Donnchadh Curran argues that while leaving the Students’ Union may not be necessarily a good thing, students should still have the chance to do so.
A petition has been launched in Trinity, as many reading this will be aware, for a referendum which would enable students to opt-out of the student union. Even with the initiative in its infancy, the debate surrounding this idea is proving to be quite divisive. In this article, I would like to outline as simple as possible why I support the right of students to leave the union. What I offer is simply my opinion, one that I hope all of those who read this article will consider it regardless of any preconceived notions they may possess regarding this idea.
At the heart of all of this is the belief that a person should have the right to associate or disassociate themselves with any group they so choose. This is a right recognised in the Irish Constitution and an idea which is recognised around the world as a matter of individual liberty.
There is no doubt that there are many positive aspects of the Students’ Union (such as the range of services they provide) and the point of this article is not to deny that. However, no matter how many perks membership of your club may offer, there is still a fundamental right for every individual to leave the group if he or she so chooses. Who is anyone to deny me or anyone else that right? Will students leave and still attempt to access these services? Perhaps. However, as things stand currently, anyone could simply walk into college from the street and use the water fountains or grab a handful of free condoms. We currently operate in a system that does not prevent people taking advantage of such options and takes away a level of freedom from the student in the process.
To be clear, I’m not advocating to leave the Union. I am simply advocating that each of us be afforded that basic right. It is a right that has been recognised in many universities abroad (e.g. New Zealand, Australia and the UK) and there are many fine universities in the world, such as Oxford and Cambridge, who possess the same opt-out system we desire. They have recognised the student’s right to disassociation, and it is about time that we in Trinity College follow suit.
It cannot be denied that the primary motivation for many who would wish to leave the Student Union is political. That is to be expected. The Students’ Union has taken specific political stances on many hot-button issues, issues that many in the student body feel very passionate about. Put yourself in the shoes of a student who vehemently disagrees with an established SU position on any particular topic. Now, they not only have to be part of a union which holds beliefs contrary to theirs, but they are also forced to contribute money which will then be used by the union to campaign on these very same issues.
Some people point out that the student body voted on this and that it’s simply a democracy. However, I don’t feel that this is an argument that holds weight. The SU has become a group that campaigns in order to gather student support for political causes in hope of convincing the government to embrace their positions. In their political endeavours, they do not act as a government (which the democratic argument almost seems to suggest) but as a lobbying group which holds many simultaneous positions. And while I can’t change what a lobbying group is asking for, I should not be compelled to join one or be unable to leave one without dropping out of college while jeopardising my education and future aspirations.
The students who do not wish to leave the Students’ Union should still support this movement. Consider the following scenario: if the SU acted the way they currently acted in complete opposition to a view you feel remarkably passionate about, would you not feel any desire to opt-out? And even if you decided not to, would you not like to have that option?
Ultimately, this campaign will end up benefiting everyone, not just those who wish to leave.
There are many good aspects to our Students’ Union. However, there are also some significant problems. The SU in this university has accumulated a very significant debt in the last couple of years. It was only last year when it recorded a loss of over €30,000. This shows an inefficiency in the use of the money that we as students supply them with, and speaks of a general lack of accountability. The ability to leave the SU will create that level of accountability that is currently not there. The knowledge that students can leave and budgets can shrink will make sure that the SU stays constantly in tune with their student body and their desires. Will there always be a small number who will inevitably leave? Yes. However, to keep those numbers down, the SU will have to make sure they are the best and most efficient Union they could possibly be. It will ultimately go a long way to ensuring that we have a strong and healthy Students’ Union in the future, one that can surely be good for everyone.
I do not believe the number of students leaving will be significantly high, just as they have not been in many other universities which have implemented such a system (e.g. in Oxford and Cambridge). I don’t even know whether or not all of the people involved in the inception of this movement will leave. What I do know is that, however small the number of students who choose to leave is, it should still be their right to do so. And I hope that all students in Trinity will be willing to give them that chance.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Burkean Journal.