By Theo Burman
I vaguely remember the student officer elections in my first year, and how annoyed I was at the third years telling me that I simply didn’t understand how the SU worked. Fast forward two years, and the temptation to say the same things they did is very strong. Such is the defence of a uniquely flawed institution.
The SU is a buffer against the interests of the University executive, and as a result it is always destined to be incontent with the policies Durham introduces. Much of the SU’s bandwidth is dedicated to watering down policies that hurt students, and because we don’t see the before and after, students don’t see the positive changes, only the overall negative outcome. Last year, the University’s safety net policy during lockdown was inadequate, and the SU pushed for more concessions, but was still criticised for the final policy still not going far enough. When representing students for an institution with ultimate power that consistently puts profit first, the SU is destined to be a sidelined voice of opposition, always pushing for change against the inevitable University administration.
The core of this problem is that we overestimate the power of the SU in influencing University decisions, and more pertinently, the strength of the student officers in influencing the SU. Like with most other student unions, the majority of the people working at DSU are unelected staff. Policymaking options are limited, and officers have to be constantly aware of the ever-present authority of the University itself, which pays the bills and the wages.
Every year the same claims come out: the SU isn’t fit for purpose, our officers don’t do anything for us, but at a certain point I wonder if the title of “the UK’s worst student union” is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. We expect the SU to be bad, and are less likely to give it a chance as a result. Nonetheless, we’ve seen good use of what power the SU does have this year. Providing information and equipment during the rise in drinks spiking cases and giving support to the student community during the attention after the South College incident are good examples of the SU stepping up where the University fumbled. It should also be noted that this year’s officers spoke out to support students even though it meant being subjected to horrible national coverage. I think that after that, we should think twice about accusing candidates this year of being in it for themselves.
Image: Amana Moore