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May 30, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Activities Officer

This is my final column. A shame, really, because it’s only my second (and I know how much you all love to ready my sultry words).

Like all the exec columns before mine, this will be about VUWSA. Unlike the others, though, it won’t be a bland recitation of events that we hold or services we provide (or, in the case of Daniel Wilson, a treatise on free market economics and the failings of the welfare state). Rather, I thought I would devote my space today to a critical reflection on the role of VUWSA, and the efficacy of that which occurs within it.

When I ran for VUWSA toward the end of last year, it wasn’t because I had a great desire to assist students (I still don’t), nor because I was a member of the Workers Party (I’m not, and never have been), nor because I wanted to pad out my CV (this won’t even go on my CV). It was because I was pissed off that, each year, in exchange for services that I never took advantage of (because I didn’t want them), I had to give a grossly inefficient association $150 of my hard-earned money. The organisation purported to represent my views but campaigned on issues with a stance opposite to my own. It claimed it was acting in the best interests of student but spent money on stupid shit like a “souped-up van” that no students would even actually be able to use. Put fairly simply, it was a bit of a joke which, while having laudable goals, was really only of benefit to those ‘working’ within it.

Having now spent six months inside, I can reflect and honestly say my position has not changed.
It is clear to anyone who reads our fortnightly work reports that the vast majority of executive members have little to do, and certainly not enough to make up their requisite hours for the period. Additionally, there is a total lack of scrutiny or accountability. My own reports are clear evidence of this (as are many others—but for fear of being beaten to death by Asher or Daniel, I shan’t indicate who else is in such a boat). Complaints about the lack of work are met with a rather telling response: Bridie has maintained “your role is what you make it”, but this simply misses the point. For the organisation to function with even a vestige of efficiency, there need to be clear targets and clear goals against which the work done can be assessed.

The only assessment at the moment is exec voting to approve the reports (which is done en-masse), and every member has the same incentive to approve yours as you do to approve theirs: there is a mutual understanding that nothing actually gets done, but to break the code of silence would be to risk your pay packet for uncertain (or even unachievable) gain.

In the long term, I think the initial problem (of a lack of work) can be resolved through a reduction in the number of positions on the executive (and ultimately there will need to be some cutting down to survive the transition to VSM anyway). At the risk of offending a number of groups, I ask the following: Do women really need their own rights officer? Do queer students? Does the activities portfolio even need to exist? And why the fuck is Vice-President (Admin) still Vice-President (Admin), despite recognition within and outside the exec that it was made into a vice-presidential position so that the person who held the role (at that time, not now—in defence of Daniel) could be paid more, not because it was a responsibility worthy of the elevated position.

Finally, and I must apologise for this as it is something that I campaigned on but have failed to implement, there needs to be a better recognition of what students actually want from the association. All too often VUWSA gets caught up in internal bureaucracy; an event idea that has merit will be turned down by the association manager because “it’s not what the data shows students want” (apparently you guys want more music, but I’m sure there’s more than that, right?), or the necessary layers of sign-off (which admittedly protect against fraud) will prove too onerous to push though.

The interim solution to all of these problems is quite clear: as members of the association (albeit by force) you are entitled to attend the exec meetings. So long as you aren’t an annoying git, you’ll more than likely be granted speaking rights. Use this opportunity to ask questions of exec, to have them explain what they are doing with your money: if the other members won’t hold them accountable, then you should. *

Campbell Herbert

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Comments (3)

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  1. BFG says:

    Sounds like someone making excuses for not doing anything. Or maybe just bitter because his ideas were crap and didn’t get picked up. I don’t know but I have heard this kind of talk in other organisations.

    I think Campbell misunderstands the role of an Executive. He focuses his criticism on the work the Executive does. I don’t think a governance body is generally responsible for carrying out the bulk of the work of an organisation, I don’t think VUWSA is any different. Other than Executive issues (making up what 5% of the budget?), Campbell says nothing to back up his ineffciency point.

    Is his point that they are not fufulling their governance function well? In which case he makes it terribly and he would need to take responsibility.

    I have been really impressed with how VUWSA has radically improved since I have been at Vic (4 years). Part of that I am sure is making sure that harebrained ideas that come from Executive members who can’t follow through themselves don’t happen (yay for appropraite beacuracracy!).

    Having said that, I am sure there are efficiencies to be found and some of this might come from having less Executive positions (although this would be a very small saving I suspect).

  2. Anon says:

    Campbell, you raise a number of interesting questions (all be it only interesting to the 0.0001% of students who actually really care) – but I agree with everything BFG said, so I won’t reiterate those arguments.

    Bridie is right: your role is what you make of it. If (as you say) the vast majority of the exec have little to do – then that is the fault of the individual exec member. Money is set aside and they have plenty of opportunity to do work that is in accordance with the goals of the association (constitutional ones).

    Perhaps the problem more lies in certain exec members having a lack of direction and dare I say purpose. This is especially applicable to you as you said you have no desire to assist students, the very purpose of your position. For other members, if they are struggling to fill in their quota and make the most out of the potential each position provisions for, then I would hope the exec would hold each other accountable – and not simply pass work reports so that their own can be passed as you claim is the case.

    I would especially hope that the senior exec members (who have been a huge part of the successful improvements VUWSA has been making) would show some leadership and steer the newbies in the right direction – upholding the high standard they set for what students should expect from their VUWSA exec members.

    To say the solution to the problem of lack of work being done is to reduce the size of the exec, is simply just reducing the amount of work that can be potentially be achieved and not really addressing the crux of the problem.

    I would hope that gender, queer and environmental issues etc would receive consideration in VUWSA policies regardless of the effectiveness of said officers. Perhaps they should be mainstreamed into the constitution. But it is important to acknowledge that those officers, along with the others, are also there to work WITH the student body (as well as advocating for such issues). And perhaps that is more where the problem is, rather than simply having eg a womens rights officer.

    The answers lie not so much within the how the exec is structured, but with the relationship between the exec and the student body. For them to be more effective they need to engage more with students – if they aren’t fulfilling the hours then they aren’t engaged enough.

  3. My Name says:

    “all be it”

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