Editors’ Note: The timeliness of Bach’s article cannot be overstated. This semester’s inaugural dinner was the first with our new Master Dr. Kelvin Pang where he highlighted that structure must be continually addressed if Tembusu College is to remain the Home of Possibilities. Unironically, he also encouraged students to sign up for the College Students Committee (CSC) elections after mentioning of its extension. CSC campaigns began only yesterday, after its postponement due to insufficient sign-ups.
Bach argues that the CSC urgently needs an update, and that it can begin with dropping Tembusu Welcome Week from the CSC’s portfolio. Treehouse is proud to feature his article as the first under Tembusu’s new Master.
I will begin with two caveats to my argument. Firstly, I have never been in the College Students Committee (CSC). My viewpoints are only informed by observations and conversations with peers who were in the CSC. Secondly, I am not suggesting that the CSC does not have the capability to run Tembusu Welcome Week (TWW). On the contrary, past iterations of TWW were great successes, both in introducing incoming freshpeople to the college and creating a common platform of interaction for the diverse residents, highlighting the vision and leadership of the current CSC and those before.
My position is of concern and sympathy for the CSC. The point of this article is to say that, for the CSC’s sake, TWW should not be a mandatory item in the CSC portfolio. Traditionally headed by the CSC Vice President as the Project Director with other CSC members involved as subcommittee heads, TWW has always been a big-ticket project that requires much time, energy, and effort from every outgoing CSC. This has two detrimental effects: CSC members experiencing burnout during and after TWW and the resulting limitation of other meaningful visions and projects that the CSC can pursue as an elected student-run body. In the context of increasing competitiveness of Senior Selection due to a lowered senior intake (which I argue is a structural problem linked to the lack of vision in the University management), the CSC has been consistently underappreciated by the college management vis-a-vis other student groups—which has led to a lack of interest in CSC positions from students who are prudent with their college commitments. This demands a reinvention of the CSC. I argue that it can start with dropping TWW from the CSC’s portfolio.
However, I would first like to give the credit due to counterarguments. There are legitimate reasons why the CSC should hold on to TWW. Firstly, the CSC is right to understand that its first and foremost role is to run student life in Tembusu, and that TWW is an extension of student life, especially since it is where student life is first introduced to the incoming students. In that sense, the CSC is right to see TWW as its responsibility. Secondly, worries about delegating out TWW are founded: college events and projects outsourced to the student body have been poorly run—in particular, the Tembusu Orientation during the term of the 3rd CSC. As the CSC is an elected body, TWW gains accountability when it is run by the CSC, improving its oversight and quality control.
Having acknowledged the merits of having the CSC run TWW, here are my thoughts on the alternative. The CSC, as they themselves stated in the Year-in-Review sessions, have been at their maximum capacity. Beyond day to day operations, management of subcommittees and respective events (THG, ICG, Arts Week, e-IHG Welfair, SLI Showcase, etc.), and projects (Yearbook, tShop, Tuckshop, etc.), the CSC runs big-ticket events such as Open Day and TWW. This has led to burnout in many CSC members whom I talked to. While the pursuit of these events and projects are indeed important to their vision of a vibrant student life, it limits what else the CSC can do had they not been bogged down by such events. Instead, they could have pursued projects such as improving the relationship between the students and the administration, fostering a culture of student engagement and activism that has been disappearing from Tembusu, and provided a vision and identity of the college beyond the events organised.
Why do these matter? My conversations with CSC members have confirmed my belief that even with the big-ticket events in their portfolio, the CSC is greatly underappreciated by both the college and its students vis-a-vis other student-run activities and initiatives considering the effort required. In fact, when I understood the efforts of the CSC in representing the college students’ interests in matters such as RC representation in NUSSU or Senior Retention, I felt bad knowing that most residents only know of the CSC as the organizer of TWW. Such an imbalance between effort and recognition and the ambiguity of what the role of the CSC is beyond operations and event organization might have been further reasons for the decreasing interest in running for the CSC. Furthermore, I do think that the necessary skills in one’s role as a CSC member does not necessarily overlap with the skills required to organize events like TWW. The inclusion of TWW might deter those interested in and having visions for only the former. A reinvention of what it means to be the CSC and their roles is needed—a reduction of their job scope and a refocus on bold visions and ideas for the college. There is too little room for cultural change with such a heavy burden.
What is then a viable alternative? It is not something new. Many Faculties and Departments have clubs and societies with the role of FOP/FOC Project Director. It is an appointed position via application and interview with the Club/Society EXCO. The Project Director assesses and selects their FOP/FOC Committee members, many of whom do not come from the EXCO of the respective Club and Society. In Tembusu’s context, the CSC would retain a role in selecting the TWW Project Director, setting guidelines, controlling budget allocation, and vetting the program. What they should not be involved in are vision setting, planning, and the running of the program. This is not to say that CSC members cannot run for the different TWW roles if they are willing and capable. Moreover, the CSC should take charge of TWW if there are no qualified candidates. This just means that it should never be a mandatory requirement for CSC members to run TWW if their heart, vision, and skillset lies in other aspects of residential life. Granted, the risk that TWW might not have the similar accountability, oversight, and quality control as before is justified. While I definitely cannot give a guarantee for the prevention of the worst-case scenario, I do believe that the benefits outweigh the risks, especially since an outsourced TWW can prepare earlier, allowing for a better execution.
In fact, I believe that the 9th CSC has considered delegating projects and events to increase efficiency. There were even considerations for non-CSC members to fulfil the role of TWW Subcommittee heads. However, these did not happen due to their concerns of responsibility and accountability. I suspect that behind the hesitation in dropping TWW from their portfolio is their diagnosis of the lack of recognition of and interest in the CSC from both the college and the student body. This is highlighted by the creation of a new role of Communications Secretary aiming at improving the CSC’s public relations. Furthermore, the CSC seems to attribute the lack of interest from the student body to run for CSC positions to increasing competition from other student-run groups despite their current efforts. This is highlighted by their consideration to forward the election timeline to between late Semester 1 to early Semester 2. It appears that they wish to attract potential leaders before they commit themselves to other roles.
While I sympathize with their sentiments and welcome the new role of Communications Secretary which would be instrumental in reinventing the role of the CSC, I do not agree that it is solely a communication issue. The current CSC portfolio, even when properly communicated, is not inspiring. In particular, I argue that TWW overshadows the other legacies of the CSC as it is the platform where residents observe and interact with the CSC members the most, while not necessarily being the area the CSC contributes the most. Moreover, the workload of the CSC—associated with the sheer number of events it needs to organise—is notorious for being draining and non-negotiable, and this does not entice prospective candidates, especially those who want to evolve their roles.
Where do we go from here? It is not straightforward. I recognize the legitimate concern over the quality of TWW and that I could very well be wrong in my diagnosis of why the CSC remains underappreciated by both the college management and the student body, especially in the low desire to run for elections. However, I do believe that whoever considers (not) running for the CSC should have a more critical view on whether TWW should be shouldered by the CSC. In my view, delegating TWW is a good start to rethink the role of the CSC. It should extend beyond operations and event organization to the creation of a culture of student engagement—which the college direly needs.
Header and feature images courtesy of tStudios and Tembusu Welcome Week 2018.
About the author
Bach is a fourth-year undergraduate majoring in Political Science (do it). He is interested in political movements across the world and is probably secretly planning one at this very moment. If you are confused by his Instagram/Telegram name, it is actually inspired by one of his childhood idol revolutionaries, Che Guevara.