Education Race: Through policy and engagement, Eoghan Gilroy wants to “take the union out of House 6”

The AHSS convenor hopes to “take a sledgehammer” to the insular institution of TCDSU

This year’s Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) education race sees two experienced candidates running against each other for the union’s second most senior position. Running against Deputy STEM Convenor Sé Ó hEidhin, Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (AHSS) Convenor Eoghan Gilroy will have to prove that he has more to give than experience.

Speaking to Trinity News, Gilroy joked his union experience might prompt some to call him a “hack”. The final year Law and Political Science student, however, emphasised his various positions held in the union make him a knowledgeable candidate with the experience required to make changes.

Speaking on his motivation for running, Gilroy stated: “Seeing how effective good student representation is for students, I think that’s made me push myself a bit and put myself out there to run for education officer.”

Gilroy said that he has been involved in the union since he entered College as an access student. At the last council of Gilroy’s first year, he ran unopposed for access officer and was subsequently elected.

Since then, Gilroy has taken on a wide variety of roles. During his time as faculty convenor, Gilroy has represented students at both the University Council and the Faculty Executive Committee, allowing him to sit in on meetings with both the provost and vice-provost.

“It’s nice to be able to be down there, dealing with all the nitty gritty details of it all”

“I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into,” he admitted. “It’s nice to be able to be down there, dealing with all the nitty gritty details of it all, actually talking about policy and talking about how we develop [them].

“I think serving as [AHSS] convenor for the last few years has really given me a massive insight into how I can best support students.”

Discussing this year’s union, Gilroy praised the current approach of direct action. According to Gilroy, previous unions were more concerned with policy, while the more recent approach shows “that direct action works.”

However, Gilroy also shared that the union has become “less of a community” than it once was.

“It’s more like organisational issues within the union this year which have caused some frustration,” he said. He mentioned union meetings are “almost planned on an ad hoc basis”. Gilroy described a lack of clarity around Union Forum, where the part-time officers of the union meet.

“We have to ask when the next Union Forum is, you have to ask where it is and how do you submit stuff to the agenda.”

Gilroy said this “ad hoc” style often leads to meetings that agendas are “almost dominated by a certain group of people because people weren’t notified on time and some people have more time than others”.

When asked about his position on the politicalisation of the union, Gilroy’s response was unclear, admitting he does not know where he stands on this issue.

“I don’t think that [direct action and politicisation] are necessarily related to each other”

“I don’t think that [direct action and politicisation] are necessarily related to each other,” he said. “Everything is inherently political, of course… but I don’t think the two are related here.”

Gilroy clarified that he does not wish to interfere with the Electoral Commission’s (EC) decision surrounding political messaging from the union.

Continuing to thread around the question of politicalisation, Gilroy commented on the EC’s investigation stating: “I will support whatever the outcome of this is and if the emergency motion goes to the next council and if it passes I will absolutely support it… I wouldn’t say I’m against it.”

Another broader key issue for Gilroy is engagement with the union. For many years TCDSU has struggled to get those from outside of union circles involved. In response to this, Gilroy hopes to “get the union out of House 6.”

When asked if he believes that the union has an image problem amongst students Gilroy stated: “Yeah, absolutely, I do think that.” However, Gilroy went on to praise the union’s recent efforts to address the issue of engagement saying “Over the last year something I think has been great about the union is the introduction of an engagement officer.”

In an attempt to further engagement with students, Gilroy hopes to foster a union which goes to students instead of the other way around, including increasing union activities on campus.

The candidate also hopes to move the union away from kiosks where students are required to approach strangers. Instead, Gilroy hopes to see the union on the ground asking students what challenges they’re facing and offering supports.

“Speaking to previous education officers as well and speaking to previous union sabbatical officers, one of the most impactful things that they have done is they said to me is it’s going out and talking to students,” he said.

Gilroy, however, also does not want to force union engagement on students: “If some students don’t want to talk to you, find a new group of students.”

