Co-Editor Emma Hanrahan speaks with Marc Matouc to find out what the role of UCDSU Graduate Officer entails.

The Students’ Union is facing an engagement issue. The disconnect between UCD students and their student representatives has resulted in student apathy, poor voter turnout, and in 2021, a vote of no-confidence driven by the Instagram account ‘UCDConfessions’ which resulted in a by-election.

Since then, UCDSU vowed to improve its engagement levels to little effect. Admittedly, before I started writing for the College Tribune, I knew next to nothing about the Students’ Union and the work that they do. Even now, after three years of reporting on student politics, I am still uncertain about what they do on a daily basis.

Here is what I do know: there are six sabbatical officers and six editions of The College Tribune published in an academic year. SU Elections are held in April and require students to vote for the candidate they believe to be the best fit for each role. However, very few students actually know what each sabbatical officer does.

In an attempt to remedy this, the College Tribune will run an SU Series in which I follow a Sabbatical Officer for the day to get a better understanding of their role. Each print edition of the Tribune will feature an interview with a different Sabbatical Officer. I hope that by the end of the spring trimester students will have a better understanding of the Students Union and will be more confident when voting in April.

The story below focuses on Marc Matouc, the UCDSU Graduate Officer, during an average day on campus.

On a frosty Thursday morning, I shuffled across the salted campus from the Newman Building to the SU offices in the Student Centre. Although it was 9:45, campus was quiet, as there was still one more week of winter break left before the spring semester began.

Because of this, I worried that it would be a slow day, however, I met Marc as he was leaving the offices. “I’m so sorry, but a meeting has just come up, I will be back in half an hour.” He threw on a coat and his UCD scarf and left me and my keep-cup sitting outside the SU.

Marc Matouc is a post-graduate student who is currently halfway through a two-year degree in geopolitics. However, he was originally a student at American College Dublin where he earned an undergraduate degree in liberal arts. While he admitted that the American College wasn’t his first choice, he enjoyed how intimate it was as he quickly became friends with the other students and discovered his love for student representation.

Although he acted as a student rep at American College Dublin, Marc explained that he longed for the excitement of a formal students’ union. “The American College used to close at nine, so when I needed to study, I would go with my friends to the Trinity Library. I remember seeing one of the Trinity papers and their coverage of the 2019 SU elections and thinking that I would love to be involved in something of that scale. So, when I came to UCD it was definitely on my mind, but I officially decided to run after I was encouraged by Ruairí Power [SU President 2021/22].”

Marc is in currently his second term as Graduate Officer. He was also the Graduate Officer during the 2022/23 academic year, which was his first experience in the UCD Student’s Union. He explained that during his first year, he felt out of his depth and excluded from the clique.

“I didn’t know last year’s team very well and I didn’t get to break the ice. They had been in UCD for four years, but I had just started. Within six months I had joined the SU, I had no idea what the structures were, I didn’t even know where the Tierney Building was! I had to learn very quickly, then just as I had learned everything I was leaving, so I wanted to do it again.”

So, what does the Graduate Officer do anyway? Like most sabbats, they have a lot of secret meetings. However, in a series first, I was granted access to one of those meetings! When Marc returned from his sudden 10 am meeting, which turned out to be a Universitas 21 board meeting to discuss summer school scholarships and opportunities. He only had a few minutes before his appointment with the recently elected Business College Officer, Simon Van Beek

“My job…” Marc explained as we made our way into the SU offices, “is a combination of everything that the rest of the union does, education, welfare, events etc. but specifically for postgrads. Simon and I are going to discuss our plans for the Smurfit campus, our goal is to build a student community there and to increase connectivity between Belfield and the Blackrock campus.”

In November, Marc aided the reintroduction of the free shuttle bus that runs between both UCD campuses, he hopes that this will allow Smurfit students to get more involved in campus life.

These shuttle buses are a product of the student experience survey that was introduced last year and has been mandated to be conducted for the next three years. Marc explained that Smurfit students feel severe “isolation” and that this mandate will leave “a legacy that upholds student power.”

In his meeting with Simon, Marc discussed everything from the removal of unpopular campus signage to toilet brushes. However, one topic that took up a surprising amount of time was the need for additional microwaves on the Smurfit campus. The seemingly endless quest for microwaves and the distribution of free condoms are both common stereotypes of students’ unions, but Marc insisted that there is a lot of bureaucracy involved in supposedly simple decisions and that an appeal for microwaves could take months to be approved. Basically, if you’re in Smurfit, don’t bring soup for lunch…

The end of 2023 was an eventful time for post-graduates, specifically post-graduate workers. The Post-Graduate Workers’ Organisation (PWO) gathered in front of the Dáil ahead of the 2024 budget to protest unfair working conditions. Then, after a disappointing result in the budget, a survey was conducted which revealed that 91 per cent of respondents would take collective action against their universities.

I asked Marc about his collaboration with the PWO and what steps he has taken to support post-graduate workers. He said that although he wanted to create a recruitment strategy for the UCD Chapter of PWO, he had not had a chance to do that yet. He added that “as issues become more pressing, those things get moved into Martha’s [SU President’s] remit”. But he admitted, “I haven’t done enough yet and would like to close that gap this semester”.

When asked what Marc would consider the biggest difference between his two terms as the Graduate Officer, Marc replied “The pandemic being officially over has had a huge impact. There has been enough time now for everyone to get back into the groove and not be as nervous when socialising.

The new students have given this year a fresh energy, I think older students were coming to campus off the back of the pandemic when there were still lots of precautions and they weren’t as engaged, they were exhausted”.

Despite his experience as a student representative, Marc, like many other sabbatical officers, needed to be encouraged by other SU officers to campaign. I inquired if Marc had spotted a potential successor.

“Not yet, that’s a concern that I am putting on the long finger – but I’m only putting it on the long finger because I have been caring about the work that I have been doing for the last six months. Is there pressure? Yeah. But I have faith in myself to find someone, I found someone last year for the Graduate Officer Position – and then they dropped out. I have confidence…it’s obviously urgent but not important at the moment”.

When asked what qualities he would look for in a potential Graduate Officer, Marc decided that ‘headstrong’ was the most important characteristic needed, “to hold your own in all the board meetings” he added.

Marc still has one year of his Masters to complete but appears to have more aspirations and ideas for the college than he can fit into one semester. His continual use of buzzwords like “consistency”, “community” and “legacy” led me to ask him if he hopes to become the next UCDSU President.

“Yeah definitely, I’m considering it. I don’t think anyone could be a Sabbat for two years and not consider it. Is it something that I’m sure about? No. But I am thinking about it.”

Emma Hanrahan – Co-Editor