19 May, 2008

Military on Campus

Various student unions have tried to ban the military from campus recently. In UCL (London) the motion was passed, at University of Manchester, the motion failed.

It begs the question, what is the point of a student's union? To me, two examples illustrate good and bad practice. About 4 years ago, UMSU made it compulsory for all shops of campus to stock fair trade. Last year, UMSU banned coca-cola from its campuses.

Now, regardless of whether you think fairtrade goods are overall effective, they are seen as a 'good' and 'moral' option. In this instance, UMSU was forcing the shops on campus to allow consumers a choice between a moral option and a less moral option, but was not making the decision for them.

In regards to coke, on the other hand, the Union was preventing consumers from making any choice at all. I would have little problem with the people who didn't like coke being allowed to put a little sign up next to places where it was sold saying why they thought it was bad, but they decided completely removing highly intelligent and educated people's right to make a choice was more important. That was wrong.

So how does this link into banning the military? Well, it basically asks the question of whether the role of the Union is to give students opportunities or to protect them. In my view, the purpose of the union is to do the former. Assuming the students at Manchester are intelligent, highly educated people and knowing that the people who run the union are from that same student body, the union has no more knowledge, wisdom or experience in this issue than the student body. In which case, it should shut up and sit down.

What I find deeply ironic about this case is one of the most serious 'charges' the union laid against the military on campus was that it recruited students who would have to go and fight in wars but the recruiting video didn't show them this. Now, I dispute that OTC etc are directly supposed to be recruiting organisations (though I reckon that if students do join the army having been in them, the army considers that a bonus), but let's be kind to UMSU and pretend that they are for a second. The worry UMSU had was that people would join the army without knowing what they'd let themselves in for. So, they had the grand idea of banning an organisation which gave a fairly realistic simulation of army life without actually being dangerous. That is to say, they ban an organisation which teaches people how rubbish some aspects of army life are on the grounds that people would make a better decision as to whether or not to join the army based on no experience of the army whatsoever.

Even better, the UMSU wanted the army off the campus. It wanted it to stop recruiting students. Given the army needs a certain number of recruits each year, stopping it from speaking on university campuses would simply mean it had to tackle non-university students instead. Non-university students are likely to be less education, more likely to be swayed by attractive advertising and less likely to have even had simulated army experience. Overall, they are far more ignorant of what they are letting themselves in for.

How wonderfully logical and moral of the UMSU.


Alex said...

If I were an in house lawyer at the army, I reckon I'd have a really good case for challenging the UCL ruling. Just thinking about makes my brain boil with outrage. But am I right? Do SU's really have the power to disallow the army from their property through some silly vote?

Miss Middle of Manchester said...

To put it in context, the UMSU is effectively a private members club. They therefore have the right to exclude anyone they wanted.

You would not accept the right of the army by law to campaign in Tescos (for example) if Tescos didn't want them on their premises, this case is similar.

Luckily, Manchester decided that they did want the military on campus and SPECTRE - sorry, RESPECT - were well and truly thrashed on the motion.

I'm sure UCL will get its act together in time.

Alex said...

Perhaps if we were talking about the union building specifically, but presumably not if we're talking about, say, the medical building. If the vice chancellor wanted to invite representatives from the army to meet him there, would the SU be able to stop it? Or when they say "banned on campus" do they mean "banned in the two SU buildings"?

Swiss Tony said...

Isn't it natural for students to be antiwar, anti-military peaceniks?

If someone wanted to join the army they would know that they do. It isn't something that you would be attracted to by a glossy brochure as you might a holiday.

When I was in the army, many years ago, everyone else was there because either they couldn't get a job, wanted to get away from their roots, wanted to travel the world or learn a trade. (I wanted the trade)

All of the officer recruits were there because the army paid their university fees and it was payback time.

The best publicity the army (or any of the services for that matter) can give is to demonstrate the wide range of jobs available, from vet to lawyer. Mechanic to plumber. Doctor to chef. Literally thousands of trades you can learn.

Its only when you join the services that you discover its periods of excitement followed by even longer periods of boredom. Bit like UCL!