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If there is ever one clear indicator that SCAN is suffering from a slow news week, it is the inclusion in its pages of one (or more) articles accusing Students’ Union officers, especially JCR Execs and kitchen reps, of the obviously hideous and disgusting crime of ‘CV hunting’. Out of every possible student grievance, from high costs of living to departmental budget cuts, it never ceases to amaze me how many commentators return to this issue time after time, with paragraph after paragraph devoted to slamming these usually friendly and personable volunteers.
With most student officers devoting hundreds of hours of they own time a year each to the task of listening and responding to students concerns; organising socials on their behalf; helping them settle in during intro week and generally protecting their interests, it is unusual that such a group could attract so much negative energy and criticism. There can be no doubt that a certain level of ego can be evident amongst student officers, and often they come to form a clique, but rarely have I seen any of them acting in an especially unpleasant way. In short these people are- if not people you might specifically want to make friends with- at least a fairly nice bunch.
The chief problem raised by commentators is that officers are only on the JCR to enhance their CVs and increase their own future job prospects, as though the act of doing a job for free and then hoping to gain some benefit from doing so is a concept that is not only wrong but also alien to humanity. All students attending University are CV hunting one way or another, with all of us standing to gain from the skills that come with our degrees and student experience. At the same time, almost every student is aware that, in the 21st century, putting two or three letters after your name bears little promise and no guarantee of graduate level employment. To get the top jobs, every one of us needs to demonstrate that we are well rounded people with a range of additional skills and activities. The Students’ Union is committed to providing opportunities for everyone at Lancaster to develop these skills and running to be an officer is just one of many ways this can be achieved.
What is often forgotten is that doing something to enhance your CV does not also mean that the job won’t be done well and with compassion and care. Indeed, for a job to genuinely contribute to officers’ future career prospects, it would be expected that a list of positive activities delivered during their time in office would sit directly beneath their job title. Once elected, the individual motivation of each individual officer should become unimportant. It does not matter if someone wants the job from the kindness of their own heart, for personal gain or simply as something to fill time- in fact, most often it is likely to be a blend of all three. What matters is that the job is done and it is done well. Innovation, not motivation, is what’s important.
Occasionally, the voices of critics take a more specific angle- that student officers are ‘wannabe’ politicians of the future and only want to do the job to gain experience for a later career as an MP. This is sometimes true, and many students who are elected into officer positions nationwide do go on to become influential figures in government; Jack Straw, for example, is a former President of the National Union of Students. However, at a college level, the likelihood is that most officers have little real interest in politics at all, let alone in setting themselves on a path which will see them sitting in Parliament in 20 years’ time. These students are far from being second rate future politicians but are simply first rate student volunteers, undertaking a task which needs to be done and which they feel confident that they are able to carry out well.
This is not to say I feel that all student officers are entirely blameless individuals who should be free from all critique. The problem is that the critique is often misplaced. As a student body, we need to stop criticising officers for ‘running for the wrong reason’ and instead hound out those officers who do nothing in their year in office, or whose tenure as a Full or Part Time officer brings more woe than success. Where innovation is lacking, so too should students remove their support and find a candidate who is better able to represent their needs. Students should, rightfully, always expect the very best of those who they see fit to elect and if they are unhappy with the service they receive, they should feel better able to voice their concerns. During elections, potential officers take people’s opinions very seriously and talk to everybody they can and this mentality needs to continue long after the ballots close. The dialogue which begins on the campaign trail and on students’ doorsteps needs to continue for the entire period of office, and those officers who forget it should be rightfully made to realise their error. Only by doing this can officers be genuinely accountable and truly say that they are always putting students, not themselves and their CV, first.