Beyond the politics and engagement of the union, the education officer is responsible for handling the academic wellbeing of all students, generating huge amounts of casework for the officer. According to Gilroy, students inquiring about help with issues from exams to lecture can wait up to “a month” with no response.

If elected, Gilroy guaranteed he would respond to students who email him within one working day.

“It’s going to be constant emails of people worried about being accused of plagiarism, allegations of plagiarism, or a deadline missed or something,” he said.

“Students seek out support from you as education officer; it’s the bare minimum that you can respond to them, pointing in the right directions, signposting as well [because] you’re not going to be able to solve all their issues too.”

“Students seek out support from you as education officer; it’s the bare minimum that you can respond to them”

Asked about how he plans to keep up with an ever-growing inbox, Gilroy said it will be “simple, really”, explaining he plans to  “set aside a couple of hours every day to go through them.”

“You go in and it’s like a nine-to-five job if you want it to be,” he said. “That kind of work-life balance works with it.”

Asked if he would use automated emails if elected, he replied, “absolutely not.”

Despite the confident promise of quick responses, Gilroy clarified he did not know how many emails the education officer receives per day. He went on to say that he has discussed the issue with previous education officers and that the number of emails received per day can fluctuate greatly depending on the time of year.

Advocating for more modern teaching methods is also central to Gilroy’s manifesto. Speaking on College’s use of technology, Gilroy highlighted the need for greater availability of streamed and recorded lectures. With so many students having to work during their degrees, Gilroy stresses the importance of such classes in allowing students to keep on top of their college work.

When asked about the willingness of academics to make use of such technology, Gilroy expressed his belief that many of College’s schools are open to ideas. He said many of College’s schools are held back by a lack of resources and training, an issue which can be reduced in collaboration with IT services.

Gilroy’s manifesto also addresses the use of generative AI in College. Here the candidate is hoping to see a major overhaul in the way in which College considers the technology’s use.

Speaking on the topic Gilroy described Colleges’ approach to AI as “laissez-faire” and “problematic.”

“The same approach was sort of taken when the internet first came around,” he said. “Students are using it every day.”

While acknowledging certain uses of AI “absolutely” constitutes plagiarism, he argued students are also aware of what constitutes plagiarism and when AI can be used correctly.

“Correcting grammar or syntax, I think it can be helpful there,” he said. “Also for quickfire stuff… Google can be used for that too… but additional information that you can get easily accessible.”

“If Trinity wants to call themselves a top school, they need to prove it”

The candidate hopes to see regulations around the technology changed on a school-by-school basis in recognition of the varying ways in which the technology can be used in different subjects.

“If Trinity wants to call themselves a top school, they need to prove it through developing these policies and advising students on how to use [AI] in the right way,” he said.

Gilroy said he has already spoken about this issue at the Undergraduate Studies Committee, where staff are “listening and paying attention to what I’m saying”.

Gilroy’s manifesto also addresses the falling number of students willing to serve as class representatives. Speaking on his experience as faculty convenor, Gilroy stated that only about one third of AHSS representatives have been elected.

If elected, Gilroy has promised he will work tirelessly to ensure that at least 50% of College’s representatives are elected by the end of the first term, targeting “organisational issues” that has reared its head in the past.

Gilroy also plans to introduce a “centralised reporting structure”, similar to one he has developed as AHSS convenor.

Such a system would allow students to report the likes of broken microwaves and kettles, as Gilroy highlighted the need for students to be able to reheat food given the expense of eating out.

Overall, Gilroy hopes to be an education officer that students can rely on to take their issues to those at the top.

“It’s about really pressuring the college and saying what students are missing out on and what are you going to do about it,” he said.

“A real concerted effort has to be made, and I don’t think that effort has been made as of yet and to the level that it needs to be.”

Campaigning in the TCDSU sabbatical elections continues throughout this week with voting opening on February 27 and closing on February 29.

Have your say: Fill out the Trinity News election poll here.

Alan Nolan Wilson

Alan Nolan Wilson is the current News Analysis Editor of Trinity News, and a Junior Sophister Geography and History student. He previously served as Correspondent for College.