Interview: Calum MacInnes, QMU President 2013-2014

Calum MacInnes

With his presidency drawing to a close, Calum MacInnes sits down with qmunicate to discuss the last year and the future of the union.

It’s been 12 months, you’ve had the BBC Radio 1 Academy, and you’ve had building development – one word to sum it all up?

Exciting, because it’s obviously been really good to’ve been around for that, to have played a part and to have made it happen, and enjoy it as well. But, the other really exciting thing is that they’re all long-lasting things that’ll have effects next year, and hopefully beyond, and they give us momentum going ahead for next year’s board, next year’s volunteers and committee members and students to pick that up, enjoy it, develop it, and keep going. Yeah, really really exciting.

Do you think you managed to achieve everything in your manifesto from last year that you wanted to put through?

No. If I was to go through my manifesto bit by bit, the two biggest things that I’m disappointed about not achieving are I spoke quite candidly about a second club night and to be honest the first club night has been enough of a challenge that the second club night just hasn’t come about. So I’m disappointed in that, you know obviously I want to see us being, you know, a really serious venue for student entertainment again, because we haven’t been as much as we’d like for at least the last few years and we haven’t been this year either, so I’m disappointed about that. The other thing that we can definitely keep building on is committee involvement, engagement, and attendance, all of the committees still do great things, like qmunicate this week covering everything with the BBC Radio 1 Academy has been fantastic and it’s an invaluable resource for the union and for all the volunteers that get involved in it. But to keep building on things like that across all committees, to keep attracting new people, and to consistently do new things with the committees, to innovate and do things that have just never been done before because that’s the really exciting thing for me about this place that you have the infrastructure to make ideas into things that actually happen, to say “I did that” or you can just enjoy that you did it or you can point to other people who enjoy it. So they’re the two things that I feel I didn’t do, but on the whole thing I feel like I’ve done a lot I wanted to do and more.

Do you think what you did do has put a good structure in place for what comes next? Did you have the future in mind, long-term projects, that would last past your presidency?

Definitely, yeah. I was really really keen to try and put down some foundations because the thing—I was only on board for a short time before I ran for president, but the thing that I found anecdotally from people I knew had been on the board or when I was on the board myself was that we often seemed to be starting at square one where I’d question why we had to start at square one. You know, when you want to start an idea or get the ball moving on something or say why hasn’t this happened, it was always a case of starting from the very beginning. So some of the less glamorous stuff that we’ve been doing behind the scenes, particularly me and Sean McFadden [the Honorary Assistant Secretary] on the executive, is rewriting our bylaws and our policy which are kind of our house rules and the stances that you take to the union to give a really good foundation for taking decisions. We’re really articulate in the kind of things we want to see in the union, so like if we have a commitment to particular means of attracting people to come to a committee, we’ll embody it in the bylaws and policy so that that best practice is codified and passed on. In terms of the things we’ve actually achieved as well like the building renovations and everything else that hopefully provides spaces, resources, and infrastructure for people to come and make ideas a reality that otherwise wouldn’t have been. So yeah I think it’s always been thinking about “this has to last longer than our year being involved” and fingers crossed I really hope we’ve managed to do something like that.

In terms of not just the exec but also the board members, are you proud of the team you had for the last year?

Absolutely. It’s been fantastic. It’s been an unparalleled experience at the time I’ve been at university. You know, you can have a part time job, and you can be involved in a club and society, and you can do all kinds of things, but there’s nothing that comes close to the experience that I’ve had as president where you take it on full time, you’re a charity trustee, you have a very great level of responsibility and a great level of support from a lot of other really involved and engaged and really interested students around you. You get to meet all kinds of people who you never would’ve met otherwise – I studied law and German, and so the people that I got to know at university first were other law students and other German students, but by getting involved in the union, whether it’s as a volunteer, or as a board member or president, you inevitably get to meet all kinds of people who you would never have otherwise encountered so personally it’s been a fantastic experience and I really hope that it’s an experience that we can continue to sell on its merits to get more people involved, to tell them that it’s a way to meet a whole new network of friends and acquaintances, that you can make friendships that’ll last you the rest of your life which I’m confident I have this year. So yeah, really really proud and really delighted with the achievements of the rest of the board of management with their convenorships and their committees.

