GSU Elections: Interview with Michael Sonne

Michael Sonne is from Liverpool where he studied philosophy as an undergraduate at the University of Liverpool. He is currently studying for a masters at Trinity, also in philosophy. Sonne is running for president of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) hoping to take the focus of the union and “bring it back home” in order to “address more localised issued”. Sonne also wants to create a system where students are more easily able to give feedback and suggestions on the direction of the union.

Sonne has decided not to actively campaign in person saying “I’m aware of the reality that a lot of people have essays, I have essays myself at the moment so I don’t necessarily have the time to be going round saying ‘vote for me’”. He says that if he were to take the approach of campaigning in person he would only be directing people to his Facebook page anyway and believes that students “don’t necessarily need to hear from me what I already put on social media”.

Sonne’s main criticism of the current GSU regards communication with students, he notes that “they have a Facebook page that is not that active . . . And there’s not a medium through which students can say ‘what are you doing?’or ‘have you thought about doing this?’”. Sonne commented “if I was going to criticise the current president, I’d say that not many people know what he is doing, aside from those who take an active interest in the graduates’ union.” He argues that it wouldn’t take much effort to carry out a “regular surveys of open ended questions such as ‘what do you think the GSU should be doing?’”.

Asked about his experience for the role, Sonne cited that he has “always been active in my students’ unions”. During his undergraduate he was a course rep, the chair of departmental committee and now at Trinity he is an Arts Humanities and Social Sciences representative in the GSU. He added that these roles have insured that he is “not afraid of relaying student concerns to the university.”

Another of Sonne’s manifesto points is that he wants the GSU to organise more events. He said the aim of this is to “try to link the postgraduate community  together” as well as “bring more revenue in”.

Asked whether his focus would be on national issues or local issues, he said that “national campaigns are really good” and noted the campaign to increase government spending in higher education. However, he said there are “more localised issues that can be dealt with first,  and within a one year tenure I’m more interested in doing things that have a real targetable benefit that can be done quite quickly.”

Sonne said that in preparation for the role he had spoken to the current president of the union, Oisín Vince Coulter, and is aware of “the many committee meetings and departmental meetings you have to go to represent the postragde voice”.

When questioned about the kind of relationship he would aim to build with senior members of university staff such as the Provost he said “If I go in all guns blazing that wouldn’t be cohesive or fruitful but there are certain issues [for example postgraduates getting paid on time for their teaching roles] that I would take a hard stance with the Provost on.”

On the issue of housing Sonne says that he would want to “monitor and make it publicly known what the university is doing to meet the demand of an increased student population, to make sure that when postgraduates arrive that they are not in hostels or in a position where they don’t have any accommodation.”

Asked how he would approach the relationship between the GSU and Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), he said he would like to regularity meet with TCDSU representatives “to make sure I’m constantly aware of what they are campaigning on, to see if we can take a proactive dualistic approach.” Sonne praised Take Back Trinity as a “prime example of undergraduate and postgraduate coming together for a shared goal.”

Sonne also noted the deficit of TCDSU saying that “maybe I could impart some ideas” on ways to raise revenue. TCDSU recorded a deficit of €70,622 in the financial year that ended in June 2018.

Sonne said he would like to ‘establish a working relationship” with president-elect of TCDSU Laura Beston to work on “shared policies, shared, ideas and shared commitments.”

Asked how political of an organisation the GSU should be, Sonne said “The most fair response would be to hold referendums to make sure there is a significant percentage of the union who voted for a specific issue, I’m not a fan of unions taking a political stance without a significance proportion of the students under that union saying that they support that.”

Describing his own political beliefs Sonne said he is “a somewhat conservative Christian”  but insisted that “I can remove my own personal opinions from the representative role. Say if I disagreed with a particular referendum outcome I could say this is the position of the Graduate Students’ Union and I don’t necessarily agree with it but I’m going to represent it nonetheless.

When asked why his manifesto made no specific reference to how he would cater for minority groups on campus he said “my principles don’t exclude minority groups from being represented”, adding “if there is a minority concern of course it would be represented because its part of the wider Trinity concern, because if its a concern it’s a Trinity concern.”

On the subject of ensuring the union’s future financial stability Sonne raised the union’s USI contributions saying “we need to make sure the contributions to a national organisation such as USI is achieving its purpose.” He added that he would be open to “complete financial accountability” to see “if there are any instances of waste that can be eliminated.” Sonne also mentioned his plans to create “the opportunity for students to spend more social time at the union” and that these events would raise revenue.

The current Sabbatical Officers of the GSU have suggested that there may be a need to introduce a third officer in the union, Sonne said of this idea “I don’t see why necessarily it would be a bad thing to add another person’s viewpoint if it’s financially sensible to do so.”

Finn Purdy

Finn Purdy is the current Deputy Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister English Studies student, and a former News Editor and Assistant News Editor.