All entries for Monday 14 February 2005

February 14, 2005

PRESIDENT'S BLOG LAUNCHED

Hi. My name’s Simon and I’m the President of the Students’ Union.

I graduated with a 2:1 in Philosophy and Politics this summer and since August 1st 2004 I’ve been 'the primary representative of the student body' here at Warwick. I’m a full-time Sabbatical Officer. I sit on key University bodies including University Senate, Council and Steering. I chair the Union’s Executive Committee (its equivalent of a Cabinet). I’m responsible for Union staff and officers. I oversee Union policy, and interpret the Union Constitution. Finally I’m tasked with developing strategy.

My office is upstairs in Union North (directly above Lazerlizard). I work all hours of the day and when I’m in I try to keep the door open all the time. I always welcome visitors.

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I’m launching this blog tonight because I’m all too aware that there’s a danger of losing your way during your second 6 months as a Sabbatical.

In our first 6 months this Sabbatical Team has achieved a hell of a lot:

  • We’ve simplified and strengthened Union democracy (with a brand new Constitution) making it a real force for change, and engaging people in meetings, elections and a referendum in record numbers.
  • We’ve lowered drinks prices and reintroduced happy hours.
  • We oversaw a £300k cap-ex spend on Union South that’s given us among other things a separate entry to the newly extended Graduate Bar.
  • We’ve got more people involved in a greater range of Sports Club and Society activities than ever before.
  • We’ve got swipe card access to Union events and on-line ticketing up and running along with the brand new Ents Outlet ‘Advance’.
  • We’ve staked out gutsy and forceful positions within the University and further afield on everything from Warwick in Asia and cannabis to the National Student Survey and international student visa charging.
  • We’ve fostered the most active SSLC system in memory and harnessed it to get proper student feedback on academic issues that really matter; like the earlier publication of timetables.
  • We’ve helped free AWS from the batch scheme to allow it to return to its core function.
  • We produced the much acclaimed ’Housing Guide’ and held an extremely successful Housing Day.
  • The list goes on and on

Nevertheless there is sometimes a tendency for Sabbs to run out of steam. Once your successor’s been appointed and you’re getting to the end of Term 2 it can be all too easy to drift and become what’s sometimes been called a “Caretaker Sabb”.

I’m absolutely determined not to let this happen, which is why I want to use this blog to restate my key objectives (or rather the major themes I hope to adhere to) for the remainder of my term of office.

This is, in a way, my manifesto for the next six months:

1. Refocusing the Union’s Membership Services:
AWS must now be allowed to get back to its core function. The quality, continuity, and consistency of our representation needs to improve. Union democratic meetings have to become more accessible. Sports clubs and societies need more satisfactory levels of support. We have to stop reinventing the wheel every year when it comes to training. Representation in general needs more funding. We need to slim down and rationalize the way we conduct Union democracy. The question of Sabbatical support requires a solution.

2. Building Better Union-University Relationships:
We need to build better levels of trust and understanding as well as a wider appreciation of the role the Union plays in the student experience. We must safeguard the Union’s independence and be cautious and careful in our approach to the devolved department discussions. Nevertheless we should foster a reputation for collaborative working and try to resolve long-standing issues that have plagued successive years such as the ongoing disputes over Warwick Accommodation. We must secure the necessary funds for a rebuild of Union South in 2006.

3. Taking Charge of Union Democracy:
Union democracy has been drifting for too long. An active, engaged student body is in the Union’s best interests and is a powerful weapon with which to secure change. We need to find better ways of engaging with Union Council. We need to cease focusing on the simple mechanics of allowing democracy to take place (achieving quorum etc…) and put greater emphasis on the quality of the democratic decisions that we make. We should be making informed, responsible choices with the best interests of students and the organisation as our paramount concern. We deserve a small, rational and practical policy file that we can execute in full.

4. Dealing with the Culture of ‘Harsh Discipline’:
The University still has a tendency to treat its fee-paying students like its subjects rather than its customers. In the case of the University’s current policy on cannabis in halls of residence it has shown its willingness to use its extensive powers in a draconian, disproportionate and outdated fashion. This has a terrible effect on the welfare of our students. We have to secure a change in this policy.

5. Encouraging Debate on Campus:
We must be wary of the growing tendency to take debate and opinion too personally. The recent outburst of intimidation and hatred that greeted an article in the Boar on the subject of China is case in point. We must remind each other that we can disagree without falling out. We can feel passionate about something without getting angry. This is a University and fundamentally we all came here to learn and to talk about ideas in a free and open way. We must not be afraid to do so.

6. Getting the Small Things Right:
Small annoying problems can be terribly frustrating. The cumulative effect of a few tiny persistent issues can be infuriating. The classic example of this is the wobbly tables in Cholo. We will budget to replace these as soon as is humanly possible. Generally however we need to foster a culture in which everyone appreciates the importance of getting the small things right, and takes the initiative to flag them up or get them sorted when they notice them.


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