The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

An ivory tower flying a red flag

Colm Lock takes aim at the Students’ Union and states that it facilitates far too much waste and is not representing the student body

By

Even before this student came to university, I knew there was something amiss with our representatives. They are aloof and disconnected from the reality on the ground to an extent that would make Tsar Nicholas II look like a proletarian hero. Who could I possibly be referring to? Who could be so obviously ambivalent to the plight of the average student in Manchester? I am of course talking about the Manchester Students Union.

Now, you might well question why I am about to go after this body of self-congratulating money wasters. Well, if you are patient with me and read through to the end of this article, you will understand.

The problems are many and varied. I will not make it through all of them in this article. But if you wish you can add some of your own grievances in the comments section online. Please do not swear.

I will start with the most glaring failure of the University of Manchester Students’ Union: their failure to stand up for the rights of students. Obviously, their campaigns against sexual violence are warranted and just. Nobody should have any issue with them for that. But the Union do not seem to have bothered to take the university to account for the colossal waste of money that is the big screen now squatting on the front of the Ali G. It only advertises our own university and serves about as much purpose as some of the Students’ Union’s own officers; by which I mean bugger all.

That monstrosity cost a small fortune, and yet the Students’ Union did not think to start a campaign to try and get the money diverted into improving our main Students’ Union building — which currently resembles some kind of Orwellian Ministry of Truth. That money could have gotten us more urgently-needed computers for the library,  or made your pint at the Students’ Union bar just that little bit cheaper.

Instead, they see fit to waste their time by engaging in petty politics by restricting free speech in the guise of banning certain speakers and protesting with the junior doctors. They are paid £16,600 a year for this “work”. That’s £132,800 of the Students’ Union’s annual budget being wasted. That money could fund 40 £3,320 bursaries for students from poor backgrounds.

Their actions have resulted in our great university being given one of the lowest ratings for free speech in the country, while also alienating any student who might have wanted to hear the speakers or anyone who believes that despite someone’s views, it is better that we challenged them as opposed to sucking our thumb in the corner and crying about how we feel “threatened”.

I know many fellow students who feel alienated in this way. One such student was first year Zach, who, at the end of an introductory lecture in his first week, had a Students’ Union officer invite the students to take part in a protest at the upcoming Conservative Party conference, an event which Zach was actually attending. This protest in the end turned a bit violent.

While it is important to exercise your right to free speech and protest, the Students’ Union is supposed to represent the entire student body. Their actions have left many students, who do not adhere to their communist dogma, feeling like they are unwelcome. Zach told me afterwards that “she [the officer] incited students to protest the Tory conference which alienated part of the student body, despite having earlier claimed to not want to leave any student unrepresented”.

Those of us, like Zach, do not feel like the Students’ Union represents us. Especially if their opening salvo to new students includes speeches such as this, or has posters adorning its walls reading “overthrow the government”.

Their little pet project, the Student Senate, is just as much of a waste. On Tuesday, many of us will have received this email from one of the Students’ Union’s officers. Part of it reads as follows: “On Thursday at 6pm we’re holding our third Senate of the year in the Council Chambers, discussing the Safe Space Policy, Amazon Lockers, Donald Trump and more! Head down from 5:30pm and grab a bowl of vegetarian three bean chilli before we start”. This seems to be in direct contradiction to the officer’s statement that “We all have our gripes about university. Fortunately, this week you have a couple of opportunities to influence the change you’d like to see.”

What is on the agenda is not what students want to gripe about. What they want to complain about is the Students’ Union and how poorly the whole thing is run. How is the banning of Donald Trump going to affect us as students? Considering the reputation the Union have given us, I am surprised any speaker is willing to come here let alone Trump. And who is paying for this complimentary chilli? We students are footing the bill!

But do not fret; there is an alternative. We must look to Winchester University to show us the light. A friend of mine is an Students’ Union officer there. They have nine part-time officers who are unpaid and carry out their duties in their spare time and only three full-time paid officers. Our university has eight full-time officers and the cost is eye-watering.

So, while I am usually the first person to argue against any sort of revolutionary action, I do feel a symbolic defenestration might be in order. It would be just the ticket to improve the students’ way of life and it would remind these people that they are in these positions to represent us, with the aim of bettering our quality of life and the standard of our education.

They are not there to needlessly censor people of go on a crusade for vegetarianism.

