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October 2, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Guest Editorial

Universities have always been the home of youth activism. Numerous valiant causes have found their roots in the dedication and resourcefulness of students. But one could be forgiven for not knowing precisely what the latest series of demonstrations held across Victoria University have been about.

These protests have been held by a group named ‘We are the University’. They oppose changes and cutbacks to a number of University departments, such as the School of Political Science and International Relations; reject voluntary student membership; and want to sack Pat Walsh. The main cause of grievance is a perceived lack of transparency and consultation between the University administration and the student body. This is fair.

The issue is, however, that the methods by which this group has expressed its views have been antagonistic. It has jeopardised the ability for any real progress to be made in reaching a workable solution between the University and students. Considering the emphasis ‘We are the University’ places on consultation, it is strange that they have ignored so many opportunities to engage with the University. They did not attend the special council meeting on tuition fees, nor did they address the Academic Board the day after their ‘occupy the University’ meeting in August. They have disrupted meetings rather than participated in them, preferring to write a vapid letter to Pat Walsh than make an evidence-based submission to the University. It is nonsense to complain that the consultation procedures are a “farce” when one hasn’t been bothered to engage with them. It almost seems the organisation is more interested in having protests than getting things done. That is disappointing.

Almost no attempt has been made to work alongside VUWSA and Salient, both of which are organisations better placed to ascertain the concerns of all students. VUWSA, for instance, has representatives in 94 per cent of classes. It was not until organisers Amanda Thomas and Sam Oldham responded separately to a published article last week that there was any attempt to begin a formal dialogue with students via Salient.

Nonetheless, ‘We are the University’ claims a mandate from the whole student body. This seems dubious considering their Wednesday meetings have consisted of around 30 people. Their Facebook page has around 200 ‘Likes’, and features threats of violent retribution directed at the Minister of Tertiary Education, Steven Joyce. It is heavy partisan undertones such as this, as well as counter-productive protests, that alienate a large portion of the student body who might otherwise agree with the group’s fundamental message. There are few better ways of antagonising the administration and undermining one’s cause than by storming the Hunter Building, sitting in the Vice-Chancellor’s office, and writing a list of ‘demands’. Perhaps ‘We are the University’ could better describe themselves as ‘We are the Medium-Sized Collective of Students Who Have a Reactionary Tendency Against Authority and a Predilection for Protest’. It doesn’t have the same ring to it, but at least it’s accurate.

The group’s repeated demands for the dismissal of Pat Walsh suggests that if the current Vice-Chancellor is removed from office, all of these problems will be solved. This is ignoring the wider pressures placed upon Pat Walsh and all tertiary providers throughout New Zealand. The budgets of tertiary institutions are increasingly limited by the current Government’s education policies—specifically, the Tertiary Education Commission’s capped funding scheme. The reality is that tertiary institutions have to strike an ever more difficult balance between fees and course offerings, and it is misdirected to blame this on one individual. Let’s be honest: there is no vast conspiracy in the administration to bring about the “death of tertiary education”. Compromise with regards to fee rises and restructuring is essential in the current tertiary funding environment. To achieve this, we need to begin a conversation with them, rather than shouting at them.

‘We are the University’ are right: without the students, the University is nothing. But if we do want the University to be more responsive to the desires of students, there are other more inclusive, more productive and more positive ways of doing so. We can do better.

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About the Author ()

Ollie served dutifully alongside Asher Emanuel as Co-editor of Salient throughout the tumult of 2012. He has contributed to Salient since 2011 and intends to do so for the rest of his waking life.

Comments (18)

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  1. Harry Evans says:

    I feel a storm a’coming.

  2. Zoe Reid says:

    But it’s so much easier to complain than to do anything..are you saying that we’ve all been wrong these years…are you saying we should (shock,horror) ACT on our supposed beliefs? Try to elicit change? That sounds hard, let’s just egg some buildings and whine a lot.

  3. ugh says:

    oh fuck, looks like another year of bullshit from salient then. do you guys actually have any understanding of what happened, the fact that this group emerged because students did engage in the ‘consultation’ process and were completely ignored?

    i could go on, but it’s not worth the energy. haters gonna hate.

  4. Zoe Reid says:

    Fact of the matter is, unfortunately, that to retain high (or any) moral ground you need to, as a group, at least pretend to continue to attempt to enter into consultation the ‘correct’/expected way.

    The only way you’re off the hook by refusing to enter into discussions in existant forums is to actually create a forum in which the University is comfortable to respond. This is much, much harder, and I get that during protests everyone would love for a spokesperson to come out and address concerns, but they simply won’t unless numbers are *that* high. Try to make change in a way that it will actually happen, and at least go to the forums etc where students have the right to respond/speak.

  5. Alpha says:

    I’m so glad I’m taking a four year degree. Next Year’s Salient looks promising.

  6. smackdown says:

    i like ur style but i cant stay anymore were moving house somewhere in da country where the internet is bad :(

    salient u are a god friend and ollie sounds like a nice name and so too asher.

    be kind to ur friends and never let a nub have da final word

    smacky d

  7. Alex says:

    I <3 you Ollie and Asher.

    @ugh. Go Ugh yourself.

