Devil’s Advocate: Should we have so many sabbatical officers?

Association President Lewis Wood and Viewpoint Editor Max Waller debate if we have too many sabbatical officers.


Yes – Lewis Wood

Within the Students’ Association, Management and the Sabbs joke that there exists a “home office” and a ‘foreign office”. The home office consists of the Director of Events and Services, who manages all events and facilities that we offer within the Students’ Association building, alongside the Director of Student Development and Activities, who line manages the majority of our subcommittees, societies, and opportunities for involvement. Until last year, the “foreign office” consisted of the Association President, the remit of which could more clearly be titled ‘Director of External Relations & President of the SRC’, and the Director of Representation. These divisions are jovial, and do not accurately reflect the parameters of our jobs or the diversity of the portfolios that each position encompasses. They do, however, give some suggestion to the diversity of our activity, and the way in which our small team has to compartmentalise all of the activities that the SA offers.

This is an important idea, because the Director of Representation was a job that didn’t actually make sense – it didn’t compartmentalise well. The remit of the DoRep was Education, Equality, & Wellbeing. Finding an individual that was qualified to head up all of these departments was immensely difficult in itself, and once the individual had the job, giving equal and due attention to all three areas was almost impossible. When the motion to divide the role into the Director of Education and the Director of Wellbeing was brought before SA Board last year, the support for the division was unanimous. The financial investment into a new Sabbatical Officer has been continuously justified by the work put in by Zachary and Claire this year.

It’s always hard to judge a Sabbatical’s performance, because our terms are so short, and the fruits of our endeavours do not emerge until years after our term has ended; all that one can ever do is hope to start the wheels turning on the big projects, and rep-resent the ongoing ones. Education, Wellbeing, & Equality have received the sustained level of focus and attention that these serious issues deserve. For example, Claire has developed listening and support skills training with Student Services, tailored specifically to St Andrews, and has been able to personally deliver the work-shops to student groups, something the DoRep never would have had the time to do. She has also developed a full directory of wellbeing and sup-port resources to be launched on the Union website in the immediate future. Amongst other projects, Zachary has had extra time and resources to better support your elected academic representatives, which has lead to an increase in academic events and smoother running of feedback delivery to the University, an important factor in ensuring your voice is heard on the educational experience here.

Our priority has been ensuring that the services we already provide are the best that they can be, exploring new opportunities for growth in student support, and ensuring that volunteers, subcommittees, and students that interact with us are all equipped with the skills they need. Zachary and Claire have been a joy to work with, and they have not only justified their new positions, they have dignified them. A review of the divide will take place this year at Board, and I have no doubt that the result will be to solidify these new positions for years to come.

Stepping back a little to answer the big question – do we need six sabbatical officers? I think it’s important to note what a sabbatical officer is. They are your elected student representatives, given a mandate by the student body every March, and acknowledged by the Union, the University, and the outside world as your official representatives. They’re held formally accountable by Student Council (which anyone can attend). Sabbatical officers work exceptionally hard to ensure that the exemplary student experience continues, and that all students receive the full benefit of their education. I believe that for people to ask “are there too many sabbatical officers?” comes from a sort of prejudice — an accepted belief that sabbatical officers are not working hard, do not have a function, or simply do not have enough to do. My answer would be to trust in the experts; the Union does not spend money lightly, especially not the cost of a Sabbatical officer on a recurring basis, if we were not secure in the belief that it was a worthwhile investment. Personally, I cannot envisage a scenario in which an additional student officer focusing on wellbeing & equality, or education, could possibly be a bad thing. Student representation is important — I would argue fundamental — to achieving the University that we want. I sleep easier knowing that the Union funds, and will continue to fund, six people to represent my interests.

Lewis Wood is President of the Student Association.


No – Max Waller

We do not need to have six sabbatical officers each getting paid a gargantuan salary. As a minimum, we need the Association president and the Athletic Union president. I think there is a good case to be made for the director of education and the director of events, but it is unclear to me why we need a separate director of wellbeing and a separate director of student development and activities. I would argue that we merge student development and wellbeing, and that the rest of the welfare brief should be split up between the Association president and the director of education.  Now that would be an election campaign you could get behind!

The Association president is responsible for representing our views to the University, community and on a national level.  It might make sense to directly pole association members when making political decisions; the Union after all has to represent all of its members — not just a vocal minority —  and do what is in their members’ best interests in order to fulfil the wider Association mandate to enhance student experience. Where there is a potential conflict, where it is unclear exactly what is in the best interest of its members, the President should be required to directly pole members before coming to a decision, and thus represent our views as a body to the rest of the association council. This, however, is just an extra bullet point needed to clarify what is already assumed in the president’s mandate rather than anything particularly controversial.

I would add the remit of the director of wellbeing (DoWell) to this brief.  At present the wellbeing officer is responsible for welfare, Saints LGBTQ+, democracy and Stand Together. I was unaware until I started this article that the DoWell was responsible for safe-guarding our claim to democracy. I had not realised that such a weight rested on their shoulders — making sure that elections are not rigged must be hard work in a small coastal town after all… Short of abolishing democracy, I would move that remit to the director of student development and activities – after all, they should make sure that societies are being run democratically. Saints LGBTQ+ and Stand Together would also fall under this remit, and could report to the director of student activities and development as well. Welfare and equal opportunities should be overseen by the president, with the day-to-day concerns being managed by the Welfare Committee.

As a result, we would have the Association president, the Athletic Union president, the director of development and activities, a director of education and a director of events and services.  This might result in a little bit more work for the Association president and the other sabbatical officers, but I think it is doable. Given the fact that each credit taken in a module in St Andrews is meant to warrant 10 hours of work, that would mean that over a term each sabb should be doing 600 hours of work. I would hope it would not be considered a sabbatical position otherwise.  Given that the average term length is 15 weeks including orientation week, this averages out as 40 hours a week. Between five sabbatical officers that is 200 hours of work a week each. 240 if we have a sixth.  Even taking into account the fact that this an average — naturally, there will be some which will be busier than others, and of course, they are employed over the summer as well — it is still questionable whether we, as students, get value for money by having so many sabbs.  They need to ask themselves hard questions about whether their roles really are justified as sabbatical positions.  Cutting back one sabb should be the start.

The long term goal of the Union should be to have as few sabbatical officers as possible. Perhaps this means creating more committees and officers to split up the roles so that it is possible for more people to get involved and volunteer. Or perhaps they need to change the term length to a semester, rather than a year. This would result in more money being saved by the Union, and thus more money to spend on events and societies. This is surely more in the interests of the student body than paying large salaries. I call upon the sabbatical candidates and others running for election this year to examine how they can offer good value for money for students, and to consider pursuing a long-term plan to either merge or dissolve as many of the sabbatical posts as possible. Instead of a director of events and services, the union could hire an events manager for example.   It might be the case that splitting DoRep last year was sensible, but long term we really need to consider whether or not we need so many sabbs.

The Associations primary duty is to its members, and to best serve them it needs to make sure that it is offering value for money.


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