Few students are likely to have ever agreed much with Henry Kissenger. But by the end of the month, his dictum “student politics is so bitter precisely because the stakes are so small”, will resonate with many a bemused bystander.
It’s right that those those who seek to represent us should spend 3 weeks on display, open to any question or potential gaffe, swaddled only in cardboard. This is not just for our entertainment. Whoever prevails on 1st March will be sitting in meetings on our behalf which will decide not just how the University, and Council, but civil society and many large corporations deal with us and make decisions which affect our lives. Not to mention how our services, societies, sports clubs, and the causes we care about are managed and run. They will be there through no virtue of their own, but solely because we elected them. Neither students nor officers make history in circumstances of their own choosing. There are big issues to be grappled with.
Ever since a peak in 2009/10, YUSU’s commercial surplus has been going down. Last year it was ‘only’ £43,000 – the price of a student union CEO. With no obvious avenues for highly profitable commercial expansion, YUSU’s model of the last few years that Union enterprises would fuel the expansion of Union services is untenable. To continue improvements YUSU has to cut the amount spent on pet projects of uncertain value such as #Demo2012 (£4,000) or the Society’s Showcase (£7,000). Alternatively, the Union should try securing a larger grant from the University.
The recent revelations about engagement with YUSU decision making clearly shows that the Union has to be bolder if it’s to work. Pizza, online streaming, and flip-chart paper are a paper hat when the emperor has no clothes. Our generation inherits no certainties, we must ask the big questions afresh. Like: what is the correct relationship between the Union and JCRCs at a supposedly collegiate University? Do the unchanged structures of the ’60s course reps, senate reps, sabbs on University committees, allow us to steer the University? Does our current lack of engagement with the Union suggest a failing on their part or a need to dissolve the student body and elect another one? And that’s just internal matters.
The University has enough income to avoid cutting budgets. With potential charges for waste disposal, cuts to transport, housing, and the archives service, YUSU must ensure students aren’t worse off. Those proposed housing schemes, lighting and cycling improvements haven’t been forgotten. We need to decide whether to continue to step in for the Council, with our community funds and volunteering projects. Or whether we are best served by uniting with the people of York to fight austerity.
On the national and international stage, York finally getting the sporting success it deserves means that the next Sports President will need to decide whether to funnel funds towards successes or whether to try and widen participation. Less tangibly, with one of the most contentious conferences in its recent history coming up, and the entire movement at a juncture, how YUSU relates to the NUS is going to be a defining issue in the coming years. York’s struggles have to be seen in a wider context. York’s next round of officers shall have to try and cajole the University into doing something to improve its abysmal, albeit consistent, “third class” classification in the People&Planet Green League. Meaning while they are in no way opposed, our officers must reconcile the desires of the politically engaged for an ethical stance in trading and in policy matters with the concrete needs of all students when it comes to driving the necessary improvements in housing, catering and healthcare.
‘Bitter’ for sure, but ‘low stakes’? Whilst you’re a student, not at all. It’s our Union. They are our big issues.