An Invisible Union

I can hardly blame the students who didn’t realise the SU had its own building until a bus crashed into its walls last Michaelmas. Despite all the work done by the Officers behind the scenes, including securing an additional £400,000 for the Counselling Service or pressuring colleges into fossil fuel divestment, most of their works remains unnoticed and students only see the SU in action during its Annual Elections (and possibly also during the freshers fair). There is a reason for that: the SU is organised like a corporation by unelected bureaucrats with a non-student CEO at the top of its staff hierarchy. If we want a truly representative SU run by and for students, we must start by making sure that students are driving all its operations and making all the decisions. I’m running for SU President to do just that.

Starting with the basics, the staff spending costs us over £500,000 each and every year. If we replace some of those positions with student volunteers or part-time workers (for example grad students!), in the same way that every other society or even the other Union are already doing, we gain both additional funds that can be supporting access, society events, socials, or scholarships, as well as a representative SU team that understands the struggles of Oxford students rather than having to merely imagine it like current Oxford staff who didn’t go to Oxford have to do.

Once we free those funds and include students at all levels of decision-making, I plan to continue working on two-way communication between students and the SU. I will go to as many JCR and MCR meetings as I physically can, so that you can hear from me and ask me questions directly, in addition to opening the scrutiny process every term and doing a livestream of an independent questioning of my progress with my manifesto pledges. As one of the only two students currently empowered to scrutinise the Sabbatical Officers by the Student Council, I know intimately that the process is too opaque and not visible to 99.9% of students.

I will also deliver on access and equal student support. As a working-class immigrant, I understand the struggles many Oxford students face on daily basis, and I will make sure to lobby for an equal treatment of all students regardless of their college. The same applies to our outdated examinations, which need to start reflecting modern realities and stop putting so much pressure on two or (as is the case with most social sciences) just one exam at the end of our degrees. If we can maintain the current levels of academic attainment while making the exams slightly more bearable, we will have so much more time and energy for other pursuits.

Lastly, but certainly not any less importantly, the SU needs to intervene on behalf of students whenever they are threatened by their colleges, treated unfairly, or discriminated against in any way. From NDAs pushed onto survivors of sexual assault by their own colleges and tutors, to academics abusing their power over their students, Oxford needs to change. I will make SU resources available instantly and put enough pressure on the colleges and the University to stop their harmful practices. This is, after all, the spirit, and the most basic function of a properly functioning Student Union: putting the combined strength of all students behind every single undergraduate or postgraduate in need.

Marcin Pisanski

Marcin Pisanski (he/him) studies Law at St Anne's College, and is an ex-Chair of the Student Council. Marcin is running to be President of Oxford SU.