If you could go back to meet yourself 12 months ago, and indeed this applies to Lauren as incoming president, what advice would you pass on that you didn’t know at that time?

Personally I would tell myself to get a haircut, because my hair was boggin’. In terms of advice for my job specifically if I was to go back to myself 12 months ago, or as I’ll be doing in about a month with the incoming president because they do two weeks of shadowing before they start on July 1st, the kind of things I’ll be talking about will be like putting yourself in a mind-set where you’re not afraid to take a decision, so like I said I’d been on the board of management for about 4 months before I ran for president, and then I had a 4 month handover period where I had some time to get acclimatised to the kind of decisions I’d have to make as president. And then very quickly we had a number of things over the summer period to deal with, such as the resignation of the general manager, which meant having to recruit a general manager for the first time in about 24 years; potential delays to some of our building projects, and I learned it very quickly but I learned that you absolutely can’t be hesitant – you have to just throw yourself into it. Sometimes it’s more important to just take a decision rather than to agonise over what decision to take. That sounds quite negative, but it’s quite a positive thing as well – the other side of that coin would be to throw yourself into everything head first and to not worry about the consequences of it, really. Just throw yourself into every decision and every experience you can take. Because you only get to do it once. It’s the last time in my life I’ll have this kind of experience as one of the people managing a charity, definitely managing a student charity, and I don’t really regret anything because I haven’t passed up any significant opportunities that have come along the way, and every opportunity that’s come by I’ve really tried to get my teeth into. That would be the advice I’d give – don’t ever hesitate, take opportunities. Richard Branson was here earlier and the week and he’d say “screw it; let’s do it.” I completely agree with that.

Was your own shadowing helpful at the start of your term? What was the first thing you got told when you did that?

We do it in two stages. We have our election in March and then the new executive officers take up their positions on the 1st of July so there’s obviously that four month period between you being elected and taking up the office. You get to know the outgoing president, and speak to them and get a lot of their experience, but there’s also two weeks where the incoming president is paid to come in and shadow the president outgoing in June. The biggest and most interesting thing of it wasn’t really anything specific, it was just the opportunity to talk about it. Another piece of advice I’d say in terms of doing this job is that obviously it’s quite a unique situation that you are a student but you’renot a student in a practical sense anymore. You don’t attend lectures anymore, so you’re a different kind of student. I think the most interesting thing when I was talking to Colum Fraser was to find out how different it felt being a student who ran the student union as opposed to a student who was a volunteer at the student union who also saw the rest of the student experience as part of their day to day. It’s definitely something that’s made the whole experience more enriching for me, that I’ve had to draw on the experience of fellow executive who are still full time students, and the rest of the board of management and committee volunteers, because the most important part is you can’t do it alone. Although you have to be impulsive and take decisions and not hesitate, you can’t do it by yourself, especially in the president’s position where you don’t necessarily see the whole student experience any more. You see it through the lens of who is paid to be in the office of the student union.

The changing of the guard hasn’t happened yet, but has Lauren been here asking question, is she excited about the role?

Yes, absolutely. Lauren was at our executive tutoring, so what we do with all the outgoing and incoming executives is that we take a day away from the union, usually about a month after the elections, so we have ours at the end of March/beginning of April. We booked a conference room at the Tennents brewery, and it’s designed as a day of getting to know each other a bit better where you talk about the job, talk about the challenges you face and the things you’re excited about and you’re worried about. It’s a combination of that and the training for the things that’ll come up day to day and things that could come up with the amount of responsibility you have so the executive training day is probably the most productive thing we’ve done in the 2 months since the election. But I mean, Lauren’s in. Lauren with the new exec and convenors is already working on Freshers’ Week for next year. That’s a responsibility that we give to the new executive and convenors straight away. Ultimately I’m not going to be here for Freshers’ Week so there’s no point in me doing more than handing it over to the new guys for them to take it up, and they’re getting very stuck into that, and I’m optimistic that that will bear some good fruit in September. Building on the good week we had this year I think they’re going to bring their own insights and their own energy for it and excitement and have a really really good Freshers’ Week.

After 12 months, what’s your proudest achievement?

