The motto of our University is “ever to excel”- and, in most ways, we do. There is more talent, ingenuity, and creativity within the three streets of this little town than anywhere else on earth. But there’s plenty of ways life in St Andrews does not match the excellence of its students. We are forced to contend with rapidly increasing housing costs. We are one of four University towns in the UK without a railway station. It’s unclear how the open, international character that so much of the success of our university was built on will cope with the challenges posed by Brexit.
You’re probably expecting me to tell you how Srdja Popovic is uniquely well-equipped to deal with these challenges- it would be very easy for me to do so. From leading the student movement Otpor!, which peacefully overthrew the brutal dictator Slobodan Milesovic, to helping Serbia to transition into a stable and functioning democracy, to founding the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), which has helped fight for democracy from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, this is a man who gets things done. But i’m not going to talk about that.
this is a man who gets things done
You’re also probably expecting me to talk about our manifesto- and to be fair, there’s a lot to talk about. But I think our policies- lobbying the University to make at least half of all new accommodation it builds cheap, affordable housing, to making an easily accessible database of landlords so students know exactly who we’re dealing with when we start renting, to fighting for the rights of foreign students, speak for themselves.
The Rectorship is an important position. Filling it with the right person can make a huge difference to the University, for good or ill. But to understand how we can get the best out of the Rector’s office, we need to understand the paradox at the heart of how the Rectorship works. The Rectorship is a voluntary position, not a full-time job, and so anyone qualified and inspirational enough to even be worth considering as a candidate is likely to already have huge demands on their time. In such circumstances, can we really rely on someone who is neither employed by nor resident in St Andrews to devote all their time to fixing the problems of its students?
Maybe we could. Maybe we should just vote for a candidate and hope for the best. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The idea that a Rector- any Rector- can simply wave a magic wand and get rid of the problems faced by St Andreans is unrealistic. The best way for a Rector to make a positive difference in the lives of students, is by teaching us to make that positive difference for ourselves.
And that’s where Srdja comes in.
Whether rallying his fellow Serbian students against a seemingly unstoppable tyrant, training ordinary people in how to peacefully take on some of the worlds worst dictators and win, or preaching the gospel of nonviolent revolution from in places as diverse and prestigious as Harvard University and the Oslo Freedom Forum, helping others to help themselves is Srdja’s calling.
The best way for a Rector to make a positive difference in the lives of students, is by teaching us to make that positive difference for ourselves.
If elected, he will use these skills to empower the student body so that we can tackle our own problems. He’ll find it as hard to do things for us as any other Rector would, but he’ll be able to do things with us better than anyone else. Instead of applying vauge pressure towards vauge goals from a position that the student body is vaguely aware of, Srdja will equip us with the skillset and expertise that we need to make St Andrews a better place.
What will this mean, in practice? A confident, assertive student body able to transform campus in the ways that matter to us. A Rector’s office revamped to be fit for purpose in the 21st century, one that exists to help students rather than for the sake of ceremony. A University that leads the way, not just in academics and innovation, but also in student power and participation.
You’d be within your rights to point out that this is a big ask, but Srdja has handled worse odds before and won, and I’d . You might point out he’s not exactly a local, but if our sole criteria for picking a Rector is how close they live to North East Fife, we might as well not bother having an election in the first place. You might worry about his lack of a connection with St Andrews students, but he’s spent the last few days of the campaign living, eating, and drinking (an awful lot) with students, just to get to know us, and our concerns.
And you might call him an outsider, but last night I watched him finish a pint in six seconds one moment, and then launch into a deep discussion about Assad and Putin the next, and I, personally, cannot think of anything more brilliantly, classically St Andrean than that.