Since 2013, some UCD students have expressed a desire to be able to give up membership of their Students’ Union and one student in fact did leave.This stemmed from the union’s pro-choice stance on abortion, with some students not happy for this stance to be taken for them. It now seems that some Trinity students are considering a similar course of action.
The question is thus: should students automatically be members of the union at all? Or should students be able to leave their union? The answer most in accordance with law would appear to be yes, but a number of issues present themselves when we ask if a union should have optional membership. First, while a union’s political campaigns may garner the most attention, unions have important and unique functions in college life. TCDSU, for example, represents students on College committees, including College Board, which make many significant decisions for Trinity. Without the power to say it represents all students, these representatives would not have as much leverage to argue on behalf of students.The union spends much of its time on such representation – even by paying for the library to stay open later.
There is also a logistical issue whereby, if a student leaves the union, they would still obtain its benefits. It would seem callous for the union to shun a student completely, and one would imagine that education and welfare support would still be available to the student.
Ultimately the union is built on democratic structures, which come with well-documented tradeoffs. It is very easy for any student to make the union hold a referendum on any issue in Trinity, and this means that the SU will inevitably take stances that certain students do not agree with. Criticising the union for taking a stance which may not represent all its members is to critique the nature of democracy. It is doubtful that anyone thinks that all Trinity students agree with every stance that the union takes.
If a student truly does wish to leave their union, it is their right to do so. That said, they would still for all intents and purposes be a member, and so the need for an “effective channel” in which to leave is not a pressing need, or indeed an important one.