Sarah Gough, Editor of Exeposé, chaired and kicked off the first Sabb Question Time of the year alongside President Laura-Jane Tiley, VP Activities Katie O’Connor, VP Welfare & Diversity Naomi Armstrong, VP Education Bethan Jones and AU President Jack Bristow in DH1’s M+D room. Prior to the event, students were given the opportunity to send in their questions for the Sabbs, from which Sarah picked and then posed to her presidential panel.
Before the event could properly start, however, Sarah was quick to debunk the notion, sent in by a student, that SabbQT needed to be more independent. In fact, Sarah argued, she solely chose the questions and arranged them in an order that the panel were unaware of. After each member of the panel reminded us of their manifestos and aims for the year, the questions, part pre-selected, part sourced from the floor, commenced.
#SabbQT is independent, chair @sarahgoughy picks the questions asked without telling the Sabbs their order
— Exeposé Comment (@CommentExepose) November 12, 2015
Sarah’s first question was in her words, “the sassiest” and concerned whether each Sabb still felt they were qualified enough for the job, after having been in the job for several months now. Some have argued that a simple vote is not sufficient, as the competition would simply descend into a popularity contest. President Tiley disagreed with this assertion, arguing that the 42% voter turnout validated their positions. VP O’Connor sided with Tiley, advocating that each of the panel had a claim to their positions simply by virtue of being an Exeter student: “Everyone has a different experience and can bring what they have to change things for the better.”
Next, the Sabbs were held to account on their financial transparency. The whole panel stressed this issue as important, but Tiley maintains that, “the Guild have nothing to hide.” Also, the panel agreed that, from their perspective, students trusted the openness of financial directors within the Guild. As AU finances haven’t been released, Bristow was questioned on this also. He remarked that the AU works differently to the Guild, and its ups to individual sports clubs to release their financial details at their discretion. On referees and intramural spending, Bristow also clarified where the average £30 per head goes, citing several necessary admin costs.
Student Ideas have also been a controversial subject, something that Exeposé have also analysed in the recent past. Armstrong and O’Connor were both vocal on this issue, emphasising the considerable improvements to overall participation in student politics, despite some suggestions being trivial or sent in as jokes. The panel felt that, as each Idea is voted on online by students before its put forward to Guild Council, this still allows for minorities that might not be on the committee to still have their say.
An issue particularly relevant to all students is the extension of the teaching day, moved from a 9AM start, to 8:30AM. This has raised concerns especially for those who struggle getting on to campus that early, for instance those with family dependants. President Tiley asserted her continued opposition to the change, but, equally, noted the work she has been doing to combat student discontent while negotiations are ongoing. Tiley mentioned mitigations to help with travel costs, as well as hot drinks and biscuit vouchers to placate those inconvenienced by the teaching day change. Gough pointed out to Tiley that she had personally received complaints about discrepancies between some who have been given vouchers and those who haven’t, with the Sabb President responding by admitting that more needed to be done.
“Everyone has a different experience and can bring what they have to change things for the better”
Armstrong was next under scrutiny with a question concerning mental health provision for students. Our VP Welfare & Diversity announced that her Welfare Information Directory (WID) would be launched this week, to aid student’s accessibility to mental healthcare. Reminded by Gough, Armstrong then mentioned the relevant services available to students on St’ Lukes campus: the Depression and Anxiety Service (DAS) is a grossly underused facility available, argued Armstrong. Mental health access is also important at times of academic stress like exam period and coursework deadline bottlenecks, so Gough involved Jones in this line of questioning. Our VP Education stressed that “I am working to alleviate some of the January pressure,” but nevertheless highlighted the difficulties changes to the incumbent system would pose to especially larger departments like the Business School.
.@ExeActivities “Anyone is welcome to come along to Guild Council sessions to check we’ve been sticking to what we’ve been given to do.” — Exeposé News (@ExeposeNews) November 12, 2015
The final question among those pre-selected for the event pertained to Sabb success: what systems are there in place when Sabbs aren’t fulfilling their manifesto pledges? O’Connor cited Guild Council meetings as an excellent way for the Sabbs to be held accountable on their work. O’Connor also stressed the opportunities for student participation made possible by such meetings: “Anyone is welcome to come along to Guild Council sessions to check we’ve been sticking to what we’ve been given to do.” O’Connor also noted that Guild Council can issue Sabbs with a ‘notice of improvement’ if they feel their jobs aren’t being performed to an acceptable level, so also function to motivate as well as scrutinise. Specific manifesto promises were also highlighted, for instance Bristow’s AU magazine (which he confirmed is aimed to be releasing annually from this summer) and Ram puddings, which Tiley stated was still being worked on.
“Anyone is welcome to come along to Guild Council sessions to check we’ve been sticking to what we’ve been given to do”
The University’s treatment of Exeposé this term was also a point of inquiry in a question taken from the floor. Following stories that University stuff strong-armed the paper into writing stories closer to their specifications, the panel were keen to outline the importance of Exeposé‘s authorial independence. President Tiley said, “if that’s [Exeposé‘s independence] ever compromised by the Uni, we’ll fight against it. The Guild’s got your back.” Tiley went on to argue that Exeposé is an important barometer of student feeling opinion on campus, further emphasising the importance of authorial autonomy.
The discussion ended on a tough note for the panel, however, as a student from the audience pointed out what she felt was a troubling treatment of minorities on campus in Guild conversation. Despite the nature of Student Ideas being voted upon by all students on the Guild website, the questioner still felt that many minorities were scared and intimidated and, as a result, failed to attend meetings. Due to time constraints, the panel were unable to respond to this student’s comments, and were forced to end the first SabbQT there.
SabbQT is to return later this academic year, but the exact dates are as yet unconfirmed.