Student democracy at Loughborough University is fundamentally flawed. A failure to attract the best sabbatical candidates, a cosy culture of yes-men and back patting, and no future test at the ballot box are central defects of a system seemingly too far gone for reform.
That is the conclusion I have finally come to after a two-and-a-half year undergraduate career.
When I leave the institution in the summer, it will be a sad moment. I have thoroughly enjoyed my degree, the lifestyle and the opportunities provided to me. I have also made some friends for life.
But I will not be sad to leave the omnishambolic scene in the Student Union’s council chamber and executive office. Off the record, a substantial number of current and former officers agree. But then they’d never admit that in public, or even to each other.
The concept of student democracy is a good one. Indeed, it is enshrined in law that sabbatical officers must be selected by a cross-campus election. It is vitally important that students drive the change that affects them, their degrees and a significant period of their early-adulthood.
It was on these principles that The Epinal was established in August 2012. Those with responsibility must be held to account. Incompetence must be attacked. Impropriety must be exposed. Criticism should take place without concern for personal relationships. The electorate should have de facto power.
Above all, life needs kicking into a system that is dominated by meaningless buzzwords, cosy friendships and a weird consensus amongst some that criticizing is akin to cursing someone’s sainted mother.
But no, I’m told criticism is okay really, as long as it is be framed constructively and topped and tailed with caveats and unwavering praise for the person(s) you think has fallen short, done something wrong or simply disagree with.
This week, Ali Cole has been billing a post on the LSU Executive as the “ultimate graduate job”. Now, don’t get me wrong. He is the best VP Democracy the Union has had in recent times. He has made some bold but excellent changes to the electoral system on campus. But if he still thinks the Exec is the ultimate grad destination in ten years time, I’ll eat my hat.
In my first year, I published evidence for a story that had been leaked to me by an executive officer. Upon publishing, they realised that they probably shouldn’t have leaked what they had and requested its removal.
In my second year, we had the surreal situation of the person put in charge of Loughborough’s democracy seemingly unable to grasp what democracy actually entails, besides a bunch of sheep voting at a polling station.
This year, we have one member of the executive team that was elected on the basis of a manifesto focused upon changing something completely beyond their job description.
I have enough faith in the students of Loughborough University to say that there were better potential candidates available. Why didn’t they run? Maybe the cost, maybe because they weren’t aware of the opportunity, but most probably because they had a better offer from somewhere that has a more valid reason to lay claim to the “ultimate graduate destination” tagline.
The specific pro’s, of which job satisfaction I’m sure is one, and the con’s, an example of which being the fact a sabbatical role isn’t a proper job, will be left for another time. What should be addressed now is the idea that being on the Executive increases career prospects.
Sure, it does for some. Rag Chair offers the perfect avenue into a charity career. AU President is a great start for those that want to break into sport development. But mostly, those that go onto be successful will do so because of who they are and what they have to offer, not what a year working for the Union provided them.
Lucy Hopkins was an exceptional Union President and is now forging a successful career in public relations. Her original break came through a contact she made while on the executive. Was that the reason she got a job? I don’t believe so. She is the sort of person that was always going to be a success and would have made the contacts necessary elsewhere if that one hadn’t have arisen.
Joe Tidy was Head of Media and now presents Newsround on CBBC, but had to study journalism at Cardiff because the executive role offers little to the top employers.
Ben Croucher now works at Radio Kent and managed to break into the BBC straight after his term in office. Was that because he was Head of Media? I hardly think so. More because he was very good at what he did, had experience of volunteering in the media centre and crucially, had proved himself during an internship on the airwaves.
There will be those that disagree. Even the three that I have cited might do. They are entitled to that opinion.
But I could provide a hefty list of former Exec members that have gone onto jobs in some far from fashionable work places. Eighteen candidates for ten positions made up last year’s executive elections. Hardly evidence that supports the “perfect graduate job” claim, is it?
With all this contempt, why do you keep covering student politics then, you may ask. It is a newspaper’s duty to. It was the premise for which this publication was established; to influence change for the good of the public. We will keep trying to do exactly that.
From a personal standpoint though, my faith is diminishing. Disenchanted isn’t the word. And no, unfortunately I’m not alone.
With elections fast approaching, we can only hope for some real competition and competence. I won’t, however, be holding my breath.
Undoubtedly, there will be uncontested positions, meaningless manifestos packed with words like “inspire” and “experience” and another year of abject disappointment.
Sadly, the fact that the victors are unlikely to face another electoral test also means scrutiny, on the whole, will continue to lack teeth.
I look forward to the accusations of “continual criticism” and “negative coverage” in the comforting thought I won’t have to put up with them for much longer.
Some will probably say I’m putting people off staking a candidacy. Not at all. People are capable of forming their own opinion. The majority already have. My opinion is clear and it is for the aforementioned reasons I won’t be running in the elections myself.