Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: The Inexorable Advance

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  • Craig Ranapia,

    Students' Associations aren't churches. One can separate churches' spiritual role from their charitable one and get kinda close to a comparison with students' associations' advocacy and welfare roles; but, unfortunately, not close enough to make this argument really easy.

    Probably a better analogy is the youth wings of political parties that operate on campus -- and actually provide useful (and well-run) advocacy and lobbying to their respective organisations. While compulsory membership would have made things a lot easier when I was secretary of the Victoria Young Nats (and we were a mean, lean surplus-running machine regardless), it's still utterly repugnant that anyone should be forced to join a political party simply because they're a tertiary student.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Bennett,

    Interesting topic - clearly it's a far more difficult question than whether people should be able to opt out of paying their proportionate share of taxes sufficient to finance a proper public health, education, social welfare, etc system (the kind of position that ACT usually supports).

    It's not really relevant to your main arguments, but not so sure about this:

    But that we are fighting over things like this isn't a sad indictment of human rights activism; in New Zealand, it's what's left. The battle for legal equality has been fought and won in this country. Most of the things left to fight over are relatively small, and pretty insignificant. This is just a small next step in the inexorable advance of human liberty.

    Is it only a small or insignificant matter of human liberty that children are born into situations (ie their immediate family's socio-cultural-economic positions and the advantages and disadvantages these cause) that greatly affect their future capabilities and 'freedom'? The recent (70s onwards) shifts of governments away from ensuring true equality of opportunity mark a path towards less liberty and freedom, and reversing their most problematic aspects is of immense importance.

    And that's only the left-liberal critique; try G A Cohen's marxist analysis, eg Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality .

    Of course, this is arguably a different understanding of 'freedom' and 'liberty'. Arguing whose understanding is better is probably best left to another time and place ;)

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    One concern with voluntary membership is that, invariably, students don't want to pay. This leaves the union reliant on funding from the institution, the very body over which it is meant to be watching for the benefit of the students. Selling democracy as something that must cost is a good way to get people to switch off, especially when student union fees are a couple of hundred dollars a year and student loans are already quite extortionate enough as it is.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    The best analogy I could come up with is in there - a local residents' association. I just couldn't really work that into something so egregious that people would convert to the side of goodness and freedom.

    I don't think the church one is too bad - particularly with a really active one like the Sallies, or the Presbyterians. For most people, it's the charity, and the role they play in communities that is the biggest part of their interaction - but there's another side (with which they may agree or disagree) that makes any sort of compulsion repugnant.

    And even if you were strip students' associations to a core welfare-oriented service, I'd fall back on the argument that a poll tax of the welfare recipients probably isn't best way to cover it.

    But my simple point is that it doesn't matter who they are or what they do, membership of anything remotely resembling a private organisation should be a matter of choice.

    I suspect that came across ... although I do note that "the inexorable advance of human freedom" appears to be one of the foundational principles of the Bush Doctrine =)

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    student loans are already quite extortionate enough as it is...

    Student loans are interest-free, un-secured, and paid back only with increasing income. I'm at somewhat of a loss to see how they could be any less extortionate.

    Selling democracy as something that must cost is a good way to get people to switch off...

    Yes. It's a problem. It's likely why nothing has been done to fix this in the past. I just don't think it's nearly enough.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    Graeme, I was under the impression that membership is voluntary, unless the student body determines otherwise? It certainly is at U.Auckland, and I remember the great glee of the former Unitec Student Union events coordinator when they became the first tertiary institution in the country to vote for a return to compulsory membership back in '07.

    As for student loans, they could be less extortionate by not existing at all. I find it utterly obscene that education is treated as a private good, not a public benefit.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler,

    As for student loans, they could be less extortionate by not existing at all

    Surely your issue is not with student loans, but student fees? I for was quite grateful for the former, considering the magnitude of the latter.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Surely your issue is not with student loans, but student fees? I for was quite grateful for the former, considering the magnitude of the latter.

    Rewrite the past 19 years of tertiary education funding and fees, but take out the introduction of student loans.

    Bet you'll find fees are a lot lower for various reasons.

