There’s a sabb for that

For nearly fifty years the Union has been run by sabbatical officers – students who get paid to not be students for a year, and instead look after a particular aspect of the Union’s activities. But the number and role of these sabbatical officers has changed many times.

Until 1982 Newcastle’s student representation was split between the Union, which dealt with entertainment and the building itself, and the Students’ Representative Council. By the 1960s both the Union and the SRC had a variety of executive officers, including presidents, deputy presidents, secretaries and treasurers. Following similar moves by other universities, Newcastle introduced sabbatical presidents in 1968 – one for the Union, one for the SRC. Part of the reasoning behind this was for the new full-time presidents to oversee a merger between the two institutions; the following year Dave Warley became the President of the both the Union and the SRC in anticipation of the merger. This freed up a sabbatical role, and so the secretarial roles of the SRC and Union were merged to create a new Sabbatical Secretary role.

The Union-SRC merger never quite got around to happening, but in 1972 a third sabbatical role was added, for the Deputy President of the SRC (there was a separate, non-sabbatical deputy president for the Union). In 1974, amid the chaos of a socialist takeover, a sabbatical Editor of the Courier was added, on a trial basis, with this trial later extended to a second year. By this point SCAN, the volunteering group, had grown powerful enough to warrant a full-time staff member to oversee it, and so in 1976, after a trial of both a sabbatical Editor and a sabbatical SCAN Coordinator, and much squabbling, the sabbatical position was given to SCAN, much to the dismay of the Courier.

In 1978 the SCAN Coordinator role was replaced by and Events and Publicity Officer. In 1982 the Union-SRC merger finally took place, and that year a fifth sabbatical office was added to the fray: the Sabbatical Treasurer. Two years later the Athletic Union President became the sixth sabbatical officer.

The Deputy President’s main area of responsibility was for student welfare, and in 1990 the job was retitled Vice-President Welfare, while the Treasurer role became Vice-President Finance, before reverting to Treasurer five years later. Meanwhile a string of corrupt and ineffective Ents Officers, who were often more interested in letting their friends in for free to their poorly-organised events, were replaced by a grown-up permanent member of staff. This freed up space for the return of sabbatical editors – something that had become a pressing concern in recent years after Hay’s resignation and Silk’s sacking. Editors became Communications Officers, also taking responsibility for the Union’s publicity.

In 1998 it was realised that neither the Secretary nor the Treasurer actually did much, while the common misconception that the President was more important than the other sabbs caused frustration within the Union. So in the biggest shake-up of sabb roles in Newcastle’s history, the President role was abolished and the Secretary and Treasurer roles were merged to create the catchily-titled Finance and Administration Officer. With the President gone, the Vice-President had to follow, and VP Welfare became simply the Welfare Officer. Even the AU President was dethroned, replaced with a mere AU Officer. Meanwhile the Communications Officer role was split in two: an Editor of the Courier and a separate Communications Officer, who represented (and communicated) student views… the President in all but name.

Since 1998 the roles of the six sabbatical officers haven’t drastically changed, but the names have.

In 2006 they realised that having a President wasn’t such a bad thing after all, and reinstated the title. More than that, AU Officer reverted to AU President, and three vice-presidential roles were introduced: welfare was now overseen by the VP Student Support, and since the Finance and Administration Officer oversaw the budgets and constitutions of societies, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to jazz the name up as VP Activities. Meanwhile the course rep system that the Education Officer had sat at the head of was a key part of student democracy and required a lot of training, so the role was renamed VP Democracy and Training. This was considered a bad move, and Education Officers returned after just one year.

In 2007 the VP titles were dropped, and in 2008 the Athletic Union changed its President for an Officer. Four years later the Student Support Officer saw yet another name change, this time to Welfare and Equality Officer. Despite several proposals over the past decade to retitle the Editor role to take into account their responsibilities for the radio and filming branches of student media, no other changes to the sabbatical titles have been agreed.

1968-69 President, Union President, SRC
1969-70 President, Union & SRC Secretary, Union & SRC
1972-73 Deputy President, SRC
1975-76 Courier Editor
1976-77 SCAN Coordinator
1978-79 Events & Publicity Officer
1982-83 President Deputy President Secretary Treasurer
1984-85 AU Officer
1988-89 Entertainments Officer AU President
1990-91 VP Welfare VP Finance
1992-93 Communications Officer
1995-96 Treasurer
1998-99 Editor of The Courier Communications Officer Welfare Officer Education Officer Finance & Administration Officer AU Officer
2006-07 President VP Student Support VP Democracy & Training VP Activities AU President
2007-08 Student Support Officer Education Officer Activities Officer
2008-09 AU Officer
2011-12 Welfare & Equality Officer

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