YUSU elections are coming up. With them, the great ritual of covering campus in cardboard, tacky slogans, gimmicks, and ham-fisted speeches. Everyone focuses on the sabb races; often the part-time officer roles are not covered and certain facts are overlooked. To those who are counting, it is very obvious that somehow very few freshers get involved. In fact, in the last election only three first years got elected and only six first years stood, which is a tiny percentage. This is a terrible shame and needs to change. Freshers provide a new outlook and can take a position in a new direction, and are more likely to see two terms of office, which is highly desirable for networks and committees.
The vast majority of YUSU part-time officers are second years who have been involved in their respective networks and who are seen overwhelmingly as the establishment candidate. They tend to be unopposed, win easily, and last one year. Upsets do happen, such as International Students’ Officer last year, but they are rare. While we have had some very good second year part-time officers this system carries risks.
Firstly, people will not care about the election taking place. It’s hard to worry about an election where there is only one candidate and it is obvious who has won the contest. Having freshers run changes that.
For example having freshers run for the International Students’ Officer position for the last two years has raised the profile of International Students’ Officer significantly. Furthermore, fresher officers tend to have a different view to the people who have been in the committee for a year.
This has the potential to take the position in a whole new direction, often challenging the established procedure of the network and sparking new debates and ideas, which often is good. Otherwise networks grow stale and risk losing their representative appeal. Just as networks are often rejuvenated by new blood coming in, it is sometimes necessary for the officer to be new and with fresh ideas.
Almost all YUSU part-time officers only last one term in the job. Last year we had a record of 2 PTOs standing for re-election (Maddie Boden and Yours Truly). Therefore, officers end up leaving at a point where they may just be beginning to spell out a strategic vision for the future, only to hand over to another officer who has to learn the ropes. This is an inherently unstable system, which leads to stagnation. One year sometimes is not enough and it can lead to an officer leaving before their reforms are set in stone.
However, fresher officers are more able to run for a second term which can often prove invaluable, meaning that structural changes that are made to a network can be set in stone, as well as new events becoming a constant (such as Access Your Future and Sexposé). Additionally, two-term officers can often build strong relationships with staff, meaning that they are more likely to get major changes through.
Part-time officers are invaluable for YUSU, fixing issues and generally supporting students. While some great PTOs have been elected as second years, the fact that so few freshers run or get elected is a cause for concern. Therefore, to all freshers, please do consider running for YUSU, and if you run, campaign seriously. Go to lecture theatres and promote your policies; cover campus in cardboard, make a video, go on tours of colleges, just like sabb candidates do.
YUSU needs enthusiastic candidates who will shake up the races, underdogs who win and go on to fulfil their promises, and people who can run again and finish the job they started, hand off a transformed position to their successor, and leave feeling like they have made tremendous difference.
More freshers becoming Part Time Officers is beneficial both to them and YUSU.