Union Line-Up: The Good, The Bad and The Hoff

Daniel Hyman 22 April 2014

This is a Term Card which delivers for members, not only in the expected range of speaker events and debates, but also in the opportunities to relax with Ents and the extended range of Treasurer’s Treats.

Exam Term is an odd one. The debate topics have to be invigorating, topical and mildly controversial to stir a discussion worth leaving the books for. With that in mind, the Catholic Church debate and the Scotland Debate sound promising. David Greenwood, Head of Stop Child Abuse UK has been invited to the Catholic Church debate. Nick Wright, Executive Officer said “It would be wrong of us not to touch upon this issue in the debate as it’s very much part of their modern image.” I would however question the choice of the Rap v.s. Shakespeare Debate and the Hip-Hop Forum for exam term attendance. Both, I’m sure, will be fascinating to the committee, but most members will only be there if it is publicised strongly. The Russian and Ukrainian ambassadors are perfectly topical: a feat hard to achieve when inviting in advance. Although it is a shame they are not debating each other, the separate dates are not surprising, given the Russian Ambassador declined an invite to him for the Boycott Sochi debate last term.

With regard to speakers, Ted Loveday has done an excellent job, each speaker offers something varied and interesting. Some speakers are potentially a little too niche for Exam Term; publicity will be essential. As a mathematician, Douglas Hofstadter of Gödel, Escher, Bach fame is unmissable. Cath Kidston and Katie Hopkins look to be highlights, as will David Hasselhoff, although the Hoff will be coming bang in the middle of exams (on 26th May), when Cantabs are their most reclusive. The positives are that those members who wish to go should be guaranteed a seat in the chamber; at least, if the fact that we only just filled the chamber last May for David Moyes, three days after he was appointed the new Manchester United manager, is anything to go by. Lets hope the Hoff's career doesn't crash in the next twelve months too.

But, do these people represent society? Maybe, maybe not. With individual speakers, it is as much a question as who says yes as to who was invited.

The age old question of how the Union tackles diversity is hit with the nail on the head. 50% of debate speakers are female. It is great that due to the efforts of Diversity Officers and listening to members, there is a strong consciousness of these issues amongst the committee. Amy Gregg, Treasurer and former Diversity Officer, said, “I think the main issue with inviting minorities or women speakers is that few of them, due in fact to historic discrimination, have reached the seats and roles that we generally target for speakers”. If we take the example of Michaelmas 2013, we had arguably the two most influential female lawyers, Lady Justice Arden and Baroness Hale, meaning the Union has had the best female speakers in that field recently.

CUSU Women’s Campaign can be vocal, and rightly so, but elected officers must remember that regardless of a vocal pressure, members want the best speakers regardless of gender, race or any other factor. As such, given the Feminism debate in Week 7 of Lent, I think the Presidential debate is a tired motion which will add nothing of value to the membership masses, and is more for officers' acumen. Michael Dunn Goejkian’s justification – “Certainly I always knew I wanted to do one and I always knew I wanted it to be my presidential debate” – perhaps reflects an inevitable trend of short-termism.

The Union is a society for freedom of speech and the art of debating, with that in mind, where diversity is an issue is in competitive debating, where there are far more male competitive debaters. The Women’s Public Speaking Workshop, run by world-class debaters Ruby Holmes and Kitty Parker Brooks, is a fantastic idea. Further, following on last term, it is great to see a continuance of Union event partnerships with worthwhile causes such as a Rape Crisis Forum and Fundraiser and RAG Battle of the Bands. To be the centre of discussion and events requires engaging rather than insular agendas.

Having been Social Events Officer, and Treasurer myself in previous terms, I take my hat off to Rachel Tookey, Social Events Officer and Amy Gregg, Treasurer. The event line-up hopefully continues the momentum built last term of reinvigorating the Union as a place for Ents, and I am incredibly excited for the Eurovision Party.

In short, a great Exam Term worth leaving the library for. I have mentioned only the Easter Officers so far, it must be acknowledged that the term is put on by the whole committee, and having worked with many of them, I am confident they will deliver.