By Michael Simpson
The Spring Semester 2014 began with the nervus facialis, the cental nerve on the right side of my face, giving up the ghost. On one Tuesday night in February, I had a sharp earache. The next morning, I couldn’t close my mouth or right eye. It was crazy, and very frustrating for a chatterbox like me to be suddenly deprived of half my lips and jaw. I normally love talking to people at the English Seminar, and hearing what’s going on in peoples’ heads as they wander from library to class to coffee machine to laptop binge.
Fortunately, the Bell’s Palsy which had frozen up my facial muscles thawed out after a month or so. And the social side of Uni was more than compensated for 14 weeks later, at the legendary vodka-saturated Grill ‘n’ Chill. I don’t remember much about that party, apart from a chorus of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” drifting in and out of Balkan beats and the the occasional “za zdorovje”…
It’s been a curious semester for the whole Englisches Seminar. You wait around for a bus and three come along at once – three “Probevorlesung” series, the first for a new Nineteenth Century professor, the second a new Global Literatures position, and the third a replacement Lektor for Adrian Rainbow. Classes were cancelled or rearranged. Students were summoned to attend the Probelektionen, and turn up they did.
If you were one of the many BA and MA students to attend a Probelektion this semester, it’s well possible you ran into me or Fabian Schambron doing our Student Representative bit. It was a flurry of questionnaires and thank you’s, before scurrying off to some meeting or other, feeling like a very small fish in a big sea of Geniuses With Opinions.
Many students turned up to those sittings who had no “quantifiable” reason to be there. There were no credit points offered, and the time would not be reimbursed. Worse, some of the lesson times were horrendous. In spite of all that:
- there were loads of careful notes and advice written to me on the questionnaires, to help decide who we wanted.
- tons of students hung around doing basically nothing after the epic Global Literatures lectures, and helped grill the candidates afterwards. (Students invariably asked the most interesting and unexpected questions, by the way…)
- others were very willing to hang around and just have a chat. This was essential to me, because trying to socialize or debate with all those Geniuses With Opinions can be a nerve-wracking and lonely activity…
- certain students to whom I am extremely grateful came to two, three, four or more Probevorlesungen, and shared their opinion in depth as to their favourite.
- a makeshift class of ten BAs volunteered to come at eight o’clock in the morning, on a Friday, in the absolute middle of the exam season, to be taught by a candidate for Adrian Rainbow’s job. The subject matter? Writing summaries…
The students have exactly one vote in the Professorship commissions, in a group of eight or nine. For the Lektor candidacy, we don’t even have a vote, just a sort of consultation position. But having our writing and our opinions present in that room makes our voice unified and louder. It means that when it came to giving three names to the Committee, I felt absolutely justified and sure of what the students want. There was no doubt or drifting around, just key phrases taken directly from the students. The Student Rep’s job is to shape them into a heavy anchor and cast out against the waves of internal politics, external regulations, side-shows and cat-fights.
The FAVA has been busy casting anchors as well. We’ve become an official Verein and enlisted an ever-growing number of “Aktive Mitglieder”, who for a yearly fee of 10 Swiss Francs get to vote on important issues such as who makes up the Vorstand. One highly desirable side-effect is that we’ve had closer contact with individual students outside the Vorstand, who have been willing to lend a hand, from helping out clear stuff away at the Grill ‘n’ Chill to making delicious treats for the Cake Days.
We’re working much more closely with lovely folks at the Blueprint Masquerades theatre group and the Zest online newspaper. There are new ideas in new pipelines, from a new logo (forthcoming..?) to the whiteboard in the Kafistübli, more photos at events, a better website, hosting the Nachtseminar, and more presence via Facebook and the mailing list newsletters.
And we want to break out of our bubble and get to know the other Fachvereine. When the Slavisten contacted us to co-organise the Grill ‘N’ Chill, we leapt at the chance. The VSUZH, i.e. the Uni Student’s Union, are promoting communication between the Vereine and they sent one of their people to have a chat and get to know us.
These are all good signs. But we can only do so much. Our budget is pretty pitiful, our individual timetables packed out. There’s still a huge distance between the students and the administrators and professors at the top of the pyramid. To get our voices heard up there, we’ll need to continue thawing out our collective nervus facialis and keep talking to each other, helping each other out.
Michael Simpson @ FAVA
Student Representative/Co-President as of next semester
Shameless plug section:
To help out the students via the FAVA, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and do any or all of the following:
- Just drop us an email with any suggestions or if you could help us out with anything
- Join our mailing list
- Say you’ll pay CHF 10.- to become an Aktive Mitglieder for a year (= have your say in the GV, help us finance our events, get reductions at certain events)
- Just donate anything… it all goes back to events, facilities etc.!