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USU Board Meeting: staffing crisis, finances and election timeline

The second USU Board Meeting of the year wrangled with staffing shortages, Welcome Fest successes and gearing up for Board Elections.

Yesterday, the Board met in hybrid mode with an in-person cohort in the Cullen Room and Marie Leech, David Wright and Finance Director Rebecca Sahni joining in from Zoom.

An understaffed USU

Among the most contentious issues was an increasingly understaffed USU where the lack of a Board Secretary and casual workforce have led to accumulating problems within the organisation. Indeed, the absence of a Secretary since Assistant Board Secretary Oliver Harding’s resignation last year meant that communications have been hindered with USU President Prudence Wilkins-Wheat having to inform Honi of the meeting in lieu of the Secretary. 

The absence of a Board Secretary could pose challenges to the USU’s commitments to transparency over the coming months. 

Two issues were identified as contributing to the ongoing staffing dilemma: rapidly changing COVID-19 restrictions and a lack of quality candidates.    

“This is partly due to the easing of [COVID-19] restrictions in NSW and challenges as we navigate this period.” USU CEO Andrew Mills said, citing rapidly changing pandemic measures as responsible for an ongoing shortage in front-of-house operational staff. 

Several questions were then posed to Mills over how he seeks to address the shortages, with Telita Goile enquiring how the USU could make itself more competitive compared to rival institutions. 

Responding to Goile, Mills said that easing COVID-19 restrictions combined with an “enhanced” package of benefits offered to candidates applying for casual vacancies will help address the organisation’s staffing crisis. 

“We are seeing increasing international student arrivals. We are also seeing the relaxation of border restrictions including backpackers. We are also offering an enhanced benefits package.” Mills said, hinting that the USU will look to international students and temporary backpackers to help fill front-of-house vacancies, especially now that working hours requirements have been lifted. 

Further, Board Director David Zhu asked about the recruitment timeline to fill the Board Secretary role. In response, Mills expects that this process may not conclude until the end of Semester One, potentially after the Board Elections.

Optimistic forecasts, Welcome Fest and new amenities 

The Board is forecasting good financial performances throughout the year with Finance Director Rebecca Sahni reporting a healthy balance from January.   

“Cash flow is very good at the moment. We have $4.4 million in the bank mainly because the university has paid us our first instalment,” said Sahni.  

In another development, engineering students are expected to reap significant benefits as a new food outlet, BUDS Grill, was recently opened in the Peter Nicol Russell (PNR) precinct and new merchandise catering to PNR-based students has been released. 

Elections timeline 

The USU is also planning for the upcoming Board Elections. Mills and Board Director Nicholas Comino confirmed that voting is slated to commence on 9 May and finish on 13 May 2022. 

Emulating last year’s model, voting will be conducted online whereas campaigning can take place in-person. This means that students can expect aspiring Board Director candidates to flood social media, campaigners to gather across Eastern Avenue and the machinations of student politics to turn once again. 

In Camera means goodbye 

Following these discussions, the Board subsequently moved the meeting in camera and promptly resulted in Honi Soit having to leave the secretive conversations and scheming between the CEO and Board Directors.