The People’s Republic speaks: where’s your sense of camaraderie?
Don’t blame CUSU for not publishing your Marx…
There’s a well-known joke about Cambridge academics. I’m sure you’ve heard it. It goes something like this:
How many Cambridge academics does it take to change a lightbulb?
Change? Who said anything about change?
It’s funny, right? We’re all used to the idea that nothing really gets done around here; things are still sexist, people are still racist, systems are still classist, but it’s all about ‘tradition,’ you know? Without our elitist, exclusive – and exclusionary – traditions, what does anything really mean? The very concept of change seems to go against the fabric of the University. Who wants change, anyway?
Oh, wait – there is that that pesky group of students. What are they called, again? They seem to be in the press quite a bit…
Oh yeah. CUSU.
You might remember the fervor surrounding the elections last year. The Tab even described it as “the most exciting election in years”. Over 4,000 of you turned out to vote for the President – a vote which saw Priscilla Mensah elected with 2,077 votes. That’s over 500 more than this guy:
People were invested in her, and her mandate of ‘academic fairness’ which was sprawled across campaign literature and online manifestos. She was elected to change things. She unashamedly had an agenda, and goddamnit, Cambridge students supported her. There was optimism from students and the student press as we witnessed what was before deemed impossible: a CUSU who could change things.
And, for a while, everyone was behind her. But, you know, this is CUSU we’re talking about. CUSU might try to change things, but when it comes to the rest of Cambridge changing their opinions of CUSU? Well, let’s not get too radical here…
Now, as a member of the CUSU Sabbatical Team, I’m not going to be neutral. But I will try to be ‘rational’ in order to privilege the kind of debate we Cantabs love so much. I have a vote on CUSU Council because I head up an Autonomous Campaign. Like the many other elected representatives who come (or, as the case may be, don’t come) to Council, I vote on behalf of those I represent. And I try my best to consult.
So, I have a vote. But the other five members of the CUSU Exec do not. They are there to be held to account, to bring motions (alongside any student, from any College, who wishes to do the same), and to help move policy forward with the resources and support at their disposal.
It is important to bear this in mind when we look at the recent controversy surrounding CUSU’s ‘militant’ and ‘Marxist’ tactics at the last CUSU Council. In pretty much every article so far, the central suggestion has been that the decision to campaign against the publication of the Tompkins Table and class lists was made, exclusively, by the tyrannical body of six sabbatical officers thirsty for the blood of the bourgeoisie.
This is inaccurate.
The motion was presented by Priscilla, yes. But it was decided on, and voted in by, 14 JCR and MCR officers and two heads of Autonomous Campaigns. After a lengthy, sweaty debate in which many voices were heard and many questions were answered, only 5 members voted against it.
Of course Priscilla presented the motion. It falls within the remit of her manifesto. What else did you expect? At CUSU Council on the 26th October, Trinity JCR President, Cornelius Roemer, brought a motion that demanded officers to bring forward their policy ideas for scrutiny and affirmation. But why are we all ignoring this fact? If Priscilla didn’t work on the policies you elected her for, she’d be criticised for stagnation. And yet, when she does bring a proposal – over which she actually has no voting sway – she is criticised for exerting too much influence.
The proposal did not emerge from a vacuum either. It comes on the back of discussions with Senior Tutors and academics. It comes on the back of the ‘Our Grade, Our Choice’ campaign to which these tables are intrinsically related. Students supported that campaign last year. And students supported Priscilla’s campaign for academic parity this year. We should not lose sight of that.
But this is not to be yet ANOTHER article about the Tompkins Table. This is about representation. This is about holding your officers to account.
If there is a discrepancy between the student voice (as identified somewhat nebulously by the Tab’s rigorous poll) and the outcome of Council, then the problem lies in the voting members. Priscilla – as mandated – presented the motion, but those individuals voted for it. So when you criticise Council for not being representative, what you’re actually criticising is the idea that your college officers were not reflective of the student population.
But that’s not CUSU’s problem. We can’t check that every rep has consulted every one of their students. We have to take them on their word when they vote.
As a Pembroke alumna, I’m disappointed that the JPC President has failed to attend Council this year, nor has he circulated the agenda to get student opinions. If your representatives don’t turn up, they are doing you a disservice. They are the ones not listening to students, not CUSU. Don’t forget that Council is open to any student, and college officers are expected to promote the fortnightly Facebook event to their college members. Every opportunity is made to source opinion, but, as an intercollegiate institution, the Sabbatical team often has to defer to reps.
When 14 JCR and MCR Presidents voted in favour of the motion, we anticipated that this was reflective of student opinion.
We were – apparently – misguided.
And so were you.
Your representatives let you down if they didn’t consult you. They let you down if they didn’t show up. And they’re letting you down right now if they’re not taking responsibility.
We’re doing what we’ve been elected, and mandated, to do: which is consulting with representatives, who should in turn, be consulting with you. We’re tired of taking the flack for those officers who are failing to do their jobs.
So, a new joke.
How many Cambridge articles does it take to change an opinion?