A Pat on the Back and a Job Well Done…

19 03 2008

I dislike award ceremonies. Not just because the last thing I won was in year 7, but because to me they represent something which is devolved from the initial point. Struggling to say it more eloquently than that, I feel examples are needed.

Last night was the Guild Awards. A night of fun and festivities whereby various prominent members of the student community are given awards to tell them how good they are at any given thing. To me, it seems that the Awards are an opportunity for these people to pat themselves on the back and further convince themselves that they are doing a good job. Which, it could be argued, they are not. At least not across the board, and whilst things such as the Vale Festival may be a growing success, there are other areas of student life which are noticably less successful. There are still plenty of other, smaller, groups which, in my opinion, because they do not have the vociferous characters that other groups do, fail to get the attention that maybe they deserve. There is a huge variety of different societies, groups and student organisations out there. So why does it seem to be the same people who are in the running for the awards? Now this may be unfair, I haven’t seen either the runners for the awards, nor have I seen the winners. Yet I would be willing to bet that the usual candidates were very much there, ready to praise themselves for another good year. Right.

A good year, for me, would have been unprecendented growth across the board, in societies, as well as in other things. Student participation, I would also be willing to bet, has either decreased, or at best, remained constant. There are three things which to me seem indicative of this.

Firstly Redbrick. The student paper (which in my opinion has gone downhill recently, but that’s another issue) which is, at the moment, really crying out for new writers, or sub-editors, or other contributors. When I first started writing for the paper there was a huge amount of people who would frequently write, providing a wide range of thoughts on a wide range of topics. Now they are struggling to convince people to continue writing. At the start of the academic year, naturally, there was a huge amount of interest in writing for Redbrick. Freshers came in with an idea of being a proactive journalist and contributing to a widely read organ. This illusion was quickly shattered (the amount of actual reporting is limited to just the ‘big’ stories, and, in all honesty, it isn’t widely read) and people became disinterested. Now I know that there are lots of people interested in the media. I have been to the Careers Centre Media day for the past two years, and at both events there was comfortably more than 200 people. This leads me to think that there is the interest in Journalism, and the media is there, but Redbrick, contrary to what it should be doing, is failing to encourage people to contribute, and is also failing to grow in terms of readership. There is more that could be said on this issue, but, like Redbrick, I shall abandon things here as there are things I wish to say about other issues.

Secondly then, elections. The success (which I will admit it was) of the Referendum back at the start of term was celebrated as having saved the Guild (and, in all honesty, FAB nights). Great. This was put very much into perspective by the elections for various roles in the Guild more recently. The lowest turnout for nearly twenty years, to me, doesn’t indicate that things are going well. It only serves to prove that the Referendum vote was anomalous. The election results are more telling, and are more indicative of the current state of student affairs. Not enough people really care. At a university of 28,000 students, this is a bad thing. At a university which may be disgruntled because there are now three (?) other universities in the city which are threatening to disrupt the face of university study in Birmingham, getting some 1500 votes for student president, to me is nowhere near good enough. Now it maybe that I have to great an expectation of the university students. However I am inclined to think that it is more likely that student affairs and issues do not adequately mainfest themselves in the things that bodies in and around the Guild do. People don’t care because the Guild is not doing enough to make them care. As evidenced by the referendum, if you really connect with the people things can begin to improve in terms of involvement.

Finally then, a point which links into the last one. Everything about the Guild is cliquey. I do not care what anybody says in defence of this point, the sheer fact that at any Guild releated event you will see the same people only serves to prove this to me. The Guild is a big playhouse for the few. Not the many. I will argue this all day long. By this I mean that the day to day activities in the Guild involve the same people. Things such as FAB are not of concern because they do not involve thinking about- students go to get drunk, irrespective of anything else. So many different events that happen within the Guild happen in front of the select few rather than the many more who should be, and probably are, interested. Discussions of how to improve the Guild involve the same people (of which I admit I am one) throwing the same things around, only to be told that propositions are impossible to implement for one reason or another. I am left wondering how this is possibly going to attract more people into using the various facilities that the Guild offers. I was in the Arc recently getting advice on a housing contract. I was sat in there for about ten minutes waiting, and in that time I saw five people walk past the entrance, and one other person who came into the room. Now it may have been a slow day, but I would be willing to guess that most days are like that.