It is time for cost effectiveness. It is high time we asked for more.

  • Emma Runswick

    I would like to politely object to the idea that ‘protesting with junior doctors’ is ‘petty politics’.

    The Junior Doctor contract is the biggest issue facing medical students (more than 1200 of them at this university) right now. It threatens their current and future training as well as affecting where they might be able to work in future. It will completely change the job they graduate into and has the potential to destroy the family lives of student parents. It is causing a mass exodus of doctors from the health service and from the country, who provide our healthcare provision but also much of our training on placement.

    The Students’ Union has supported medics in making their voices heard in this process when they lack the ability to take industrial action along with our senior colleagues.

    The Students’ Union also supported Allied Health Professional students on the last day of action, when student nurses, midwives and others walked out of placement for an hour in defence of their bursaries. Far more than 40 students will lose access to these caring professions through the loss of this support. In the past, Full Time Officers helped NHS Bursary students and I (as Faculty Officer, a part-time, unpaid, role) to campaign for simplification and improvement to the NHS bursary system as it was leaving some students behind, in 3 recorded cases relying on food banks.

    Senate discusses motions submitted by students. Someone has submitted a motion about Trump, which I agree is unnecessary. Hopefully it didn’t take much time. However, if you want to gripe, you have every opportunity to submit your own motions via the SU website.

    • adam

      I agree with you on the fact that the NHS needs support (such as the Junior Doctor contracts), but it is petty politics to go into an introductory lecture and appeal for people to go on a protest. If you are going to make allowances for the Junior Doctor contracts, then you should make allowances for every single other protest ever occurring. That means you should go into every single lecture and appeal for protestors, not just for the Junior Doctors. And of course, not everyone agrees with the protests and marches, and there are a significant amount of students that do vote Conservative.
      Lectures should be there for lectures to lecture their course. Not for Student officers to appeal for protesters, no matter how much they are passionate about their political opinions. We don’t all share them, and lectures aren’t the appropriate place to air such political opinions and activities.

      • egg-zek

        “you should go into every single lecture and appeal for protestors, not just for the Junior Doctors”
        – Glad we agree on something, the SU officers should definitely spend more time educating, agitating and organising students!
        “not everyone agrees with the protests and marches, and there are a significant amount of students that do vote Conservative” – I don’t understand what your problem with democracy is. Whilst there are a number of students who vote against their own interests by voting Conservative; we as a Union should be able to democratically decide what the Su resources are used on. If we democratically decide to use those resources on campaigning for politics that would benefit our members and society, then we should. The argument put forward by you and Colm that the SU shouldn’t use its resources on something every time a minority of students disagree with it is a ridiculous one. Its a shame that the Conservative Society do themselves a massive disservice by putting their energy in to curry nights, instead of arguing for their politics on campus.

        “lectures aren’t the appropriate place to air such political opinions and activities” Thanks for sharing that opinion. It’s one I happen to disagree with.

        • adam

          Firstly I’m not a Conservative, didn’t vote Conservative and don’t attend any Conservative meetings. I was making the point that some students are.
          Secondly, if I’m paying 9k in tuition fees, I would like that 9k being spent on my education, not for the lecture that I’m attending to be interrupted and being forced to sit through a political appeal I may or may not agree with. I may support the Junior Doctors (I do), but an introductory lecture is not the place to be appealing for marchers, especially if some students disagree with that march. The SU banned the OTC for being intimidating to some students, don’t you think Conservative students who might be attending the conference would be intimidated if 1) an SU officer preached to them in what is supposed to be an apolitical atmosphere that they are wrong and should march against a party they vote for 2) actually faced violence and intimidation by said protesters whilst at the conference?
          It seems to be that the term “intimidation” only seems to be applied in SU exec/ senate law making whenever they feel like they, or their friends are intimidated.

          • egg-zek

            ” I was making the point that some students are.”
            – I recognise that. Please read my post to find what my response to that argument is.

            “The SU banned the OTC”
            No it didnt.

            ” what is supposed to be an apolitical atmosphere”
            – , if you want unis to be an apolitical atmosphere then turn up to the next Tory party conference and protest against the marketisation of education.

