The University of Sydney Union will host a members’ forum on Wednesday 26 March to discuss the organisation’s transparency and existing accountability mechanisms. This forum will form part of a broader consultation process as Board Directors Bebe D’Souza and Tara Waniganayaka author a review of the relationship between the Union and its members.
The review coincides with a critical juncture in the USU’s campaign to present a transparent image to students. This image has been the subject of intense inspection in the wake of a protracted legal battle between the Board of Directors and Tom Raue, its Vice President. Raue faces possible removal for his decision to leak allegedly confidential USU information.
Waniganayaka and D’Souza, while acknowledging the relevance of such recent events, claimed they were not the primary motivation behind the transparency review. “This forum, and the review that it is part of, has been in the works since last year,” said Waniganayaka.
D’Souza pointed to ongoing debate about tweeting during board meetings as evidence that transparency concerns have been a longstanding point of discussion amongst the USU and its members.
The USU has released both a discussion paper and an agenda in advance of the forum. These documents highlight perceived deficiencies and areas of concern with the USU’s existing accountability mechanisms, such as recent failures to follow the official practice of publicising the minutes of board meetings. The discussion paper notes that, despite Board meetings being held monthly, “as of 3 March 2014 the only minutes available were those for October, September and August 2013”. D’Souza and Waniganayaka stated that an examination of transparency values and an inspection of methods for generating genuine dialogue between the Board of Directors and USU members will form a basis for Wednesday’s discourse.
However, the discussion paper itself points out that attendance at members’ forums is poor, and members who attend “are more likely than not to come from a selective and informed group of people who are already heavily involved in student life and politics, and thus the board is concerned that we are not hearing from a diverse spread of opinion.”
The results of the review will lead to policy recommendations for the Board of Directors to consider.
Both D’Souza and Waniganayaka were non-committal when asked for a deadline for the final recommendations. However, while both stressed that they wouldn’t take shortcuts during consultation, they were hopeful that the review and its recommendations would be completed by the end of the semester.