Nouse speaks to the candidates running for the position of YUSU President:
What are the strengths and weaknesses of your predecessor?
James Carney: Tim hasn’t been afraid to speak out on behalf of the students, for example he was against the motion to link the University of York with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and recently condemned the Archbishops infamous comments on marriage. I respect that and believe that is a definite strength in a President. A weakness is as always, a failure to uphold manifesto policies, if they are elected on the basis of their policies, and if they fail to deliver, they should be held accountable, the current president promised more activism, I personally haven’t seen this.
Kallum Taylor: Tim is very approachable and has professionalised YUSU, but what I do think what’s missing is a loud voice. Being nice is all well and good in certain circumstances, but sometimes you need to draw a line and get off the fence. I think that’s what students want.
Nacho Hernando: Both my predecessors have the same strengths and weaknesses. The Tim dynasty were fantastic in establishing a new democratic structure. The problem is because they were so focused on this they really failed to deliver a union that was practical to our students. Now that we’ve established that I hope we can focus on burning issues to our students. We are 14th in the Guardian league table and that’s just unacceptable for a university that intends to be a top ten.
Peter Warner-Medley: I think Tim has been sold short by the media. He has succeeded in stewarding through the Democratic Review which was set up before he came in. He’s definitely improving the assemblies. But he hasn’t done as much as he could. On Live and Loud, he backed away, he could have secured a much bigger act, but was too concerned about complaints of not attracting enough people to the event. He’s been a little bit shy when it comes to hitting big goals.
Thomas Stuart Taylor: I have been trying to talk to as many people as possible about the YUSU Presidency. The opinions ranged from indifference to ignorance. It seems that no one really knows what this apparently very important person does. As YUSU President I would make it clear what I was, or wasn’t doing, in relation to YUSU politics. I will not stand for translucency, I am transparent.
Zahra Latif: We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of people that are likable, and I think Tim is a very likable character who encourages collaboration. We need someone who can bring people together and that’s been great. His one weakness is that he hasn’t pushed enough with the council, for instance the HMO with the student housing. We must build effective professional relationships with the council and the wider community.
Why should students believe the promises you are making?
JC: I don’t like promising, I could easily say I will give you cheaper academic resources, increase democratic participation, more for the tuition fees, but the president is not the Vice Chancellor and you cannot promise this. What you can promise is to campaign for it. The University is a bureaucracy but the Union is a democracy, and that is a great thing in our favour. In order to be heard you have to make a sound. YUSU shouldn’t be an extended arm of Heslington Hall, and that’s what I am looking to bring to the role more than anything.
KT: My record hopefully speaks for itself, as Vanbrugh Chair we lowered drinks prices against commercial services, people never thought that would happen. We got the V-bar renovation through within the year. YUSU is a catalyst and needs to deliver its promises.
NH: One of the main things that I was really happy about was that when I was working in Goodricke the committee had some amazing members and it was thanks to them that we were able to get some concrete results for the college. It was amazing to be able to work with such people and get some real results. It was not only working with them but both the ex and new Langwith chair to get bar for Hes East and make sure bar was run by YUSU. It is collective efforts that get us through.
PWM: I have aimed for ambitious, but achievable goals. On student satisfaction for example, some may say that 50% is unambitious, but that is a realistic goal, and as a percentage , is still a considerable amount. My biggest promise though, isn’t the specific goals themselves, it is to work hard, and that is something people can trust me on. The pledges will be achieved as a result of that work.
TST: Well I have already achieved Movement II of my electoral campaign which was to make sure the library is completed. I have been assured it will be completed by the start of my Presidency. Furthermore, my policies are simple, achievable and in the public domain. Transparent like a stained glass window; you can look at me/it, but not through me/it.
ZL: I want students to feel as though they are invested in the University and that the Union is an effective hub. YUSU has to be more accessible, every week I would have a Sabbatical officer on campus, available for students to sit and talk to. Let’s make assemblies open air in Vanbrugh paradise and encourage student participation.
Which former political leader would you compare yourself to?
JC: Tiberius Gracchus, he was a tribune of the people, he promised reforms that gave power to the people, taking land away from the rich and the roman senate. The President is a representative of the students and it’s important to remember that.
KT: It’s my father who has inspired me politically. He taught me to stand up for people, to get involved and that if you have opinions you should voice them. Too many people sit on the fence and every now and then we need people to step forward.
NH: I don’t see myself as an absolute authoritative figure, especially in a student’s union. That’s why it’s a union and not a political party because we need to focus on services, in making people’s lives easier. They know themselves far better than we do. At no point will I be a candidate or president that will assume what the people know that is unacceptable.
PWM: Nobody can give a popular answer to this question. But I’m going to go with Tony Blair. When he came in he said ‘things can only get better’. I’m not saying things are as bad as that, but what I’m saying is that things are stagnant. Students are bored with YUSU. All people hear about them is negative. I want to get people excited again.
TST: I think it is a little pretentious for a YUSU President to compare himself/herself/their self/myself to the likes of Thatcher or Obama (soon to be former). I mean there is no Mining Society that I could abolish, and we already have an NHS (not provided by the Uni, and rightly so). I just want to be the voice for the voiceless, but with a voice.
