As Michaelmas term draws to a close, our staffers assess the performances of TCDSU sabbatical officers since the beginning of the academic year.
President – Domhnall McGlacken-Byrne
By Fionn McGorry
SU president, Domhnall McGlacken-Byrne, campaigned on a platform of experience and big ideas for reshaping the union. Despite conceding during the election campaign that he would not be a “megaphone president”, he has taken a leading role in all of the SU’s campaigns so far. His visibility as part of the USI’s budget rally saw him grace the front page of this newspaper bearing the megaphone he said he wasn’t expecting to carry. Campaigning has emerged as his forte, with McGlacken-Byrne spearheading the recent voter registration drive along with LGBT rights officer, Damien McClean, which registered over 3,000 students ahead of the impending marriage equality referendum, an issue which the SU is mandated to campaign for. Initiatives such as the Q&A with Provost Patrick Prendergast have also enabled him to maintain a high profile on campus.
His plan for a more flexible set of assessments has seen fewer direct results, though several integral processes have been begun. He told Trinity News that he has been in conversation with the dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and staff in the Global Relations Office to extend opportunities such as the MOVE elective to other students, but admitted that this was “something [he] would return to with a bit more welly after Christmas”. He also noted that Trinity’s Strategic Plan commits to renewal of college curricula and stated that he is ensuring student involvement in this process.
A centralised feedback system was a manifesto promise that is yet to be put in place. McGlacken-Byrne told Trinity News that the impending redesign of the Trinity login page visible when students access College computers provided opportunities for this, but that the current plan is to introduce a very high level complaints system rather than something more low key which he had envisaged. He did, however, say that he would devise a new plan for this after Christmas, believing that this redesign still provided opportunities for this, as well as a centralised College events calendar which he had proposed.
McGlacken-Byrne conceded that his manifesto promise of more plug sockets for the Berkeley and Lecky libraries has proved more difficult than he originally anticipated. It appears that the Lecky Library is wired in such a way that no more sockets are possible, he said. However, he highlighted that with extensive Higher Education Authority (HEA) funding earmarked for student services, there is room for an application of some of this funding to a project such as a rewiring, which, according to McGlacken-Byrne, means that his “plug socket revolution is still pending.”
Regarding his manifesto plan to introduce a book-swapping mechanism to succeed the non-functioning online system put in place following the closure of the SU Bookshop, McGlacken-Byrne conceded that it was not possible in the short window at the beginning of term for when students require their new books. He did insist, however, that he was working on an online solution for the beginning of next term, when students will start new modules, in conjunction with Samuel Riggs, SU communications officer, and staff at Click, the laptop repair service based in Mandela House.
Arguably the cornerstone of his manifesto was his desire to establish a four-year SU plan to enable some level of continuity between generations of sabbatical officers. So integral was it that McGlacken-Byrne told to Trinity News that he would be “lynched” if he didn’t follow through. He reiterated that he is insistent on continuity, citing the mandates established in October and November requiring officers to submit to council their plans for their year in office, as well as to meet fortnightly with their successors. He also mentioned that he is already working on a crossover manual for his successor. He told Trinity News that he was following the example of SUs in Britain to establish this, and is working with former education officer Hugh Sullivan, now a consultant, and former president John Mannion, now working in organisation development. He insisted that this would be his “single greatest priority for next term”.
Education – Katie Byrne
By James Wilson
Katie Byrne’s manifesto focused primarily on the need for reform of the exam system and appeals process, changes to class rep training and expansion of careers services available to students across all disciplines. She had pledged to make class rep training as “efficient and effective” as possible and committed herself to seeking “significant savings in transport costs.”
Central to her plans for helping students ease into their post-Trinity lives was the organisation of careers talks from industry experts for each of the college’s faculties, with her manifesto promising to organise “faculty specific seminars to give students an extra opportunity to gain insights into careers and their potential career paths.” In addition, Byrne set out plans to expand the GradLink programme through which Trinity alumni help organise work experience and interviews for undergraduates of certain departments.
