Welcome back. Thanks for sticking with us into week two, whether you were outraged at Salient’s temerity to sell advertising; suffered a chafed arsehole at the hands of our charmingly rugged paper (Massive is back in print—we’d recommend you try them instead); or, like that staff member from the School of Engineering, wondered “what [our] reasoning was for the use of ‘Boyz only’ and a picture of a cock on the Cotton Building”.
But enough pointless throat-clearing. As you read this, a new VUWSA General Manager and Secretary will just have started their jobs. This is actually a really big deal for students at Vic. The last couple of weeks have highlighted just how badly we need these positions, and it all has to do with old people being dicks to young people. No, I’m not talking about newly-minted second-years yelling “fucking fresher” at everyone they encounter, having waited patiently for the privilege all of last year—I’m talking about the University’s smoking ban and the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s decision to scrap the number 18 bus route.
A couple of years ago the University surveyed 2400 people and found the majority would quite like it if, perhaps, people didn’t smoke on campus, if it’s not too much bother, and they immediately rammed through a ham-fisted smoking ban. Since then, management have held up the “clear feedback” they received in the original survey to dismiss any and all (totally legitimate) concerns about how the ban has been implemented, as though it’s the fault of those surveyed if the Uni fucked up the details in a misguided attempt to be “progressive”.
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The smoking ban isn’t solely a case of old people being dicks to young people—on a purely generational basis you’d expect the smoking ban to affect University staff more than it affects students. (I don’t have any figures on hand to back this up, but that’s never stopped me in the past, and if there’s one thing I love doing it’s making sweeping generalisations about people based on their age—fucking freshers.) But the most visible problems with the ban—smoke blowing into Vic Books, declining profits and event management issues for the Hunter Lounge—are those affecting students, and those the University has most conspicuously ignored.
The recent decision to have all smokers escorted off-campus during O-Week events at an extra security cost, the majority of which fell on VUWSA, was symptomatic of the inflexibility and indifference to student needs that the University has displayed throughout.
Part of the problem is that the student body lacks the kind of institutional memory and long-term relationships that can make it a truly effective lobby. Students are one of society’s most transient groups, and this is a problem that also affects VUWSA.
Far too much falls on the VUWSA President, and far too much on the fact that this year’s President, Rick Zwaan, has been fronting many of the organisation’s campaigns for over two years now. No wonder he’s always tired. At times, the VUWSA Executive resembles a group of orphans, who’ve had the responsibility of running a household thrust upon them at far too tender an age.
Rick recently complained in relation to the smoking arrangements for O-Week events that the Vice-Chancellor was more interested in protecting his relationships with his subordinates than overturning what was clearly an absurd decision. Well, fair enough. Sometimes effective long-term relationships require compromise. If there’s nobody at VUWSA whom the University is all that worried about pissing off—Rick, along with most of his Executive, will be gone at the end of the year—it’s not a huge surprise when internal politics trump logic.
The loss of the number 18 bus is another example. The proposal to cut the 18 was first tabled last year; VUWSA objected; the GWRC completely ignored them because, y’know, fuck students; the proposal came back unchanged in the last GWRC transport plan; VUWSA objected again; GWRC didn’t hear them because they’re getting on a bit and their ears aren’t what they used to be; and the Council went ahead and passed the proposal because, y’know, fuck students.
Of course the GWRC didn’t listen to VUWSA; why would they? Most of the Council have held their seats for at least eight years—eight years ago, this year’s Exec were all at high school (or worse), and VSM was but a glint in Heather Roy’s (whose?) eye. Eight years hence, another group of earnest BAs will be at VUWSA, and they won’t even remember what the 18 was. There’s nothing easier than ignoring young people when the alternative might piss off someone older and more important; this year’s student president is, at best, a temporary thorn in the establishment’s side.
All of which is why we need these new positions—they couldn’t have come soon enough.