Photo: 'Srdja for Rector' Facebook page

Did Enough Students Care about the Rectorial Elections?

I’m willing to bet most of you can’t explain what a rector is and what they do.

Before I begin, I should congratulate Srdja Popovic. The Serbian activist took the election by over 1,000 votes: an indisputable victory. I’m sure he will do a great job, but I’m here to play devil’s advocate and question the whole rectorial election and how it reached the students of St Andrews.

Week 4 is seen as infamous for its incessant deadlines, perpetual tiredness and overall terrible vibes. However, Week 4 of this semester added another thing into the mix: the rectorial elections. These have been dominating all things “St Andrews,” from the streets to the St Andrews Crushes Facebook page, but how much did we all really pay attention to the formalities?

Photo: University of St Andrews Twitter

In a world obsessed with social media and online presence, Popovic definitely knew how to work his audience. My timeline was full of selfies with and memes about the Serbian activist, making him a household name (in the loosest term possible) in no time. But where was his opponent, Willie Rennie, in all of this? There were no pictures posed with him, no crushes posted about him, and, as someone not overly involved in politics, I only knew very vague facts about his campaign. Now, before anyone calls me out on being ignorant for not reading up on the election and talking out of turn (which is not entirely wrong), I would like to make it clear that I am talking on behalf of many who honestly just didn’t have the time nor the desire to really get involved in this election. One week ago, I didn’t even know what a rector was, never mind what each individual nominee wanted to provide to the role. Yes, this may be of my own fault, but I’m sure I’m not alone in this: my flatmate flipped a coin to decide on who to vote for, because she just had no idea.

From what I can see, Srdja’s “political campaign” consisted mainly of portraying himself as being extremely likeable – which he succeeded in. Of course, he has an impressive background in student activism and his manifesto contained some very appealing promises involving Brexit and EU student rights, but I, for one, thought all of this to be very overshadowed by the online, almost cult following he seemed to harbour. His “Popovic Propaganda” was spread via the streets, with people standing outside of the library almost every day trying to recruit other students onto their side. For those who are just trying to get to the printers on deadline day, this could potentially be alienating, but it also appears to have been sufficiently successful.

Photo: Jamie Rodney

I did a very, very informal case study among friends to find out who they voted for and why: needless to say I received extremely varied responses. Those who voted for Willie Rennie did so because they thought that, realistically, he would achieve more due to his local power and track record. Srdja’s supporters liked his stance and passion for change, as well as a rumoured idea that he will bring a railway line back to St Andrews (this must have been what won it for him). One of them didn’t vote, because the link “took too long to load” – an exact quote.

Don’t get me wrong, both candidates were very qualified, and to be honest I don’t think there would have been any big problems irrespective of who won, but I do think that the elections could have been much more clear and widely advertised. My friend still doesn’t know what a rector is, even now.

Obviously, it isn’t hard to go on Google and figure out what rectors do, and go on the candidates’ manifestos to read about their plans, but we are students, and students are lazy. If it takes longer than a walk to the town centre, we simply won’t bother. So, in three years’ time, when these elections come round again, it could be beneficial to really shove them in people’s faces, and maybe then people will be willing to wait for the link to load.

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