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May 14, 2012 | by  | in News |
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Be Alarmed, Student

A Warning from within the ivory tower

This University’s response to the VSM legislation is a discredit to the institution. Be alert and alarmed.

The University “middle management” is set on a path of systematically undermining VUWSA, a democratic student-led organisation, while imposing their own bureaucratic tragedy of a “consultative body” onto an unsuspecting student population. Sadly, it’s not at all clear whether they are doing this on purpose.

Victoria has decided that because VUWSA is no longer a universal association, they are going to set-up their own “consultative” body—the “Student Forum”. Again we will be compelled to be represented but this time by an organisation we haven’t mandated and we have no right to opt-out of. University bureaucrats have decided the membership of this body (class representatives and faculty delegates largely) and its brazenly toothless accountabilities to the student body.

The irony of setting up an organisation that no one has consented to because VUWSA (an association that 70 per cent of students have joined) is supposedly not representative enough is lost somewhere. The proposal that students should decide upon their representative structure in a referendum was proposed by VUWSA in 2010 and has been ignored.

Universities around the world have students’ associations, governments or unions. They are democratically controlled organisations, organised and designed by students. They have proven themselves to be a powerful force in improving decision-making, academic success and the development of leadership. They reinforce the concept of the university—as a critic and conscience of society—a place for discussion and dissent. They are a part of the university identity and help define its experience for many students.

A university has lost its way when it tries to impose a system of representation onto the student body. This is the sign of a university that does not trust its students and is determined to control dissent. It is part of a wider picture. The management of Victoria has been hostile to dissent from staff for years and now they sense an opportunity to turn their control fixation against students.

Good universities should value student leadership and trust that students can organise themselves. They need not be concerned with controlling this process. When they do, their designs are likely to fundamentally flawed. The Student Forum does not represent a system that would be designed by students, for students. It is out of touch.

The underlying proposition of the VSM legislation, for better or worse, was that students’ associations should continue strongly but that their influence would be dependent on their ability to attract members and represent students well. That the “Student Forum” would be the result of that legislation is bitterly ironic. The Forum creates the fiction of universality and we are compelled to be represented by it; yet sadly it is likely to be entirely detached from the wider student body.

If we must have the Student Forum then so be it—it could have a role to play. However, the wider part of the story is the undermining of VUWSA. Most associations internationally cannot levy students directly—they rely on “block grants” (common in the UK) or contracts for services from a university. VUWSA requires funding from VUW in order to continue to provide the services that are properly provided by the student body (orientation, clubs, advocacy, certain support services etc.)

Victoria has expressed its commitment to VUWSA and student-led services, but the actions of middle-management do not match this rhetoric. Starting with the Orientation fiasco it seems the University is intent on hacking VUWSA up, piece by piece. Contracts for services will be available, but on an ad hoc basis and with no long-term assurances. There does not appear to be recognition that it is valuable to have students serving students as part of a community. Instead, there is danger that we will see students relinquishing control of these services to middle management. Again, sadly, this seems to be all about control.

There is hope. The issues discussed here are not an official policy of the University; they may not be entirely intentional. This has all happened quickly and there might be an opportunity to take a step back and revaluate. The university can still and should recognise the importance of having an independent democratic student-led representative organisation and student-led services. VUWSA is currently the body for that job and it should be nurtured as part of a vibrant and positive university identity.

The author of this article has chosen to remain anonymous. They are not a member of the VUWSA Execuctive.

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About the Author ()

Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

Comments (1)

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  1. Emily says:

    Glad that someone has finally said this!, but disappointed it has to be anonynmous. Why? This is really concerning and as students we are totally in the dark about it. Why is this only being said now? What is vuwsa going to say?

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