In 2011 the students of DCU made a decision to introduce a new Students’ Union constitution. This document was markedly different from its anarchic predecessor. It simplified SU governance structures, introduced grassroots initiatives such as the petition mechanism that allowed ordinary students to effect change within their students’ union and removed the bar on the SU engaging in political activity. This was a constitution designed to transform the SU from an un-engaged inward thinking body to a campaigning, representative and democratic organization.
It’s been over two years since this constitution was introduced and yet very little appears to have changed, the transformation has been stunted. The reason for this some would argue is because students just aren’t interested in SU or political issues or students are simply apathetic with the idea of a SU.
These are reasons often thrown into a debate on the relevance of a Students’ Union with fatalistic finality, but are often used by those who are either ideologically opposed to change or those who don’t understand or haven’t experienced what a SU could be.
We have seen in the past two years a number of referenda on student issues and all have reached the minimum voting requirement of 10 per cent (over 1,000 students). This was achieved despite SU Executives choosing not to hold class addresses or to actively encourage students to engage in the democratic process. Following these referenda decisions, the SU Executives have done nothing to represent the views of its students. The official policy of consecutive SU Executives is inaction and to ignore the democratic will of students.
Despite this knowledge, there are those who would still rather blame the system as opposed to the actors within it. This glib attitude towards student democracy must be rejected. An SU referendum is not a simple thing, it involves more than just holding a vote over two to three days. There are students who campaign on either side, and invest their time and their own monies to fund such campaigns. There are electoral committee members and supporters who volunteer large amounts of their time to ensure such ballots occur. Then there are the more than 1,000 students who take the time to consider the issue and cast an informed vote. The consistent ignoring of the effort of numerous people on these referenda and the considered opinion of the student body is a rotten indictment of the operation of our SU.
The time for change in DCU SU is overdue, and the current SU Executive must reflect on these consistent failures. This is DCU, an institution that in the past has produced national parliamentarians, civic & business leaders and that has a strong campaigning legacy on reproductive rights and LGBT issues. All DCU students are paying members of DCU SU, and they fund the student structures within DCU with hundreds of thousands of euro each year. It’s time that the students get their monies worth and that has to begin with the SU acting on their democratic decisions.
Sean Cassidy is The College View’s Opinion Editor and an EPL student. He is a former activist within DCU Students’ Union and DCU Societies.