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Students Likely Losers as NTEU Loosen Grip on Senate

Christina White reports on the fallout of last week’s staff Senate election.

Last week’s staff election has seen a reduction of NTEU-affiliated Fellows on Senate and potentially ended the blocking power of the left-wing minority.

In the academic staff race, two NTEU-endorsed candidates, Professors Chris Murphy and Marian Baird, were re-elected. They will be joined by Professor Sharon Naismith and former Dean of Nursing, Professor Jill White, who ran on an ‘independent’ ticket.

In the non-academic staff election, Director of Student Support Services Jordi Austin was re-elected with more than double the votes of the next-placed candidate, Laura Wilson from the NTEU.

President of USyd’s NTEU branch Michael Thomson said the election was telling of ‘widespread disengagement’ among staff. Others, however, have criticised the NTEU’s lack of campaigning in the lead up to the election.

The election has reinvigorated rumours about potential reduction of the size of the Senate. 2011 legislation allows the Senate to pass a resolution by at least two-thirds majority to change the number of and composition of Senate Fellows.

Throughout last year, a progressive bloc of eight elected fellows had more than a third of the votes, amounting to a blocking minority. The loss of two NTEU Fellows following the election of two conservative students in October last year calls this head count into question.

Last August, Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson told me, ‘Senate is so much bigger [than corporate boards]. That’s the problem… I find a group of eight you can really get a debate going.’ She said the 22-strong Senate was ‘workable’ but believed it would be more efficient if numbers were cut.

It is understood that the proposal floated last year was to reduce the number of elected Fellows and Ministerial appointments, increasing the relative power of University appointees and ex officio members.

Newly elected undergraduate Fellow Dalton Fogarty’s commitment to student representation seems volatile. He says the ‘status quo is fine’ but wouldn’t promise students he would fight to retain the current level of student representation (i.e. his own place on Senate). “My current position is to have two student voices on Senate,” Fogarty said, “but I reserve the right to change my position.”

On the issue of size, White said she had “no problem with reducing size in principle, as long as all voices are there and can be heard.”

This Senate will be responsible for approving the University’s next strategic plan, and the views of White and Naismith is yet to be seen. White said their “independence’ just meant not being union members, describing the ticket members as “four people interested in the future of the university.

Some see the former Dean as too closely allied to management to be a genuine staff representative. White calls such a view overly simplistic, saying: ‘Anyone who’s been on SEG would know I’m unafraid to have robust conversations.’

White said she would be an advocate for increasing accessibility despite financial means, but stopped short of commenting on the deregulation. She criticised overreliance on scholarships. “We don’t want a group of kids thinking they’re second-class citizens,” says White, placing her in disagreement with Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence and Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson on at least one issue.

The other could be transparency of decision-making. White wants Senate to “share information and conversations where possible.” However, she wouldn’t comment on how far beyond Deans this information should be disseminated.

Professor Naismith was unavailable for comment and postgraduate Fellow Simon Hill could not be contacted.