Fear of change must not block vital reform

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The proposed review of LUSU’s sabbatical officerships has inspired mixed feelings across campus. There have been sighs of relief that LUSU is finally giving its members the opportunity to decide on their representation; there have been some constructive—and some not-so-constructive—criticisms and amendments suggested. Whilst everyone seems to agree that LUSU should be a Union for all students, a select few seem to be wary or afraid of stepping over the threshold of change.

There have been comments from the sidelines and protests from afar. When challenged with the opportunity to suggest changes, discuss ideas, offer an alternative or justify arguments, we have been faced with a not-so-confident, silent group of backseat drivers.

It is vital that this Sabbatical review is seen holistically; it balances the workload of the Sabbs, provides clear and descriptive job titles; it offers representation for all students at the most senior level of our Union; it meets the challenges faced by a 21st century student union; and it offers the opportunity to provide a more relevant, inclusive and powerful voice for our students. Having said that, I am willing to meet the select few I’ve mentioned on their terms of debate.

It would be dangerous to stray into the territory of comparing the current Sabbatical team to the newly proposed structure. If we take a narrow approach that concentrates on single posts, titles, or a handful of students—rather than the student population as a whole—then we lose the bigger picture, and with it the impetus behind the change.

The emergence of a Vice-President for Equality, Welfare and Diversity has put a cat amongst the pigeons for the defenders of the Women’s Officer position. There is a suggestion that this new remit is too big for any single person to take on; quite how that stacks up with the current structure where a single individual (Education and Welfare Officer) has to deal with two of the largest remits in the Union, I am not sure.

An argument has been circulated that the position of Women’s Officer already covers most of the responsibilities within the new Equality, Welfare and Diversity remit, and that a guaranteed position for Women is needed in the Sabbatical team. Two issues arise from this rhetoric. Firstly, it undermines the ability of a Woman to be elected to any position of the Sabbatical team by virtue of her ability, and gives the impression that a foot-up is needed in order to secure female representation. Secondly, it fails to deal with the fact the current Sabbatical team could be all white, or all heterosexual.

Providing societies with senior level representation in the guise of a Vice-President Student Activities has also caused controversy, specifically amongst sections of the Athletic Union. Again, concerns are raised over workload and remit; however, students must be aware that currently societies are represented by the General Secretary, who has elections, Extravs, finance, JCRs, Christmas balls, Grad Ball, Intro Week and societies to deal with; the Athletic Union President, on the other hand, merely has Athletic Union clubs to deal with.

Allowing a Vice-President Student Activities to support and represent Societies and the Athletic Union equally will provide the opportunity for student activities to be championed by the Union at a senior level as a priority for our students.

Another hot potato of this debate has been the suggested role of a Vice-President Media and Communication. There have been calls by a select few for the abolition of SCAN; others have suggested that a part-time officer could fulfil the role of Editor; some have also suggested that the SCAN Editor’s remit is currently too focussed and narrow. This is precisely why the remit of the VP-Media and Communications broadly encompasses all types of media, why it suggests regular meetings between the VP and University Press officer, and why it encourages the Union to make press releases to the local press where necessary.

This is your chance to make LUSU a Union for all students. Don’t allow this to be a change stopped by backseat drivers: step up to the plate and make your voice heard.