Her manifesto also committed her to seek reform of the exam timetabling and appeals process, noting that bad timetabling can have “a dramatic effect on those who have to deal with it” and particularly plagued student in certain departments. Byrne pledged to “ensure that exams are timetabled with a minimum of 24 hours between the start time of each exam and that students should sit a maximum of four exams in a five-day week.”
She also hit out at the two-day window that Trinity gives students wishing to appeal their result, describing it as “not practical for students or their tutors”, before undertaking to try and get the two day period increased to five “by bringing forward the publication of corresponding exams results by five days.”
Speaking to Trinity News, Byrne highlighted the securing of sponsorship for next year’s class rep training and the use of more interactive workshops for delegates as improvements on previous years. Regarding the financial cost of the event, she said that “reducing the cost of rep training will have to wait another year” but maintained that “value for money isn’t just about cutting costs but making sure we get the most we can out of the money we’re spending”.
When it comes to the careers services available to students, she noted that the Gradlink programme had been successfully rolled out to the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy, but that “unfortunately there are financial constraints that will limit progress. Further expansion is scheduled in the coming years.”
She also conceded that, while there were no faculty-specific talks this term, she hopes to make progress in this area after Christmas. With regards to the appeals process, she pointed to an upcoming review next semester and noted that the appeals process was “crucially linked” with the issue of exam timetabling. She added that “serious consideration is being given again to the question of Christmas exams which will potentially influence that conversation.”
Welfare – Ian Mooney
By James Prendergast
Ian Mooney was elected in the closest race of last year’s SU elections with 50% of the vote to Dan McFadden’s 48%. His manifesto included many practical measures to promote positive mental, physical and sexual health, equality, and to improve support services for students.
One of the points emphasised in his manifesto was the need to reduce queues at the health centre. He told Trinity News that he has plans to meet the head of the centre, David McGrath, and that reducing queues is high on its “priority list to fix” after the issue was highlighted in a recent external review.
Mooney also committed in his manifesto to lobbying college so that students with dietary conditions are catered for. The catering department has been “undergoing change” and “shown itself more than willing” to cater for students with dietary requirements, Mooney told Trinity News. “It is perhaps something to properly follow up on, though,” he added.
The proposed weekly welfare blog will begin in January, after the SU website has been updated, he said. There has been one guest speaker so far in the proposed “inspirational speaker series”: the ultra-long distance runner Tony Mangan. The first openly gay Rose of Tralee winner Maria Walsh and the Cork hurler Conor Cusack – who has publicly discussed his experiences of same-sex attraction – are planned for next term.
Workshops on suicide prevention, self-esteem and positive mental health will arrive next term, as part of the new SU mental health campaign. The campaign will focus on “people who might not be directly affected by mental health issues themselves”, encouraging a ‘here to listen’ approach and increasing the “availability of people to go and talk to”.
Mooney also pledged to lobby for transgender students to have their gender recognised in student records. He told Trinity News that a new gender recognition policy will be launched soon and that “that will be the time to make sure it’s implemented”.
Mooney said he was “very happy” with how the Accommodation Advisory Service dealt with the accommodation crisis. After the digs campaign earlier this year, he said the service now has the “foundation for a long-term database of landlords.” He said that the students affected by the bed bug infestation have been provided with “very good” alternative accommodation and have been given compensation for clothing.
A campaign against sexual assault will be one of two long-term SU campaigns next semester along with the mental health campaign. The campaign comes after the “worrying” results of a recent survey shared with all students with 600 respondents so far. Mooney said the data will be released after he has analysed it properly over Christmas, although he will give a general outline of findings at SU Council this week.
Other plans include expanding Deal of the Week, further investment in the Bike Reallocation Scheme with possible rental on a termly or yearly basis, and a “more steady system” of free condoms at Ents events.
Funding is “probably the biggest obstacle so far this year,” Mooney told Trinity News,with every part of college “feeling the effect and fear of cuts”. The job has at times been challenging, he said: “I knew before starting that it wasn’t as a 9-5pm job, but the reality of it is quite exhausting at times.”
Ents – Finn Murphy
By Andrew O’Donovan
Ents officer, Finn Murphy, elected with almost twice as many votes as the next candidate, had a mixture of improvements and new ideas in his election manifesto.
