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March 18, 2013 | by  | in News |
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Stufor in Stupor

Pre-meeting meeting no meeting of the minds

The University-managed student representation model, the Student Forum, is in disarray, leaving the future of student representation at Victoria up in the air.

The University-managed student representation model, the Student Forum, is in disarray, leaving the future of student representation at Victoria up in the air. VUWSA, Ngai Tauira and Pasifika Students’ Council all indicated that they will be withdrawing from the Forum at a meeting held last Tuesday. 

The Forum, which is administered by University management, held the informal meeting to discuss the background of the Forum and the processes for its review later in 2013.

However despite the upcoming review, these groups will be departing and taking with them a membership base containing around 70 per cent of students. This may be an indication of a lack of confidence in the current student representation process, and its affect on accountability and transparency to students.

It is not yet known whether these departures will have financial implications for the groups’ members, as much of their funding comes from a contract with the University on the basis of their participation within the Student Forum.

Salient understands that VUWSA has been speaking with representational groups which were and weren’t included in the University’s original composition of the Forum in order to produce a new model for representation at Victoria, which they will take to University Council. Chaired by Chancellor Ian McKinnon, the Council governs the University, handing down directions to management to implement the University’s strategic goals.

University Council student representative David Alsop, who was at the meeting on Tuesday, said he would be taking his concerns about student representation and the Forum to the Chancellor. He said that in 2013 the disorganisation with the Forum has seen a reduced capacity for student representation within the Council’s committees.

The Chair of the Student Forum now occupies the seat on Council which, prior to the introduction of VSM legislation, was reserved for the VUWSA President. At the end of 2012, the then VUWSA President and Student Forum Chair Bridie Hood requested that she be co-opted onto the Council at the start of 2013 as the Forum would not be electing her successor until March. This was accepted by Council, however this perceived need for interim flexibility of student representation has not been reflected in other areas of University management.

On Thursday the VUWSA President, Rory McCourt and Vice-President (Academic) Sonya Clark, were informed by the Academic Board’s Chair Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Penny Boumelha, that they were not permitted to be members of the Board according to the current statute excluding them from the confidential part of the meeting, and removing their entitlement to vote. Last year, as appointed by the Student Forum, the then President and Vice-President (Academic) were members of the Board, as was practice pre-VSM. 

Despite the impasse at the meeting of the Academic Board, both McCourt and Clark’s names were listed on the member’s roll for the meeting, and they had been sent all relevant materials—including the confidential section. This year VUWSA has already attended meetings, such as that of the Academic Committee sits below Board, as it was their and some staff ’s understanding that the student positions held by VUWSA and others remained on those Boards until the Student Forum appointed otherwise.

Tuesday’s meeting of the Forum was presumed to be a formal one, due to timelines previously indicated, however on the day a University spokesperson told Salient it was a meeting prior to the first meeting as a number of places on the Forum had yet to be determined.

Those at the meeting partook in discussions of a similar nature to those of the three Student Forum meetings last year—which were budgeted to cost $100,000—with members questioning how they got there and whether or not the processes were democratic.

“Does getting an email from [the Student Forum administrator] count as being elected?” one student asked to a resounding awkward chuckle.

 

Following the introduction of Voluntary Student Membership, Victoria was the only university to interpret the le gislation to mean that it could no longer recognise VUWSA as the primar y representative body for students. 

As a result, University management recommended that representation at Victoria be restructured into a new model, whereby the Student Forum became the new primary representational body. 

The actual purpose of the Forum has been plagued with confusion, with members of University management alternating between labeling it a ‘consultative’ and ‘representative’ body. Perceived attempts to create a primar y representational body for the entire student voice were eventually halted when Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Penny Boulmeha told University Council that the Forum was not meant to be the representative body, and that had been a “typo”. Despite this, the body still had representational powers—formerly VUWSA’s—to appoint students to representative positions within the University. 

The change in legislation saw the Chair of the Student Forum assigned what was previously a seat on University Council guaranteed for the students’ association President. However the altered le gislation only specifies that whoever takes this seat must be part of an unspecified election, essentially meaning the University decided to consider the Student Forum Chair election, as opposed to the VUWSA election, in delegating the seat.

 

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