Watch out: it’s the Professionals

Do sharp suits and fighting talk make this year’s Union a force to reckon with? Well, maybe.

A new academic year brings with it a number of things. Droves of bright-faced freshers tumble noisily around campus, upsetting the wildlife and vomiting into the lake; sullen hosts of jaded second and third years slope sluggishly about, muttering darkly about the youth of today, and newly mandated sabbatical officers occupy the Student Centre, full of the promise of their own brilliance.

Members of YUSU start the year energetic, earnest and open to all comers. Sabbatical officers will gaily entreat you to “Come and say hi when you see me in Your:Shop! Find me in Toffs and I’ll buy you a drink!” Sadly, the executive core of the SU rarely maintains this level of professional peachy-cleanliness beyond the first couple of weeks of term.

One of the main reasons sabbatical officers come a cropper is their inability to decide whether they are freewheeling, zany students or serious executives. On the one hand, they are fresh out of their undergraduate nappies; chiefly mandated to organise piss-ups and distribute free condoms. On the other, they stress the gravity of their welfare role with their hands on their hearts, claim thousands of pounds’ worth of your tuition fees in salary, and vigorously defend their right to censor the student media.

Last year, when Nouse printed leaked details of a “freshers sex bingo” game devised by the then sabbatical team, debate raged about how much professionalism it is reasonable to expect from Union officers. When one high spirited member of last year’s team sent a mock invitation to a gay orgy out to hundreds of students, many felt an important line had been crossed.

Against this grubby backdrop, the news that this year’s sabbatical officers have chosen “professionalism” as their buzzword should be met with happy relief. Anne-Marie Canning’s newly inaugurated team are to be found, even as you read, beavering away behind immaculately tidy desks in a freshly spruced office, suited and booted for all the world to see on their new 24-hour webcam.

The once notorious Matt Burton (Services and Finance) and Sam Bayley (Societies and Communications) are pioneering a strict rebranding programme, and are not afraid to rap the knuckles of those who fail to adhere to it. It’s YUSU, but the way, not the SU, and what was the Academic and Welfare drop-in service is now the nauseating “Your:Support”.

A move to ban jeans and casual clothing from the office altogether met resistance from Grace Fletcher-Hall, this year’s resident fly in the ointment, who demanded her right to dungarees and denim, on the basis that “If I don’t look like a student, students won’t want to approach me.”

Perhaps she has a point. Is true professionalism really just sartorial? Well, yes, according to Sam Bayley, who swears “All you have to do to be professional is stick on a suit. If you dress right, people take you more seriously.”

When asked what YUSU’s key objective is to be this year, other than “being professional”, Sam Bayley’s answer did not inspire a great deal of confidence. “Uh, I dunno, really. We’ve talked about it, but we can’t really think of anything that isn’t a joke. How about ‘Let’s have a good year?’” Well, yes please, that would be nice. Any idea how you’ll go about it?

The graffiti drawing of a spurting phallus on Canning’s Facebook profile, which she uses to organise YUSU events, does little more to convince me that this Students’ Union are any more truly professional than the last. Nor rumours that Fletcher-Hall vomited drunkenly into Burton’s lap at a recent NUS conference (“He was the only person in sight!” she explained).

No doubt if we are to take our Union at all seriously, they must be professional about what they do. But professionalism is more than just a euphemism for dressing up in daddy’s clothes. It is about serious and skilled application to the task at hand.

If putting on a suit and tidying up the office helps with being taken seriously, then by all means, let’s. But I hope that this year’s team will harness their starburst of start-of-year zeal and remember that what we ask for when we demand their professionalism is a Students’ Union which is run by students for students, and run well. We want officers with fire in their bellies, who turn their hands to the task with passion and ability, and who never forget that it is our money and electoral mandate which put them where they are. If they could only get this right, they could come to the office in sackcloth for all I care.

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