This week, in keeping with tradition, Felix is reviewing the sabbatical officers! Having begun their tenure in August 2018, it is now time to review their performance as we reach the sixth month of their occupancy of Beit quad. For those of you not in the know, the Sabbs are the elected representatives of you the students and it is their job to enact the manifesto commitments that they were elected on last year. The sabbatical officers being reviewed were the Union President, the Deputy President (Finance & Services), the Deputy President (Clubs & Societies), the Deputy President (Welfare), the Deputy President (Education) and the ICSM Student Union President. The Felix Editor, despite also being a Sabb has not been reviewed in this pull-out and confidently assumes that you, the reader, can judge his performance for yourself.
The purpose of this review is to establish what they have achieved in their time representing the student body and comparing that to what they initially pledged within their manifestos. It is finally time to work out whether that was just so much hot ink off the printer. Additionally, this chance to chat with senior union officials allowed us to get an in-depth look at the goings on in the union and get the sabbs perspective on the direction the Union is headed particularly in light of the scrapping of SCR breakfast and the removal of food service from H-bar. If the purpose of the sabbatical officers is to represent the student will at the union, do they agree that this slimming of services means they do not have the influence they need?
Rob Tomkies - Union President
“Because you’re President, when you run on a manifesto, you have quite a lot of broad points and part of it is shaping a team that will be able to do it rather than necessarily taking on every single project yourself because it’s simply not possible”. I feel like this perfectly sums up Rob’s performance. He has been an effective leader, taking a more hands-off/ wholistic approach to the job and ensuring that he appropriately supports the Officer Trustees below him. Having said that, he has also done well to achieve the majority of his main manifesto points (see below; the stars indicate partially completed manifesto points). Outside of his manifesto, Rob has been involved in various projects, including governance, disciplinary review, Graduate Students’ Union review, policy review and Officer Trustee role review.
Felix: Do you like the direction the Union is currently going in?
Rob: I don’t think I would have run if I thought it was perfect – manifestos are almost entirely about change, I ran on the idea of change. I agree with the vision, maybe I have questions on how to get there. Overall, the big impact and the big pieces we do are the right ones.
We’ve recently seen examples of the sabbs being left out of big decisions made by college/union – what are your thoughts on this?
Union decisions- it’s part on us, recently we’ve completely redeveloped the way that the Leadership Team works. That side has definitely been a challenge so far but I think that the approach that we’ve taken in the last couple of weeks in tackling that has been really positive and we are actually beginning to see a way forward and a framework that may work. The College side is really frustrating. In all honesty, we sit in too many meetings as it is. College is so large, it’s impossible to be at every table, the challenge is making sure we’re at the right table at the right time, which I think largely we are.
What do I want? I want to ensure fresh ideas come through the union so that we can make long standing positive change while building on the successes of this year’s team.
What are my goals?
Finance and Services:
- Better funding for your constituent unions, clubs and societies through a centralised sponsorship support centre* DONE
- Better food, including halal and vegan, at all hours, at all campuses through conducting a complete catering review. DONE
Clubs and Societies:
- Ethos expansion with usage-based equipment – lets end the overcrowding. DONE
- A referendum on the Sport Imperial mascot – Do we really want a lion? NOT DONE
- Wednesday opening of the advice centre and introduction of skype appointments.* DONE
- Increase student support for welfare and campaigns at non-South Kensington campuses.* DONE
- Guaranteed internal varsity. DONE
- Campaign to secure increased student study space available to all through repurposing the newly vacated chemistry building. IN PROGRESS
James Medler - Deputy President (Clubs & Societies)
James’ performance as DPCS thus far has been something of a masterclass in “how to sabb” and highlights the importance of adequately researching the role and what it entails prior to writing your manifesto. James has seen major “wins” in his first six months largely because his manifesto built on the work of his predecessors. These wins include the refurbishment and expansion of Ethos gym. He has also managed to secure almost £500,00 funding for the Union Concert Hall and is currently working on a “big project management piece” looking to adapt the structure of the Union itself. James told Felix: “A lot of the problems that people have with the Union are ‘it’s not very effective’, ‘we’re not very efficient at dealing with projects’, ‘we’re not very good at replying to emails’. All of that is down to the fact that, under our current model, there aren’t enough people to do all of the jobs. It wasn’t designed in a way to deal with problems effectively.”