            • adam

              “not appropriate for welcome week” – neither is going around lectures and appealing/ intimidating students. http://mancunion.com/2013/09/24/students-union-label-armed-forces-societies-unwelcoming/

              You haven’t made a respone to “I was making the point that some students are.”
              You have made a response as to why the SU can make its own democratic decisions about who to back politically. You have not explained why it is necessary to do so at introductory lectures, or any other lectures. You have not explained why students should have to sit through political appeals whilst attending a Chemistry class. It’s simply petty politics that isn’t needed.

            • egg-zek

              ” You haven’t made a respone to “I was making the point that some students are.””
              -” I don’t understand what your problem with democracy is. Whilst there are a number of students who vote against their own interests by voting Conservative; we as a Union should be able to democratically decide what the Su resources are used on. If we democratically decide to use those resources on campaigning for politics that would benefit our members and society, then we should. The argument put forward by you and Colm that the SU shouldn’t use its resources on something every time a minority of students disagree with it is a ridiculous one.

              Thankfully, a lot of people do think that its appropriate for the Su to make appeals to its members.

              “You have not explained why students should have to sit through political appeals whilst attending a Chemistry class” – you dont have to sit through political appeals, you are free to walk out of the lecture.

            • adam

              That isn’t an answer to the question that was posed.
              My objection wasn’t to political appeals being made, I was objected to them being made during lectures, when we have paid money to be taught a certain subject, not the benefits of joining a certain protest. Do them in the hour after the lecture, not during the hour of the lecture, or prior to the lecture. (If you do it before the lecture, students don’t have the opportunity to walk out if they don’t agree, because they’ve not actually had the lecture yet). It’s petty politics and can be done in a better way.

    • adam

      apologies for poor spelling and grammar as I wrote it on my phone

    • Mr B J Mann

      “It is causing a mass exodus of doctors from the health service and from the country”

      Yes, of course, these junior doctors aren’t strking about money, they are striking about patient safety and wellbeing.

      That’s why they are all going to Africa to do voluntary work?

      Errr no!

      Australia to support Aussia doctors protesting that their country doesn’t train enough doctors or train them well enough?!

      Errrrrrrrr, NO again!!

      To Australia to financially benefit from the fact that they can poach trained doctors with higher pay because they cut corners with training and put patients at risk?!?!?!!!

      Yup, that would be it!!!!

  • SY

    Yeah mate the £16k a year being paid to SU officers for a full time job is really ‘eyewatering’ compared to the tax breaks your party give to the ultra-rich. Why do Tories so consistently lack any sense of perspective?

  • john

    The problem with the exec is that they have zero accountability because everyone lost faith in incompetent student politics decades ago. As they have proven countless times the SU is in the business of representing people who agree with them, not the student body or even every student who wants to get heard. The people who don’t agree get feasted upon or picked apart over one off hand comment in a self-righteous gorge of the mind until they bow out and buy a ticket to Sankeys. As per the comment about junior doctors, totally ignores the whole piece, picks up on one sentence. These days such people think they are smart, not if they have taken the time to refine their argument, but if their minds are switch to ‘how can I make what you’re saying fit what I believe’ mode. The problem is far more systemic than the SU, they are just an obvious effect of the cause(s).

    • Emma Runswick

      Hey – I picked up on two issues, one of which was the comment about the junior doctor dispute, which is important to me as a medical student. I used it to demonstrate my feeling that the SU Executive Officers have done a very good job at representing students – particularly healthcare students – on these issues. It was therefore both an objection to that ‘one sentence’ and also a criticism of the idea that the SU is not representing us and that the Exec Officers are wasting their time.

      The second point I made was about how anyone can submit a motion to the Senate. Anyone can get a policy passed there, which the Officers then act upon. You could do that if you wanted. That too, was addressing the broader article which claimed – as you do – that the SU does not represent students.

    • Egg-zek

      “The problem with the exec is that they have zero accountability”

      On top of all informal ways of holding to account that exist -you can submit your questions or comments about the exec on the SU website, which then get addressed in the scrutiny committee meetings. You can ask your exec questions during the regular senates. You can force a referendum to remove a member of the exec. You can vote against any member of the exec who is running for a 2nd term. I can’t imagine how the SU could make the exec even more accountable; but if you have any more ideas bring them to senate. Your argument seems to be that the exec arent accountable because people like you cant be bothered to hold the exec to account through the various avenues that exist; which is a ridiculous argument.

