Rector candidates went head-to-head at the hustings making their final case before students take to the virtual polls.
With polls opening today, Tuesday 20 April at 9am, last night’s hustings offered candidates one last chance to pitch their policy platform to gain your vote. After a lacklustre start filled with pre-prepared lines noticeably read from scripts, a healthy debate ensued in the second half. The Facebook comments section – a unique feature of this year’s online debate – was being updated on a minute basis, full of students voicing their support or concerns with a particular candidate. In case you were unable to attend the enthralling two-hour debate, we have summarised, both pros and cons, each candidate’s performance below.
The SNP Councillor made clear in the hustings that his overarching aim is to be a young working rector for cultural change. Throughout the debate, the ambitious nature of Junaid’s manifesto was clear: from pedestrianising University Avenue, an overhaul of mental health provision and a fundamental change in the Universities commercialised nature. Opponent John Nicolson repeatedly insinuated that this platform was over-promising, for which Junaid hit back stating: “where others have the experience, I have time”. As such, he promised he will commit two or three days a week to achieve his ambitious plans. He emphasised his experience as an SNP Councillor for Lanarkshire, where he has led significant working groups like one on the decolonisation of the curriculum, and acknowledged other candidates’ busier schedules.
The highlight of Junaid’s performance occurred after he was asked why dealing with sexual violence on campus was not in his manifesto. He pointed to the level of nuance required in the discussion and reiterated that students should be at the heart of this; he discussed how his event last week, “Sexual Violence on Campus”, heralded an important and productive discussion with students with lived experience. Though similar to John Nicolson’s pledge, Junaid’s plan is also the only one to focus on the institutional elements of sexual violence on campus, suggesting greater training should be given to those assessing cases at the University and emphasising that the process to deal with perpetrators is not apparent.
He also drew attention to other manifesto points. He proposed a University-wide mental health plan, however, this has already been formalised back in 2017. Likewise, he had to amend his climate pledge initially proposing carbon neutrality by 2040, whereas the University of Glasgow has already pledged to reach this goal by 2030.
Junaid demonstrated his passion for “community empowerment” projects in what he referred to as a ”gloves off approach”. The 24-year-old was clearly the youngest there, something that sparked conversation in the comments section, however, Junaid emphasised that his recent graduation only made him more up to date with the workings of the University. He was the only candidate to respond directly to audience members in the comments section, making use of the technology, confronting criticism.
John Nicolson, the openly gay presenter on BBC News and current politician, with seat a currently secured in Westminster and formerly in Holyrood, discussed the importance of being a “working rector” in this evening’s hustings. He emphasised the need for on-campus support for students and pledged to run “surgeries”, where students could approach him on a one-to-one basis if he were to be elected next year. Championing equality for all, John was vocal in his support for the LGBTQ+ community, it being a group he is proudly part of and passionate about campaigning for.
Backed by several societies and student groups, including Glasgow MedChir, GUU, and the Dialectic Society, John reiterated his vast student support when answering several questions. However, there were many similarities between his assurances and the promises of the other candidates, namely increasing mental health services and providing better support for sexual assault survivors. To stand out, John cites specifically that he will push for further funding for Glasgow’s Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS). In terms of gender-based violence, he reminded viewers that he set up the original Sexual Harassment Committee at the University and he plans to set up classes in Freshers Week to increase education for all new students. John also advocates for shuttle buses on campus to take students home, whether on or outside campus, safely; especially given the likely influx of students in the coming year. Before questions could be asked, John emphasised that whilst this may be another expense, it is an investment worth making: “It costs the University money, but it keeps students safe.”
At times, John appeared to be recommending nationwide changes as opposed to University-specific, especially given several mentions of Trident. After he firmly stood against the proposed impartiality of Lady Rae, he then changed tack to go on and discuss his own skilled objectivity as the conversation ventured into the realm of the IndyRef. However, he was firm in stating that whilst he was very firmly pro-independence, he would remain neutral in his approach to the student body, understanding that many students may be part of the Better Together camp. He was questioned further on how he would communicate student desires of divestment from the arms trade to the University, and John stated that climate change and sustainable, ethical practices play the main role in his manifesto and so he would ensure he was vocal on issues students were passionate about.
Other candidates questioned his availability for the role of working rector, which John answered by saying that those in Westminster would understand the duties involved in his new role and let him “actually chair Senate Court meetings”. Scepticism was expressed in the comment section with references to previous rectors not being able to make enough time for Court meetings.
Lady Rita Rae (represented by her proposer):
Lady Rita Rae was unable to attend the hustings in person due to a criminal trial and was represented by her Proposer, Jamie.
As a judge, Lady Rae’s position of impartiality was presented as an important part of her suitability as a candidate for rector. Her proposer’s opening statement detailed her dedication to promoting student welfare and engaging as an “active rector”. He noted her approach to understanding student needs involving forming a relationship with the SRC and the University Court. Having witnessed injustices and insensitivities in her day job, Lady Rae feels she can address the root cause of these problems. Aware of the symbolism of a female rector, she was keen to emphasise that she should be elected due to her competency.
Jamie discussed her priority to represent students has been compounded by the pandemic, and since the election has begun, she has engaged and understood issues by speaking to the SRC and University Court. She wanted to be clear that a good rector is one that will be present, aligning policy to what students want, to ultimately create a powerful representative who reflects every student. Her return post-retiral to work as a judge will, Jamie clarified, not detract from her ability to fulfil the role. He expressed Lady Rae will be on campus one or two days a week and will utilise online resources to engage in these collaborations.
In terms of tackling student mental health issues and widening postgraduate participation, Lady Rae plans to thoroughly gather information to understand the issues. Jamie raised the opinion that the University needs to do more to prevent students from requiring mental health support in the first place, as well as providing greater transparency on how they will approach mental health going forward, following the errors of the pandemic. Lady Rae’s position will, she believes, lend her weight in the University Court. Her career experience of dealing with prejudice will benefit her in understanding and acting to both increase inclusivity, and doing more on the issue of student sexual assault.
Further pressed on her ability to present student views by SRC president Liam Brady, who was adjudicating the discussion, Jamie reiterated Lady Rae’s approach that policy should be informed by student views, and her position of impartiality makes her someone who could gain a variety of student perspectives to deliver to the SRC and University Court, who possess the budget to take action.
More specifically on national politics, Jamie acknowledged Brexit has and will continue to impact the University, but did not give much more detail. In terms of the climate emergency and sustainability policies, Lady Rae will crystallise the views of students and present them to University Court and help relay back reasons that the University is aiming for particular goals in these areas.
Jamie’s closing statements articulated that, during a time of political sensitivity, Lady Rae is ideal for her impartial approach used daily in her career. Promises by previous rectors have been unfulfilled, but Lady Rae promises, as a working rector, to address contemporary issues and form relationships with the SRC and University Court. Her experience of analysing processes of injustice makes her a voice and a pathway builder for students.To find out more about the rector manifestos, click here. Voting will take place this Tuesday and Wednesday, and voting information will be sent to each student by email.