OnPoint by Keith Ng

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OnPoint: Set it on fire, then

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  • Paul Williams,

    They are, at the best of times, self-appointed advocates who occasionally do good work

    I'd rephrase somewhat.

    Most of the times they do useful work that possibly wouldn't have been done in a timely mannter by the institution itself. Sometimes they do invaluable work that the institution is determined to avoid. Often, they do provide a voice for people who're otherwise a little powerless (or not nearly well enough informed).

    They have also enriched campus life immeasurably over the years. Sure there might be a counterfactual argument that Orientation would have been run by unis themselves if Assocations hadn't done it but frankly I can't see it.

    That said, I can't muster the passion for this issue that I once could.

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2191 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    I agree with you, Paul. The VSM is just a bit of ideological zealotry from ACT (they can't influence the big stuff so they nibble at the edges like feral rats). On the other hand, the student unions need to construct a better defence, especially as it is extremely unlikely that universities will pick up services which support students.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2269 posts Report Reply

  • Joshua Drummond,

    Although I agree with, well, everything you just said, one service I can't see being easily replaced by institutions is that of student advocacy, which is sort of inherently adversarial - "Uni gone done a bad thing, we gonna help you out."

    I don't doubt that most services currently provided with various degrees of success by unions could be duplicated by Universities - but will they bother? It'll be interesting to see how student media holds up. I'd hate to see it go, as it's a pretty useful proving ground for the journalist-blogger-data analysts of the future.

    Since Nov 2006 • 109 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    ACToids, if you really don’t want to be a member of a compulsory students’ association, they have opt-out clauses.

    They really don't.

    Not only do you not get the money back (a big deal for some, but not a particularly big deal from a freedom of association perspective), but they frequently say "no, we're not letting you out, because your reason for reason isn't good enough."

    What you’re really arguing is that a university should not be able to set its own condition of entry (e.g. “You have to be a member of our students’ association”).

    Some of them may be arguing this, but given it isn't the situation, it's not particularly relevant. Membership of a students' association is not a matter of contract between the university and the students (if it was, the libertarians might be okay with it, although they'd probably want the state monopoly on universities to go too). A student cannot go up to VUW and say "hey VUW, I'd like to come to your university, and bring my fee income your way, but you have a requirement that I join VUWSA; I'm not okay with that and will stay away, with my fee income, if you don't change your mind, or at least give me an exemption." It's a mandate in the Education Act, it has nothing to do with the institution, or the individual student.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    one service I can't see being easily replaced by institutions is that of student advocacy,

    It won't be replaced by the institutions, but I predict we'll see pretty much the same people advocating on behalf of students after VSM as we do now.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 895 posts Report Reply

  • Joshua Drummond,

    I have some sympathy for the freedom of association argument. To extend the body corporate analogy, how would it be if a body corporate took your money and took this to mean the could make political statements on your behalf? That's not fair, and you shouldn't have to "opt out" of that sort of thing. I have no problem with being charged, say, a service levy if the services are provided, but to have an organisation claim me as a member and then use my unwitting membership as weight to back up politics I don't agree with is unconscionable.

    Since Nov 2006 • 109 posts Report Reply

  • Brendon Steen,

    An admirably rational assessment of the hysteria around this issue. My only point is that I'm starting to tire of the label "ideological" being used as a derogatory term. There is nothing wrong with supporting something for ideological (or, we could say, principled) reasons. The fiasco over the Video Surveillance legislation is a perfect example of where ideology is exactly what is needed.

    For myself, I'm an increasingly-left-leaning student at Auckland Uni and notwithstanding the good work that our student association does I can't with any integrity oppose the VSM Bill. I'm not naive enough to think that ACT's motives are entirely pure, but the principle they invoke is a sound one: compulsory membership is simply wrong. If that's ideology, then so be it.

    Auckland • Since Sep 2011 • 9 posts Report Reply

  • Keith Ng, in reply to Brendon Steen,

    I don't have a problem with consistent ideology either (I didn't use the word once!). But their ideological argument (freedom of association) is deeply flawed.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 530 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    It won’t be replaced by the institutions, but I predict we’ll see pretty much the same people advocating on behalf of students after VSM as we do now.

    There's advocating and advocating.

    We'll have the same people agitating on behalf of students collectively, but without someone picking up the tab, you're not going to have the same people advocating on behalf of students individually (e.g. the salaried VUWSA education co-coordinator, who assists students seeking help with academic grievances).

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Keith Ng,

    But their ideological argument (freedom of association) is deeply flawed.

    What is it that is inherent about being a student at a university that means there should be a law that allows other students at that university to force you to be a member of a students' association entirely distinct from the university?

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Keith Ng, in reply to Joshua Drummond,

    True. I think they need to stop doing that too. But that's the "association" part, not the "freedom" part.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 530 posts Report Reply

  • Keith Ng, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Yes yes, Graeme, I’m getting to you! Just give me a sec.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 530 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Keith Ng,

    Yes yes, Graeme, I’m getting to you! Just give me a sec.

    Which isn't to say I don't agree with most of your points. It's just that the inaccuracies detract from the argument for anyone aware of them.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Andy Milne, in reply to Joshua Drummond,

    to have an organisation claim me as a member and then use my unwitting membership as weight to back up politics I don't agree with is unconscionable.

    Well put. This is the main reason I won't join a union, despite some of the good work they do advocating for individual workers in our industry.

    Christchurch • Since Aug 2007 • 58 posts Report Reply

  • Keith Ng, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    They really don’t.

