Yes – Joe Waters
Let me start this side of the argument by asking some questions for you to consider. Should aliens run the UN? Should farmers run the fisheries union? Should those who fish run the farmer’s union?
Despite how cool it might be to Sci-Fi fanatics to have extraterrestrials in Geneva and New York, it would be impossible for them to do the job right. Why? They have no experience of being human, they couldn’t possibly understand the needs, worries and priorities to do the job. Why would we ever expect anyone other than students to know what students want?
Well, one reason might be that we simply do not know what’s best for ourselves. Now, none of us are saints; most of us at some point have had a bit too much of the good sauce and find ourselves crawling to our first lecture the next day clutching paracetamol and promising ourselves it’ll never happen again. (Promises are made to be broken, right?) In this instance, we probably don’t know what’s best for ourselves.
However, when it comes to which wellbeing services we need, what societies we want to see funded and what Bops we want to dance at, there really is only one body of people that know best: the people who it’s all there for. To decide all of a sudden that we actually don’t seems condescending to me. It reminds me of my Primary School student council where we were graciously given the responsibility of which Golden Rules™ board we would buy for the playground—probably sensible considering we were all elected on promises of locking up the headteacher and scrapping the mandatory End of Year 6 exams.
The thing is, though, we’re not eleven years old. The Students’ Association is funded in no small part by our tuition fees, and we should have a say in what happens with those fees. Imagine paying your Netflix subscription to be told Netflix shall choose what you watch. It’d suck, right? Of course it would, and nobody would pay for that. What sort of an association would it be if some mysterious Illuminati-esque governing body chose for us what events we were to enjoy and participate in for the year?
This brings me onto my next point. If not students, then who? Presumably some form of non-student adult (unless we fancy handing control of the Association to pre-17-year olds.) Who on earth would willingly take a year out of their adult lives to assume duties such as organising a school disco every Friday, shouting at the local council that housing sucks and having folk get annoyed at you because gowns are too expensive?
Quite frankly, running the SA is a thankless task, and no non-student in their right mind would want to do it. Much like a football referee, you could be the best there is and still have abuse hurled your way once you make the slightest mistake. One dull Bop, one tone-deaf article in The Saint about Churchill Gowns and the wrath of St Feuddrews shall be untethered (when it comes back). This is why it’s imperative that the people in the top jobs should be passionate and genuinely care about the job they’re doing. Nobody other than a student can sympathise enough, care enough, and act accordingly enough with and for student needs. Don’t come running to me when the grey technocrat installed in place of a student announces the third consecutive Neil Diamond Bop.
Student representatives have a remarkable imagination that comes uniquely from having minimal experience in the real world. Unconstrained by such horrific and alien notions such as ‘procedure,’ us Bubble-Dwellers can remain receptive to the slightest whim and change of opinion to the student body and try our best to make it happen. This means that, instead of being detached and oblivious to the winds of change, students can change accordingly to the times very, very quickly.
For example, take the recent drama about the Michael Jackson Bop. Just about the only fuss I saw was a few people in a few group chats saying it was a bit weird for it to happen. Yet, the Union were receptive to the possible offence people might take and changed the Bop accordingly. Do we really think that a grey, dull bureaucratic body would’ve done that?
To quote an American hero, “Government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from this Earth.”
I’d like to take a leaf out of Abe’s book and say an association of the students, by the students and for the students, will probably never perish from St Andrews whereas an un-Student Association would rightfully never last.
No – Annabel Steele
Let’s imagine for a second that the student elections are actually the presidential race. You’re walking to the library one morning and, where the world used to be quiet and the giant seagulls used to roam free, the path is lined with desperate candidates. Biden is waving a promotional sticker in your face; Warren is throwing colour-schemed pamphlets at you; and there’s Sanders, of course, begging you to take a homemade cookie. You fight your way through the crowds, practically fall into the library, and ruminate on your traumatic journey. Who has your vote? It has to be the old guy who gave you free food, of course! You don’t know his ethics, his policies or even his name – but he provided you with sustenance. And besides, you’re pretty sure he’s the guy who poured everyone tequila shots at that house party. This is a terrible reason to give him your vote – but during the student elections, most decision-making process is informed by little more. And if life outside the bubble was run by the people who bake the best cookies and have the most friends, the world would be in an even bigger mess.
I know there are some students who scrutinise each manifesto before voting. But this isn’t the case across the board, and that’s where one of the main dangers of a student-run Students’ Association lies: the initial voting process. In the first place, students who volunteer to run the union are not “average” students; they are clearly the students who go above and beyond, immersing themselves entirely in student life. They are also, potentially, students whose bright futures depend on their achievements at university. I’m not implying that an impressive CV is a poor reason to run for a position on the Students’ Union; honestly, if I had chosen to run for a position, this would have been my primary motivation. But in the grand scheme of things, it suggests a flaw in the voting system: elections don’t necessarily produce the best candidates for the job.
Really, it all boils down to one brutal fact: students are quite incompetent. This is not an insult. It’s inevitable; we don’t have the training and we aren’t qualified. Yes, student life is intended to prepare us for life on the outside, and a student-run union provides great opportunities. But we are spoilt at this university – we can put ourselves forwards for hundreds of different positions which test our abilities and develop our skills. And this isn’t a high school council where students can voice their opinions to the qualified staff representatives who run the school. At university level, students are the only representatives. They deal with union politics, are responsible for all decision-making and preside over spending. It seems questionable to put unqualified students with little experience of real-world finances in charge of a significant portion of the university’s funds.
A non-student-run Students’ Union isn’t even vaguely comparable to an alien-run UN. Alienating “students” from “adults” is dangerous and foolish; believe it or not, at some point we naïve students are going to be adults, too. And adults were once our age, too. Think about all those times when you were younger and your parents gave you valuable advice which you thought was absolutely ridiculous because it wasn’t what you wanted to hear. Whether we like it or not, life experience and competence generally go hand-in-hand.
It’s also patronising to current job-holders, who work incredibly hard, to suggest that adults “wouldn’t want” these positions. There are millions of jobs which require consideration of the needs of a community to which the jobholder doesn’t belong. What about MPs who don’t live in the constituencies which they represent? Are they unable and unwilling to gauge the wants and needs of the people whom they represent? The vast majority of our university is run by adults who are evidently passionate about the job; you don’t have to be a student to care about students. Nobody mentioned taking all the authority away from students.
I’m not advocating a tyrannical regime wherein we must all dance grateful-ly to “Sweet Caroline” at yet another Neil Diamond BOP, and neither did anyone mention hiring a bunch of 70-year-old, middle-class, Tory-voting white men to take the places of students. We’re talking about hiring adults qualified in events management, or educational services, or whatever each job requires, to fulfil the roles with just as much passion as a student but with the added benefit of experience. And, as we often realise when we look back on the “terrible” advice our parents used to give us, experience does mean something