In the run up to the 2016 SUSU elections, the Wessex Scene team have been interviewing the candidates running for sabbatical positions. Here, we interview Alex Hovden, who is hoping to become the next Union President.
Why are you running for the role of Union President?
I believe that I can make an impact on student’s lives. One of the things that I’ve learned over the last two years is that much of the union has really tried to make an impact but it’s not been able to reach every single student here. SUSU’s mission is to unlock the potential and enrich the lives of every single student and I’ve long felt that although the intention is very good, SUSU is not yet achieving it fully. Through the high impact ideas in my manifesto I believe we can do this and I think there is a great future for the union but we need to focus more on impact. I was also hugely inspired by Ben Franklin’s win last year – he showed me that genuinely anyone can win these elections. Although I come from a minority group being disabled, I believe that I can bring a fresh perspective on union politics through my eyes.
What were you most looking forward to about physical campaigning?
I’m looking forward to getting out there and talking to students, getting to know people and finding out what the students issues are, which hopefully I can hope move forward a bit if I am elected even if they aren’t things I’ve mentioned in my manifesto. I’ve already spoken to some sports teams about the issue they’re experiencing in terms of fixtures and I believe we need to have a proper look at the fixtures setup. I believe that as president I can make a difference in that respect.
In your manifesto you talk about decentralising the union. What is decentralisation and how would you go about doing it?
First of all, as a union we are hugely focused on this building (Building 42 on Highfield Campus). All of our services, events and activities are based here. I think that if you had actually never visited this area of campus you would never know that the union existed. I want to expand union activites not only at Highfield Campus but at Avenue Campus, the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton General Hospital and the Winchester School of Art so that we have a standard approach to all these different sites. This could be done through having more regular shoutouts advertising key events and opportunities, not just for sabbs but for part time officers as well.
I want to have more advertising space across campus and I also want to expand the ‘Winchester Model’ of having a separate committee and if necessary adapt it as appropriate for all of the other sites – this doesn’t mean it will be a carbon copy, it means adapting it as appropriate. I could this in co-operation with the academic site president, for example potentially changing the NOC Officer role to a site president and give that person certain officers as well in line with what the students on their site want. If students on a site say ‘we don’t want this role’ – that’s fine, we’ll accept that and we’ll move on to another site. It’s not about ramming it down people’s throats, its about giving students the exposure to the union that they want and making sure that they have the opportunities to engage when they want and where they want.
What makes you stand out from the other presidential candidates?
First of all I can’t stand! I think that I’ve seen SUSU from both the inside and the outside – from 2013-14 I sat on Union Council as the disability representative and in 2014-15 I took a sabbatical from everything, which gave me the opportunity to see the union from the outside. Various events that year demonstrated to me the true scale of reforms that would be needed such as the Grad Ball saga last year, which cause quite a stir.
I’m also offering an all-rounded approach to being president. I want to communicate with students as much as I can – that doesn’t mean organising meetings, that would mean just sitting down, asking students ‘what issues affect you?’, then going away and working on them. That doesn’t mean I’m going to chase you down all over campus – I’ll probably sit up on the redbrick asking passers by what they think of Issue X or Issue Y or what they think about what the union is doing for them.
Having sat on Trustee Board I’ve witnessed a lot of financial issues with the Union and I think that from my experience in campaigning, from having written in the planning book, I’m in the best position to help manage budgets and to secure the long term financial future of the Union.
I’m just a normal person who is trying to get through every day as it comes but with big ambitious plans for the union. I want to push the union as much as possible and that means more direct communication with the University and being a lot bolder in that communication with them. I’m not going to sit back and accept everything just because the University says that’s all we can do. I’ll say to them ‘why is that all we can do?’ and will challenge them at every level possible.
How well do you think you can handle the stress and responsibilities of such a role?
Previously I was involved in the British Sailing Team, which is a high pressure elite level sporting environment. In that environment we were expected to get results in return for funding, which as you can imagine is a high pressure arena to be in when you’ve not only got the eyes of the team managers on you but also the eyes of the public and the sponsors. To apply that back to the union, as president I would not only have the other officers watching what I’m doing but I will also have students watching me, the University watching me, the Wessex Scene watching me, Surge watching me (or listening to me), and also the Tab watching me as well, so everyone will be watching the role of president for any slip-up. I will actively be as accountable and transparent as I can and I will also get other officers to be as accountable and transparent as they can. In other words, I want all officers to be open to scrutiny at every single level.
There is a bit of a general problem with the perception of SUSU no matter how many apologies have been made. Even if you are accountable and apologise will this really change general perceptions about SUSU?
I think that as a union we need to be a lot more willing to acknowledge and account for screw ups. Instead of saying we believe what we’ve done is right we need to say something like ‘OK, at the time of introducing this we thought this was right, however clearly something’s gone wrong therefore in future we will look at ways of addressing that in the future.’ I think that that is a more honest, direct and open approach to dealing with criticism. We should also ask for more feedback on where we went wrong.
Your manifesto mentions wanting to create a break between the end of January exams and Semester 2. Do you believe this is truly feasible or is it a bit too ambitious?
I believe it is acheivable. Having spoken to a former Sabb Officer he said this was once in the pipeline but the person in the University who was working on it left. I believe that if there is enough desire for this among students if we have a vote to negotiate on this the University will have to take this very seriously. I understand that there is actually a precedent for this at other universities, particularly in Europe where the academic calendar isn’t quite as intense as ours.
The reasoning behind it is that January at the moment is extremely intense as a month goes, yet back after Christmas, which isn’t really a break because you’ve got work, deadlines and exams looming, you have one week of final revision and deadlines and then straight after you’re into two weeks of exams and then straight after that you’re into Semester 2. I believe that this would not only be beneficial to students from the point of view of wellbeing but from an academic perspective as well, as this is not just about the students, but the whole University community.