The five officers of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union receive free accommodation and a salary to do their jobs. This seems fair: they’re taking a year out of college, and out of their lives, to serve the student body. While we can expect people to do some things purely out of devotion, it would be unreasonable to ask that much of someone without at least making it a financially-viable decision for them to do so while avoiding massive debt.
In spite of this, we ask exactly that of some of the most prominent students in College. With many of our societies, notably the larger ones, the auditor or president takes a year out of their college life to make that year better for other people. The Auditor of the Hist, The President of the Phil, and the Auditors of the Law Soc and Players all generally take a year from their studies to run their respective societies. This in itself is an admirable thing for them to be doing, but they do this at a huge personal cost. They’ve given up a year of their lives to essentially work for free. Moreover, they do this with all the costs of student life levied against them for an extra year, minus any state financial support. It’s problematic that some of the hardest workers are not only unrewarded for their work, but also that we make it harder for them to do so.
It’s not a matter of booking a building and putting up a poster when the most powerful woman in Europe shows up.
The societies that have the most impact on student life are the larger ones. Look at the guests that they have for evidence: Angela Merkel visited the Phil last year, Michael D. Higgins will come to the Hist this year, and the Law Society will welcome the last editor of the Guardian. People see and appreciate this, but at the same time don’t realise the amount of work behind the scenes to make these events possible. It’s not a matter of booking a building and putting up a poster when the most powerful woman in Europe shows up. And to have to organise events like this on a consistent basis, while also overseeing large budgets and managing a committee day-to-day, is essentially a full time job. We should acknowledge the work of these people for how much it benefits the students that partake in these events, events that simply wouldn’t happen if not for large societies.
I am in no way trying to cheapen the work of the SU’s officers, because that work is so invaluable to college life. What I am saying is that there’s a need to recognise that these SU officers are, in Trinity, not the only or the definitive contributors to the vibrancy of our college and our community. While a full salary for large society heads may seem a bit much, I’d contend that they deserve free accommodation or a stipend at least as much as the scholars who already receive this.
One of the reasons our SU is so strong is because the offices within it are, in theory, open for everyone to apply for.
Not only is it a moral and sensible thing to pay officers for doing their jobs, or at least put them up and feed them, it’s beneficial to student life. One of the reasons our SU is so strong is because the offices within it are, in theory, open for everyone to apply for. Paying and housing officers means the positions aren’t only limited to Dublin natives or those who can afford to work for free for a year. Part-time work, where possible, isn’t enough to fund someone to live entirely unaided. If we want the best person for the job, we should make sure we make this job worth their while. We should open the process up to the thousands of students we have who are just as capable but perhaps not as wealthy or as close-to-home as the officers we have had, and we should make these people comfortable enough to do the job without significantly indebting themselves or their families.
The Phil and the Hist have changed my life for the better. A lot of people would say this about Players, QSoc, VDP, and many of the other student groups in our college. We need to recognise and acknowledge this, and we need to give people the power to make these powerful changes, and do so without a D4 accent. Not only is it morally right, but it’s sensible as well.