Give CUSU A Break

In the wake of last night's CUSU elections, HARRY WRIGHT says we need to stop bashing CUSU and lose our apathy.

Like the Lib Dems, Hungry Hippos and my beloved Chelsea, CUSU has become one of those groups it’s trendy to bash. You can’t move nowadays without your mates telling you how little CUSU does to represent them, how it’s run by ‘career socialists’ (or worse still, ‘feminist Marxists’), and how we’d all be a lot better off if we disaffiliated. I’m here today to ask you to give CUSU a break, and maybe to consider why you really hold those views. I know it’s scary, big bad CUSU with all those horrid nasty Socialists, so I’ll hold your hand if you like. Doesn’t that feel better already?

Just for the record, I’m not a wannabe Sabbatical Officer or a would-be JCR President. I’m a normal bloke who, like everyone, cares about making this uni better for me and better for future students. (Alright, I do a bit of marching and shouting once in a while, but a man’s got to have interests).

I keep hearing how CUSU apparently does nothing, and how uninformed students are about its campaigns. Well, get informed. It takes all of a minute to Google ‘CUSU Campaigns’ and find loads of information, and maybe even get involved in one. Hell, I managed it, and I once poured hot tea into a glass thinking it was a mug. Also, CUSU is one of the only Students’ Unions in the country not to employ a dedicated Publicity or Communications Officer to tell you how great it’s doing, preferring instead to put that money into better and bigger campaigns. So part of the reason you don’t hear a lot about it is that there’s nobody immediately on hand to tell you, and you can’t be bothered to look, because cat GIFs and pretending to be outraged about lefties are just so much more fun.

The second commonly-heard complaint is that CUSU is ‘overly political’. I’ll break it to you slowly. It’s a Union. That’s the whole point. Unions are designed to campaign for better conditions for those they represent, be that workers or students, and that’s an inherently political and politicised issue. You can’t depoliticise a Union (or autonomous campaigns within it) without destroying its entire function. It isn’t an issue of representing you personally, so much as constantly campaigning for things that will make your life, and the lives of future undergraduates, slightly better and easier, even if those things only indirectly relate to you right now today. That’s what a Union is for, and I for one am very grateful for it.

As for what Sabbs do all day, I don’t know the details. But I’m sure they work their hardest to represent students. I went to a CUSU procedural meeting once, and without naming names, it certainly wasn’t the Sabbs being rude, interrupting, and holding it up for everyone else. If you’re concerned that your Sabbs aren’t meeting their election promises, you could, y’know, email them and ask what they’ve done. Why not send one a Facebook message? Live on the edge. The world’s your oyster, girl.

So rather than pretending to be upset about underrepresentation, and then voting for a ‘radical’ (white, male, middle-class) candidate who’s indistinguishable from the others and won’t represent anyone apart from you and your mates, or RONing every option and thinking you’re punk as fuck, next time, why not sensibly cast your vote for the candidate whose principles and ideas are most in line with yours? And now that the new CUSU President has been elected, why not email them and ask them what they’re planning to do next, and how ordinary students can get involved? I know you’re busy, but doing that wouldn’t take long.

Like offence, it works both ways – CUSU isn’t unrepresentative unless deep down, you really want it to be.

  • Happy Grad

    Crikey! That is a very old photo of the CUSU team.. Almost all of those CUSU officers pictured above have long since perished – some fighting in the Crimea, the rest have long since met their fate either in a workhouse or debtors gaol.

  • right, harry

    i keep hearing how people involved in CUSU don’t realise that it doesn’t have the support of its members, and how uninformed its advocates are about its lack of legitimacy. well, get informed. it takes all of a minute to google ‘CUSU election turnout’ or ‘the tab’, and find loads of info about how little supported and actively loathed it is, and maybe you could even write a comment on the tab yourself. hell, i managed it, and I once wrote one which got seven likes!

    rather than pretending to be upset about underrepresentation, and then continuing to enjoy the influence that comes from controlling an institution that purports to speak for all students, but actually doesn’t represent anyone apart from you and your mates; or pushing some crazy political programme with little student support and thinking you’re punk as fuck; next time, why not pursue the course whose principles are most honest and most in line with the wishes of most students, and make membership voluntary and opt-in?

    deep down, the people involved in CUSU really want it to be unrepresentative, because the only way for it to come close to representing its members would be for it to lose 3/4 of them.

