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InFocus: Stella Maris

“I envision a university where student voices don’t just echo, but lead, guiding the progressive direction of our esteemed institution”. These are the opening words of the manifesto of the University of St Andrews’ new Rector, Stella Maris. Indeed, Maris has been a leading student voice since coming to St Andrews in 2017 as an undergraduate student studying English and Philosophy.

From embracing the role of Sport Representative, to acting as Senior Student at St Salvator’s Hall and Gannochy House, Maris claims these roles instilled in her the desire to ensure that every student voice was not just listened to, but also acted upon. After serving as Deputy Accommodation Officer for Halls and EDI rep in both her subject schools, Maris took on the role of Rector’s Assessor.

Maris appreciates the “unique experience” her role as Rector’s Assessor has offered her. On her time in the role, she said, “The leadership of the Rector’s Committee allowed me to connect with the entire student body. This broadened my scope to advocate for a wider range of issues and people. The journey was a significant learning experience. During my two-and-a-half-year tenure, I became adept at navigating the upper tiers of university management.”

Maris has a lot to show for her time as Rector’s Assessor. In the role, she developed initiatives such as the ‘Do No Harm’ framework, a partnership between Student Services and the Rector’s Committee, helping make interactions within the University more caring and inclusive through mechanisms like enhancing feedback loops. She has also been heavily involved in widening access, noting in her manifesto that, “inclusion doesn’t happen by accident; it requires deliberate effort and targeted initiatives”. To this end, she advocated for increasing the funding and number of scholarships available through the Rector’s Fund.

Having already made a difference at the University, why run for Rector? “I guess the simple answer for why I wanted to run for Rector is that I didn’t feel I was done. St Andrews has made a lot of progress, but there’s still a lot to do. My experience as an Assessor highlighted the importance of active student representation, and it felt like a natural progression to run for Rector to further amplify student voices."

This “natural progression” Maris mentions is echoed in her manifesto. She intends to take ideas such as the ‘Do No Harm’ framework further in the next three years via measures like extending its community outreach by developing programs to extracurricular student clubs. She also plans to increase the opportunities available through the Rector’s Fund. Maris also brings new ideas in her manifesto such as enhancing Postgraduate Student Engagement, introducing tailored orientation events at the beginning of the year, and hosting centrally organised events in the Postgraduate Lounge over the course of the academic year.

The manifesto, however, was just one part of the election campaign. Candidates also had to participate in General Hustings (where each candidate gives a short speech followed by 10 minutes of questions), a Rectorial debate, and a week-long campaign between Friday 6 and Friday 13 October. When asked what the most challenging part of the campaign process was, Maris said it was, “ensuring our message resonated with every student, given the diverse backgrounds and experiences.” The most enjoyable aspect, she said, was, “Definitely interacting with students, hearing their stories, and feeling the collective passion for change.”

Maris won the campaign in the second round of voting. After Mark Brunner was eliminated in the first round, Maris defeated Jonathan Edwards with 1,394 votes to 1,137. Maris was keen to praise her fellow candidates, saying, “I'd like to commend Mark Brunner and Jonathan Edwards for their fantastic campaigns. We all share a passion for student welfare, and I believe that collective goal transcends competition. I wish them all the best in their future endeavours.”

The role of Rector is entirely external to the University of St Andrews. Despite having studied here as a student, Maris believes her personal connection to the student experience will benefit her in the role. “This understanding, combined with the Rector's independent position, allows me to bridge the gap between the student body and the university, advocating without biases."

As Maris takes on the role of Rector for the next three years, The Saint asked if she hopes to do anything differently during her time in the position. Maris said, “Serving as a Rector’s Assessor has been a deeply insightful experience. One paramount realisation for me has been the undoubted value of consistent communication with students. The Saint recently published an article offering some critiques of the previous Rector. While I don't align with every assertion in that piece, I concur that my predecessor might not have been as available as necessary.”

In terms of how this absence affected students working with the Rector, Maris added, “This lack of presence undeniably placed a considerable strain on the Rector’s Committee, forcing them to compensate. The effectiveness of a Rector’s Assessor is inevitably constrained without the active involvement of the Rector. Hence, my ambition is to be the most accessible Rector in recent times. The Rector’s role should transcend being merely symbolic; during my term, I am resolute in my commitment to proactive and tangible advocacy for students.”

Key to representing the student body, Maris notes, will be collaboration. The Saint asked how she plans to work with the Sabbatical Officers throughout the next three years, whose job it also is to represent the needs of students. Regarding this, Maris said, “I plan on establishing regular communication channels, perhaps monthly meetings, with the Sabbatical Officers… The Rector is a more informal role, being external to the University and lasting for three years rather than one. I don’t expect to step on the toes of the Sabbs. We're all working towards the same goals, and together we can achieve them.”

Image: Stella Maris

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