CORNELIUS ROEMER: “I’m not CUSU’s establishment candidate”
We spoke to Cornelius Roemer, best known for being Trinity’s former JCR President, about his bid for CUSU President.
What do you think CUSU could have done better over the past year?
Most glaringly, CUSU did nothing about the Council’s plan to turn off streetlights in the small hours. This was something that was of importance to all students and so CUSU, representing the whole student body, was ideally placed to lobby councillors. They did nothing. I had to submit a motion, in fact. As for the motions the CUSU Sabbatical team did push, some didn’t have wide consensus among students; they were quite controversial, particularly the abolition of the Tompkins Table. We need to ensure that anything CUSU works on has some kind of consensus among students, otherwise people will feel like they’re not represented and that’s in no one’s interests. Another issue is the way CUSU uses social media to interact with students – and the fact that they don’t go out and meet students. I’ve never met a sabbatical officer in my college bar; and they never show up to JCR meetings.
Do you have enemies?
(Short silence.) (Laughs.) Maybe the Junior Bursar of Trinity… I don’t know. I think it’s normal that sometimes you have conflicts, where people have different opinions. I’ve had quite a number of clashes with Priscilla [current CUSU President] based on the issue of how accountable sabbatical officers should be to the student population. Priscilla thinks that because a policy is on her manifesto – and she got such a big mandate – she’s allowed to run with it. But just because she was elected, it doesn’t follow that anything on her manifesto is good and should be accepted. I proposed a motion, back in the day, to require CUSU Officers to put more of what they’re doing before Council, and they didn’t really take that up very much.
And I also have lots of disagreements with College, which are natural part of being JCR President. And, yes, I don’t shy away from constructive confrontation – though I wouldn’t go as far as getting arrested. But, self-evidently, the university has its own interests, the administrations has its own interests, and they are not necessarily aligned with students’ interests. Anyone going to be representing students needs to be willing to confront and understand that.
Thoughts on no platforming?
The way I would like to manage things is that if there is controversy, CUSU should stay neutral as much as is possible – say, on national campaigns. The fact of the matter is that some students will be opposed to no-platforming, so if CUSU doesn’t need to make a decision it shouldn’t. When Peter Tatchell was no-platformed, of course, it was generally accepted that that was quite extreme – and so in his case I think it would be fair to say that ‘CUSU doesn’t support this’, given the general student feeling. If most students, say ninety per cent of the student body wanted to non-platform someone, then CUSU would, but I doubt that would ever happen. And practically-speaking, it’s obviously up to CUSU Council: if they pass a motion no-platforming someone, I would respect and be bound by that. Personally, while I think the issue of no-platforming should be taken on a case-by-case basis, freedom of speech is a good thing.
As a leader, would you associate more with Angela Merkel or Boris Johnson?
I study Physics, Angela Merkel studied Physics; I’m German, Angela Merkel is German. And, personally, I’m pro-EU
What was the last time you drowned your sorrows in alcohol?
I can’t remember. That might be because I drank too much. No precise dates.
Rhodes Must Fall. Yes or no?
Is there an English word for combining yes and no? There’s definitely a German word. In a personal capacity, I’m really torn; if there was a neutral option, I’d definitely take that.
I like cindies but I’d obviously defer to the student body if they disagreed. I’m a big fan of the smoking area, although I don’t smoke.
Would you try to influence the autonomous campaigns?
Legally, because the autonomous campaigns are funded through CUSU, the sabbatical officers, those who are charity trustees, have some responsibility. I would of course very much respect their political independence. There is something of a reputational risk for the CUSU that represents everyone, since autonomous campaigns bear the CUSU brand and name, even though it doesn’t really have any political influence over them. It’s a very difficult problem and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Removing “CUSU” from the title of the Women’s Campaign is one possibility, though I would want to sound that idea with the autonomous campaigns as ideally you’d want to do something in agreement. That is one way to make it clearer that they are independent, particularly to the student who rarely reads the student press and for whom things might be quite confusing. But would I give the autonomous campaigns full independence? As I say, legally, that’s impossible. If you wanted to make them independent, you would have to set them up as separate charities. Political independence is an ideal otherwise, but one sabs as charity trustees can certainly respect.
If you were a college, where would you be in the Tompkins Table?
Probably somewhere around Clare, in the upper mid field. Though this question doesn’t make a lot of sense – I don’t like ranking people on a spectrum of one to thirty; we’re all individuals.
Would you ban the Tompkins Table?
Banning the Tompkins Table wouldn’t get rid of the stereotypes that are there; when people say they want to get rid of the table, this is generally what they say would happen, but I’m not so sure about that. Indeed, maybe someone would leak the Baxter Table – which is very important for admissions, in ensuring that there is a uniform level of admissions across the university. If there are independent campaigns to get the Tompkins Table, then that’s perfect, that’s the way it should be. CUSU should try to aim for something that’s a consensus and I don’t feel, looking at indicators like The Tab’s poll on the issue and speaking to friends and other JCRs, there’s a consensus for it. Of course you have to weigh up the welfare of the individuals more strongly than the gut feeling and enjoyment you get from seeing your college at the top, as in Trinity’s case.
What’s the worst thing about Cambridge?
Even though it’s not uniform across all colleges, the fact that students have to move out or otherwise pay high rents over the vacation. When I explain this to people not at Cambridge, they don’t understand it. Cambridge fails to feel like my home, because of this – people just run away very quickly after term finishes, when it would be nice to spend time with friends when there isn’t work to do. I hate that about Cambridge. It would be very interesting to look at how good the sense of community is at colleges which have low vacation rents/allow people to stay over the vacations, compared with those which do not. It’s a perfect example of a problem for which solutions are available – until now, CUSU officers haven’t been very responsive to issues like this in the sense that if it wasn’t on their election manifesto, they would ignore it once elected.
What’s the number one thing other people would say against you and what’s your reply?
One thing people could hold against me is that I’ve already been involved in CUSU significantly and so I’m some sort of establishment candidate. My reply would be that I have knowledge of CUSU but I’m in no way attached to the way it’s run. I became involved in it because I wanted understand how it functions so it can be changed. I’ve seen before that a year is not enough, you need more substantive knowledge of the organisation to change it effectively. And so, my experience is a benefit and not a harm.
What specific motions would you propose to CUSU Council as President?
I think it’s very important to propose motions. I very much want to seek approval from the wider student population on every single issue. Anything that I want to set up, be it the sports committee, be it sharing of library facilities across colleges, there should be a motion. The first one would make it explicit that for the big ideas, Sabbatical Officers of non-autonomous campaigns should propose a motion outlining to CUSU Council what they want to do. The second one would be to set up the sports committee I’ve talked about. And I’d do them the same way I’ve asked all Sabbatical Officers to do things.