Felix: Do you think sabbatical officers are adequately supported?
James: I feel our current structure and current way of working isn’t effective enough to support the sabbs in the way it should be. Everybody has the same view of wanting to support the sabbs and wanting to do these new projects and wanting to get it done but the way we’re currently set up means that’s not always possible. I think everybody is aware of that and it’s a pain.I dont think we’re quite structured right, I think there should be more flexibility within our structure so teams can work more collaboratively.
EXPAND ETHOS GYM - Pressure College to expand gym space DONE - Investigate external gym and space provider partnerships across London DONE - Pressure college for an investment into a wider range of sport and wellbeing facilities DONE
DEDICATED ATHLETICS HUB - Join key parts of Sport Imperial and the Union, to make one team accountable for sporting decisions, with a student decision-maker at the top DONE
MORE BOOKABLE SPACE / PROCESS IMPROVEMENT - Pressure college to prioritise clubs and societies bookings in under-utilised space IN PROGRESS - Ensure CSPs have the appropriate space for their activity, and what is required to do their activity IN PROGRESS - Ensure students understand how key union processes work (ie minibuses), through mediums such as infographics IN PROGRESS
ONLINE CSP SUPPORT PORTAL - Create an online space for queries directing you to the relevant people immediately IN PROGRESS
REGULAR OPEN OFFICE MEETINGS / A FRIENDLIER UNION - Regular update meetings on my progress open to all NOT DONE - Regular open office times for students to come with queries DONE - Regular visits to CSP activities to see problems first hand DONE
Claudia Caravello - Deputy President (Finance & Services)
Claudia has arguably had the most difficult time as a Sabb. Analysing her manifesto, although she has made some changes that she said she would, there are substantial gaps. This is not completely her fault and complaints of “friction” between her and members of the Senior Management Group (SMG). She told Felix, “within the Union, between the senior staff and the Officer Trustees, there is a disconnect. We have highlighted it and we’re addressing it. In most cases, it’s actually not too bad. I happen to experienced most of the extreme ends of this.” Claudia also doesn’t feel the Officer Trustees are adequately supported, making her “feel very lost”. She revealed, “it has really taken a knock on my confidence. The Union environment had got quite toxic at times. It felt very lonely. It’s been quite a big battle coming back from that.” Claudia’s experience as a Sabb highlights the problems with the structure that exists within the Union and the need for adequate support, both pastoral and operational, for the Officer Trustees. SMG has been described as her “biggest obstacle” when trying to “make a change”, however this has been identified and strides are being made to remedy this issue.
