Once again, students have found themselves in the familiar space of giving out about College’s opening. Trinity’s inadequacy and lack of communication seems to come like clockwork every August, with Covid only exacerbating this problem.
The return to campus was haphazard and difficult. Many students found themselves without timetables a week before college began, some even reaching Monday of Week 1 with no idea where to go. Every year we have the same troubles with this. That’s never acceptable, but the addition of an on-campus return only complicated the problem. Usually, timetabling issues are quite irritating and sometimes disrupt plans. Now, it can be the difference between a student making the financial commitment to move up to Dublin or not — a decision College should not be expecting students to make on such short notice.
This links to the second problem many students have been having with College’s reopening plans. Many students have found themselves dissatisfied with the amount of in-person teaching they are timetabled to receive. While College promised that all lectures of under 50 people would be in-person, many students’ timetables revealed this not to be the case. College, presumably realising that they can not wish a problem into being solved, discovered that many schools simply do not have the capacity to host a socially-distanced in-person lecture of 50 people.
“Time and time again we see the union falling back on their tried and tested method of identifying problems and proposing absolutely no solutions, not to mention any specific measures to lobby College for change.”
The big question, though, is where have the Students’ Union been? It can be difficult to distinguish between the union and the college at times, especially given that they spent most of August acting as a mouthpiece for College communications. The most we’ve heard from them on the problems with timetabling and face-to-face teaching has been a town hall meeting, where they politely asked College to fulfill their promise on in-person teaching. Time and time again we see the union falling back on their tried and tested method of identifying problems and proposing absolutely no solutions, not to mention any specific measures to lobby College for change.
Presumably due to the union’s cosy and markedly non-adversarial relationship with College, a new group has been set up — Students4Change. It is unclear how many people comprise this group, or what kind of longevity it will hold. However, in the month they have been active on campus, they have already shown significantly more desire to hold College to account than the SU. With over a hundred present at their protest at the Dining Hall, there is a clear student interest in the movement for more in-person teaching. However, with significantly smaller manpower than the union, and an organising structure that remains non-transparent, it seems ridiculous that Students4Change exists at all. Why should a student-run, decentralised activist group have to fill a void the union is designed — as well as mandated — to fill?
Students4Change are not accountable to their membership in the way that the union are, and they do not have the power of the union’s name. It’s unclear how their specific demands were formed, or how students can get directly involved in organisation. This is not a criticism of the group, but something inherent to a group like theirs. While union sabbatical officers were present at the protest, it’s unclear why this was the extent of the SU’s involvement.
“A weak union is a self-reproducing problem; every failure to hold Trinity to account is just more reason for College administration not to take the union seriously.”
On October 1st, the sabbatical officers circulated an open letter on Twitter and in their weekly email which students could sign to express their discontent with levels of in-person teaching. “If teaching does not look significantly different by November 1st”, it reads, “we anticipate extreme backlash from students, parents, government and media & we will be joining them.” What does “extreme backlash” mean? Looking at the union’s record, it’s not ridiculous to anticipate such action being little more than another polite request for change. Why would College bother taking this threat of response seriously when substantial action has been so hard to see in the past? A weak union is a self-reproducing problem; every failure to hold Trinity to account is just more reason for College administration not to take the union seriously.
Ultimately, the Student’s Union should be at least tacitly adversarial toward College. The goal is not a close working relationship between the two, but rather the former holding the latter accountable. Trinity has shown time and time again that they simply do not prioritise students; we clearly exist as little more than numbers at the foot of a bill to them. Why is the union so keen on having a close working relationship with this institution?
Perhaps this will look like 2018’s Take Back Trinity, and the union will get on board eventually — albeit late, albeit halfheartedly, albeit an ultimate co-option of student work. However, that simply will not be enough. A new provost is an opportunity for our student representatives to unveil a new image; one that means business, and represents a serious force in negotiations. We deserve a union that truly represents us, and takes the power we have given to them seriously.