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April 8, 2013 | by  | in News |
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“Partner-Ship” Hits Student Forum Iceberg

Student representation last in line for lifeboat

Student representation seats within the University continue to be left empty, as the omnishambles that is the well-meaning but ultimately disastrous Student Forum continues to go unresolved.

The University has been slow to act following the withdrawals of VUWSA, Pasifika Students’ Council and ngāi tauira from the Forum as announced at last month’s first informal meeting. These departures have effectively left the University-forced Forum’s representational legitimacy in tatters.

Concerns and confusion about the intention and purpose of the Forum have been raised repeatedly since its inception in 2011, both amongst the Forum’s members and to members of the University Council and management.  Despite this they have never been adequately addressed as members of both the Council and management have repeatedly shown different interpretations and intentions for the body’s standing and purpose within the University. Management, headed by Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh, are responsible for implementing how the governing Council wants the University to operate.

The University’s handling of the flummoxing Forum has been criticised by those involved in the body’s development, with 2011 VUWSA President Seamus Brady saying what has eventuated falls short of what was initially intended.

“From the beginning of this process Victoria seemingly struggled to understand student representation and now seem to be confused as to what the Student Forum’s purpose is—despite a commitment that it would be consultative, not representative,” Brady told Salient. “While the Student Forum has an identity crisis, students are losing out, their collective voice is being restricted and their say in decisions that affect them at every level is weakened. I am disappointed the concerns I raised in 2011 have gone unheeded. It’s time for the University to recognise real student voice again.”

When it was approved by the University Council following the passing of Voluntary Student Membership, documents prepared by management and changes to statutes showed intention for the Forum to be the representative body of students. However when pressed by councillors at a Council meeting, management’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Penny Boumelha said that was a “typo” and would be corrected.

University Council Student Representative at the time, Max Hardy, told Salient that he and other Council members were under the impression that documents, statutes and implementation of the Forum would change accordingly, with the Forum being treated as a consultative body not as the primary representative body of students. (The two concepts are easily hard to understand, and Salient will have a feature explaining them next week.)

Rosemary Barrington, Council member and former Chancellor at Victoria raised concerns about why a consultative body, that was supposedly not intended to be the primary representative body of students, was to be given the responsibility of appointing students to representative positions within the University. However the aforementioned concerns don’t appear to have been addressed, with statutes still defining the Student Forum as “the student representative body formally recognised by the University”. “An undemocratic consultative body like the Student Forum should have no place appointing student representatives to any positions at Victoria,” Brady said.

“Despite VSM kicking in and with the Student Forum trying to replicate its functions, VUWSA remains the biggest democratically mandated and accountable representative body of students on campus and should be recognised as such by the University.”

2013’s VUWSA Executive passed a motion it would leave the Forum at a meeting on 27 February, however they embargoed the decision preventing Salient from reporting on it.

“We’ve said the Student Forum isn’t the place for accountable, democratic student representation. The Forum members themselves have admitted that. The concerns we raised repeatedly in 2011 and 2012 haven’t been addressed, they’ve been confirmed,” current VUWSA President Rory McCourt told Salient. “That’s why we, along with Ngāi Tauira and the Pasifika Students’ Council, won’t be attending Forum meetings, and we urge all student groups to sit out until this mess is sorted out through the representation review this year, which we’ll be part of.”

As, for reasons unknown, not all the statutes outlining who appointed student representatives were changed from VUWSA- to Student Forum-appointed, VUWSA has continued to appoint a number of lower-level representative positions. “We’ve been happy to be work in constructive partnership with the University to make sure there is student representation on boards like the Hardship Committee, Academic Committee and the Learning and Teaching Committee. It’s vital that there are legitimate student voices at these tables, and we’re pleased the University
management is taking a common sense approach,” McCourt said.

See page 46 for information on the first official meeting of the Student Forum, which is intended to appoint a Chair to send to Council and student representatives for other boards and committees. However Salient suspects quorum won’t be met, as management is struggling to find students who want to be involved. “If any meetings do not attract the minimum number of attendees (quorum is 20 members), then we would propose that the occasion be used to explore informally any issues of concern raised by the representatives that are present,” said a University spokesperson.

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