OnPoint by Keith Ng

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OnPoint: Set it on fire, then

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  • Paul Williams, in reply to Lew Stoddart,

    There are exceptions, sure; and this will be a great blow to those student unionists who work hard and honestly.

    The ones that are self-promoters you mean?

    But the bare fact is: a SA that can't gain a meaningful mandate under compulsory membership, or that can't defend their system from the first meaningful challenge, doesn't really deserve to exist.

    First meaningful challenge? Your history is selective. This has been going on since 1991 and many many people have fought very hard against it on each and every campus to varying degrees of success. I don't know what's happening at Vic today, but I know what happened in the 90s and many associations reformed their governance and services to (a) better meet student need and (b) to more effectively engage the student body and not just measured in terms of SRC attendance (the tendancy to conflate the health of an organisation with the level of voting is misleading).

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2233 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Given that the public owns these universities, why shouldn’t it be able to make these conditions?

    Because it is the state and the state can't legitimately do that. We live in a society where the government has promised not to do certain things: like torture people, or discriminate, or force religion on people, or diminish their free speech.

    Universities were historically religious institutions. You had to be Christian, or you couldn't study/work there. Could the public legitimately decide: VUW is going to be an Anglican institution, and if you want to go there, you have to agree to abide by Anglican orthodoxy?

    I say no it couldn't.

    Private organisation? Sure. Whatever. But this isn't. When it's the state it can't discriminate. When it's the state, it can't force religion on people as a pre-requisite for anything. When it's the state, it can't make it a condition of entry that you agree not to protest against government policy. Private organisations can do this (perhaps within limits: some forms of discrimination will be appropriately banned), but the state cannot.

    And the state especially cannot when it bans others from offering the same services in the market.

    You're argument "don't want to be a member of a students' association, then don't go that university" is pretty stark, when, for example, a lot of people may only be able to attend one university for any number of reasons (family, financial, etc.); the only New Zealand university where you can study veterinary science is Massey. So you have to be member of MUSA, who cares? Again, what if it was religion? If you want to be a vet, you have to convert to Catholicism.

    Yes, VSM is saying that an individual's rights exceed those of an institution, and of the people as a whole. Damn straight. The ban on unreasonable limitations on the freedom of expression undermines the ability of the government/people expressed via elections to say "you're on the dole, that means you can't protest against government policy." That's precisely the point of bill of rights and individual freedoms: some things are so sacrosanct that there is no legitimate democratic veto.

    The fact that these services are administered by the student association rather than the university itself is neither here nor there. If the university administered these services/contracted them out, does it actually make a difference?

    Yes, but it's got nothing to do with administration. And for me, anyway, it's not about money. It's about forced membership of an organisation that you might not want to be a member of.

    Would it matter if the government organised food parcels for the hungry? No.
    Would it matter if the government gave taxes to the salvation army to organise food parcels for the hungry? No. (well, not to me, anyway).
    Would it matter if getting a government-funded food parcel meant one had to be a member of the Salvation Army (even if you didn't have to pay it any money, or ever attend a service)? Yes.

    Would I care (from a rights perspective), if VUW gave 5% of its student fee income (essentially a per point levy) to a group fairly elected from within and by the student body to spend on services for students? No. It's just a different way of the university spending its money.
    But when someone is forced to be a member of a separate organisation, I care. From a human rights perspective, the distinction matters.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3009 posts Report Reply

  • Lew Stoddart, in reply to Paul Williams,

    Paul, I'm not aware of any other meaningful challenge to the CSM system itself, such as this one. There certainly hasn't been one in the previous decade, though 'first' was probably unrealistic.

    Anyway, it's over now. Hopefully the country can get back to caring about shit that matters, like whether Don Brash prefers Burger King or KFC.

    L

    Wellington, NZ • Since Aug 2010 • 105 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Williams, in reply to Lew Stoddart,

    Paul, I'm not aware of any other meaningful challenge to the CSM system itself, such as this one. There certainly hasn't been one in the previous decade, though 'first' was probably unrealistic.

    That's not correct. It's the fourth time its come before Parliament, which almost makes your first point right; Lhaws had a (unsuccessful) Members bill in 1994/5, Steel (a successful) one circa 1997/8, then it was amended by Labour and now this one.

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2233 posts Report Reply

  • Lew Stoddart, in reply to Paul Williams,

    Well, I stand corrected on that score. Although if you want to go back to the 90s, I have some stories I can tell you about VUWSA...

    L

    Wellington, NZ • Since Aug 2010 • 105 posts Report Reply

  • andrew gunn,

    What Graeme said

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2009 • 42 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Williams,

    Likewise... I know most of the scandals from the late 80s and 90s and was active in student politics... I know their failings, but I know their value and successes too.

    The ideological part of this debate, not the one here, has sometimes obscured the fact that on the ground, save for the aforementioned scandals, Students' Associations have a proud history of achieving tangible and enduring benefits for students.