      ” the SU is in the business of representing people who agree with them, not the student body or even every student who wants to get heard” . A student wanted to be heard about their opinion on banning trump, this was taken to senate, was heard and it fell (with only 48% of senate voting for it) . The Su exec will now take no action on this matter. That’s how democracy, collectivism and unions, work. We can’t have the bizarre Schrodinger representation that you and Colm appear to be arguing for, where the exec campaigns for banning trump because some students want it – whilst also simultaneously campaigning to allow trump in the building. You and Colm might think that situation may make you happy, but I dont actually think it would. This is a students Union for 40,000 students. It isnt the union of Colm, Colm’s mate Zach and “john” .

      ” the comment about junior doctors, totally ignores the whole piece, picks up on one sentence”
      Its one week since the Mancunion ran a front page article saying that 85% of medical students here are considering moving abroad after graduating, after the imposition of the JD contract. If a student is passionate about this issue, and is passionate against the Mancunion printing an article that says that exec showing solidarity with JD is “petty politics” , then they are free to explain their opinion on their matter. Its beyond absurd to demand that Emma picks apart every aspect of this ridiculous article in order for her to earn the right to make a valid point on Junior Doctors. Beside, Emma says “However, if you want to gripe, you have every opportunity to submit your own motions via the SU website” – which does adress much more than one sentence of the article.

      “such people think they are smart”
      – Emma is smart

      “not if they have taken the time to refine their argument”
      So you think that people should take time to refine their arguments, but it is wrong for Emma to disagree with a sentence in the article.

      • adam

        John is a bit of the mark, but a better way to say it would be that there is not enough transparency about how to hold them accountable. http://mancunion.com/2015/11/06/union-senate-fatally-flawed/
        It is true though that our Senate and our Student Union needs some serious changes.

        • egg-zek

          There is complete transparency – although this transparent information may not be easy to find.

          What changes would you suggest?

          • adam

            read the article?
            If it was up to me I’d just get rid of the Senate entirely. But for, a good start would not be allowing people without a political mandate to vote on political issues. Secondly would be to try and actually get people to vote in elections – 3/4 students don’t vote. The senate does not represent the student body.

  • adam

    My gripe with the SU, and in particular the SU senate is that they don’t seem to like free speech and just keep banning everything. Whether that is the Sun, the OTC, free speech society (coming soon to a SU near you), speakers. But this happens with pretty much every SU, so Manchester SU isn’t the only one.
    Also, what does the exec team actually do? Day to day? I’ve looked upon their blogs and some of them haven’t updated it for a couple of months, and the other couple just rage about a senate meeting vote or a campaign every now and again. What do they actually do 9 – 5?
    I also agree with you Colm on the colossal waste of money that TV has cost, the petty politics of not actually dealing with real issues, like the lack of computers in the library during key exam times. The Senate is a complete joke and it needs to be abolished completely or reformed massively. I do not care about Amazon lockers, or Donald trump coming in the event he wishes to debate feminism with the woman’s officer.
    Also it is disgusting that the Officers and exec team get a free dinner just for attending the Senate (never mind actually contributing). Think of the money we could save by scrapping this along with exec team salaries and putting them towards real student projects, like a laptop loan service or more computers and books. Maybe even money for free printing.

    • egg-Zek

      Getting Amazon Lockers would bring in over four times the revenue than is spent on food for senates. Your point (regarding how much you care about financial resources) is internally inconsistent.

      Agree that the SU needs to become much better at communicating at what its working on and its successes. If you want to know what they are working on, ask them – (in particular ask them to email you their scrutiny report, Im sure they;d be happy to and it wouldnt take them much time to provide this info) . Putting the scrutiny reports online would be a good idea.

      • adam

        I have a feeling that the amazon lockers would be used by SU staff and very few students, rather than the majority of the student body. I also do not think amazon lockers are the best way to bring in revenue, given that its simply only students and SU staff who will use it rather than the public, if that is its their sole purpose. It’s just another way for big business to take money from students and the poor. Regardless, amazon lockers are not the most pressing issue. Most students get things delivered to their homes anyway, and it is not something that needs to be debated by an entire senate since I can’t see there being massive objections about them being implemented (other than some angry ardent communist) because students have more pressing issues to deal with.
        The SU doesn’t need to be making money. It’s purpose it to serve students, not facilitate businesses or make profit for itself. It needs to save money, and it can do this by scrapping exec salaries and pointless things like senate dinners etc. We don’t need elaborate debates about Donald Trump, political movements and Amazon lockers, ESPECIALLY since half the people in the Senate were not elected with a political mandate.