    Availability of easy credit makes it easier for everyone to increase prices.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    James, yes, true. Though the two go hand-in-hand. Remove loans and fees would become unaffordable to so many (no profit-making financial institution is going to loan you money for education at a reasonable interest rate) that the entire issue would have to be revisited. Remove fees and loans would become unnecessary.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Graeme, I was under the impression that membership is voluntary, unless the student body determines otherwise?

    Oh, a referendum... do we really want to start extolling the virtues of those at this precise moment in time? :)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I don't think the church one is too bad

    Come on Graeme, the church one is awful. There's valid points to be made philosophically about whether students association should be compulsory, but "they're like a church" isn't one of them. They're nothing like a church in underpinnings, purpose, means of control etc.

    Student association membership isn't the only thing you become a member of when you enrol in a university. You also become a member of the university - for free - for life. Why no philosophical 'freedom and liberty' argument defending the right of every graduate not to be a member of their alma mater?

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Graeme, I was under the impression that membership is voluntary, unless the student body determines otherwise? It certainly is at U.Auckland, and I remember the great glee of the former Unitec Student Union events coordinator when they became the first tertiary institution in the country to vote for a return to compulsory membership back in '07.

    It's more the other way 'round, but yes.

    Students' Associations were all compulsory. In 1999 every tertiary institution was required to hold a referendum to decide between compulsory and voluntary membership. Since then, a petition signed by 10% of the student population requires an institution to hold another referendum (this can't happen more often than every second year).

    Fortunately, I have platitudes for every situation, and can just copy this one from my post ... There is no democratic veto over fundamental human rights.

    I'm quite a fan of that one =)

    Drivers don't all get to band together to vote on whether membership of the AA should be compulsory, and nor should students.

    As for student loans, they could be less extortionate by not existing at all. I find it utterly obscene that education is treated as a private good, not a public benefit.

    I'd have said it was treated as both a private good and a public benefit - direct government funding of tertiary education is around twice that which is sought through fees. Are you arguing that there is no private benefit from a tertiary education?

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Are you arguing that there is no private benefit from a tertiary education?

    I hope you argue for the complete privatisation of the compulsory education sector on this basis Graeme. You did, I presume, get some private benefit from your primary and secondary education.

    That argument is bunk. "There's a private benefit so you should pay something" is only ever used for tertiary education, not for any other sort of education, healthcare, welfare etc etc.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Student association membership isn't the only thing you become a member of when you enrol in a university. You also become a member of the university - for free - for life. Why no philosophical 'freedom and liberty' argument defending the right of every graduate not to be a member of their alma mater?

    You're going to have to tease out that analogy for me, because as I understand it my membership in VUWSA (and the Association of University Stuff which I joined while working at the library, for that matter) has well and truly lapsed.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Why no philosophical 'freedom and liberty' argument defending the right of every graduate not to be a member of their alma mater?

    Because there isn't a bill on the order paper to debate the matter?

    Membership of a university is less problematic, I think, because a particularly active choice has been made to become one, but I would have no problem with a law change to make (continued) membership optional.

    Perhaps one 'next step' at a time?

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Stuff

    Staff.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    One subtle difference between a State funded Church and a student funded Association is you can chose which university you go to. A university is a place of learning and living under differing political structures by participating in them is a learning experience.The decision of which institution you choose to study at is not just based on the course work but also the social environment. We should retain the freedom to attend a university that has compulsory association membership. Even if you choose not to participate you can experience the joy of having to pay for things you don't want. A bit like real life if you like.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    I hope you argue for the complete privatisation of the compulsory education sector on this basis Graeme. You did, I presume, get some private benefit from your primary and secondary education.

    Yes. But why would I have to argue for complete privatisation because of it?

    That argument is bunk. "There's a private benefit so you should pay something" is only ever used for tertiary education, not for any other sort of education, healthcare, welfare etc etc.

    It's used for a bunch of other things. Adult Community Education, and pre-school education for example. And roads.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Drivers don't all get to band together to vote on whether membership of the AA should be compulsory, and nor should students.