  • reason

    CUSU is like the EU, It may do a lot of good stuff but that is drowned out by the deluge of negative headlines generated by its continued pursuit of causes it has neither a mandate nor the tact to perform without irritating significant proportions of its membership who feel that it shouldn’t be done in their name.
    My message to be CUSU’s new committee would be very simple: if something is controversial, don’t do it. If in doubt, don’t support it. Don’t try to be trailblazing and make your name, just be boring and do the simple stuff like organising access trips and condom deliveries. If something is controversial there is going to be a significant number of students who feel alienated by whatever position you take, so don’t take one. Leave the controversial stuff to JCRs who actually have the potential to have a mandate on the issue.

  • For anyone wondering

    what CUSU does, the website is actually pretty good. A brief glance tells me, for instance, that CUSU just secured the option for JCRs and MCRs in Cambridge to get Sky Tv at charity rather than business rates. That happened in the last few days and means (up to £4000) cheaper tv for all JCR and MCRs, and the achievement is something that can only really be done on a central level.

    If you don’t feel represented – CUSU policy is made by CUSU council which is made up of JCR and MCR Presidents and External Officers, and Faculty Reps, as well as various representatives of the autonomous campaigns. So for anyone defending JCRs as the high point of student politics – it’s part of your JCR President/External Officer, and Faculty Rep’s job to represent your opinion at the meetings, and that’s what they should be doing. If you don’t tell them what you think, of course you are not going to feel represented. But that can be easily changed by simply getting in touch with your relevant JCR officer or Faculty rep and asking them to inform and update you about what is going on. If you think that you are in a majority of people whose views aren’t being represented, then get those people together and email your college and faculty representatives – and if they do their jobs properly they will help change that.

    • CUSU person

      so obviously written by one of the sabbs. It doesn’t requite full-time workers to negotiate with Sky for a decent contract.

    • Not retarded

      Up to 4K cheaper…across the university one assumes, unless sky suddenly costs 300+ per month…hmm…would maybe more more sense if JCRs didn’t have to pay to be affiliated…

      • I’m not a Sabb!

        Just a student who isn’t actually involved with CUSU at all. I don’t know the exact charges for Sky TV. However if this is anything to go by , the charity rate really is several thousand pounds cheaper per year. Sky is in fact that expensive.

        Since another brief trip to the CUSU website (via Google) tells me that affiliation fees are currently “£6.70 per undergraduate, £3.00 per graduate (with another £3.00 going to the Graduate Union) and £1.50 per PGCE student (again duplicated for the GU).”, my shoddy maths skills tell me that if you save £4000, you save around 600 students’ worth of affiliation fees with the new deal. Which is not bad!

        Interestingly enough this hasn’t really been reported in the student media as far as I heard though it did coincide somewhat with the elections so you can see why.

        • CUSU person

          Fair enough I’ll take you at your word that you’re not one of the sabbs who tend to bleat on about this, but I quote what I said before (without the typo): ‘It doesn’t require full-time workers to negotiate with Sky for a decent contract.’

          • We’ve had

            the charity rate for years in college. Thanks CUSU for getting us something we already had 🙂 xoxo

        • Fair enough

          I was wrong, sky is apparently ridiculous. Fair enough. Apologies for my misassumptions.

          Though I do have to agree with the CUSU Person. A saving made by spending money can be negated by this spend, in this case given quite how much CUSU spends yeah. Besides, as in the article you posted, a boycott could have achieved a similar result I imagine.

  • CUSU person

    Yep, me again. Not like I have a degree to do or something.

    Well this article was utter drivel. What’s the argument exactly? I assume it’s that because it does lots of political debate that you agree with, you thus think everyone should just like the organisation? And the absolutely pointlessly inflammatory white middle class line just seemed like you wanted the comment article to go for you rather than CUSU.

