What is the USU?
The situation surrounding Tom Raue poses an interesting question for [USU] Board Directors: who do you represent? Funnily enough, the answer is not students, but the Union itself.
Union Board Directors, upon being elected face a dual mandate; they have to represent the students who elected them, whilst concurrently running the Union. And the USU has a fairly strict set of guidelines as to how it ought to be run, some of which Tom Raue occasionally run into.
This means that they have the difficult task of working within two oft-competing paradigms, which accounts for the glacial pace of change and inaction often seen in the union.
The reason Tom Raue deserves to lose his job is not that he’s damaged the USU, or will slow the flow of SSAF funding. It’s that he failed in his duties as a Board member.
A corporation, such as the Union, has to be watertight in its dealings with partners; that allows full and frank dealings with partners, which allows the best possible outcomes.
Because of this, the Union puts restrictions on what Board members can and cannot do. If a member ignores these restrictions, then he or she has failed as a Board member and should not get paid for the job they’ve failed to accomplish.
Unfortunately for Tom, he saw a gap between his responsibilities to the union and to his fellow students. He chose what he saw as the student interest over the Union. Even if you think his leaks do not benefit the student interest (full disclosure: I don’t) there is something admirable about willingly risking your job for your beliefs.
Sadly for Tom, those beliefs mean that he’s failed at the job that he ran for and is now paid for. The price of that failure is his sacking.
I ran for Union Board and I lost
I would like to thank Daniel Swain for his timely reminder of the relative insignificance of campus politicking. Despite being dismissed by this publication as a ‘paper candidate’, I too have experienced the very real consequences of sun-stroke and self-loathing. Like Mr. Swain, I belong to Camperdown’s goodly fellowship of student election losers – being one half of the Will & Grace Union Board campaign ‘brand’.
For the reasons so well-put by Mr Swain, campaigning is horrific in many ways. Apparently, it used to be more ‘hands-on’. During this year’s USU elections, one of my Ancient History lecturers lamented the lack of physical violence which so frequently erupted between right and left in the ‘80s. I for one can understand why candidates are not willing to risk life and limb over petting zoos and froyo bars.
Nonetheless I thought my lecturer might be interested to know that, whilst not violent, Union Board candidates are surprisingly litigious. Mr Swain was not the last to seek recourse to an Electoral Arbiter in a fit of righteous deference to the rulebook.
The legalistic back-and-forth which seemingly amounts to [dominate] so much of student electioneering is somewhat soul-destroying. The many dotpoints, ultimatums and frantic annotations, spread throughout a multitude of complaints and appeals, were not conducive to a sense of ‘friendly competition’ in my own experience.
As it turned out, attempts to disqualify Grace and I in this way were superfluous. Our campaign was directed at the ‘silent majority’. When the majority remained characteristically silent on polling day, our approach proved problematic.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn suggested in his 1972 Nobel lecture that violence is “invariably intertwined with the lie”. Despite the inherent truth in this statement, I suspect the physical violence of the 1980s recalled by my Ancient History lecturer would have been more honest than the pedantic, officious subterfuge which student politics has become so comfortable with.
Vice-President, Sydney University Liberal Club (SULC)
The importance of being political
A couple of weeks ago Adam Disney wrote an article (‘Student politics is just a circle jerk’) accusing student politics of being more or less a circle jerk. Adam’s article is great, and he rightly savages the super-happy-friendly-free drinks! attitude that perennially frustrates and demoralises us every semester, so none of this criticism is directed towards him, but it makes me wonder about the nature of how we discuss student politics, and how we have this endless debate of “it’s all bullshit” versus “no gaiz it’s super duper important”.
What we should first all understand is that politics always matters, because that’s all politics is: fighting over things that matter.
We can all agree that the partisanship is bullshit, and particularly of the various Labor groups who are most guilty of pseudo-populist nonsense pledges about library hours and such, as if having Fisher staying open later is what anybody actually cares about (although please can it open earlier on Sunday?). And the price of beer at Manning/Hermann’s only ever goes up.
But there are real issues at hand in student politics. I think that we shouldn’t ask “does it matter or not?” but “who does it matter for?” It can be about figuring out which hack gets a paid SRC or Board position, or it can be about actually trying to properly represent those at the University whose lives aren’t quite as easy as many of ours fortunately are.
It’s very easy for me to say student politics doesn’t matter. I’m a very well-off, straight, white male who lives in Abbott’s electorate.
I will never need the University’s legal services, I have two lawyers in my family. I won’t need rent assistance or emergency loans. I don’t need more equitable representation. I don’t need ramps instead of stairs, or childcare, or assistance with any learning disability.
While I am no great fan of the phrase “check your privilege”, it does bear saying that the dominant culture at Sydney University does need to be reminded of this sometimes.
You don’t get to be one of the country’s most prestigious institutions without a serious degree of inequality along the way, and just because these things might not matter to you or I does not mean they don’t matter.
So, yeah, when it’s Hack 1 versus Hack 2, I understand why shits aren’t given. But without seeking to make victims of disabled, Indigenous or poorer students (or would-be students), we should still give a shit on their behalf, and be angry that things aren’t better, that the situation is such a farce.
We all despaired over Tony Abbott versus Kevin Rudd, and were angry that federal politics is so terrible. Can’t we be similarly angry about a situation we can do a lot more about?
BPESS (Honours) IV
Battle between University staff and management was won, but the war for a better education continues
Over the last two years the University management has tried to attack staff working conditions and each time they have failed to do so, thanks to the strength of the staff and students fighting back.
Management entered the enterprise bargaining period with every intention to seriously cut back staff working conditions and weaken the unions. Their initial proposal wanted to remove anti-discrimination and academic freedom clauses, as well as cut sick leave and wages. This was in order to pave the way for more cuts like the 340 jobs management tried to axe in 2012, and to punish staff for the fact they fought, alongside students, against the cuts and beat them.
Management tried to demoralise and intimidate staff and students by sending the riot cops in to violently break up the pickets, but we stood strong.
Through seven days of strike action, we have forced management to back down. We have won back the conditions that management tried to take away and forced them to make concessions over pay. Moreover, this strike action has strengthened the NTEU’s membership, particularly amongst casual staff who have the most to lose.
There is every reason to believe that the 72 hour strike would have been successful. Management was on the back-foot and we could have pushed for a better pay deal, particularly for casual staff. Nevertheless we have beaten back some of the most severe attacks on working conditions proposed at this University.
As a result the further ballooning class sizes, more intense overworking of staff, declining quality of student services and chronic job insecurity have all been prevented. Management said it was impossible to make concessions at the start of the year, but the campaign exposed these lies for what they were – an attempt to put their own warped priorities ahead of our education.
Student support for the staff strikes has been vital to their success. Students stood arm in arm with staff on the picket lines, shut down scab classes and intervened on campus to argue that the fight for better working conditions for staff was also the fight for better learning conditions for students. Students should be proud of what they have helped to achieve in the face of a strident and intransigent management.
What we need to do now is continue the fight for a better education. The tertiary education sector is still facing devastating cuts from the federal government and it will be University management who pass these cuts on to staff and students. This victory over the new enterprise agreement is a curtain raiser for the fight we will need to beat back Abbott’s attacks.
Member of the NTEU