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Salient recently discovered a VUWSA policy passed in 2000 allows limited voluntary membership in the students’ association, which has raised questions about groups on campus pushing for a change in compulsory membership.
The policy was built into the national Education Act of 1989 as the Education Amendment Act of 2000, following the realisation that compulsory membership in students’ associations was in violation of the principles of freedom of association, as guaranteed under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
Under the policy, students are able to apply for an exemption from VUWSA membership on the grounds of financial hardship or conscientious objection.
Applications are made to the VUWSA President, to whom the policy “[delegates] the authority to grant a full or partial exemption.” Decisions can also be overturned by the VUWSA executive following an appeal by the applicant.
The first basis for exemption is determined by seven criteria, including “extraordinarily high rents or other living expenses” and “exceptionally low income.”
Dependent on the number of criteria met, students can be granted partial exemptions, which allow students to pay only 25 to 75 percent of the $120 membership levy, or a full exemption.
However, partial exemptions are granted only on the basis of financial hardship and not in the cases of conscientious objection.
In the instance of an application made on the grounds of conscientious objection, the policy states that the application must “demonstrate a deeply held philosophical conviction.” This includes moral or religious grounds, but not “dissatisfaction with policies or services.”
“That is a very difficult distinction to make,” says current VUWSA President Geoff Hayward. “I try to action these on a case by case basis without the prejudice of my own opinions.”
Students granted exemptions on these grounds are still required to pay the levy, but the amount is donated to one of a list of charities determined by the VUWSA Executive. Approved charities include Rape Crisis, the VUWSA Food Bank and Wellington City Mission.
There is also a third basis for exemption, which applies to short-term post-graduate students. Such students who are enrolled for three months or less “for the purposes to completing a post-graduate thesis” are exempt from paying the levy.
Hayward placed the number of current non-members at around five, with approximately the same number of applications having been made to him this year. While Hayward was reluctant to disclose how many he had approved, he did admit to declining some that were made to him.
When asked why the policy had not been made more known to students, Hayward replied, “I honestly don’t [know].” He added, however, that it had “gone around the [Voluntary Student Membership] traps.”
“They do know about it.”
VSM in student associations is promoted on campus by Student Choice. Member Peter McCaffrey says: “Student Choice objects to the fact that all students, no matter their requirements, beliefs or personal preferences, are forced to participate [in VUWSA].”
According to McCaffrey, Student Choice is well aware of the policy for exemption. However, the policy was not utilised by the organisation because, according to the organisation’s argument, “the conscientious objection defence implicitly acknowledges that compulsory membership violates freedom of association, but maintains that this is acceptable because conscientious objection exists as a possible remedy.”
“The line of argument negates the notion of a right. It asks us to accept the violation of a right because a process exists whereby that right can be won through an appeal… rather than as something which is the natural entitlement of each citizen.”
Student Choice concludes that the option of exemption from VUWSA membership on the basis of conscientious exemption offers no solution to the “problem of compulsory membership.”
“The civil right of freedom of association should be the inherent entitlement of every citizen, not something that can be granted or denied at the whim of a committee.”
VUWSA Election candidate Jordan Williams applied mid-2006 for an exemption from membership to VUWSA on the grounds of both financial hardship and conscientious objection.
“The reason really was that I was hacked off that I was paying [the levy – then $99] for getting nothing in return.”
Williams selected Rape Crisis as the charity he would donate his levy to, but said that despite three emails to the VUWSA Treasurer, he was not sent a receipt for the amount. After following up the matter with a friend working at the charity, he was told that Rape Crisis never received the donation.
“I don’t have a problem with compulsory membership so long as VUWSA is politically neutral,” says Williams.
Williams recently rejoined VUWSA to run for University Council representative in the upcoming VUWSA General Elections. Candidates must be VUWSA members.
If not elected, Williams says his ongoing membership “can entirely depend on [the exec’s] performance”.
“I’m not hard-out voluntary student membership,” Williams says. “If they did their job properly, it is possible for VUWSA to provide good services without being too political.”
News In Briefs
With Laura McQuillan
STA Travel moved out of the Student Union Building on Friday, September 7, relocating to Willis Street.
Union Manager Rainsforth Dix says STA left due to a lack of business.
It is not yet known what will occupy the empty space.
Kiwi students can work/travel in US
New Zealand tertiary-education students are now able to work and travel in the United States for up to a year under a new arrangement signed in Auckland last Monday. Previously, students had been able to work and travel for only four months.
Prime Minister Helen Clark said that the extension to the US State Department’s tertiary-student summer-work travel programme will open up more opportunities for young New Zealanders considering working and traveling in the United States as part of their OE.
Since 2004, United States citizens aged between eighteen and thirty have been able to work and study in New Zealand. The New Zealand Government also increased the number of places available to US citizens under the working holiday scheme from 1000 to 5000 last year.
Vic gets $6m-ish in Marsden funding
Funding for Victoria research projects from the respected Marsden funding round has seen 18 projects awarded just under $6m. This is up by more than $1m on the $4.7m awarded by the same round last year.
Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Charles Daugherty attributes this to the high quality of research across a range of disciplines spanning sciences, the humanities and social sciences and commerce.
“This is one of the most competitive and rigorous rounds of Government funding awarded to projects of the highest caliber,” says Daugherty.
Projects awarded funding cover a range of research topics including alpine faults, colonial literature, sexuality in the media and anti-cancer enzymes.
Law School receives grant to find lost laws
A research team from the Law School has received a $95,000 grant from the Law Foundation to recover lost and hidden law cases which shaped New Zealand’s law and history.
Many of the cases are hiding in dusty corners in archives, newspapers and judges’ personal papers.
The project will cover 1841-1883 and will concentrate on rulings of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. Case law from the Native Land Court from 1863-1883 will also be hunted.