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2233 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    Is this like when the NZUSA said the AUSA had to join them, and so all Auckland University students had to pay a fee to NZUSA? Because that was in 1985, and I swear I yelled about that at the time in the Quad to a goodly audience. (I was wearing my student cafe uniform, it was very impactful, I’m told). Is this shit still going on? No? It’s not like that?
    Do I need to get up there and show these kids how it’s done? Because I will, so help me! Ah, student protests/politics. Half the fun of being a student, in those days, it was. If only Graham Watson was still around……..oh, wait, I think he is.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3123 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Why not make all university fees optional:
    - why should students have to pay for the VCs house/car/foreign travel and other emoluments?
    - why do students who never use the library still have to pay for it?
    - a lot of money must go to opening the building for 9am lectures. If you never go to those, shouldn't you get a discount?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4467 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Why not make all university fees optional:

    Because here, at least, the fees are largely irrelevant. The fee does not affect the human rights argument.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3009 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    The universities will now require of students an increased student services levy and the university management will decide how and what services will be provided from that fee - and they will be of a narrower range and will cost students more. Any assets students' associations own that have been built up by their members over many decades will be privatised, so this is just another way to force asset sales. The VUSA recently made a big investment in the revamped field at Victoria. They will no longer be able to develop or invest in such assets. So the whole thing is just about privatisation, less democracy and fewer services. The middle class students will be fine. Those who will miss out will be those who need advocacy, social support or the services that made a university a vibrant place for student social life. These includes students from out of town, or poor ones. It's a triumph for the whole neo-lib ideology of individualism over the collective. (But it's only temporary as the pendulum is swinging away from neo-liberalism and towards a new collective and compassionate society as indicated by the @occupywallst movement which is mainly comprised of young people.)

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2099 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    The universities will now require of students an increased student services levy and the university management will decide how and what services will be provided from that fee

    1. Parliament just recently adopted an amendment to the Education Act to give the government some control of the substantial increases in student service type levies over recent years.

    2. It's really not about the money.

    Any assets students’ associations own that have been built up by their members over many decades will be privatised, so this is just another way to force asset sales.

    The assets of students' associations are already privatised. What seems more likely is that the assets like a privately owned student union building (if there are any?) will be nationalised, and overseen by the publicly owned institutions.

    So the whole thing is just about privatisation, less democracy and fewer services.

    Then fight to make it about more democracy. Student Government through private trusts, incorporated societies and companies (which most students' associations will be a mix of) are a very limited form of student government. If you want real student democracy, don't fight to reinstate compulsion in membership of VUWSA, fight for greater student body control of VUW itself.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3009 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    At the worse of times, I don’t even have the words to describe this shit. Actually, sure I do: They lick piss.

    Jesus fuck.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18991 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    18 years ago today I was radicalised when I and other students got caught in a police riot while protesting at Otago university. Terribly sad to have this bill pass on an anniversary.

    Students of the future may be free, but they'll be poorer for it.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6207 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Jesus fuck.

    It's all provided good ammunition for the pro-VSM crowd - along with a speedboat that AUSA purchased a couple of decades ago, and some van.

    However a bunch of our MPs can get drunk and fight, have us pay for their holidays, and umpteen other stupid things and we don't have a similar debate. Elect morons, you end up with morons representing you.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6207 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Given that the public owns these universities, why shouldn’t it be able to make these conditions?

    Well, Keith, perhaps you can explain to the group why "the public" was completely justified in passing legislation in 1915 to remove Professor George William von Zedlitz from his teaching post at Victoria?

    Universities were historically religious institutions. You had to be Christian, or you couldn’t study/work there. Could the public legitimately decide: VUW is going to be an Anglican institution, and if you want to go there, you have to agree to abide by Anglican orthodoxy?

    I say no it couldn’t.

    No, and while Keith is right that I don't have to attend Oral Roberts U. (and I don't think they want my racially impure Papist Sodomite ass anyway), I don't really have any choice about subsidising New Zealand's universities through my taxes. I'm pretty happy about subsidising universities where women are allowed to receive degrees and not required to attend segragated lectures and tutorials; and folks like Keith can't be denied entry on the basis of their race, religious beliefs or political/ethical views.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12040 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    There’s a lot of dereliction in the duties of students associations. I’ve been at the Tamaki campus of Auckland Uni the last couple of months (postgrad, health sciences). Apart from the very occasional Craccum that makes it out here, there’s absolutely nothing that would give anyone any idea that the students association AUSA or PGSA exists. I’ve been an officer of AUSA*, and involved deeply in VUWSA and other student campaigning over the years. But I have to concede Keith’s point – they’ve failed to demonstrate themselves to the average student. There are complaints that people just want degrees, and I think this is fair. I just want a high quality education, my plate is too full for further involvement. But this is the reality, and wishing otherwise is not going to change things. The next few years will a time for reinvention, before Labour gives them back something they can work with. Perhaps students can regain their role as the conscience and critics of society, instead of the NGOs and think tanks that now have that position. But they’ll need to do it themselves.

