In Defence of Sabbatical Pay

Why the Sabbs are worth it.

I’m not totally without sympathy for the article this is written in response to. Bitching about Sabbs is a part of university life, and I wouldn’t be a student journalist if I didn’t feel entitled to criticise those in positions of responsibility that I’d never take on myself. However, the charge that our Sabbs are not value for money is unfair and unfounded. I need only remind you that the Sabbs have managed to bring Cascada to St Andrews, and anyone who does that deserves whatever salary they want. That said, this issue is to important to hinge on Eurodance alone.

I first take issue with the claim that the level of Sabb pay means we get worse candidates, people who “are going to be motivated by their bank accounts and not by the issues that matter.” I think the opposite. To get the best, you pay for the best. Just like I’d rather not have the House of Commons staffed by volunteers, I’d rather not save money by having a Students’ Association run by incompetent people. As the saying goes, professionals are expensive, but amateurs cost a fortune. Given that so many Sabb-bashers come from the political right, I find this ignorance of the profit motive mystifying.

This is particularly important in light of Sabb job performance. St Andreans are generally unstinting in our praise of lecturers, but, weirdly, we seem less willing to credit our Students’ Association for our equally enviable stats in student satisfaction. Obviously this isn’t all down to the Sabbs, but it’s worth remembering how much they do do.

At this point in the article I was going to check the Union website to illustrate this point, but just briefly scrolling through the page surprised even me with the scope of Sabb duties – certainly too much to do justice in a short article. So instead, let me advise anyone not convinced by me to spend five minutes on the Your Union website. That and the smooth-running of our Students Association is eloquent testimony of why Sabbs deserve to be paid.

Sabbs aren’t perfect, but it’s notable that the original article criticises Sabb behaviour for its “liberal elitist feel” rather than for specific policy failings.

With the importance and effectiveness of our Sabbs now established, it’s worth stressing the difference between voluntary and paid work. I am not paid to be Opinion Editor of The Stand. This is because for me, student journalism is a hobby. I take pride in doing it to the best of my ability, but I take it infinitely less seriously than my actual job. So if my section underperforms (not that this ever happens), I don’t lose much sleep over it. And why should I? At the end of the day, other than the people who read my articles (and I appreciate all three of you), my output doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to anyone’s life, and I certainly don’t depend on it for sustenance.

But can you imagine what would happen if our Sabbs took that attitude to their work? If they treated the things we all depend on them to do as a hobby? The original article rightly stated that the work Sabbs do is important. If this is the case, then why would we want to encourage them to view it less professionally? I’d trust the most cynical, careerist Union hack over a dilettante whose only qualifications are having parents who can afford to let them work for free in St Andrews for a year.

So lay off the Sabb-bashing. Sure, the Union isn’t perfect, but the fact that something needs repairs doesn’t mean we should burn it to the ground.



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