    They don't have to go to that university. It goes to the question of "choice". Right now, you can choose between a VSM university and a CSM university. But the VSM bill is saying that this individual's right to choose supercedes any right for that institution, or any collective at that institution, or the nation as a whole, to make CSM a condition of entry at that institution.

    Given that the public owns these universities, why shouldn't it be able to make these conditions? A libertarian should argue that a private university has the right to make membership of the Nazi Party a condition of entry. They would (like me) argue that that wouldn't be a freedom of association issue: If you don't want to be a Nazi, don't go to Nazi U.

    You can't say it's the government and not the universities' owners setting these conditions, given they are one and the same. The corollary is that it would be unjustifiable for the government to impose CSM on private institutions. But it would be exactly as unjustifiable to impose VSM on them.

    Which means that, from a standpoint of property rights and individual freedom, society shouldn't dictate anything about SM, and the only reason they should in this case is because they own those universities. Therefore, this argument is not about freedom of association, or even about the nature of individual rights vs collective rights. This is about how we want public universities to work.

    It's about effective service provision, not rights, not freedoms, not democracy.

    Phew. That's my case.

    What is it that is inherent about being a student at a university that means there should be a law that allows other students at that university to force you to be a member of a students’ association entirely distinct from the university?

    The most obvious would be the public good argument. There are some services which we, as owners of the university, would like to see provided. These services, by their very nature, are non-excludable public goods (advocacy, campus atmosphere, etc.). Because every student benefits from these services, it is equitable that everyone pays. Hence, compulsion.

    It's a straightforward Free-Rider Problem.

    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?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 530 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Keith Ng,

    Ah, clarity!
    I've been a member of the S-U 3 times - once as a law student at Canterbury, once as a correspondent student (also Canterbury) and once as a summer-school student (Otago.) Each time, I have been happy to pay the fee- and not just because I'm a leftie. I found the range of advocacy & health issues covered (legally-blind person here) plus the supported other services, wonderfully wellworth my dollars...

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Sue,

    oh 2007, part of the joel cosgrove years, good times, lighting money on fire would have been a idea

    Sometimes universities do step in where important stuff is needed. An example is something like the disability services at Victoria university, they are amazing.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 468 posts Report Reply

  • Lew Stoddart,

    Yes. The fighting is so bitter because the stakes are so low.

    For student unionists, it’s basically just patch-protection. Student unions are atrophied, dysfunctional organs run by and largely for self-promoters, and they understandably don’t want the tap of unearned, unmandated revenues turned off. ACT on Campus is the sort of conveyor belt into the mainline party that they’re so fond of saying SAs are for Labour.

    For the ACT and Labour parties themselves it’s the most idiotic sort of symbolic politics – the sort that only serves to illustrate how far divorced their priorities are from those of the electorates they claim to serve, and takes up meaningful amounts of time and resources that would be better dedicated to other causes. For ACT this is basically a given; they are in such a parlous state that they consider this to be a great and noble achievement in service of liberty, and I suppose in light of their other achievements it is worth noting. The parties tonight at which they all compare themselves and their works to Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, George Washington, Oliver Cromwell, Spartacus, Galileo, Socrates, Von Tempsky and Howard Roark will be quite something.

    The only thing more tragic than this epic triumphalism over such trivia is the single-minded, mastiff-like dimwitted determination with which it has been opposed, giving it credibility and currency it never deserved, and turning the whole affair into, if not a meaningful policy win, then at least something of a procedural coup for ACT. I expect more of the Labour mastiff than to permit itself to be mauled by the yappy spoodle that is ACT on Campus, though perhaps on recent form I shouldn’t.

    L

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

  • Paul Williams, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    It won't be replaced by the institutions, but I predict we'll see pretty much the same people advocating on behalf of students after VSM as we do now.

    It's been a long time since I worked in a university, I concede, but I'm at a loss to understand why you'd think the same people will be involved? The inevitable loss of income will be lead to a de-professionalisation rendering redundant the Education Officer Graeme mentioned upthread.

    Do you mean the elected representatives?

    When Waikato went voluntary in, I think, 1996, it shed most of its staff and many assets (something that I found particularly galling given they'd been build up over 30 years) and hugely reduced it services including advocacy.

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2191 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    With respect to student advocacy services, perhaps some sort of student ombudsman service would do just as well.

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1296 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Lew Stoddart,

    Goodness!
    Overstatement, much?

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Williams, in reply to Lew Stoddart,

    For student unionists, it's basically just patch-protection. Student unions are atrophied, dysfunctional organs run by and largely for self-promoters, and they understandably don't want the tap of unearned, unmandated revenues shut off.

    What a gross over generalisation Lew.

    ETA. Snap Islander.

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2191 posts Report Reply

  • Lew Stoddart, in reply to Islander,

    It's very hard to overstate how trivial the debate is in relation to the enormity [sic] of time, energy and political resource expended upon it by both sides.

    L

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

  • Paul Williams, in reply to Lew Stoddart,

    That's a different point, and one you could've made without dumping on everyone involved in the union. It's also the argument often made about any and every issue that I don't care about.

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2191 posts Report Reply

  • Lew Stoddart, in reply to Paul Williams,

    What a gross over generalisation Lew.

    No. If they weren't atrophied and dysfunctional, they'd be able to use their unmandated millions to -- picking one example -- persuade 50 people to turn up to a VUWSA meeting to vote down an ACT On Campus motion resolving that VUWSA submit in support of VSM.

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

    L

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

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