ZL: Bangladeshi economist and Nobel peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who gave small micro finance loans to women in village communities, enabling them to start small scale business of their own. He put the money in the woman’s hands, in the faith they would use the money in the best way possible, which has proven to have worked. He believed in the power of small movements, small change and empowering people at the grass roots.
How will you deliver better student satisfaction/experience with the fee rise next year?
JC: I hope to increase democratic participation and provide students with more events. There is a fine line between negotiation and direct action, whilst it’s important that you work closely with the university, at times you have to stand up and exercise protest. My vision for YUSU is that it will work from the bottom up. If you empower the collegiate committees, YUSU can coordinate and better organise events. A Union that represents a unified student body would be a formidable force. The current body is not as direct as it could be.
KT: I have some long and short term goals. It should be YUSU’s default policy to advance the development of Heslington East, equally Heslington West can’t be left behind. The student Union needs to lay down students demands. YUSU should be big on transparency and visibility. I aim to bring about small things such as more cycle storage, and lockers for off- campus students.
NH: It’s got local implications. We have to follow through the YUSU hidden cost campaign. Act on results and lobby the University to acquire results. The University spent two million pounds on student experience with fresher’s textbook pack. Why just freshers? At a national level we need to work with the NUS and try to review fee rise. It is detrimental to students. That’s the sort of thing any candidate will tell you. However one of my key policies is to set up an academic mentoring scheme. That is a scheme where we offer Postgrad students more part time jobs in teaching these mentors give support lessons to undergraduates on a three to one, two to one scale and which would be covered by the University as a result of the fee rise. You can just sign up to these support lessons and see concrete results from them.
PWM: I will deliver better student satisfaction by addressing areas we are falling short on. I plan to set the agenda and make it count, reach the unreached, give a voice to those who don’t have one at the moment and bring issues in to debate. We must target what we do effectively to really make an impact. We can do this by communicating more clearly, perhaps through the student media. We need to advertise our achievements in this way to contribute to student satisfaction. When the new fees come in, the University are going to have a huge revenue stream, and that is something we can tap in to for student satisfaction. We need a leader who can argue directly for that and get the job done. We don’t need another diplomat.
TST: By responding to what makes students dissatisfied. Isn’t that really the entire role? I mean most people are only doing this to enhance their CV. I’m not interested in that. I read (in both senses) music. My parents are about as disappointed in me as it gets. I’m a modest man, with much to be modest about.
ZL: York does actually provide an amazing student experience and it’s a lot about communicating that better. It is about empowering students through open representation. This is the key to securing student satisfaction. YUSU needs to strengthen York’s alumni and professional network, to create an innovative community that students can feel part of when they leave university.
Do you think the YUSU president should be a public figure first and working behind the scenes second?
JC: It is a representative role primarily, but a President is not just a pretty face and a loud mouth, you do have to work behind the scenes. A President has to visible and vocal when necessary, but equally comfortable behind the scenes.
KT: I don’t see why you can’t do both, you need to be breaking your back to do so and to justify our salaries. I did it as College Chair without getting paid, if I’m getting paid to do it, I’m going to be even worse, but for the benefit of everyone.
NH: I think most of the important stuff that a President and Sabbatical member should be doing is negotiating with the University and rather than publishing results as personal results they should be published as a result of the union. Sabbs should spend more time out of the office connecting with students. Spending so much time in the office answering emails is not the way forward. It saddens me when people say I won’t speak to YUSU because they are unapproachable. They should have the time to answer people’s questions.
PWM: It completely depends on the matter. The role commands a balance of both. But internally, your focus has to be communication with students. Communication needs to be spearheaded. Year after year I’ve seen presidents say ‘I’m going to go out and talk to you,’ and they never do. I propose that unless there is a time-sensitive project, I will cut the offices internet off for a certain number of hours a week. I want those in the office to go out and talk to 5 people they don’t know and listen to student concerns. Afterwards, we will reflect and discuss on what we’ve heard and see how we can respond. It’s the job of everyone in the union to communicate with students.
TST: Surely the YUSU President is a public figure because of his work behind the scenes, i.e. his Presidency. To separate these two concepts makes a joke of student elections. It would be suggesting it’s all just a popularity contest. I’m not popular. This year I was forced into living with friends of my parents as I made no social companions during my first year.
ZL: It’s always a balance. Looking at YUSU in the past, visibility has been a problem and that’s something I want to address. I want us to be out and about talking to people; Sabbatical officers should be the servants of the student opinion, not other way round. There’s a private and a public aspect to the role and so ultimately it’s about balancing the two.
Abir Ahmmed declined to answer our questions and simply stated his manifesto:
We at York have a illustrious history, but there is, I think, one issue that my predecessors have ignored. For I am firm in my belief that York needs a moon base. Nay, York deserves a moon base. And one it shall have if I am elected President. Thus I make these promises:
My first pledge: to build you a moon base
My second pledge: to build a rocket silo under the lake
My third pledge: to use Central Hall for its true purpose – to ascend heavenwards
My fourth pledge: to deepen the new swimming pool by 3 feet. It would be useful for weightlessness training