James Pheasey is running in the 2020 SU Elections for the role of Union Development officer. Impact’s News Editor Lauren McGaun caught up with him and asked why he would make a good candidate for the position.
What do you think makes you a good candidate for the role?
I’ve spent the last year as the SU President. This means that I have a unique insight and understanding of how the Union itself functions. Due to the massive financial and operational pressures of COVID-19, it is vital that we have that experience in place from day one to provide student oversight over the hard decisions the SU will have to make.
I’ve also been the LGBT+ Officer, President of the Philosophy Society, a Campaigns Manager and a Treasurer. This means that I not only have the experience to do the role, but I have the insight to see where the Union needs developing on multiple levels.
It’s important to note that this experience and understanding of the role has allowed me to write a manifesto which focuses on developing the Union to ensure that the SU gets through COVID-19 while also continuing to provide services to students where they need it.
“My aim would be to ensure that our SU survives COVID-19″
Why did you want to run for the role of Union Development officer, and what is your main aim for the Students’ Union going forward?
I first ran for SU President because I wanted change. I’m happy to say that much of that change has either happened or started but there is so much left to do. COVID-19 has thrown large amounts of uncertainty into all of the Union’s plans. The resulting massive financial challenges mean that everything will need to look different. My aim would be to ensure that our SU survives COVID-19 and that the students of tomorrow get an SU experience which is at least no worse, but potentially better, than the students of yesterday, despite massively less resources being available.
How would you ensure that Students’ Union activities remain transparent and that there is enough communication with students?
This forms an important part of my manifesto. We need an SU which has easy to understand processes and clear lines of accountability. This all needs to be platformed clearly on our new website. This will involve a continuation of the work that has been progressing this year including more public minuting of meetings, including the FTO Committee and the Trustee Board. I would expand this to include the Trustee Board subcommittees and clear transparency around our finances. It’s important that all our structures are easily laid out so any individual student can know how to make a change.
“We need an SU which has easy to understand processes and clear lines of accountability”
In regard to the changes you made this year, do you plan on continuing to implement these if you were elected?
The SU has made a number of significant advancements this year; whether this be paying the Living Wage to all staff, making our meetings more transparent and accessible, or enshrining students at the centre of the Union. I plan to continue advocating and defending these causes if re-elected.
There are many projects that will need to continue into next year, one key one being that the Union still needs democratic reform. It’s important to look at other SU’s and the vast amounts of insight the SU has received throughout this year to ensure that whatever is put to the students is what they want their SU to look like.
Over the course of the last year the SU’s relationship with the University has developed to a place where our voice is respected as a critical partner. This has been down to our honest yet constructive approach, this has allowed us to have large influences over University Policy, specifically with lots of positive work following COVID-19 such as ‘no academic disadvantage’. The development and cultivation of this relationship is a critical piece of work for the Union to do and is a change that I believe is necessary to continue to implement.
How are you planning to overcome the new funding challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic?
The funding challenges of COVID-19 are massive. With the SU’s commercial income turning off when the lockdown started and not likely to be open by September the SU is looking to lose hundreds of thousands. As the University is also having to revise its financial forecasting, our block-grant is most likely to be massively cut. As the SU is a charity with large staffing costs which generally runs to a break-even target this is quite a substantial problem.
The immediate step to fix this was to suspend all non-essential spending, big expensive projects simply cannot go ahead. So, no plans to buy large assets, do massive renovations, or increase staff costs. The next steps will be a focusing on what the SU’s primary purposes are and how it does this. This will allow the SU to streamline these strands of work to ensure that students are getting what they need out of the SU without it going bankrupt.
In the meantime, it’s still important to work on projects which improve the student experience without spending lots of additional money. My first priority would be to start ensuring our representative structures are robust, both providing us with up to date student wants, needs, and concerns, and making it more efficient for the SU to act on this information. Next steps should follow a working group structure established upon the basis of those current concerns as raised by the students involved. This is a development to our Union which enables our students to drive change.
“There are many projects that will need to continue into next year, one key one being that the Union still needs democratic reform”
Are you planning on introducing any measures to improve the understanding of the new Student Union structure amongst students and prevent confusion?
Yes. This is an important part of transparency. We talk a lot about transparency meaning easy to access facts and figures, and this is important. The other important type of transparency is about processes. It needs to be clear who decides what, and why. These need to be displayed in a simple accessible way on the website and social media and included in welcome information and group handovers to ensure that students understand how the Union operates and how they get involved to make change.
How do you aim to improve the democratic nature of any elections or referendums that take place in the Students’ Union?
I plan to review our elections practice as per the policy I worked on with the current ESJ Officer, which can be found on the website. This should make elections more accessible so they do not privilege the traditional student, this should open this up to underrepresented groups to make the elections more representative. This is a piece of work that I will start this year and continue.
Our byelaws currently state that referenda can only be yes or no questions. This is unhelpful as it doesn’t allow for nuanced engagement with complex issues. I think this should change to allow for multiple preferences and ranked voting. It’s been made quite clear to us all that referenda need to be digestible, as such I propose that the SU provides accompanying easily digestible information along with the referenda that has been discussed with supporters of either side of an issue. This will allow students a more informed choice, which should avoid the confusion that has arisen in numerous past SU referenda due to proposals being vague and unclear.
Voting in the 2020 SU Election closes at 3pm on Monday 11th May.
Featured image courtesy of Nina Sasha.
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