    But there are bodies that are non-Government yet regulate and have significant compulsory elements. Fish and Game New Zealand is such an organisation. New Zealand Historic Places Trust is another, and there are plenty more examples.

    Such organisations are recognised as providing the kind of governance that is needed in that area, filling a lacuna that other forms of Government have left open. Replacing semi-official students organisations with state mandated compulsory students representative/governance structures is one option, but it isn't what the VSM crowd are proposing.

    In practice, opt in representation and governance means much weaker ability to perform core functions. Which is what this all comes down to - VSM folks don't believe that students should be represented by a representative body, but instead by private associations.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Craig: link.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    As a lifelong outsider, I tend to look at this issue as a taxpayer thing.

    I'm chucking in heaps of money for these people's education, and I don't mind obliging them to be part of their student union because:

    - It will demonstrably improve student welfare -- helping ensure that I get good outcomes for the money I'm tossing in.

    - It will allow and encourage the student body to provide services and facilities for itself, from phones on campus in case of emergency to Student Job Search and physical infrastructure. These both ease demand on pubic services and, in some cases, benefit the economy.

    - As someone who periodically has occasion to call on fresh media talent, I value the role played by student radio and the student press in cultivating that talent. This is demonstrably easier to maintain with the assistance of compulsory fees.

    You get the picture: as a non-participant, I figure I get a better deal for my contribution if students are required to get their collective shit together. Students' rights to have a hissy fit over compulsion occupy me less.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22753 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    We should retain the freedom to attend a university that has compulsory association membership. Even if you choose not to participate you can experience the joy of having to pay for things you don't want. A bit like real life if you like.

    And the freedom to choose to live in a country that practises [insert some human rights indignity here]?

    Why should someone who wants to be a vet (only available at Massey-Palmy) have no choice while others do? What if a majority of students (who can be bothered to vote) at each university opt for compulsion? What if the only reason you can study at a university is you're working nights to pay for it all? What if your kids like seeing their father?

    Should the parents of your local state primary school be permitted to decide whether there should be compulsory instruction in Christianity? You can just move house. Only one school in your town, or several that have all decided the same way? Move town and get a new job.

    Something is a fundamental right or it isn't. I'm happy to have a debate over whether freedom of association is one (I'll win that) or should be one (I'll try pretty hard to win that). I'd like to think we wouldn't force people to give up certain fundamental rights because, by virtue of circumstance, they don't have too much choice in where they study.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Whoops, pressed reply

    ...by private associations, and their service delivery should match only that which the private association is able to acquire and levy by themselves.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    A university is a place of learning and living under differing political structures by participating in them is a learning experience.The decision of which institution you choose to study at is not just based on the course work but also the social environment. We should retain the freedom to attend a university that has compulsory association membership. Even if you choose not to participate you can experience the joy of having to pay for things you don't want. A bit like real life if you like.

    And not so long ago, a certain P.B. Shelley was sent down from Oxford for “contumacious conduct” after he refused to recant the contents of a little pamphlet he wrote called The Necessity of Atheism. Perhaps he should have just knuckled under and accepted "the social environment" and "learning experience" where you had to be a good little Anglican (or at least dishonestly profess to be one) or else.

    Oxford also didn't allow women to be full members of the university, and take degrees, until 1920.

    How has Oxford survived without the "freedom" to keep the place a closed shop for Anglicans with penises?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    It will demonstrably improve student welfare -- helping ensure that I get good outcomes for the money I'm tossing in.

    That's a debate you can have with DPF and student choice - but I suspect you'll find there's some pretty strong disagreement with this point.

    It will allow and encourage the student body to provide services facilities for itself, from phones on campus in case of emergency to Student Job Search and physical infrastructure. These both ease demand on pubic services and, in some cases, benefit the economy.

    The phones on campus there were at Vic were provided by the University. SJS is almost exclusively government-funded.

    You get the picture: as a non-participant, I figure I get a better deal for my contribution if students are required to get their collective shit together. Students' rights to have a hissy fit over compulsion occupy me less.

    I like to think this wasn't a hissy fit. Then, given all the money my taxes pay toward roads, it would be pretty useful if drivers could get their collective act together and decide what they want. Let's ask the AA.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

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