Top of the list was that Ents should be running a “weekly affordable night”. Subwave, hosted by Opium Rooms with “good promos and €5 entry”, was conceived in response. Murphy says that, although “reasonably well received”, it has been difficult to “make sustainable” due to the large number of class parties availing of a deal for free entry before midnight.
After a capital expenditure that he says he had approved, Ents owns high-end sound equipment which is available to rent at half the market price. The rationale as outlined in the manifesto was to provide affordable equipment for students and a revenue stream for the SU.
Citing a need to restore “Pav Friday to its former glory” in his manifesto, he claims “a great turnaround this year” with a “friendlier staff culture and great new facilities such as pizza ovens and proper coffee machines,” which he says has led to “a change in student perception of our only bar on campus.”
The Ents Crew was reincarnated this year and Murphy describes being “delighted to have four new first year members on the crew and several night managers, photographers, DJs and specific officers for live music and sports.”
But there were “a few things I didn’t know about the position before I started my campaign and so I made promises I didn’t know at the time would be very difficult to keep,” Murphy told Trinity News. A pledge on his manifesto to introduce a discounted access-all-areas Ents card was found to be “not financially or logistically viable” and his pledge to increase revenue from sponsorship was constrained by the fact that “by the time [he] had started in the role, most major companies’ primary sponsorship budgets are already allocated.” They were able, however, to “slightly increase sponsorship revenues” and he has committed to working alongside the Ents Officer Elect this summer to raise revenue.
Murphy feels that he has “succeeded in creating a better buzz about Ents on campus. Numerous collaboration events with other college bodies, clubs and societies,” he said, “have given Ents more relevance for the average student.”
Speaking about next term’s Trinity Ball, Murphy said that the “date change because of Good Friday has made things a bit trickier for artist bookings” but is confident that they will “put a great Ball together.” He added that “the Dance vibe last year was very much in response to the change in trends of student taste. Dance music is popular right now and electronic artists are much more affordable than live bands. You can expect a shift back to some Indie and Rock music but the dance acts will again be of a high calibre.”
A departure from traditional Ents events, a film festival is ambitiously planned for 16-20 March, with the Film Society and Trinity TV also involved. There will be a short-film competition as part of the event, the details of which will be announced in an imminent SU e-mail.
Murphy mysteriously refers to a “super secret” Ents event for next semester which is “top of his agenda” along with planning for RAG week during which he hopes to raise an “ambitious but possible” €30,000.
Communications – Samuel Riggs
By Robyn Page-Cowman
Samuel Riggs was elected last year by a landslide on a platform of “changing the way you interact with the SU”.
He pledged that the SU’s website “should have a live feed of information, to make sure you’re kept up to date on the latest SU activity” as well as to “create a tab on the SU website which will allow you to access all the past campaigns the SU have run.”
In addition, a Health Sciences correspondent was promised, monthly sabbatical updates and master classes in journalism for UT novices. Of these promises, Riggs has already fulfilled many; several UT master-classes were held around campus and Trinity Halls, while three new UT positions – Health Science, Irish Language and LGBT correspondents – have also been established.
Contact with College representatives is more consistent with sabbatical officers meeting monthly with the provost and weekly with the dean of students. However, Riggs admits that updates in the weekly SU email “haven’t been going so well” but will continue each month after Council’s impact report on December 9th. Similarly, the SU website has been rebranded, but his promised ‘Campaigns and Policies’ tab, as well as more frequent updates, will be completed in the new year. Hilary term will also see new SU projects led by Riggs, such as multimedia SU publications – including weekly SU video emails, changes to the UT style guide – to provide “maximum satisfaction”, and plans to help SU enterprises, such as House 6 and the SU cafe, gain more visibility.
However, according to a UT poll, a sizeable 43% of students said they had no interactions with campaigns on social media. Despite prioritising this in his manifesto and describing himself as a “social-media buff”, this hasn’t improved. The SU Twitter and Facebook accounts are updated more regularly, but when the SU asked its Twitter followers to send in questions for the Q&A event with the Provost it only received five replies, for instance.
“Coming back to Hilary Term,” Riggs told Trinity News, “I’m going to be stronger and more directed with an aim to not just fulfil my obligations, but going above and beyond these.”