        • egg-zek

          “I also do not think amazon lockers are the best way to bring in revenue, given that its simply only students and SU staff who will use it rather than the public”
          I dont understand why you think that the public not using Amazon lockers would do anything about the fact that if the Su had lockers they’d get over £14k a year from Amazon.

          ” amazon lockers are not the most pressing issue.”
          I agree that the SU having an extra £14k+ a year isnt the most pressing issue. Thats why I repeatedly voted it low on the priority ballot. Glad we finally discussed it though, among many other issues that have been discussed this year.

          “The SU doesn’t need to be making money”
          Thats an absurd comment to make. If the Su doesnt generate revenue, then it has less money to spend on the activities of societies. It also has less money to spend on representation and lobbying the university to do the things you want it to do.

          “I can’t see there being massive objections”
          Maybe turn up to senate to see what the arguments are? Or ask Mancunion to start reporting on senates? Every “angry ardent communist” who argued against them in senate was someone who had been elected with a political mandate.

          “We don’t need elaborate debates about Donald Trump, political movements and Amazon lockers”
          Agree, thats why we had short non-elaborate ones.

          “ESPECIALLY since half the people in the Senate were not elected with a political mandate”
          – it’s more like a fifth, which will soon be rectified.

          • adam

            I said (or rather I implied) I don’t have an objection to amazon lockers being put into the SU. I do think that if the SU needs money so badly, and that is the only reason why amazon lockers are going to be installed, then it needs to be making cuts to irrelevant things. I also do not think execs should be paid, partly financial (it will save money that can be put elsewhere) and partly because I don’t feel SU politics represents me (a bit like the mainstream politics). I just don’t understand why it is a paid position and I can’t see why it can’t be done by volunteers.
            The “SU doesn’t need to be making money” comment was made by implying it doesn’t need to be run as a business, making profits, Anyway, the senate is only going to go and ban amazon eventually anyway for not paying taxes, so what’s the point of installing it in the first place?

            • egg-zek

              “it needs to be making cuts to irrelevant things” – but irrelevant to who? Why attack the £16k salaries of the sabbs but not the far higher salaries of some of the unelected members of staff within the Union?

              ” I just don’t understand why it is a paid position and I can’t see why it can’t be done by volunteers. ” It’s quite telling of your politics that you do not think people’s work should be financially paid.

              “, the senate is only going to go and ban amazon eventually anyway for not paying taxes”
              Yes, I hope so!

            • adam

              Cut senate dinners for a start – there is simply no need to have a party and a bit of a feast at what is supposed to be a serious event. It’s just corruption and indicates a bloated SU.
              What jobs do these people do? And no, I don’t think people should not be paid, and that’s not an indication of my politics, so don’t act the idiot. I’m suggesting that the exec officers should not be paid because I think it would be a lot better if it was left to volunteers who are current students, not paid ex students. I have yet to be explained as to why a group of volunteers cannot do this job to the same standard as paid people?

          • adam

            Plus the senate elections had a turnout of around 10%. You guys don’t have a political mandate any more so than the Tories do.

          • adam

            Sorry wrong, 25%.

  • Zach

    Look here, I was the chap quoted in the article with regards to the su appeals in an introductory lecture to protest the Tory conference. I thought I ought to clear up a few things.

    Firstly, although I don’t disagree that the union is entitled to deploy its resources in a way that best fits the student bodies desires (whether they actually do this or not is to long to for a comment), the platform which they chose to appeal was wholly in appropriate.

    Secondly the union was guilty of great hypocrisy in this action, they initially claimed to not marginalise any of there members and represent the student body however to protest the conference is in its self a form of marginalisation of part of the student body. I do not believe the union would have the gaul to marginalise any other minority within there student body (trans people for example).

    The Union is obviously greatly flawed and in dire need of reform, it has created an atmosphere in which it suffocates debate and free speech on a whim to protect minorities (e.g banning Milo) that form part of its agenda but attacks other minorities that don’t. If your going to have a safe space then let it apply to all! just because the Union sees Tories as the arch enemy; a group of cis, white, middle class, straight (not even remotely true) men doesn’t give them the right to discriminate!

  • Captain Shoggoth

    top bant