UCDSU END OF YEAR REPORT 2019/2020
Name (ainm) Conor Anderson
Pronunciation (fuaimniú) CAH-nor AN-der-sun
Pronouns (optional) (forainmneacha) (roghnach) He/him
Position (post) Graduate Officer
Date (dáta) 6/4/2020
Council Number (uimhir na comhairle) 9 (and final)
I believe that this was a successful year for the Union, and I believe that my contributions to the role of Graduate Officer (relatively new as it is) are part of that success . I began my role with a clear desire to empower graduate students and the sketch of a framework to carry that out. In principle, I wanted to try and build the Union’s ability to meet students’ most essential needs, particularly students without a robust financial support system. By that I mean direct supports wherever possible, particularly economic supports. Too many struggling Ph.D. students are recommended mindfulness meditation when what they really need is a livable wage for the work they do, and I wanted to try and deliver something substantial. That has also guided my actions in working with student groups and societies-I want the Union to be a source of funding for activities around campus.
In this report, I will outline what I consider to be the key achievements of this year, the areas in which I could have done better, and possibilities for next year’s Graduate Officer.
Key Annual Achievements
Students at Smurfit have historically not engaged much with the Union, and I consider my efforts to change that fact to be one of my highest achievements. I held weekly coffee mornings almost every week of term, from 11:00AM-2:00PM in the Smurfit common room. As the weeks passed, a core group of students developed around the coffee mornings, who would talk to me about issues facing Smurfit students, make requests for free stuff to give away, and generally provide feedback about the student experience. I found this engagement to be invaluable. From a numerical perspective, all seats (barring one) were filled on the Student Council from Smurfit, and I helped to draft and present three mandates focused on the Blackrock campus.
Aside from the groundwork of weekly coffee mornings and conversations with students, I also helped to put on two events. In the first term, in conjunction with the UCD India Society, I helped to fund and throw a Bollywood night in the Smurfit restaurant. The event was attended by about 120 guests, and it was a complete blast. I contributed 350 euro out of my budget, and helped with logistics, serving as the initial point of contact with the catering services at Smurfit. I also contributed 300 euro to the Smurfit Ball, helping them to keep transportation costs down for students. Our legendary Entertainments Officer Thomas Monaghan was also tapped to MC the event, although I had nothing to do with that.
The relationship with this group of Ph.D. students, post-docs, and other casualised academic workers actually began at Hustings 2019. Over the course of my term, I have served as an institutional liaison, supportive of the group’s goals but not really a member (given that I am neither a Ph.D. student nor a casualised academic worker). I have dedicated a chunk of my budget to providing campaign materials, I booked rooms for meetings, and I gave input from my perspective as a sabbatical officer of the Union. As with so many items on this list, there were plans for a salon/social, to be funded out of my budget, that have since been put on hold.
UCDSU Conference Fund
From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to provide direct monetary support to graduate students. After consultation with members of UCD Anti-casualisation, I launched the Conference Fund in January of this year, offering 20 awards of 100 euro. These awards were given on a first-come, first-served basis, and were paid up-front, rather than on a reimbursement basis. The awards were also not means-tested; they were available to any UCD Ph.D. student. All twenty were given out in less than a week, and I currently have a waiting list of 27 people for additional funds if they become available. There were plans to expand the fund and give awards to those who are still waiting, but those plans have been derailed by Covid-19 as we wait for confirmation that the University will be paying the remainder of our capitation. Should that go forward, I hope to re-create the fund as a general Covid-19 relief fund open to graduate students, using the remainder of my budget that was dedicated to end-of-year events. A survey to recipients of the awards is also in the works.
Obviously, the details of the student cases I have dealt with are confidential, and I will not spend too much time discussing them, but on the whole I consider my handling of student cases to be a strength. I have received a great deal of positive feedback on my effectiveness in this arena, and while I can’t say that I achieved the desired outcome in every situation, I hope that I did my best to make the process as smooth and understanding as possible. Many of these cases are complex and far-reaching; several will need to be handed on to the next team.
Areas for Improvement
Representation on Boards and Committees
While there have been some successes on this front, for the amount of time that I spent attending various Academic Council sub-committees, University Management Team subgroups, and Graduate Studies Boards, the return has been small. There needs to be a dedicated framework for future sabbats to familiarise themselves with the large number of groups on which they have seats, to read through the documentation ahead of each meeting, and to strategize with the rest of the team on when and where to kick up a fuss. This is something I will be dedicating serious wordcount to in my handover document, but the planning for it needs to start in the summer. Ideally, a member of staff should have some involvement, as that will give necessary longevity to the framework.
Graduate-Oriented Events on Belfield Campus
This has historically been one of the difficulties facing the Graduate Officer: it is tricky to create well-attended social events focused on graduate students on Belfield, because graduate students tend to be older and have heavier workloads, and because there are no central areas where large groups of graduate students congregate. Smurfit, ironically despite the Union’s history of neglect, is easier to engage with, because all students on Blackrock campus are at least master’s level. I was not able to solve this problem, and aside from working with UCD Anti-Casualisation, I did not really contribute to Belfield’s social life.
Unlike my predecessor, I did not make Seanad registration a priority in my tenure. I did register students, particularly at my Smurfit coffee mornings, but did not push the importance of voting in the Seanad. I chalk that up to my lack of familiarity with Ireland’s political system, and my ignorance of the influence that the Seanad can have on public policy. In the wake of progressive candidates’ failure to win their races this past month, I consider this to be a serious failing on my part. Going forward, I think the Seanad should be a central pillar of the Graduate Officer’s duties, and I take full responsibility for failing to make it one of mine.
Direct Provision Students
I helped the President and Welfare Officer in assisting the Direct Provision students who came to the Union, and although I think I was an asset in this scenario (due to my longer life experience and conflict resolution skills) I was woefully unprepared for the realities of Direct Provision. A great deal of our work in this arena is confidential, but suffice to say that I wish I had consulted with immigration experts and activists before getting involved. Direct Provision students are some of the most vulnerable members of our community, and the Union needs to be totally on the ball if we are going to support them.
Continuity and the Coming Year
The most important activities for the incoming Graduate Officer to undertake are Seanad registration, the Conference (slash Graduate Support) Fund, and the coffee mornings at Smurfit. Direct, material support for students and consistent weekly engagement are the foundation on which a strong tenure can be built. I find it difficult to emphasise how important the weekly Smurfit coffee mornings were in terms of getting the Union out into the public sphere and getting UCD students talking about and engaging with us. Finding a way to replicate that on Belfield campus should be a main priority of the summer planning period. The Conference Fund was also a big success in my eyes, and I hope my successor continues and expands upon it. The Graduate budget has historically been miniscule in comparison to other officers, and I tripled it under my watch. More supports going to graduate students will drive engagement and interest. I would also hope my successor is a better hand at event-planning than I am, and can solve the riddle of how to get Belfield graduate students together and socializing in a fun way.
Other than that, I wanted to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as Graduate Officer, and despite the many flaws and failings of the SU, it is an organisation I love and want to keep working with. When we work together, there are so many things we can accomplish, as long as we keep service to the higher good as our guiding purpose. Thank you for reading!