STUDENTS AT THE HEART OF DECISIONS - Making YOU the decision makers of events and big changes, so another Bud Light incident doesn’t happen again! IN PROGRESS - Infographics on how Union income is spent on YOU IN PROGRESS
FOOD & DRINK - Focus on Union food quality and deals IN PROGRESS - Introduce online ordering system NOT DONE - Bring back SCR breakfast, or start it at the Union* DONE - Reduce queues at Library Café and College Café DONE - Bring back bendy straws DONE
TRANSPORT - Transport to Harlington on Mondays and Wednesdays DONE - Ensure students get home safe by introducing an end-of-night Union minibus drop off system NOT DONE - Improve minibuses upkeep IN PROGRESS
CSPs - Negotiate with College to make more departmental spaces available to CSPs IN PROGRESS - Lunchtime drop-in sessions DONE - Useful, quality training, delivered at the right times DONE
EXTERNAL INCOME - Make the Union less dependent on student spending IN PROGRESS - Develop online shop to sell to global alumni/prospective students DONE - Advertise facilities to public during the holidays IN PROGRESS - Generate income from eActivities by licencing to other Unions IN PROGRESS
Alejandro Luy - Deputy President (Education)
Alejandro has had a successful six months in the role, completing the majority of his major manifesto points. He started off the year by re-writing the training for academic representatives, which was met with widespread praise. Since then, his progress hasn’t slowed. He told Felix, “ I’ve been working very closely with the Student Shapers team to develop the whole program. We’ve developed everything from the criteria for a project to what the partnership between staff and student should look like”. Alejandro’s response to the news that h-bar would be cutting its evening bar food service, without consultation with the Officer Trustees, is indicative of his optimism. He prefers to see this as an opportunity to look at providing a better offering to students through the Union. However, this could also be perceived as being unwilling to effectively lobby College for changes that would benefit the students. It is a fine balance indeed.
Felix: How realistic is it to effect meaningful change as a Sabbatical Officer?
Alejandro: We are very privileged to have the level of influence that we have as sabbatical officers. The Officer Trustees have very close working relationships with College - in those relationships, we’re perceived as essential voices in the process of developing anything. We have a lot more influence and opportunities for impact than I first anticipated
- Feedback at Imperial should be a strength, not a weakness. I will continue the work of the current DPE so that every student at Imperial College receives timely, high-quality feedback. DONE
Student Involvement in Curriculum Reviews
- As part of the Learning and Teaching Strategy, curriculums are being re-written across college and I am committed to seeing students integrated into the process from start to end. DONE
Enhancement of the Academic Representation Network
- I will develop practical training materials and effective communication channels to ensure that your Academic Representatives have the training and resources they need to represent you well. IN PROGRESS
Implementation of StudentShapers
- I will spearhead the implementation of the new StudentShapers scheme, which provides paid opportunities for students (maybe you!) to shape their own educations. DONE
- This is still an issue, and it really shouldn’t be. Just like DPE’s before me, I will continue to fight to protect your Wednesday afternoons. NOT DONE
Becky Neil - Deputy President (Welfare)
Measuring Becky’s achievements in the first six months in the role highlights a major issue with the nature of the role as an Officer Trustee. You write a manifesto with lots of ambitious points but, when you find yourself in the role, you are met with a multitude of other tasks that you hadn’t previously forseen. These tasks can include anything from large projects handed down from your predecessors that end up taking up the majority of your time, to minor administrative tasks which can easily build up. You may also be met with more opposition than you had anticipated, or find yourself inadequately supported (as has been echoed by the other Officer Trustees). As a result, much of Becky’s manifesto points are under the “work-in-progress” status and will be the focus of the remainder of her tenure. One major failing on Becky’s behalf is the engagement of the Liberation & Community Officers. Although Becky is well-intentioned in that respect, it has become apparent that the whole structure of the Liberation & Community zones needs widespread reform before it can effectively deliver results to the students. Having said that, Becky launched the inaugural Liberation & Community Week and hs supported the officers as much as the flawed system has allowed her. Areas where Becky has underperformed actually further highlight the lack of adequate support provided by the Union - case in point is the petition system, which still hasn’t been implemented because the Systems team is overworked and unable to support Becky there.
Felix: What have you and College delivered?
Becky: I helped make a disabilities rent subsidy happen so that means that anyone with a disability that has had to be in halls in South Kensington gets around £100 subsidy because they can’t live far away. I had input in the new mitigating circumstances policy. I got that changed a little bit and they’ve definitely looked more carefully at what they’re doing. The student support strategy is happening but it’s incredibly slow.
