as respected equals rather than upstart pip-squeaks or, worse, as token gestures toward the notion of student representation.
The other side of student politics is, in my view, not particularly welcome in St Andrews. I refer to the side which we often see smeared over the Sunday tabloids. It is commonly associated with a three letter acronym which I dare not name out of fear that it might appear for a third referendum like a socially-minded Voldemort. I find the relative absence of this kind of high-politicking in St Andrews helpful, as it is incompatible with my sense of what makes for effective student representation.
With rare exceptions, I have not encountered too much of the pettiness which seems to characterise some of the other student unions across the UK. Any factional infighting which I may have come across is more closely limited to a clash of personalities rather than to differing ideologies. I feel that this ideological unity is an incredibly good thing. It brings us forward as a union in a productive manner. We work with our university very closely; not because we don’t fight for the student voice, but instead because we recognise that the student voice can readily go unheard when left outside in the cold. Our direct line to the Principal’s Office gives us the opportunity to challenge in a sensible manner. As a consequence, we are treated as respected equals rather than upstart pip-squeaks or, worse, as token gestures toward the notion of student representation. This level of engagement empowers you as an electorate and ensures that your voice is a genuine political force within the university. Sensibility and a balanced temperament go a long way towards the making of a good Director of Education or Director of Wellbeing. I hope that those elected to replace me will fit this mould.
I’d like to sign off with a handful of new promises. I promise to spend my remaining months continuing to work for your benefit. I promise not to compromise my motivation now that the end of my tenure is in sight. Finally, I promise that when I leave, you will see me again in the town which I will always gratefully consider my home.
Thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity.