The Problem with CUSU
He’s back by semi-popular demand….
When I ran for CUSU president last year I had had no interest in student union politics (tbh nothing has changed). I’m a comedian and I ran to satirise the absurdity of the whole thing. Later on I got a bit more serious because so many people seemed to have real grievances about CUSU and I felt like I needed a plan in case I actually won. Fortunately I came second, so we never had to find out what sort of disaster that might have been.
The reason I came second was that I was beaten by probably the best candidate to have run for the position in years: Priscilla Mensah.
If I were in her shoes, I would not be doing this job better than Priscilla. Priscilla is great. Having met her a number of times I’m not even sure how you would even begin to criticise her for anything. Perhaps this is why I’m not destined for a career in politics.
The real problem with CUSU is that, much like a dog in a halloween costume standing in front of a mirror, it doesn’t really know what it is…and in the absence of knowing what it is it might just shit all over the floor instead.
I can guarantee you right now that CUSU is doing really good work that you don’t hear about. They’re providing advice and counselling, they’re helping students with ‘intermitting’ and all kinds of important stuff that makes a real difference to some students who are struggling with their time at Cambridge.
People on the CUSU exec are usually, and Priscilla and Charlie Chorley are definitely, great at all that stuff. They’re extremely nice people who really care about welfare and equality within the university, they’re great at talking to people who need help and addressing these kinds of issues. They work hard at a lot of complex and draining things which, frankly, most people wouldn’t be able to do with the care and dedication which they do every day.
However, when it comes to addressing the student body at large, CUSU’s idea of what the most people want is about as accurate as the idea most men in the ‘70s had of their wife’s taste in underwear. CUSU are presenting students with a sort of crotchless dominatrix outfit and the students are going “Oh, er, umm. Did you keep the receipt?”
Cue all this Tompkins Table stuff. I don’t know all the details, but I’m sure that CUSU’s rationale behind it was based on some admirable aims. It seems like it started from the fact that some students are unhappy about their results being published in the class lists. I never minded my results being published (#reliablemediocrity) but I can see why some people do and I would support a campaign to have an opt-out system. Ultimately, if it would help some people’s mental health to not be published, don’t publish those people’s results. Easy.
The trouble is CUSU have all of the talent for generating positive publicity of Dapper Laughs on fire. In a mosque.
The talent they do have is for going slightly too far: what could have been a campaign for an opt-out system became a campaign to get rid of all class lists, which then somehow became a campaign to get rid of the Tompkins Table and even some internal table I’d never heard of.
I don’t want people to be forced to have their results published against their will, but I also don’t want future students to be denied the opportunity to take part in relatively harmless ritual traditions like going down to see the class lists, or joyfully noting that their college is as academically mediocre as they are but still better than John’s (ly Peterhouse bae).
Disclaimer: I have never given a fuck about the Tompkins Table, but I really don’t see what’s wrong with it.
A lot of people like traditions, in Cambridge they’re fundamental to the whole experience. If you start getting rid of everything all over the shop eventually you’ll have a whole university full of boring people with no anecdotes because nothing interesting ever happens.
I like being able to tell the story about the time someone, still in evening dress from the night before, stumbled out of college lunch clutching an empty bottle of cava and projectile-vomited all over the old court lawn in front of a tour for prospective applicants. I forgot all of ancient Greek but that story is more memorable than any lecture I ever attended. I am richer for it.
CUSU is really good at listening to the most vulnerable students but it also needs to listen to the majority occasionally. And chill. We should all can the Netflix and invite CUSU over for some ‘chill and chill’ and actually just chill. Like really chill. Yeah.
If that happened then I think everything would be peachy fine and people would stop asking me to write stuff like this. CUSU, in the words of latter-day poet Rae Sremmurd:
‘this could be us, but you playin’