  8. Gerald says:

    It should be noted that when a forum with Pat Walsh was held (Chew the Fat with Pat) virtually no students from We Are the University attended, despite the fact it would have been an ideal forum for dialog. Instead the group twisted the name of the aforementioned event for their lunchtime “sit-in”.

  9. Adam says:

    “haters gonna hate.”

    People have differing opinions to me on the efficacy of the methods my protest group employs in trying to make its message heard? People continue to have those differing opinions after it has been shown that those methods are ineffective, antagonistic and prone to alienating the rest of the student body?

    Pfft, haters.

    Also, why is Joel Cosgrove involved in WATU, I thought he was no longer at uni.

  10. Seb says:

    We are the rest of the university.

  11. thejackel says:

    Funny how no one from WATU is here to argue in their defence.
    They must be too busy engaging in a lenghty and in depth discussions with the university management on how to improve consultation, reduce fees and reform the university to meet the needs of students.

    Haw Haw Haw!

  12. James says:

    Are conditions not at a stage where antagonistic methods are necessary? I challenge you to show what change, other than cosmetic in nature, has been achieved recently through formal consultation. The administration have the upper hand and have little or no incentive to make changes that go against their economic interest or business plan. For the change that is needed, the student body would need to gain the upper hand (as they should always have). Or would you rather the fate of your educational institution be left to be run as profitable private enterprise, as it is now?

    VUWSA claim to represent the whole student body, but only around 1800 students voted (about 10% of students), and that was double the amount of the year before. VUWSA clearly has failed in proving itself noteworthy to the majority of the student population. Why work closely with an organisation which has proven its inefficacy in the past?

    Claiming a mandate from the whole student body is obviously false, but WATU are working in the best interests of all students, who would benefit from the accomplishment of their goals financially and in recieveing a higher quality education(for example: actually getting tutorials).

    Since when have Victoria University students been so conservative that relatively meek protests aleinate the majority.

    The wider economic pressures are intrinsically part of the issue, they are not be ignored. The university is being run as a business. This should not be so, it subjects our education to market pressures and profit incentives. I believe – and many agree (see: occupy wall st) – this to be a profoundly wrong approach.

    Of course there is no vast conspiracy; there are numbers, and they make them work. The banality of evil.

    I was disappointed to see such a mild-mannered and counter-productive editorial coming from the future editors of salient, when my faith in the magazine as a valuable forum had just been restored.

    Having said that, most students just don’t care, and unless they start to, the
    university will just go with the capitalist flow.

  13. Electrum Greenstone says:

    “antagonising the administration […] Against Authority […] Predilection for Protest”———- Wow, is that even supposed to be pejorative/prohibited?

    Of course, putting all the blame on any one individual like the V-C is overly-simplistic. The powers at work are greater and more complicated than that. But for the students’ media to instead focus their attack on what is admittedly a minority of students is much, much worse– for media has POWER, those students do not, and what they do have—a voice (literally, in this case)—will only get weaker with VSM and a conformist student media.

    At the end of the day, people have a right to “alienate” and to be “antagonistic”, whether one agrees with them or not.

  14. smackdown says:

    we are the university

    of pizza

  15. Amanda says:

    Many of the students involved in WATU have been involved in the normal consultation processes, particularly around PSIR changes, and they were extremely annoyed about the complete disregard of their voice. So we have tried the normal avenues and the point is that they, largely, aren’t working – especially VUWSAs reps in 94% of classes (issues include poor communication and training).

    I’m not sure how eating our lunch and having a convo in the Hunter building is antagonistic and I’m not sure at what point our student publication gave up on student activism. I also think it’s worth noting that WATU has only been meeting for a month and a half (contra to Elle Hunt’s whinge that we hadn’t contacted Salient “all year”), formed after the “occupy the university meeting” in August. Bridie Hood has come along to our last two meetings, so we’re trying to engage with VUWSA. So far so good, she seems like a pretty good stick.

    @ Gerald – most of the students at “Chew the Fat with Pat” had actually come along to a WATU meeting at some point, and we did engage in dialogue with Pat.

  16. Some Cats says:

    “This is ignoring the wider pressures placed upon Pat Walsh and all tertiary providers throughout New Zealand.”

    While this is a fair critique….this whole editorial heralds yet another year of dull, politically-naive student politics and media, continuing Ms Freemantle’s engage with the establishment/shit all over your mandate legacy.

    I think what people forget is when the accuse activists of behaving antagonistically is that that the relationship between the uni and its students is becoming increasingly antagonistic – riding roughshed over the consultation processes you hold up as a solution, and otherwise trying to make the most money out of students while providing them with the most cost effective/bare minimum of services in return.

    Oh and I see in the comments that there’s still some good old-fashioned Joel Cosgrove bashing. Hey Joel Hey <3!

  17. Pops says:

    And yet some of these idiots continue to unneccessarily alientate and antagonise Salient and VUWSA – the groups that can weild the influence they seek when used effectively. Honestly wonder whether these people stopped to critically think about what they were doing and why at all.

  18. Traci says:

    Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Many thanks, However I am having issues with your RSS.
    I don’t know the reason why I am unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting identical RSS issues? Anyone that knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanks!!

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