The referendum for the introduction of a Disabled Students’ Officer is the most significant constitutional referendum in years. I’m concerned that those who know most about the pros and cons, the current sabbs, are reluctant to inform the debate. Yes, there is a serious risk of being accused of ableism for anyone providing arguments for the ‘No’ option. However, being elected to represent all students and charged with the long-term strategic development of CUSU, this is a risk they ought to take. Three sabbatical officers – Priscilla, Jemma and Charlie – are currently on the elections committee and make use of this fact to justify their silence. At least some of them ought to resign to be able to voice their opinions.
As a general principle, election rules that are unenforcable and rely on the goodwill of students are bad. CUSU has no disciplinary jurisdiction over students’ actions in this referendum. There is a risk that the referendum ends up a mess of allegations. The risk is small, but the damage might be big. There are very fundamental questions that ought to be discussed. Given that CUSU has only limited funding available, how can this be allocated to represent the entirety of students in the most effective way? Why should the Disabled Students’ Campaign get a fully-funded sabbatical officer, but not the BME and LGBT+ Students’ campaigns? They cannot all be funded, so a decision has to be made. The referendum is unlikely to give a coherent answer to this problem. There has been no proper discussion, no review, no working group that comes up with a balanced recommendation on how CUSU as a whole should be structured.
It might not seem that way, but the referendum is an aggressive move by the DSC that is unlikely to take all students’ views into account. Is having a sabbatical officer beneficial for the DSC? Time and again, accusations come up that sabbatical officers are out of touch with students. Is it more effective to have students run autonomous campaigns in their spare time? That is how most J/MCRs, theatres, and sports operate, and they all seem to be successful. We ought to debate these questions seriously and not shy away for fear of being perceived as ableists, since they concern how we want students to be represented in this University.