In case you missed it, and in which case I suppose you can be accused of being possessed by the demon that is student apathy, then yesterday at UoM saw the last major pre-KSU election event, where Gayle Lynn Callus and Clive Gerada, SDM and Pulse’s respective presidential hopefuls, squared off against each other in a heated and very well-balanced debate.
The two were never really at odds over the importance of certain implementations. Both Callus and Gerada highlighted the need for KSU to continue bridging the gap between University and the workplace. The two both plan to ‘go green’, partly through increasing the number of available bicycle racks on campus and through the promotion of carpooling strategies. Both of them also made their stances on the civil union bill clear; both agreed whole-heatedly with it, with Callus arguably going against SDM’s recent press release that suggested the student organization’s willingness to engage in ‘discussions’ about the issue. Clive Gerada also praised SDM for their soon-to-be successful Quad Refurbishment Project and Gayle Lynn Callus promised Gerada that Pulse’s plans to make Gozo Ferry trips transport-refundable for Gozitan students will be drafted into SDM’s ambitions for 2014-15 should they win the election.
All they really disagreed about was each other’s strategies for dealing with the same problems faced by UoM students. For example, with regards the parking problem, Gerada argued in favour of a future deal with the government to extend their current Park-and-Ride scheme to cater more effectively for those students who live in the south of the island and of a future negotiated deal with the University regarding the resurfacing of Car Park 6. Callus’ proposals included the setting up of a sensor system within the car park outside Quad that will automatically inform students as soon as it reaches its maximum parking capacity, thus saving them from frustrating and fruitless drives down the narrow road leading up to that car park. He also pledged to continue working on last year’s white box parking proposal that will, after midday, allow students to park in the white parking spaces that are currently reserved for lecturers. The argument that was raised by Gerada against this scheme concerns the fact that the white parking spaces will still not be available to students before midday which is when students have most trouble finding parking. However, I find it highly unlikely that University officials will allow for the possibility of lecturers not finding any parking spaces in the morning and having to cancel or arrive late to their lectures as a result. It is students who need lecturers, not the other way around, and as such it is only right that they possess certain privileges that students do not.
With regards events, Gerada criticized the previous KSU for focusing too heavily on them. While they are important contributors to student life, he asserted that KSU should not have spent almost 50% of their annual funding on them. It is a point that many KSU-critics have raised against them and by looking at their financial report you will find that KSU’s expenditure on events including Freshers’ Week during 2013 was a whopping grand total of around 147,000 euro. However, you cannot just focus on one side of the coin and indeed KSU’s income generated from events including Freshers’ Week throughout 2013 comes up to 159,000 euro, around 60% of their total income. It still remains difficult, in my opinion, to justify the splashing out of over 70,000 euro on one single Grad Ball though and perhaps the educated cutting of some event costs is not a bad idea.
One of Clive Gerada’s major proposals was the creation of a far more transparent KSU, particularly where finances are concerned. I do not in any way claim financial and legal expertise so I will not linger too long on this point. Gerada proposed the publication of monthly KSU audits in a transparent manner. Callus reminded him that KSU cannot just decide to publish an audit whenever they feel like it and that their financial reports are already available on their website. I will leave the first point to the lawyers but, with regards the second point, I have to admit that I did not find such financial information after three minutes of browsing through their website. Surely it should be front-page information.
Finally, with regards the thorny issue of ‘student apathy’ which I have already stated my personal view on in a recent article, both parties seem to me to have their heads faced in the right direction. Both Gerada and Callus proposed schemes aimed at reducing the bureaucracy within KSU and at granting students, including those students who do not form part of an organization, a platform where their opinions can be heard. Of course such opinions should extend far beyond students’ thoughts on the locations of two new water fountains or their input in a Facebook competition to decide on the new face of Quad. Both Callus and Gerada promise to do just that but then again do the two parties not promise the same thing every year? What were their campaign slogans last year? ‘Together, Authors of a Better University’ and ‘Youniversity’. Will things be different this time round? I hope so, but I certainly won’t be getting my hopes up.
As a concluding remark, I strongly believe that a positive first step in tackling bureaucracy within KSU involves students voting for a mixed council. From listening to last Friday’s ‘KSU Candidates in the Hotseat’ debate and from personally speaking to several of the candidates from both sides, I believe that Pulse are stronger than SDM in some areas and SDM are stronger than Pulse in others. Not everybody knows this fun fact and indeed I only discovered it within the past few weeks but the KSU election voting system is a first-past-the-post one. This means that candidates are elected to KSU depending on how many votes they themselves personally garner. A meritocratic mixed council based on the individual merits of every single candidate and not on their allegiance to the more popular party on campus is therefore possible. I will be voting in this way tomorrow and I encourage everybody who is reading this to do likewise.