The Guild has the potential to be so much more than it is, but until it steps away from patting itself on the back and thinking it is doing well, and actually takes a good hard look at itself, things won’t improve. And this isn’t just on the political side of things, it is in relation to the societies as well. Getting lots of people to sign up during freshers is all very well and good, but keeping their interest is the harder part, and, I’m sure that most, if not all, societies see a decline in student attendance during the course of the year. By all means therefore, have these award ceremonies, but only when they are justified. I don’t think that will happen for a few years yet. To me, such ceremonies are similar to a mid-table football team with aspirations of success, like mine, having end of season awards. They may be nice, but they shouldn’t mask the fact that there are still glaring problems.

Right. Rant over.




9 responses

19 03 2008

Fact: At 1224 words, this blog is 15.4% longer than the average chapter length in Luke’s dissertation…

19 03 2008

But seriously, an interesting blog which I think reflects the feelings of an awful lot of students.

On the Redbrick issue, I used to look forward to reading it each week- now I barely bother. The campus focus is nice on pages 2-3, but there’s not nearly enough of it. The lack of front-page election coverage is just bizzarre, and does nothing to help the climate of apathy.

24 03 2008

Hi Luke, a few points I would like to pick up…

Your first paragraph: “There is a huge variety of different societies, groups and student organisations out there. So why does it seem to be the same people who are in the running for the awards? Now this may be unfair, I haven’t seen either the runners for the awards, nor have I seen the winners.”

So you make a claim about the people running for the awards before conceeding you know nothing about who was nominated? That is shoddy research. If you want to criticise something it is worth finding out the facts beforehand.

“Student participation, I would also be willing to bet, has either decreased, or at best, remained constant.”

and this is based on?

I wont comment on your assertions about redbrick – i have nothing to do with media groups so wont make baseless assertions.

“The lowest turnout for nearly twenty years, to me, doesn’t indicate that things are going well. It only serves to prove that the Referendum vote was anomalous. ”

Firstly how do you know it was the lowest turnout for 20 years? Secondly we need to bear in mind that the Guild effectively did zero campaigning for the exec elections. I agree with your point about the referendum. The theme of ‘saving the guild’ was a wasted opportunity to engage students on the real issues rather then telling them they may loose fab. But with the whole organisation working for 3 weeks straight on the referendum the 4000 votes were well deserved. On the other hand, for exec elections the belief is that candidates can best promote an election so there was no publicity from the Guild. I believe this was a flawed plan. The referendum though, was not an anomoly.

“People don’t care because the Guild is not doing enough to make them care.”

I thinkk I agree with this statement – the only problem Luke is you don’t give us constructive suggestions about how to solve this. You claim the Guild is cliquey instead – i will address that point later.

‘Doing enough’ really is the key in that statement above. What is it that you think the Guild should be doing because it tries to achieve a hell of a lot. At once its a representative organisation, a campaigning group, it facilitates societies, runs welfare services, provides comercial services and hosts club nights.

I believe that the problem lies in the fact that there is no clear message to students, in essense: what the guild is for. We should be a union first and foremost. People wont like that but i’m only going by the 1994 education act. We exist to represent students and their concerns/interests. And how many students know that? I think we would agree relatively few.

The issue is therefore one of prioritites – as an organisation we need to focus on the bread and butter issues and earn respect by being good at that.

“Everything about the Guild is cliquey…the day to day activities in the Guild involve the same people.”

I’m sorry you feel the Guild is cliquey – you may not believe that, you may believe I am one of the few – but I cannot help your prejudices and can only try and engage with your point of view.

I will conceed the Guild appears cliquey to an outsider. What I would like you, Luke, to conceed is that this is not intended/malicious or designed for the purposes of a secret cabal determined to use the Guild for their own will.

