At the University of Leicester, it’s NUS Conference election time. I have a number of concerns about the delegate elections which I am going to outline here.
Sabbatical officers running as candidates
I find this extremely problematic. Firstly, are sabs not trained anyway to do their roles? If someone could give me more details about their training that would be helpful. I’m not denying that going to NUS conferences could be interesting and informative for them, but generally the SU has to fund conference delegates, and I do not believe that this money is being spent as wisely as it could be by sending sabbatical officers – full-time ones in particular. It is more common that full-time exec officers will not have the position for more than one year. These are also people who have had their full undergraduate degree as a time to run for election so have had many opportunities to do so already and benefit from the conferences. Basically if you think about it logically, the lower down a student in their degree course, the bigger the investment is by sending them to an NUS conference. This is because they will be at the uni for a longer period of time and will be able to use their training/experience/enlightenment from conference for a longer period of time for the good of our Union (in Union Council/sab positions/student group committee positions etc). So it makes economic sense to encourage first and second years to go much more than third years/graduate sabs.
Secondly with regards to campaigning, the sabbatical officers are at a marked advantage to any other candidate wishing to run. They are well-known on campus, they have much experience of electioneering, many of them are supported by political forces which can be quite powerful (cough Labour Party cough). This puts them well ahead of any other student wishing to run. Sabbs already have the privilege of their job experience, and I’m sure all of them have useful experiences before getting their position, be it student group committee positions, going to NUS conferences, union council involvement, whatever). They are in a privileged position now and are supposed to be encouraging the rest of the student body to get involved. They are singlehandly harming that effort by running in these elections which are absolutely not on a level playing field. For the ordinary student it can be highly intimidating to run in an election against your own exec officers. You lack experience, standing, and worst of all – who are you supposed to go to for election advice? The sabs who are running against you?! I think not. If officers really did care about student engagement more than their own careers surely they would not run and instead invest that time and energy in widening participation for other students to have access to these opportunities?
Finally, there is the question of liberation officers, who unlike any other demographic of student get to go to conference without even needing to be elected. Is that fair? All of the NUS delegate entitlement documents specifically say that the delegates to NUS conferences must be elected. However our BAME officer (going to NUS Black Students’ Conference), our Women’s Officer (going to NUS Women’s Students’ Conference), our LGBT+ Officer (going to NUS LGBT+ Students’ Conference), and our Disabled Officer (going to NUS Disabled Students’ Conference) have not been elected to go to conference. Sure, they were elected to their position as liberation officer WITHIN OUR UNION. How many people who voted were made aware that this vote was a de facto one for NUS liberation conference attendance too? It certainly wasn’t publicised or put on the voting form. Is this really democratic? Surely these officers would be better placed, in their privileged position, to be encouraging other underrepresented people from historically oppressed groups to run for conference and take this opportunity, rather than themselves who arguably should already have a lot of knowledge, skills, and experience with these issues? I mean, how in particular are the BAME and Disabled Officers encouraging BAME and Disabled students to get involved in democratic, political, leadership roles if they aren’t even encouraging them to go to NUS Conference – “sorry, there’s no place for you at Conference, I’m taking it for myself”.
In fact, I’m going to have to split this into a number of blog posts otherwise nobody will read any of them…