Welfare is a major issue facing students and College are finally acknowledging and listening to students. College must deliver efficient, resourced, fully-funded services and be held to account for their welfare decisions. College is currently compiling the Wellbeing Strategy and I plan to make sure this strategy has student consultation, is efficient in providing the services you need and is delivered to its best. You need a DPW that can provide this, and I have the experience, passion and drive to ensure this happens.
- Ensure the Wellbeing Strategy is fully-funded, resourced and delivered by College across all campuses. IN PROGRESS
- Cut counselling waiting times and review the missed appointments policy. IN PROGRESS
- Subsidise tampons/sanitary products further IN PROGRESS
- Stop talking about personal tutors and make changes IN PROGRESS
- Support student-led, liberation and community officer campaigns IN PROGRESS
- Collect student suggestions/complaints using an anonymous online system NOT DONE
- More training, support and development for Wellbeing Representation Network volunteers DONE
- Ensure freshers receive adequate information regarding self-care, welfare, well-being and where to find help regardless of where they live. DONE
- Run union-wide Mums and Dads events NOT DONE
Dan Faehndrich - ICSMSU President
With the ICSMSU being run as a separate Contituent Union under the umbrella of Imperial College Union, it is slightly more difficult to make sense of the impact that Dan has had in his role as ICSMSU President. On the surface, it appears he is doing an excellent job, ticking off all of his main manifesto points to some degree. ICSM is facing a challenge due to the impending Curriculum Review, which is also affecting many other faculties. In addition, the SU is looking to implement a culture shift within ICSM by increasing its inclusivity and, hence, improving its offering and ensuring the SU functions to cater to all students. Speaking to Felix, Dan said: “Communication has been the biggest, most pressing issue throughout the year. We’ve realised that there were a lot of key areas that we lacked. It wasn’t just general communication but the way we communicate with different bodies of the College and ICU and help them understand how we function, us understanding how they function so we can slot in and work better”.
Another challenge that ICSM has been faced with is the growing cohort of students. One of the resultant impacts of this is the size of the first year cohort “basically outgrowing the lecture theatres and spaces”. In response, Dan says, “with the new curriculum coming in next year, we’re looking at how we can shift the way we’re using spaces, shift the class numbers to work round that and that’s something that we’ve been having constant input on with faculty. Putting out consulatation to students about how they’d like to see space repurposed is a key part of that.”
In response to complaints regarding the ‘clubs and socs’ room in Reynolds, Dan explained:
“In progress. It’s all gone a bit slowly but we had the clubs and socs room itself redone and now we’re looking at how we use the space in the clubs and socs room more effectively. Unfortunately, in the interim, that’s moved into the common room, where the microwave is and we have had that raisedto us very recently. It’s something we’re going to try and sort out, hopefully making sure the facilities like the microwave are accessible in the next week or two.”
Felix: You mention maintaining and developing student consultation. Firstly, do you think you’ve don that and how have you done it?
Dan: I have done it, I’m very happy with it. We started off last year, we used mainly SU officer-student engagement so we had our welfare officers, our president, deputy president and our academic officers all-round the table discussing. We tried three main different types of consultation since then. The most effective one we’ve had so far that hasn’t just involved elected reps has been going out to our various hospital sites and doing engagement with the third years out there. Getting them together in a room, talking to them about what the curriculum review is, what we’ve got so far and what they’d like to see changed or what support they’d like from the faculty for them to be able to carry out their roles as academic mentors and supervisors.
- Establish both academic and extra-curricular provisions to mitigate any issues faced due to the growing cohort of students DONE
- Maintain and develop the Student Consultation on the Curriculum Review to create the best teaching experience for our current and future ICSM students DONE
- Develop our Entertainments and Extra-Curricular activities to be inclusive for all students DONE
- Develop our comprehensive Welfare strategy and Wellbeing Representation Network to be accessible to and cater for students of all backgrounds DONE
- Promote opportunities for leadership training both to those who are in charge of your time here at ICSM, and to all students to develop their skill set for their time at ICSM, and future careers DONE