    *(Environmental Affairs, 2003, although I dropped it mid-year to move to Wellington and gave it to my co-officer, Joseph Randall, who was/is wonderful)

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2136 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    the assets like a privately owned student union building (if there are any?) will be nationalised, and overseen by the publicly owned institutions.

    AUSA actually owned a lot of the buildings on campus. However, being a voluntary union, the University of Auckland effectively controlled our finances. We came to an arrangement. It's an interesting position to be in - a bunch of undergrads suddenly in charge of millions of dollars of assets. We mostly took the advice of our lawyer and the union's general manager. I didn't follow it closely afterwards, so I couldn't tell you what the legal structure is now.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2136 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    At the worse of times, I don’t even have the words to describe this shit. Actually, sure I do: They lick piss.

    Jesus fuck.

    Public Address takes its responsibilities seriously. If you'd like to make a formal complaint to the Blogging Standards Authority... Fuckknuckles, cock and piss, balls.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2136 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Williams, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Jesus fuck

    But Russell, its entirely exceptional. The parade of scandals in student politics will always be more colourful given the age of the actors but I suspect the consequence compares favourably with scandal elsewhere, local and other government included. Also, it doesn't argue for their evisceration, just reform.

    18 years ago today I was radicalised when I and other students got caught in a police riot while protesting at Otago university. Terribly sad to have this bill pass on an anniversary.

    Is it really? Oh hell, although I wasn't there, I remember it was yesterday. It was a shocking over-reaction, entirely indefensible and unjustifiable. You were at the occupation a few years later too, when the Police and the administration clearly had learned lessons.

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2233 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to George Darroch,

    Perhaps students can regain their role as the conscience and critics of society, instead of the NGOs and think tanks that now have that position. But they’ll need to do it themselves.

    And I'm only being slightly snarky in saying this: How the hell did the civil rights movement, opposition to the Vietnam War, feminism and gay lib happen in the United States in the 60's and 70's without compulsory student unionism?

    Really, I'm a lot less invested in the whole VSM argument since I graduated -- and never really saw much evidence that Student Unions were the fount of all evil -- but my God I don't understand why compulsory student unionism is the only option. The hideously false analogy that got trotted out was "you don't get to opt out of paying taxes, do you?" Well, no - but I've yet to see anyone convincingly make the case that student unions are equivalent to nation states with any conviction.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12040 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Williams,

    Craig, that equivalence is false, you're right... certainly though, I believe, Students' Associations were closely involved, sometimes at the helm of, broad progressive reforms and I'm pretty happy about that.

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2233 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Siu,

    This post probably shows I'm a student.

    I know there is so little at stake for academia but I would like take time to point out some real world examples.

    Last week, the UoA Tramping Club realised it's either going to raise its member fees, run less long form South Island trips or stop maintaining its club hunt/shelter out West Auckland because of the lost funding from AUSA. We are now in the process of turning down trips from international student that have extra costs (i.e. snow-based footware, specialiased tents) because we have no longer have means to fund them. Imagine telling an American student who flew here for the outdoor experience that he/she can't go to Cook Strait because the club can't fund the extra costs.

    I started my debating/public speaking from the uni debating club. Now with the lost of AUSA funding, costs like airfares, motel and entry fees from long form debating tournments will now be cover by law firms and other external sources. 6 of the 12 executive member that I know of, whom all roughly start from the beginning like me, are not in law firms and analysis roles. The last time I had contact with the club, they were scaling down speaking roles and tournaments because they can't find people who will pay their own way. Because of that, those kids will never experience how to debate - whether in a law court for moot or knifing Kiwiblog online commentators.

    To me that's sad state of affairs.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 74 posts Report Reply

  • Lew Stoddart, in reply to Paul Williams,

    it doesn’t argue for their evisceration, just reform.

    I agree with this, but that's the problem: it wasn't reformed. The SAs themselves haven't historically taken sufficient action against their own, and the profligacy, nepotism, clownishness and offensive idiocy have continued as a result. A prior government could have stepped in and enforced some measure of discipline on SAs to (a) help mitigate the problems of impunity that inevitably stem from unmandated power and (b) take the sting out of lurid attacks on SAs such as AOC and its allies have used to gin up support for VSM.

    A government sympathetic to SAs could have reformed them, but none did. So a government hostile to them has all but abolished them. That's realpolitik.

    L

    Wellington, NZ • Since Aug 2010 • 105 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Siu,

    Sorry. Typing this on a small iDevice. "6 of the 12 executive member that I know of, whom all roughly start from the beginning like me, are not in law firms and analysis roles." should read "6 of the 12 executive member that I know of, whom all roughly start from the beginning like me, are working in law firms and analysis roles. "

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 74 posts Report Reply

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