In defence of SULS
I write in response to last week’s article on SULS’ tax debt to clarify SULS’ position on some of the issues raised.
SULS receives annual sponsorship from corporate law firms as its main source of income. We receive around $160 000 each year, rather than the $350 000 claimed in the article. We don’t pretend that this isn’t a lot of money – as a student society, we are extremely fortunate to be in such a sound financial position. However, our relationship with corporate sponsors is mutually beneficial. Firms pay money to access students through careers events which SULS host. There is no pretense that the money that firms pay goes towards other SULS programs (including socials), but there is still a strong benefit for the firms as they recruit high numbers of Sydney Uni students. While the society cannot be categorised as ‘charitable’ by the ATO in light of this funding, all programs are planned and run by a tireless and unpaid Executive exclusively for the benefit of students.
This benefit extends to students forming and maintaining friendships through social events, such as Law Camp or Law Ball. It is important to clarify that a figure of $189 000 was not spent on socials in 2012, nor is the figure of $60 000 spent on law ball accurate or suggestive of financial recklessness or lavishness. Whilst in fact $110 000 was the gross expenditure on the 2013 ball, the net cost (event cost minus ticket sales) was around $9 000. With 700 attendees, this meant a cost to SULS of $13 per student, a cost considered reasonable by the Executive. When any campus society runs a ball or large social event, of course the gross expenditure will be high and this is countered by ticket sales. While expenditure on Law Ball in 2011 was higher than in recent years, it must be emphasised that SULS were not informed of the tax liability until the end of the 2011 Executive’s term. Naturally, a different course would have been taken had this been known.
As the article attested, the USU paid the bulk of the tax liability up front with an agreement that we would pay them back in instalments – and we are incredibly grateful for it. The discovery of the tax liability came as a complete surprise to the USU who audits SULS and to the SULS Executive. The USU paying this tax has allowed the burden of the liability to be spread over two or three years. Fortunately, the wide spectrum of SULS programs have not suffered because we have been more innovative with events, an attitude which reflects the fact that we are a student society.
The article’s closing statement that the USU funding will be spent on social justice programs or competitions (presumably rather than socials) must also be clarified. While the Socials portfolio receives more than any other portfolio on SULS, this does not mean that SULS considers socials more important than other programs. Rather, it reflects the reality that social events are costly. While a moot can be run by volunteer student convenors or our publications can be laid out by a student proficient in design programs, socials require that money be paid to an external group to administer the event. In 2013, as well as social events, SULS’ program has included over 15 corporate and non-corporate careers presentations, ten competitions, a women’s moot, numerous forums (covering issues such as Rape Culture, and Mental Health), weekly juvenile detention centre visits, two journals covering Social Justice and Women’s Issues respectively, a Road Trip to regional schools to discuss tertiary education, and a textbook exchange program.
Isabelle Youssef, Arts/Law III
2013 President, Sydney University Law Society
Your brain can do better
Dear reader, I’m angry at you. I’m angry at the anti-intellectualism of our culture, and how even as uni students we let ourselves buy into it. Aren’t we smart, educated people? Shouldn’t we be jumping off the shelves to read books of philosophy, to play the piano, to learn a new language? And yet look at where our priorities lie. We’re squeamish about a $30-$40 newspaper/magazine subscription, yet we’re entirely satisfied with spending $50 – if not much, much more – on a single night out on booze. This is the TimeOut culture, where we’re only in it for a good time, for some mad beats, to effect the look of cool and fun and artsy and something ‘real’ and ‘authentic’. Where we relive our fantasies of Cabaret until we remember what happened when the Weimar Republic and all the singing and dancing ended. This is the culture that can afford to dedicate $18 – I still can’t believe it costs $18 – for a good cocktail, yet all the books and magazines are too expensive and burdensome. The Guardian Weekly is $5.50 a week and is sold at most newsagents, including the USU’s. Oh, it’s not a money issue; it’s just that it would just go unread because we’re oh so tragically short of time. Right, because the hours we spend on our phones are so worthwhile.
“Oh it’s all free online anyway,” you proclaim, as if money was the condition of eligibility for reading for your exulting eyes. Most of the best things in life are free, but tell me, when was the last time you went to the library, walked in the park, the public museum, the beach or played sport with friends? Listening to Yo-Yo-Ma play Bach’s first cello suite is free on YouTube, did you do that recently too?
I get it if you don’t share my love for the tangible qualities of a newspaper or a book, but do you not thrill at discovery, at curiosity, at learning something new? That at any moment you could discover something about a place or time you weren’t even aware of? You don’t always have to read, but listen to a podcast, create something, even watch TV if it’s good enough. We can agree that ‘high art’ is bullshit, but that sentiment relies upon some other form of art or meaning replacing it. Some form of creativity and otherness beyond the alienation that is popular culture; this corporate leviathan that urges us beyond all else “party down and have a good time”. Fuck off, I’ll have as bad a time as I want to, and when it’s a good time don’t think I’m asking you for consultation. Get off your arse and get a subscription, read some Foucault, or just do something; your brain deserves better.
Angus Reoch, BPESS (Honours) IV