Hall committees are a seemingly integral part of uni life. Students in university accommodation are sent emails and notifications on Facebook nearly every day about events, gatherings, and other information by their Hall Committees. Some of the largest committees, like the one which oversees DRA and Fife Park, control budgets in excess of tens of thousands of pounds. Others, like the University Hall and Whitehorn Hall Committee, have smaller budgets but form an essential part of hall life: the committees have the power and potential to enrich and enliven university life and foster a sense of community among people living in halls.
Two of my friends are on Hall Committees, and both said there is much room for improvement. They talk of pointless meetings and discussions, uninterested committee members, and endless and unnecessary layers of bureaucracy. My personal theory is that the position of Hall Committee rep — much like class rep — tends to attract two types of person:
1) The Layabout
The first type of person is the Layabout. This is somebody who wants something that looks good on their C.V. but isn’t interested in doing the work or taking on the necessary responsibility. They might show up to the meetings, but it’s obvious that their hearts aren’t in it. All things considered, however, these types aren’t too bad. Somebody who doesn’t take part in the process, even though they are perhaps taking the spot of someone who actually wants the position for good reason, can’t do too much damage.
2) The Petty Bureaucrats
At the other end of the spectrum are the petty bureaucrats. These are the sort of people who take their titles extremely seriously and revel in the opportunity to exert even the slightest amount of fictional power and authority over other people, whatever that may consist of. My friend Joe Ehrlich, Head of Events at University Hall, told me of one incident, in which a planned event to hand out bread to drunk students returning from Raisin had to be cancelled because of another committee member who complained that there had been no ‘risk assessment’. On another occasion, Mr Ehrlich was stopped from using the Uni Hall budget to buy a pair of £3 work goggles ‘because you’re not the Sustainability rep’.
Naturally, not everyone on a committee is either a ‘layabout’ or a ‘petty bureaucrat’; there are surely plenty of hardworking and effective reps. My flatmate Tom Rowell, an Events rep at DRA, had a lot to say in defence of the work he and other committee members have done. He reminded me that the workload required of committee members is actually quite intense and that they receive no pay. Additionally, he mentioned that the wardens don’t necessarily understand what students want. To bridge the gap between the Wardens and students, Hall committees play a vital role, being much more approachable, and giving useful experience to the students who take part.
Hall committees are certainly valuable, but they could certainly be reformed. Both of the committee members I spoke to stressed how much time and responsibility the position required. One suggestion would be initiating standards of entry or an application process in order to weed out potential reps who aren’t serious about the position or aren’t up to the task. Perhaps the hall wardens could interview or screen the applicants. Making potential committee members write an application and attend a short interview would probably stop many ‘layabouts’ from trying to get on hall committees in the first place. More controversially, the University might consider offering some small measure of payment to committee reps, as they do with student ambassadors. This would make the position far more enticing and encourage motivated and ambitious students to apply. These two reforms might hopefully result in a larger amount of high-quality applicants, and in more organised and effective hall committees.