Any large organisation, even societies within the Guild, appear to newcomers as cliques. But that was never intended and essentially bound to happen. I am in the facebook groups that mean I get invited to events which really should be better advertised. Yes only a small proportion of students use the Guild but is it there fault that they got involved?

Which is why I am going to round up with a larger critique of the initial point of this blog. You seem to think it is wrong the Guild congratulates those who are involved and who have done good things. Take the winner of the best representative award: Laura Chowdry, who when she heard the cafe on Selly Oak campus was closing organised a petition and stopped the closure, she wasn’t a clique member.

One of the reasons people don’t stay involved is because they see no thanks for what they do, no appreciation. Well that’s what Guild Awards tries to correct, I think it’s a sorry state of affairs when we should wallow in our own sorrow that not enough people are involved instead of engaging with those we do have to help them reach out further.

I dont think the Guild is ‘doing well’ in all areas but I will recognise the success we see in our students and what they contribute. I also dont think the situation is as dire as you make out.

There are glaring problems and we’re trying to find answers rather then just rant on.

24 03 2008

Ok, I accept that it may have been ‘shoddy research’ to not know who the runners and riders were so to speak. However, I had looked through the Guilds website (where I presumed I would find the relevant information) but found no mention of the event. I then looked through various facebook groups (which, lets admit, is the next source for student information) but again found nothing. To me this pangs of keeping the event ‘in house’. Which, I feel, only serves to confirm the clique-y nature of the Guild. If you can point out somewhere (anywhere) where this information is, I would be happy to re-assess my position once I know more.
My assertion about student participation is based on various things I have heard and read about a growing nationwide concern about student apathy, including information, and opinions on the NUS’ own website.
In terms of the lowest turnout part- I was working on a similar statement which appeared in the Redbrick coverage of the election results. This article, as written (if memory serves) by Steve Streatfield (who is someone I have a lot of time for), is one I would generally consider it to be accurate, as lets face it, Steve’s been around the uni about the same amount of time!
In terms of general voter patterns for the past three years at least, I am led to believe that the referendum sticks out like a sore thumb in terms of the voter numbers. I would be willing to bet that the trend goes back further than that too.
I’m not sure it should be me who works out the Guilds plan of action. To me that is like good old Gordon going to Rupert Murdock and asking him how to run the country. It shouldn’t be my place to tell you lot in the guild what to do. Despite this, I think you know what my thoughts are on the situation of engaging with students, so I will not go back into that. In essence, the Guild, whilst being good enough at having lots of small societies, fails to achieve anything on a larger scale (ie the umbrella structure under which everything else falls) to encourage more students to attend various events and participate more in the building and structure as a whole.
Of the six things you mention it does, I’m sure that there will only be one of those things which most students really care about. This is probably down to the students as much as the Guild, but it should be something the Guild aims to address.
I will admit that it is probably not intended to be cliquey. Most of the people are genuinely concerned with student affairs and the guild. However, I still have the nagging feeling at the back of my head which says there are some (albeit a small number) of students who will, inevitably, use the Guild to further their own career aspirations, with scant regard for the actual position they may be running for, or motion they are voting against. And this isn’t comparable to me writing for Redbrick either, because, as I see it, Redbrick doesn’t make decisions about the welfare of students or change things in the same manner that a body like the Guild does. What I write simply doesn’t impact upon students in the same way as actions undertaken by GC does.
Nor am I blaming the people for getting involved. That would be silly, and counter to everything else I think I’ve being trying to say. What I am saying is that more needs to be done to engage with the 25,000 or so other students who are part of the university. This can only be done by those people who are there already, but, unfortunately, I am not seeing this happening.
By all means have these awards, but don’t let them mask the continuing problems. The issue, as you have made it, is whether the Guild should be concerned more with attracting new people into it, or be content with what it has already. To me it should do both. At the moment, as I see it, it is only achieving one.
I don’t doubt you (collectively) are trying to find answers, but that doesn’t mean either that I should be criticised for airing my own views on the situation.

24 03 2008

I agree with you Luke regarding the guild elections, the turn out seemed low this was not just amongst the voters but also those running for positions; seven candidates ran uncontested including two running for sabbatical positions.