I’m gonna pick two. One is a less glamorous one and one is a more glamorous one. The thing I’m proudest to’ve been president of the union during is probably the construction of our coffee shop. It’s a fantastic outlet, it’s a great new service, it drives a lot of people into the union, and it’s not just about it being commercial – it’s one more space for students and caters to students. I’m really proud of that, and I’m proud of the opportunities it gives to reach more people and the people who come into the building to use it. Ultimately we can reach out to more people to come to committees and run for elections and say “if you really like this building and what it has to offer, maybe you should come to the committees and run for the board and take a hand in shaping what we offer to students.” I think we’re starting to see that bear some fruit already and I’m really excited about that. So the coffee shop, but more generally the improvements we’re making to the building.

The other thing would be that we amended the constitution at the Annual General Meeting on the 8th May. It was Section 7 of the constitution in particular that we amended which was formerly Equal Opportunities and is now Equality and Diversity. It’s not that it’s changed much, it’s not that we used to say we will always discriminate against people and we don’t believe in equality. It said we committed ourselves to equal opportunities and we believed in them but after discussion with other people on the board of management and with student societies and so on, it became clear that we felt we should be more proactive about pursuing that, and committing ourselves to proactively heading off behaviour like indirect discrimination or harassment. The constitutional amendmentthat we passed commits us to doing that. We’re still to figure out the exact means of implementation, but I think it would mean the student executive would review all our practices, review how we were doing, and look for both where if discrimination is happening is happening or where it could happen and then taking that to the board and the committees and saying how could we proactively head this off. The thing that I’m really proud of, that I said at the AGM where I put this forward, is that the QM is a place where any student can come and be allowed to have their own identity, and that’s fine. You don’t have to be a certain type of person to enjoy or appreciate the QM. You just have to want to come to the QM, and the QM will enjoy and appreciate you, and I really want to cement that. I think the old provision was good but it was very passive – it didn’t actually do anything to proactively cement that, whereas now we’re talking about committing ourselves to reviewing everything we do; always talking to each other about how we’re going about things and how we can do better. That’s the kind of management of the union I want to see, where we’re all more proactive about that.

Looking forward for you personally, what do you take from the experience? We’ve got Lauren for 2014-2015, sell it for 2015-2016. What do you get from doing this presidency?

You get a fantastic amount. What you get from being president is the opportunity to meet a fantastic amount of people. As the president you are the union’s chief representative, so you talk to a lot of student societies, a lot of people from the university, a lot of students who personally want to come and talk to you about things, a lot of your board and committee members. Meeting that diverse amount of people has been a brilliant experience.

Secondly, the actual work itself, you get experience of being a trustee of a charity the size of the QM which caters to thousands of students, to run several catering departments, to oversee a really wide variety of student services from the publication of qmunicate magazine to nightclub events, to campaigning and charity efforts. So obviously you’re surrounded by a team of people who are all carrying out these things and have their own specific roles and remits, but as president the thing you get from that is the opportunity to work with all these different people, and the opportunity to have an influence. The thing that I feel fantastic about at the end of my year is that I was on the board for four months, I waited four months after my elections, and it’s been 12 months since I’ve become president, and I feel that as a team we’ve achieved so much. The publications committee has grown leaps and bounds and the magazine is doing fantastically, and its online content looks set to continue doing fantastically, and that’s not something that I’ve done myself but I’m proud to be a part of the team that did it. I can say that for all our departments and committees.

Finally, if I was to talk about the thing that is probably a fantastic thing about being president is that you really really have the opportunity to exert influence, to make students experience at the university better. It’s simple as that. I spent time on foreign exchange at a German university and it didn’t have a union. It has a number of student societies that were kind of like mini-unions for individual subjects or for types of students like international students, and when I came back I found I’d really really missed it. Just because it’s such a great unique service, that you have a building, a set of committed staff, eager student volunteers, a student board of management, who are all committed to providing services, opportunities for students to improve themselves through extracurricular activities, to develop attributes, to have a really good time and have fun. It’s such an invaluable resource, that I think to be part of the team, let alone be the person who is exerting influence in how we do those things, is a really fantastic and really exciting opportunity. So that’s the biggest thing that I’d promote. It’s such an exciting experience, and if you apply yourself the amount of things you can do with it are innumerate.

 

qmunicate’s interview with QMU President 2014-2015, Lauren Hinton, can be found here, and our interview with VP Student Activities 2013-2014 & SRC President 2014-2015, Breffni O’Connor, can be accessed here.

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