Our Sabbatical Officers: A Year in Review

It has been a turbulent year for all at UCL. It was truly a rollercoaster ride with changing COVID conditions, numerous bouts of strikes and extremely consequential decisions like UCL leaving Stonewall. There have also been important happenings less known and less discussed: the disparate status between Liberation Networks and societies, the Students’ Union Executive rush to oppose strike action and a frankly cavalier attitude towards the wants of students and the rules and spirit of the Students’ Union.

It is worth remembering that the Sabbatical Officers work full time for a salary just over £25,000 a year. With such an important role and a very fair wage, it is important they take both their jobs and their constituents, that is the student body, seriously.

So let’s see how our Sabbatical Officers performed in this turbulent year of constant change:

Equity Officer, Arifa Aminy, has promoted important causes throughout the year, in line with her brief. As our first Equity Officer I think it is fair to say that Arifa has set a high bar. Lobbying UCL to improve mental health facilities to reduce waiting times, providing sports facilities for disabled students and promoting more cultural celebrations were all part of Arifa’s good work. On top of this, she has organised aid for Afghanistan, pushed for more child-friendly study spaces, and spearheaded the ‘Period Project’ this year, which included a campaign to raise awareness about period poverty and provide period products free of cost. After losing her bid for re-election, it would seem that students want even more out of their Equity Officer.

Postgraduate Officer Viktoria Makai, another victim of recent elections, has been nothing but a champion to her constituents. Over the last year, she has been lobbying UCL to secure stable fees, increasing opportunities for publishing and ensuring all PGTAs know their rights and have support. Perhaps it is a shame that she lost in the recent election. Was it an indictment on her performance or her personality? Maybe, or perhaps neither.

From our Activities and Engagement Officer this year we have seen all activities and no engagement. Ilyas Benouma has been prodigious in his ability to promote the resources available to UCL’s sports teams. But in terms of engagement, I’m afraid we’ve seen little more than can be accomplished in a few brainstorming sessions. While I have never been a Sabbatical Officer and cannot gauge the agency they have, I would hope a dedicated elected member of the Union Executive could come up with more – more than promoting in-person events and ensuring societies have financial support. While these goals are definitely important, aren’t they the bare minimum?

From our Education Officer, I fear that we have seen a similar performance. While extremely important work was done – reducing the BAME awarding gap and ensuring a strong EC Policy which appropriately accounts for the challenges that students focus in another irregular year – we expect this from all of our Education Officers. His other work – ‘continue to develop lines of communication to and between representatives’ and ensuring graduation is up to our expectations – is fine, but just that, fine.

Yasmeen Daoud, our outgoing Welfare and Community Officer, performed similarly. She has done important and necessary work such as increasing access to prayer spaces and representing marginalised students effectively. However, with only 25% of her tenure remaining, Yasmeen is yet to start lobbying for over a quarter of her policies. She was also recently spotted heading into campus by crossing the picket line, which forces us to ask whether she has a genuine commitment to her role? Especially now as she’s on her way out.

Leading our oh so holy Union, Osman Teklies has had an interesting year at the helm. He led work in creating more faith facilities, improved existing commercial and community spaces, made the welcome period more accessible and reviewed and renewed our sustainability policy. However, unlike previous Union Affairs Officers, Osman has managed to reach new heights of irony with policies like ‘putting students at the forefront of decision-making’ and asserting that the Student Union Executive is the ‘expert on what matters for students’. Interestingly, in October, Osman led the Union in direct contradiction to how the students voted in a referendum in February. While they defended themselves by claiming that they thought it was in the students’ best interests, it seems hard to believe the Union Executive, and Osman in particular, are ‘experts’ on the thoughts and beliefs of students. In light of this, maybe it is unsurprising that Osman also crossed the picket line last week, a clear demonstration of his apparent lack of regard for the actions and decisions of the student body. Osman’s claims that he represents the student body are not only blatantly false but also disrespectful. It raises the question whether Osman does not understand his duties as leader of the student body or whether he simply does not care?

So there you have it. Those who tried their hardest this year lost their seats, while others decided to coast along as if no one was watching. A striking question thus arises: could our resources be better invested in different officers,  or even new officers? Indeed, it seemed that while our Equity Officer Arifa was overworked, Ilyas, Osman and Yasmeen barely lifted a finger to go beyond their remits. It seems that in terms of equality there is much to be done. Though the SU has created positions to represent marginalised groups, the portion of their resources devoted to this cause, in at least personnel, is lacking. Officers representing women, BME, Trans, and LGBTQ+ students all work part-time and are unpaid.

Ultimately, the stamp of our Students’ Union is mediocrity.

This article appeared in CG Issue 82