Should JCRs be autonomous from SCRs?

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David Barclay, OUSU Presidential candidate

“We are adults and should be treated as such”

The current fiasco at Queen’s has once again rammed home the brutal truth of Oxford life – the SCR always wins. Whether it’s quality of accommodation, student discipline or Entz events, the interests of students are consistently undermined by tutors who somehow feel competent to dictate college rules from on high. They trample upon pretensions of college equality and reveal Oxford’s rhetoric of modernism for the sham that it is.

 Two strands of argument stand out as to why JCR’s deserve serious levels of autonomy. The first is perfectly simple – we are adults. In college we are charged with cooking, cleaning, organising our time and shaping our extra-curricular lives. In tutorials we are asked to think for ourselves, to question received wisdoms and forge new and innovative arguments and solutions. At the ballot box we are entrusted with choosing our JCR committees to represent our interests. In all these we are told that the University is preparing us to be the leaders of tomorrow. And yet when any situation arises where the interests of JCR and SCR might possibly diverge, all the talk dissolves and college order is imposed. We are given curfews, fined and threatened at will. And when we complain and stand up for ourselves our university careers are dangled in front of our faces with breathtaking callousness.

 The second strand follows from the first – namely, that as responsible adults we are in fact more likely to make good decisions about our lives than SCRs ever could. As JCR President of Worcester, I encountered many members of the SCR whose intelligence and aptitude was matched by their care for students. I also come across many who were so out of touch with the lifestyle of students that even when they did care they were incompetent to legislate properly. And, it is sad to say, I also came across some for whom the welfare of students was a secondary consideration behind the ‘glory of the college name’. Ultimately for many the Norrington table is king and student welfare will time and again fall by the wayside in the attempt to achieve academic perfection.

JCRs, on the other hand, have much purer intentions. Committee members are always likely to know and care more about the students of a college than any SCR could. As intelligent adults JCRs should therefore be afforded the power to make decisions which are purely related to the student community. Should individuals fail to discharge this duty effectively, there are clear democratic processes in place in every college for them to be removed from their position by their peers.

If we as students are serious about ourselves and our public life at university, we should stand up against the dominion of heartless and outdated SCRs and reclaim the power that is rightfully ours to make the decisions which affect our lives.

Oliver Willmott, Geography, St John’s

“We are here to work. We agreed to these terms”

The JCR presidents’ outrage at Queen’s College SCR for stripping their JCR president of his title fundamentally misses the point. Let us be clear as to what the issue is not. It is not a question of the outgoing president’s actual academic performance, whether being JCR president may be deleterious, or whether a 2:2 is indeed ‘too low’. It is not even about students’ right to autonomous self-representation – this is not under threat per se.

The true core of this debate is the SCR’s legitimate right to hold individuals accountable for their own academic performance. We should be under no illusion that, ultimately, we are here to work. We were all admitted primarily on the basis of our academic potential and, explicitly or implicitly, agreed to a social contract which committed us to try to fulfil this. In Nathan Roberts’ case it was decidedly explicit. Of course, we can do other things while here. Indeed, most engage in an incredible range of extra-curricular activities, and I am sure even the much-demonized Queen’s SCR would agree that such things are desirable. However, if the university deems our performance undesirably poor, and that other commitments may impinge on our work, it is no good claiming that we didn’t realise that, in their eyes at least, we are here to work. We agreed to these terms. We competed against others to accept them, many of whom were denied the unparalleled opportunity to study here.

The JCR presidents’ statement says “It is the undeniable right of people to choose their representatives through their own democratic process.” Of course it isn’t. Ignoring that it has indeed been denied, let us remember that we are small collections of students who are, like everyone else, also represented in government. Why do such small groups have this natural right? JCRs only exist because our colleges finance them. They have the final say. But in any case, it is not the existence of JCRs that is under threat but rather whether one particular individual can stay in office. An MP will be stripped of their position if they are convicted of an offence, the ultimate arbiters being the law and their party. Similarly, if a JCR president breaks their contract with college then they must face the consequences, and we must ignore appeals, disingenuous appeals, to the natural rights of students. Let us not forget why we are here.

 

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