    Just come to CUSU. Stand for one of the many pointless part time roles that are often uncontested. You’ll soon see how little anyone gets up to, how pointless the political debate there is (the campaigns are atrocious and even if you agree with them they lead nowhere), and there’s no fighting for anything student related. I won’t rehash my vision for CUSU which I’ve put all over these comments by now, but you can’t seriously think in a university where JCRs do all the work (for no money, only minor CV points and college respect) and CUSU sits about arguing over student fees or the way in which to run a council session, that you’ll actually have many people agree with you?

    Disaffiliate. Get your JCR to do it. It’s a few thousand pounds you can spend on a TV or something, and when enough JCRs do it they’ll have to be a constitution change. I know that most people don’t like CUSU as it is, that is obvious, and Wrighty you’re in the minority, so go and do it, these people are paid to do very little. CUSU has money in the hundreds of thousands including TCS advertising, freshers guide advertising, and JCR affiliation fees, not to mention the 100k on sabbs. Just push your college to do it ASAP.

  • sorry what?

    ‘Hell, I managed it, and I once poured hot tea into a glass thinking it was a mug. ‘

  • Not even in CUSU

    Perhaps people think CUSU are useless because they have never required any of the CUSU services. For example: getting a whole sports team to an away match within budget – a minibus costs £20/day plus diesel, far cheaper than everyone getting the train and less hassle than organising 4 cars; printing or photocopying booklets, leaflets, guides for societies – a speedy, cheap, working photocopier and a friendly face to help are to be found at the CUSU offices in the centre of town; welfare – tutor apathetic? college nurse away? know your college welfare officers too well for anonymity? there’s an impartial welfare person at CUSU if you just walk in and need help; worried about mental health? – CUSU runs support and social groups and can help concerned friends in supporting others; suppose you found yourself with reduced mobility – isn’t it handy that a central body campaigns for maintaining and improving access around such an old university; need to send mail from Girton to Homerton? – CUSU does that for free within a day (a stamp costs 50 or 60p); free pregnancy tests; representation for minority students; a voice in the NUS….. the list goes on. Obviously not everybody needs every service. In fact, many students may breeze through university just fine on their own. But put yourself in the shoes of someone who uses any of these services and you’ll be glad we have CUSU. JCRs just can’t provide all the services that CUSU can and does as a central body, with equal access to such services by students at all colleges.

  • Just saying

    Every single defence of CUSU I seem to see these days is filled with the same ‘we know whats best for you so you’d better get supporting our campaigns’ and ‘its your fault you don’t like us’ kind of arrogance, but this one is particularly special. The author barely tries to conceal his conceit and undeserved sense of superiority in suggesting that the only real reason why the vast majourity of Cambridge students dislike CUSU is because they ‘want to be offended and unrepresented’. Perhaps if the candidates saw themselves as seeking election to a position of public service at a university level rather than a springboard for their political career or as a platform from which to shout their marxist views across their university then CUSU might start to be able to connect with the people it is supposed to represent and serve. Rarely do we hear from any candidates about sensible suggestions to improve the University, instead being treated to the usual boring rants about ‘bringing the fight to the government’ or organising a ‘national protest movement’ and yet somehow the CUSU elite acts with amazement and confusion when it is rightly criticised for being out of touch. Surely it should sit up and take notice when it has managed to make a campaign against sexual assualt against women in the University unpopular with the students. Now I know that such is their inability to listen to or consider criticism that they will dismiss me as the stereotype rich white male who spends his time oppresing the working class, sexual violence and drinking champagne. Well believe that if you want, go around telling yourselves that the only reason people don’t like you is because they are mad right wingers intent on preserving social hierachy, then CUSU will stay as it is to most students, annoying and largely irrelevant.

  • I’m suprised

    “white, middle-class,male” has become a thing. Isn’t it racist, classist and sexist – given it’s derogatory use?

    • I take that back…

      I’m surprised

    • tbo


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