Traditionally, the holding of a Sabbatical office at a Student Union was a one year-term sandwiched between a student’s second and third year of study. Not anymore; increasingly, students are opting to be elected as Sabbs after their final year of study, as well as more and more candidates opting to extend their term by seeking re-election.
Indeed, three of the current sabbatical team – Union President Sam Ling, VP Academic Affairs Sasha Watson and VP Student Engagement Shane Murphy – were successfully re-elected in their posts last year. Such a trend is becoming noticeable at other Universities too.
But is this fair? Surely all students who want to help SUSU should be given a chance to run for a position; however, it seems notoriously difficult to defeat those already in office. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that those who re-run have an advantage in campaigning, as they are already more widely known and can often reuse their already-succesful campaigns for maximum effect.
They have also been working in the Sabbatical Officer for one year, thus would have gained information and insight into SUSU workings that other candidates could only dream of. In fact, it is this very insight which will result in most students believeing they are the best candidate for the job.
All these ‘advantage’ go against the ideals of democratic practice in which every individual should be given a fair and equal chance.
A case in point can be found with Sam Ling; he faced seven other candidates when he was first-elected back in 2011, but last year faced no opposition in his role initially This clearly indicates there was a sense that he could not be beaten. Eventually, he did face competition from Simon Boyce, though Boyce only entered the contest because Ling was heading unopposed on a one-horse race and he opposed this.
The facts seem to indicate therefore that many believe incumbents are difficult to defeat.
This year has seen a similar story; David Gilani’s, current VP Communications, move to campaigning for President – rather than his initial plan for VP Democracy & Creative Industries – led to other candidates to rethinking going for the Union’s top job and instead go for other Sabbatical positions. It was believed that Gilani was going to be unopposed if he ran for VP DCI.
The facts seem to indicate therefore that many believe incumbents are difficult to defeat. Of course, there is a belief that only Sabbatical officers that have done well will prosper and so the democratic process is working. Indeed, it could even be said that by allowing two-year terms, SUSU benefits as Sabbs can have long term goals as well as the experience to make their second year as successful as possible
Nonetheless, with a large amount of students fairly disengaged from Student Union politics, there is definitely a case to be made that incumbents may win positions purely on reputation alone.
It also stops other good candidates having a chance; and it could be said that it creates an artificial prolongation of a person’s University life. Questions should also be asked as to whether a person who has been a Sabb for a year already can truly claim to represent the student body they haven’t properly been in studies and student life for a year.
We asked the Presidential candidates their thoughts of running against a current Sabbatical officer:
As a politics student, Sophie Bradfield believes the debate should be looked at further, citing many of the issues raised in this article as problems in that it fails to make the election fair:
This very point actually features in my manifesto (I want to lead a review into whether sabbs should be able to rerun) so I’m glad others recognise it as an issue!
I do believe that re-running sabbs present an unfair election for anyone else that wants to be involved and it’s nothing against individuals in any way; I study politics and part of the essence of a democratic process is that elections should be fair and that equal chance should be given to all
However, if someone has been working inside an office for the past year they’re gonna get an insight that no other student could possibly dream of. Additional to that, there’s a big issue of the sabbaticals operating as a separate entity to the student body, when their core role is as a representative, so being out of studies for a year surely exacerbates this dilemma of not being ‘in-touch’ with the students they represent. The same critique comes up in Parliament and the House of Lords because taking a year out of a field means you no longer qualify as an expert.
The outcome of this election will be interesting in particular, as a sabbatical is rerunning for a different position thus will show whether a sabbatical rerunning presents a dilemma because they are more well-known than any other candidate or if it is that they have more expertise in the field.
Peter ‘Pewee’ Ward showed a similar regard that the situation is problematic, but it is difficult to know whether an outright ban is the right step:
Basically I haven’t made my mind up yet as to whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I think there are clear reasons for being able to run for a second term, as some things can’t necessarily be achieved in a year. However, taking on a current sabb is obviously a very difficult task, and I think a lot of questions need to be asked about how much attention they get and how fairly they are treated alongside other candidates.
To use my own personal experience, running against Dave is tough, but (hopefully) not impossible. With a current sabb you obviously have to fight against the reputation that they’ve had a year to build up, getting both their face and name out there and being strongly linked with SUSU, they also have the advantage of being able to take leave during campaigning, whereas other candidates still have to contend with lectures, assignments, dissertations and the like whilst simultaneously running a campaign.
The most important thing, however, is that they are the best candidate from the previous year, and whilst everyone concentrates on their experience or exposure, I think the most important aspect is the fact that they have to be a very good candidate to be elected in the first place, and that’s why I can’t decide if sabbs should be allowed to re-run, as, considering they are the best person from the previous year, they’re likely to be a very good candidate this year too.
It’s tough, but I don’t know whether it shouldn’t be allowed.
It was this last sentiment that David Giliani agreed with; in that if a re-runner should be allowed because it about finding the best person for the job
Sabbaticals are allowed to rerun because elections should be about finding the best person for the role, and sometimes that might be a re-runner (you have to look at it on a case-by-case basis, and can’t rule out all re-running Sabbs). There are arguments that re-running Sabbaticals have an advantage… I believe that this is only true if the person has done a good enough job to warrant good publicity.
Other candidates agreed, claiming there is no reason why Sabbs shouldn’t be allowed to rerun. Jim Dykes said that:
I feel it is perfectly acceptable for current Sabb officers to run again for the same or different positions within the SU. I don’t feel any worry about competing against current sabb officer, if we think about it, a third of the undergraduate electorate will have changed roughly so there is plenty of scope for it to swing either way.
Ellis Sims seems shown a similar nonchalant attitude towards the matter, stating that:
Honestly, I don’t really have a feeling on the matter. If they feel they want to run, who am I to say otherwise? I personally would only run once, as I feel every student should have the chance to experience that.
With the last word was Michelle Dando who declared:
Union Politics? I have no interest in these, there’s more important things in life, like making sure my nails and hair are in top condition xoxo
The good news is that the Education Act of 1994 dictates that no sabbatical officer may hold office for more than two years – in fact, its illegal to do so. So thats why we didn’t see any re-runners re-running this year or, in fact, ever.
So what do you think? Should Sabbs be allowed to re-run?
Please note: this article is not directed at individuals in particular, but is an attempt to bring a debate in the topic with real persons used only as examples.