Letters //

Why so USU?

A letter from Alistair Stephenson.

Dear Eds,

I am writing in response to the University of Sydney Union election coverage in the Week 9 edition. I feel the editors, in stressing the candidates’ determination to annoy the fuck out of every student on campus, lost an opportunity to emphasise not what board directors usually do, but what they have the potential to do.

But that’s hardly the editors’ fault. The 2013-2014 term was a fraught one with a lot of crap flung into the student political ceiling fan that has warranted focus. While it’s easy to dismiss what directors are individually in charge of, the truth is that the amount of power given to these students is patently absurd.

18-25 year olds are pushed to come up with ideas, and if they’re intelligent and have the gumption to follow them through, can execute them with the help of a few votes from their mates on board and then thousands (or sometimes millions) of member dollars to bring it home. The premise is terrifying, but when the directors are smarties the creativity that follows is wonderful.

The successes borne out of this arrangement are readily forgotten. I don’t mean to excuse the broken promises or frivolous campaign policies (of which I am very much guilty). I only mean to bring attention to examples where directors haven’t fucked up but have instead positively influenced students’ day-to-day lives, whether they’re hacks or mercifully disenfranchised.

This year alone, current directors Bebe D’Souza and Eve Radunz have developed, respectively, the new and important Sex and Consent Day and Health and Wellbeing Week. In 2011, a director founded Incubate, which today officially partners with Google. In 2010, it was a board president who mandated free ACCESS cards for every college student. In 2009, another board president conceived of and then built the International Student Lounge on Level 4 Wentworth and the Verge Gallery. His name was Ruchir Punjabi and he was the first international student to be president; he saw a need for an international student space, and was driven enough to get the job done. He started and finished these projects within his two-year term.

Across too many board terms worth counting, it was down to the smarts of a handful of directors to seek, and seek again, funding from the university to keep the C&S program alive, at a time when the USU couldn’t stand on its own legs. I shudder to think what would have happened if those fearless students weren’t elected (and there were more muppets in their place).

These students were the ones who decided your coffee should be Vittoria and ethically sustainable, who kept the student bars funded and staffed from month-to-month, and who appoint the people who run O-Week, Verge, gigs at Manning, and so on. Board directors made the controversial decision to, for one year only, double the mandatory student services fee to raise enough capital to construct a new building for its members (Wentworth was built, from scratch, from student money). It would have been an exceptionally crazy director to come up with that funding model – what if she or he hadn’t gotten up? We’d have a lot less food options, retail outlets and one less bar.

It’s easy to be disillusioned by the ball pits and the lanyards and the parking spots and the douchey vibes emanating from self-confessed student leaders like cartoon stink lines. But know that today’s pests are tomorrow’s absurdly influential decision-makers. When they’re not in court they’re busy building shit, and they might even be worth your time in voting.

Alistair Stephenson

JD III, Douchey Self-Confessed Ex-Student Leader