Cherwell - Oxford University's Independent Student Newspaper since 1920

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Alexander Rankine has published 12 articles

Handing down know-how is key to society longevity

University societies must invest in experience and expertise in order to survive and function.
Alexander Rankine on Saturday 16th February 2013
Photograph: geograph.org.uk

Student societies do not live by cash alone. Those membership subs are certainly necessary, but if there is no one who knows how to hoard it protectively in an embezzle-proof account, no one who can spend it on thoughtfully selected alcoholic beverages at well-planned events – well, there’s really no point. So how do we make sure a student society knows what it is doing? More crudely, how do we stop a bunch of incompetent wannabes from pissing all our membership money up the wall? (Unless that is a particularly inventive new society event.) What a society needs is expertise. A committee of smart young things whose blatant CV building or wilful essay procrastination can be harnessed into a greater cause (poster printing, term card pidging, sneaking booze into ‘dry’ events).

So how do we build expertise? The older years must pass the ruby-encrusted baton of knowledge to the freshers, telling them how to run a proper receipt system for expenses, how to book venues, how to spread the word about events – all the time ministering the gentle and discriminating pastoral care which we freshers have come to expect in all our dealings with the twinkly-eyed merry folk of years above. These guys have got literally months more experience in these things than us.

Those societies that fail to pass on all of that accumulated knowledge risk sliding away into societal Hades, where the shades of societies past murmur with forgotten conversations, and hum to the despondent sound of irretrievable laughter from reveries long gone. Here we find the 'Aspidistra Society' and the Keble 'Destruction Society', Ed Balls’ old drinking society.

If it doesn’t die, then the society risks a weird half-existence, still somehow clinging off the bottom of this mortal coil. Take the French Society, whose website is now a historical document. Did you know that in first week of Trinity 2011 they held a cocktail soirée? Those were the days, that heady belle époque of 2011. It still exists actually, but you would be hard-pressed to find out what is was doing now. The society has become an august label for a loose friendship group. Unlike the Oxford Careers in Politics Society, which fortunately is now no more.

Why raise these issues? Because when the oldies don’t pass on marketing expertise to the freshers, then things go wrong. For example, no one will know about your lavish upcoming play, performed in full period dress. Someone might print off £50 worth of posters with no contact details. You might be reduced to accosting strangers on Cornmarket with tickets and song. With a good play and absent marketing, you might end up blatantly plugging it in a Cherwell column. The Merchant of Venice, 6th week at Corpus. Regrettably, you heard it here first.

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