ROBERT CORBYN SMITH: “I’ve got some pretty radical ideas.”

We spoke to Robert Corbyn Smith, of CUSU Disabled Students’ Campaign fame, about his bid for CUSU President.

affiliation corbyn CUSU disabilities elections funding no-platforming president robert Smith

One thing you would change

I think the key issue really has to be funding. That’s something that I think is really integral to a lot of the problems at CUSU. Charging affiliation fees harms our relationships with JCRs and MCRs. It just doesn’t work as a funding model, I think it’s totally broken and I think abolishing it has to be a priority.

Looking at other forms of income – looking at other partnerships with organisations. For example, the Cranes Fund contributes to the UCS and so you could have an organisation like that funding a Sabbatical Officer. Looking at other sources, other partnerships – CUSU is a charity and that’s not necessarily a positive thing and looking at other things we can do and other sources.

What do you think CUSU could have done better over the past year?

It’s just really unreactive to what students want and what students need. There aren’t that many ways for ordinary students to get involved with CUSU and there aren’t that many ways for CUSU to actually change. We’re not that good with being at the heart of things.

CUSU needs to have a positive relationship with the press but at the same time I think it’s really understandable that you have a Sabbatical officer who is underpaid, overworked and obviously the number one priority in this situation is thinking about students first.

The guidelines for press that came out looked bad, looked awful and I think it was the wrong decision.

Do you have enemies?

Many. Many, many enemies, many assassins waiting out there for me. What kind of ordinary person has enemies? I mean, I’ve got supervisors I don’t like.

Thoughts on no platforming?

I think that the no platforming debate keeps getting blown out of proportion. As a trans person I’m really, really tired of seeing my community and my rights being misused by a liberal left and a conservative right. I don’t think I side with a lot of the no platforming comments but at the same time, the Union is just doing stuff to be inflammatory. You’ve got these two sides engaged in a pissing contest about who cares more and who wants to be a better ally and it’s just like no.

I’m bored with it. I think it’s peripheral at best.

As a leader, would you associate more with Angela Merkel or Boris Johnson?

That’s so difficult. I think Angela because she gets shit done. Quietly sometimes, but she gets shit done and I think that’s a model I can match.

What was the last time you drowned your sorrows in alcohol?

I’m a lightweight so I can’t hold my drink very well. When I get drunk, I often propose, so I would say proposing to my ex-girlfriend on the phone because I had a bit of a stress.

Rhodes Must Fall. Yes, or no?

Yes. I think that people need to constantly and consistently revise where they’re at. I’m not a fan of statues or memorials in general as a way of preserving stuff. I think tradition is great but in a lot of ways we need to constantly look around us and ask what are we doing now, what are we looking to the future and what message are we sending out to the rest of the world.

I think the attitude of Oriel College has sent a message out that we value tradition over current students and we value looking to the past over looking to the future.

In a millennium’s time there aren’t going to be statues. It’s what we do now.

Favourite club?

They’re so bad. Kuda – Life – you’re just having a bad time and it’s just so bad it was good.

Would you try to influence the autonomous campaigns?

I would like to see the autonomous campaigns influencing CUSU. I think they’re full of really passionate, engaged people and they need to be better respected within the CUSU thing. I don’t want to threaten their political autonomy but in terms of making them a bigger part of CUSU I’m really for that.

If you were a college, where would you be in the Tompkins Table?

Somewhere in the middle – unassuming, just chugging along. Definitely not a First but a 2:1.

Would you ban the Tompkins Table?

I believe information is power and I want people to have as much information as possible but at the same time because the Tompkins Table only takes one thing into account, because it’s not a very good measure, I would go for banning it.

Anything that shifts the focus away from exams, that looks at the other parts of academic life and other things, not even ranking them but looking at the other parts of academic life and the other things. I’m just not a fan of exam scores.

What’s the worst thing about Cambridge?


Paint me like one of your French boys

What’s the number one thing other people would say against you and what’s your reply?

People will probably say don’t vote for Robert because he will throw everything into it to the complete disregard of his own health and wellbeing and therefore it will be really really bad for him.

It’s my life, it’s my choice, if I want to go down on this ship.

What specific motions would you propose to CUSU Council as President?

I’ve got some pretty radical ideas about CUSU Council reform. I want to get rid of the motion system. We seem to be having hour long debates about the placement of commas. I want to replace it with a system that separates out policy writing from discussion. I want to have a system that’s much more debate friendly where people propose something, so they propose a topic or a question and then they present it. And everyone gets to go round and say their opinions and then that person goes away, writes policy. We do that online; people can quibble to their hearts content but ultimately it’s up to the policy writer. The policy writer brings it back. We vote yes, no abstain. If it’s rejected they can always come up with another policy. If it passes it passes.

It’s not perfect but I’m so sick of wasting Monday evenings talking about things that feel irrelevant to the student body or things that don’t get to the heart of the issue. It’s ludicrous.