Student apathy should be blamed for OUSU’s malaise

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For all the moaning and whingeing about the conduct of our Student Union recently, at least one issue has temporarily been put to rest: we now know that OUSU does actually do things. Far from the rallying cry from two years ago of “OUSU needs to do more”, the criticism now appears to be that OUSU considers its remit too broad, or runs too swiftly into issues more complex than it realises. Contrasting starkly with our own President’s admission in his letter over a year ago that “OUSU doesn’t do new or interesting things”, it seems to be those exact properties that have marked the Marine Le Pen protest for students’ ire.

If you’re worried about another tedious defence of the decision itself, or a thunderous condemnation of the purported arrogance of those who saw fit to vote in favour, then fear not. I have no interest in wading into that minefield, and I’m sure that those with far more nuanced arguments on both sides will be more than willing to fight for their respective causes.

However, what cannot be ignored is the hypocrisy of those with the depth of feeling to hold lengthy and public strops decrying the decision to endorse the protest, yet who failed to perform the unbelievably simple task of reading the agenda of OUSU Council and sending a short email to any of their college representatives to ask them to vote against the motion when it was brought to Council weeks ago.

Oxford students are world-renowned for their ability to read monstrous amounts of text in an embarrassingly small space of time, and yet it is certain that nearly all of the signatories of last week’s open letter failed to find five minutes in their no doubt incredibly busy days to skim through the agenda online.

Contrary to popular belief, the malaise that is currently afflicting OUSU isn’t one of over-enthusiastic student politicians, nor is it one of interest groups running rampant. The problem is apathy, and it has found its way into the life-blood of everything OUSU does.

From a referendum that was investigated because a 16 per cent turnout was “larger than expected” to the recent presidential election, which saw a decrease in the number of votes cast from previous years, the spectres of disengagement and disinterest loom large over the entire Student Union, and as heartening as it is that a decision by OUSU has inspired such attention, all this anger should not be directed at the Student Union, but ought to be rather more navel-gazing.

To put it simply: if you don’t vote, if you don’t read your OUSU Council agenda, and if you don’t email your college representatives about issues that are important to you, then you no longer have any grounds for comment on what OUSU Council does. If you refuse to engage with the system that tries to represent you but openly rail against decisions it has made, then you are no better than Russell Brand: shouting from the sidelines at those who care enough actually to get involved. While this may suit the thousands of students who are neither interested in nor care about what the Student Union does, the increasingly vocal sect who remain perfectly content in silence only until OUSU commits some deed with which they disagree have no such excuse.

To quote Theodore Roosevelt, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

It’s true: the critic’s chair is always more comfortable and safe than actively taking part. So if you desire to criticise decisions made by Council, by all means get up from your seat and wade in. It’s not hard: a short email to any of your numerous representatives will suffice. Otherwise, sit down, and stop talking.

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