Who cares about Sabbatical Officers?

Sat in the LSE’s noisy library I can overhear somebody talking to their friend about their intention to run for some Sabbatical position or other in the upcoming elections.

For those long out of university or who never went, a Sabbatical Officer takes a year out, or stays an extra year, to act as a sort of MP for students working at the students union.

Thus far my potential Sabb has discussed…

  • …giving healthy eating advice which is like, you know, relevant for students…
  • …trying to communicate with people who are, like, you know, out on a saturday night…
  • …planting questions in the audience for the upcoming hustings…
  • …whether Salmon is vegetarian if it is halal or kosher [1]…

…in great detail. However, until potential Sabbatical Officers discuss…

  • …that 90% of students don’t know or care who they are…
  • …that they will have at best no effect on the lives of the students they represent…
  • …that they are not worth £27,000 a year for a glorified admin role with no democratic legitimacy…
  • …that being elected on 20-30% turnout indicates you are unimportant…

…they can all fuck off.

In all seriousness, and intending insult to no one, I have never read a manifesto commitment which has not struck me as asinine, nor have I noticed an improvement in my student experience from the actions of sabbatical officers. I’d like to call this a failure of communication, but there are full-time Communication Sabbs, so this would be an equally appalling indictment.

I don’t feel this way because democracy is bad – democracy is very good as a meta-institution to pick other institutions, for example. But democracy requires both legitimacy and power to be of any value, and Sabbs have neither.

My principle problem is not that Universities have too much democracy, but that they have too little. The decisions the union must make are perfect for referenda, a small polity of 10,000 is pretty much the perfect Athenian size for direct democracy.

Rather than take advantage of this we have representatives who are never elected with a majority, never elected by people who have any idea of what the union i) should do ii) can do iii) won’t do, and who substitute and crowd out an actually effective, beneficial governance structure.

Some of the most vibrant protests and movements have come out of the campuses of this country, but it has not been sabbatical officers who have led this. Where Sabbs have been involved it is because people who tend to want to be Sabbs tend to be politically active anyway.

Norm and Chris have hinted on the fact that different electors have different strength preferences, but this misses something very important. Sometimes preferences expressed may be strong and irrelevant. Whoever the Irish elect, they will be subject to grinding austerity for years on end. Whoever is elected as sabbatical officers will have next to no impact on my life.

An election held under a condition of almost complete ignorance, in which nobody really cares, nobody has anything on the line and which distracts from better alternatives ain’t much of an election in my book.

Any clever bugger who comments to tell me to run so I can “be the change I want to see” will be deleted mercilessly.

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[1] Irrelevant to our discussion here, but an indicator of the inanity of the conversation which my potential representative felt acceptable in public. They decided it wasn’t.

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4 thoughts on “Who cares about Sabbatical Officers?

  1. “Rather than take advantage of this we have representatives who are never elected with a majority, never elected by people who have any idea of what the union i) should do ii) can do iii) won’t do, and who substitute and crowd out an actually effective, beneficial governance structure.”

    It’s the perfect preparation for mainstream politics.

  2. You should run! You should run, you should run, you should run…

    Sorry, after seeing your warning I couldn’t resist.

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