A letter to the SU from The Beaver

As concerns about society management, transparency of decision-making and negligence amount at the Students’ Union doorstep, the Editorial Board calls for students to actively participate in thorough debates regarding the policies that could improve a Union that, for many, is not working.

Ahead of contested elections for key positions in the Union, we believe that it is up to students and societies to rally for changes needed.

Policy changes to bureaucratic procedures such as room bookings and reimbursements, increasing democratic engagement, and support to societies, are all goals worth fighting for. The Beaver intends to be a truly representative and effective platform through which these debates can be had, both in favour or against the status quo.

We’re not sure why historical Beaver editors were so willing for the paper to be an SU newsletter – maybe the Union was more popular back then – nor why The Beaver in years gone by didn’t more forensically chronicle the internal goings-on of the SU. Maybe no one was interested. Maybe no one is interested.

As long as LSE students at large have grave misgivings about the management of their university and those in charge of improving the student experience, the relationship between the Union and The Beaver will always be fraught. And rightly so.

Clearly there are philosophical differences between the Union and the paper – and, we believe, between the views of the Students’ Union and LSE students themselves. Since having its budget cut by almost half last summer and moving to a bi-weekly model, The Beaver has faced constraints to its reporting on the upcoming Union elections. If we are to engage sincerely with the Union and its affairs, students need an appropriate and authoritative platform. The Union’s paper, and its budding journalists, must be given the resources and support to ensure accountability and transparency at every level.

Our unease with the powers that be are not likely to go anywhere soon. But on behalf of the editorial board, our staff of contributors, our readers and future generations of writers and readers, we want to urge every candidate in the upcoming Students’ Union elections to engage sincerely with the student body and the challenges facing The Beaver.

Journalism is manifestly important and student journalism increasingly so, with universities seeing little incentive in being transparent or accountable amid a raft of contested changes to teaching, fees and even immigration rules. Campus politics lives and dies by student opinion; union policy, in particular, lives and dies by student feedback.

When society election rules were amended two weeks ago to make online votes compulsory, much to the chagrin of club presidents who rely on informal, improvised candidacies for key committee positions, critics noted that student consultation was inadequate. Even the (elected) sabbatical officer responsible wasn’t asked whether the changes were a good idea. Something has to change.

The argument made by Union insiders is that student engagement is so low that, inevitably, some policies are unrepresentative of students’ and societies’ interests. Don’t boo, vote, they say.

There’s some truth in this. LSE students ought to care more about the management of their social and academic lives, and not leave the job of advocacy to a few eager society heads and the active members who regularly attend Student Staff Liaison Committees (SSLCs). If we’re serious about improving the student experience, it’s our job to lobby department heads and nag Union representatives to make constructive changes.

The Beaver is the Students’ Union paper; that won’t (and shouldn’t) change. But we also know that no student paper should be existentially vulnerable to the finances of an in-deficit Students’ Union, year after year, while subject to funding cuts regardless of output, success and student interest.

So, we repeat our initial request of this cycle’s candidates. Engage with LSE’s student body in all its weird and wonderful ways. Listen to its occasionally self-important and always self-indulgent paper, and reverse this toxic and distracting war of wills between the Union and its paper. For tradition’s sake, if nothing else.

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