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What You Need to Know About the Rector Election

Originally published on October 3 2020.

Features Editor, Olivia Bybel, sits down with current Director of Wellbeing, Emma Walsh. They discuss the upcoming rector election, and how important it is to get involved and for students to vote.

The rector’s election is right around the corner, and yet many of us students still find ourselves asking questions like “what is a rector?” Before we take to the polls, it is important to get informed. The Saint sat down with current director of wellbeing (DoWell), Emma Walsh, to discuss the rector’s election, and just how important it is that students get involved. Walsh is one of six elected sabbatical officers: recent graduates who run the union. They each lead student representation in different areas. As the DoWell, Walsh works closely with “student services, and the equality and diversity team at the university.” She runs the wellbeing subcommittee, and disiabled students network, and chairs equal opportunities. “I work on all areas including wellbeing, equality, and representation, I also lead on internal democracies, so I am in charge of the elections that will come in spring time, and also the rector election.” Walsh, in her position of DoWell, serves as the senior elections officer and is responsible for “leading on the campaigning, nominations, publicity, and event planning.” She works alongside the Association President, and the Rector Election Committee to make the whole election happen. The rector, to many students, is a bit of a mystery. Walsh herself said, “I will be the first to admit I was definitely ignorant about university governance before I came into this job… I was very involved with the Union and Councils… but I could not have told you what the rector did and why it was so important.” Walsh offers her idea as to why so many students are unaware of the rector’s role, “It’s not a title that is commonly used, if the position were called the ‘chair of the university court’ that might make more sense to people… some students just see the outward facing pieces of the University… university governance is sometimes not well-publicised.” She appreciates this year’s rector’s committee, however, saying they “have been doing a really great job this past year of trying to get students to understand a bit better what the role of the rector is, and what their own role is, as the voice on the ground of the rector.” Nonetheless, she thinks that “university governance is not well known by students” in general. She explained to The Saint that the rector “presides over the University Court, which is the highest governing body of the University. The way I always say it to help people understand is that it is the board that Sally Mapstone answers to.” The University Court develops and approves major plans and oversees their execution. It is also responsible for approving university spending and finance, and hiring and firing the principal. Major issues involving the University are often addressed by the Univesity Court. The rector is an elected position with a three year term, which represents student interests in university governance. “They are a really vital voice on the University Court, big decisions for the University can be advocated for through the rector. You can contact the rector’s team, who are a consistent advocate for student issues. They may not be seen and heard every day but they are working towards a better and a safer and a more inclusive and welcoming student experience for everyone here.” The rector is nominated by students. On the Student Association’s website, one can find the nomination form, and read about rules and eligibility. To nominate someone, 25 student signatures need to be collected (electronically this year) and returned to College Gate, along with the signature of the proposed candidate, by the end of nomination. It can then be approved by the Court office, and then formally announced as a candidate. “Anyone who is eligible to be a trustee of the University can be a rector,” Walsh explains. A trustee cannot have any significant role within another higher education insitituion. “We have seen a range of candidates in the past, alumna, as well as activists who have inspired students and then started campaign teams from them.” A nominee, according to Walsh, is “whoever students find inspirational, or feel like can be an advocate for them.” Students have agency in every part of the electoral process, “Nominations are made by students, and campaign teams are built up of students… it is fully student-led and is an open ended role that can be interpreted in different ways.” Nominations open Monday, 5 October and will close on Thursday 8 October. “Once nominations are confirmed they will be posted on the St Andrews Association election pages,” much like other elections for school president or sabbatical officers. “We will be sharing information on hall hustings you can go to as well as candidate question times, and debates.” Walsh welcomes anyone who cannot find information they need to email her directly at Voting will be open Thursday and Friday of Week Five. “There will be a voting portal which will be sent out in a few different formats. It will be made available via an all student email from the association president, Facebook, and possibly an email from your school president.” Walsh urges students to vote in this year’s rector election, “Every three years the rector is elected so it is a unique opurtunity for students to have that say in the government of the university. You can vote for the person you think can bring the most to students by the university court.” Now, when so much of life in St Andrews is different than it ever has been, the role of rector, as an advocate and representative for students, and their interests within university governance, is more important than ever. Walsh thinks that “having someone who represents student issues, who listens to the student voice, and who is an advocate for student wellbeing and student life in St Andrews at the highest point of power at the university is incredibly important. Voting in this election is the best thing you can do to make a change at the university, to put your own agenda and what you believe on the table where people with the most power here sit.” Walsh’s experiences as DoWell have changed her own view on the role of rector. It made her, “realise the importance of the rector as a strong, trusted, and long term voice on University Court.” Walsh finished by expressing to The Saint that, “Having a fair democracy where students can feel heard and that they have someone listening to them, and supporting their interests on that governing body I think is incredibly important. This is something I wish I knew more about back when I was a second year and I was voting in the rector election. I’m hoping to get that across to students this year.”

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