I am not saying that these candidates were not the best people for the job, but it seems a flawed system in which one person can run against “RON”, because, let’s face it, they are almost certain to get it-have nominations ever been re-opened in the guild elections due to students voting for them? I bet some candidates were celebrating before the votes even came in!

This, I believe is a particular problem when it comes to the sabbatical officers, aren’t they paid jobs? It’s kind of like advertising for a job, one person coming forward and getting it purely on the basis that they are the only one interested. Except I’m not really sure how well these “jobs” were advertised, to be honest. I think I’m a pretty average student; I go the guild maybe once a week or so and read Redbrick. I saw a lot about the guild referendum and pretty much nothing about how to go about running for exec positions. Then again perhaps “average” students are not what is wanted, this may explain why voting levels are so low.

24 03 2008

Mmmmm. I agree that the Guild has serious communication issues, I barely knew the nominations were open and half my mates seemed to be running for something…

On a side note, Luke, you say you are not involved with the Guild. Yet you are a member of at least one of their societies which you (used to) attend regularly and write for; and you attend their club nights and debating events, you’ve used the ARC, you’ve even been to one j-soc event… hell you even campaigned in the exec elections! (admittedly under my coercion).

… the only difference between me and you is I’m on Guild Council…

so by those standards, the only way I can see to involve everyone is to make GC one member-one vote for the Guild’s entire membership!

24 03 2008

There’s a difference between ‘using’ the guild- something most students *should* do, and something I do, and being involved in the guild, ie on GC. And the only reason I “campaigned” was the promise of free drink… which I am still waiting for!

25 03 2008

Free drink was delivered, you were probably too drunk to remember.

Anyway, I would say you are pretty involved. And you have backed up my point- that by your standards the only way to achieve full involvement is to get all 30 000 turning up to omov Guild Council meetings… At present all 30000 can turn up to and speak at gc meetings, but only those elected to can vote, would you class someone who turns up but can’t vote as involved? Are there no other ways people can be involved that don’t require a gc seat?

25 03 2008

Free drink very certainly wasn’t delivered, was it you who was too drunk? 😛

Ok, lets clear up the definitions then.

Being ‘involved’ in the Guild, to my mind means being part of Guild Council OR is part of a student group committee. This obviously extends to the Guild Executive positions.

‘Using’ the Guild means going into the building and EITHER using the facilities (ARC, Joes, Nightbus etc) OR being a member of a society or club (but not on the committee for the said club) OR occasionally attending events which aren’t FAB- Public debates and such like.

I therefore class myself in the latter category.

In terms of your example above then, someone who attends GC but doesn’t vote (presumably are there to propose something or maybe out of curiosity) I would still class as ‘using’ the Guild rather than being involved in the Guild. There are obviously other factors to think about in the example though- does the person in mind a) attend regularly? or b) aspire to be on the council? If yes to either then they would move from ‘using’ the Guild to being ‘involved’ in the Guild.

To my mind therefore people should be encouraged to ‘use’ the Guild more. This is where the awareness of what the Guild is, and how it works should be important. Currently, as far as I can see, not enough know either. This, to me, isn’t through the fault of the students themselves. It is only through those currently ‘involved’ in the Guild that this can happen.

Taking this further, as much as I hate to admit it, but the *great* facebook group “Hierarchy of Hackery” serves to prove two points to me. Firstly that the Guild is clique-y. But more importantly than that, there is various different levels of knowledge about the Guild. I would suggest, if working by the definitions provided by this group, that Levels 0- 5 are those who ‘use’ the Guild, Levels 6-14 are those who are ‘involved’ in the Guild. Now, I’m aware that this group is very much an ‘in’ joke, but there is one point in particular which angers me, and proves another one of my thoughts:

“Level 14. Has held or does hold the position of Independant Chairperson, OR Is a member of consitutions committee. Knows that the constitution really works for them.”

Can you guess which bit of that is annoying? I’m hoping this is tongue in cheek, but I get the impression it isn’t.

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