Hatfield College recently voted against a proposed motion to make the role of JCR President (titled Senior Man) sabbatical.
The final vote was 137-82 against the motion, with two abstentions.
The college is one of four colleges who do not have a sabbatical JCR president. These include St. Chad’s Colleges JCR President, University College’s Senior Student and Trevelyan College’s JCR President.
A sabbatical JCR President, (used by eleven other undergraduate colleges), is a role occupied by a graduate student, working as a member of staff in the college with an annual salary.
Chloe Sweetland, Hatfield College’s Senior Man, proposed a motion to make the role sabbatical. She told Palatinate: “Raising a motion to make the position of Senior Man sabbatical was an idea I had been considering for a while. I believe that having a sabbatical Senior Man is in the best interests of the JCR.”
“I believed it would make the role more accessible to those who currently are unable to apply”
Dominic Berry, Hatfield College JCR Vice-President
Dominic Berry, Hatfield College’s JCR Vice-President, seconded the motion. He told Palatinate his reasons: “I believed it would make the role more accessible to those who currently are unable to apply, from those who have numerous contact hours due to their degree, to those who are holding part-time jobs during term time, to those who are doing a year abroad or a year in industry.
“I also thought the position would be better served as a sabbatical position because regardless of what degree you do, or how much time you are able to dedicate to the position, it is never enough to satisfy the demands of the role.
“When the motion was proposed in the JCR Meeting, the general consensus in the room was for the motion to be passed. I think the main opposition came from the fact that, regardless of whether you can promise that levies/event prices won’t increase, the £15,000 used to pay the salary of the Senior Man is a lot of money and students thought there were better ways of spending it.
“There’s no proof that any sabbatical colleges have managed to do anything our senior man’s haven’t been able to do with the extra time”
Nelly Kaidan, Hatfield College JCR Treasurer
Nelly Kaidan, Hatfield College’s JCR Treasurer, told Palatinate that the money used to pay for a new sabbatical role “could go towards other subsidies.
“There’s not really any proof that any sabbatical colleges have managed to do anything our senior men haven’t been able to do with the extra time.”
A student from Hatfield College, who wished to remain anonymous, told Palatinate: “A reason why the motion for making the Senior Man a sabbatical position didn’t pass is that there is a large dissociation from the average JCR member to those heavily involved in the JCR.”
They believed this was largely because “less and less returners are living back in college (due to both rising accommodation prices and available spaces).”
They felt this problem had been “exacerbated” by Durham University’s decision to increase colleges’ intake of freshers, thereby “depleting the feeling of community that collegiate systems are supposed to have.
“When this motion was raised, voting against it was seen by some as a protest vote as they felt they didn’t know how their money was being spent, so the idea of spending £15,000 on a sabbatical Senior Man was aggravating.”
Other non-sabbatical JCR Presidents, such as Josh Barker of St. Chad’s College, argue that the role is not necessary for their specific college. In a statement to Palatinate, he said: “I understand the arguments in favour of a sabbatical JCR President, especially in larger colleges, and in many ways I support them, however, I don’t believe it is necessary for Chad’s at present.
“Being a JCR President is a lot of work but, by delegating to my brilliant Exec and through support from our college staff and senior leadership, I’ve managed to balance my degree alongside the role. As the smallest Durham college, I think there is something to be said for a current student representing other students in a community where everyone knows everyone.
“That said, this will be something for future students to keep under review and I know the college would support the will of the JCR on this matter.”
“I think there is something to be said for a current student representing other students”
Josh Barker, Senior Man at St. Chad’s College
Annamaria Karvalits, Trevelyan College’s JCR President, spoke to Palatinate regarding the interest in debating the nature of the president role, culminating in a voided referendum vote and the establishment of a working group in Trevelyan to “explore different routes of changing the job descriptions of JCR position holders to make their work more effective and suitable for those working alongside their degree.”
She also acknowledged, in reference to the recent vote in Hatfield, that “each JCR has to decide what is suitable for them as all colleges are different. There is no uniform solution that fits all communities. Working with such rapidly growing student bodies is quite a challenge and thus, I would not be surprised if Durham is to see more sabbatical roles being created in years to come.
“Regardless of what my personal opinion might be about how Trevs JCR should be run, I admire anyone who undertakes initiatives to improve their common room structure if they believe it serves their community.”
Photograph: Des Blekinsopp via Geographg