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University appoints member of senate to USU board without consultation

Tom Joyner reports on the continuing fallout of the closed December 14 senate meeting

The president of the University of Sydney Union has spoken out against the recent appointment of a new USU board director by the senate, claiming the university did not consult the USU before appointing one of their own to the position.

Professor Jill White was appointed by the senate – the university’s highest governing body – in secret during a now-infamous December 14 meeting during which other controversial changes, such as the faculty restructure and a reduction in the size of senate, were also passed.

Professor White, who has sat on the senate since June last year, was appointed by the very same body to replace resigning senate-appointed board director Emma McDonald.

USU president Alisha Aitken-Radburn told Honi Professor White’s appointment presented an “untenable conflict”, as it encroached on the independence of the USU from the university.

There are decisions that every single month [the USU board] sit down to make, including agreements we are currently negotiating with the university, as well as numerous other things that also cross the desk of senate,” she said.

The USU board is made up of eleven students directors elected on an annual cycle by the  student body, but also includes two appointed by the senate.

While there is nothing in the USU’s constitution to say that the senate cannot appoint one of its own members to the position, Ms Aitken-Radburn said the decision was revealing of the university’s attitude towards students.

“This is a culmination in a trend as of late where the university – to put it bluntly – don’t give two shits about student consultation,” Ms Aitken-Radburn said, adding that the first time she learnt of Professor White’s appointment was when the senate minutes were released on January 11.

Honi understands the university ignored Ms Aitken-Radburn’s repeated requests for consultation over the appointment.

“I can’t even describe the consultation as little to none because there has been zero. That is very frustrating especially given the multiple attempts I made to reach out to the university,” Ms Aitken-Radburn said.

In an email sent on September 30, she wrote to Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson asking to set up a meeting to work with the university on the process of nominating a suitable candidate.

Two weeks later, the Chancellor’s personal assistant replied to say that Ms Hutchinson was overseas and had limited availability to meet, instead proposing Ms Aitken-Radburn meet with Deputy Vice-Chancellor Tyrone Carlin to discuss the candidacy process.

However, after no further correspondence, two follow-up emails were sent by Ms Aitken-Radburn to senior members of university management: one dated January 5, and another January 14.

It wasn’t until January 20 that the Chancellor responded to Ms Aitken-Radburn, personally writing that the decision to appoint Professor White was “fully supported by senate and [herself]”, who were “very confident that Jill’s wealth and breadth of experience will be of great benefit to the USU”.

In a statement to Honi, a university spokeswoman said: “whilst the appointment was made strictly in accordance with the USU’s constitution, the university does consult with the president of the USU ahead of full term appointments and did not do so in this instance given the late notice of the resignation.”

It added: “It is expected that this will occur for future end of term vacancies.”

Professor White’s term on the USU board is expected to last until 2017.