Upon announcing its decision to rebrand as “UL Student Life”, University of Limerick Students’ Union (ULSU) was forced to endure fierce – and patently justifiable – criticism from students.
Costing at least €20,000, the rebranding effort took two years, and was undertaken with the help of an external company in response to widespread student apathy. Removing “union” from its title, ULSU decided, was the best way of appealing to disengaged students.
There is, to begin with, the irony of a union seeking desperately to engage with students while denying them the opportunity to vote on a fundamental change to its branding. Instead of consulting with students in a referendum, or waiting for its AGM, ULSU took the decision at its council – with only 25 people present. Though the word “union” continues to appear in its constitutional title, it has been deleted from all of its branding materials.
It’s not outlandish to suggest that better engagement with students might be most effectively achieved by actually engaging with students. This, though, is an idea that appears to have escaped the attention of ULSU, a body with a seemingly tenuous grasp of democratic processes.
Worse, as third-level education grapples with a seemingly interminable funding crisis, ULSU deemed it expedient to hand over more than €20,000 to Frawley Neville branding consultants.
If the goal is to become a body that better caters to the student experience, that listens to and acts on the concerns of the ordinary student, it would surely have made far more sense for ULSU to spend the money making tangible improvements to students’ lives.
Then there is the unavoidable fact that the term “union” carries with it a cultural and historical significance – dating back to the Industrial Revolution – that the phrase “student life”, with its limp attempt at cool, fails to match. Depoliticising a union is not the way to make students engage.