Yesterday, on the eve of USU Board Election campaign launches, I sank into a seat in Holme Building’s Cullen Room to keep an eye on your current Board Directors at their April meeting. Here’s what took place:
One prominent topic in the meeting was the upcoming NTEU strikes, which will be held on Wednesday 11 and Thursday 12 May.
In good news for student-staff solidarity, the USU passed two motions expressing their support for staff strikes and committing to shutting USU outlets during the strike period.
President Prudence Wilkins-Wheat argued in the meeting that the USU ought to care about the quality of students’ learning conditions, saying “student life begins in the classroom.”
This marks an improvement to the USU’s previous record on solidarity with university staff; the organisation was condemned as a ‘scab union’ in 2017 when it refused to close its outlets during strikes due to financial concerns. While CEO Andrew Mills flagged the strikes would likely impact the Union’s April-May earnings, the meeting nonetheless supported the strikes unanimously.
However, the Board declined to call on its members to attend the picket line — a step the SRC has taken — Wilkins-Wheat said that joining the picket line is a matter for personal choice but that she would be attending.
Another big point of discussion stemmed from the various student-life initiatives the USU is implementing.
In her report, Honorary Secretary Belinda Thomas noted that the USU’s reimagined PULP magazine will be starting up soon, congratulating recently-appointed Senior Editor Marlow Hurst on receiving the role. The magazine will get underway once the full team of six Editors is appointed.
PULP magazine represents a reimagined version of the Union’s publication; after several years as an online news site it will be returning to print, with a focus on culture writing. Although initial discussions of the plan suggested a ‘people’s vote’ would be held to inform the final editorial team, it seems that plan has not eventuated, at least for now.
Various reports drew attention to a marked uptick in campus life, with various well attended Manning gigs (read our reviews here) and a steady increase in visitors to Verge Gallery.
Ben Hines, who sits on the Debates Committee, congratulated USU debaters on their performance at the Australian Intervarsity Debating Championships (a.k.a ‘Easters’) earlier this month.
All this was very glowing! Though, one initiative that was less fantastic is the uptake of Student Leader sessions run by the Office of Student Life, which provide courses in Mental Health First Aid and RSA, among other skills. The SSAF-funded courses have a score of empty spaces, with Board Directors suggesting that the marketing and timing of the courses needs work.
Asked about the progress of the upcoming USU Board Elections, Wilkins-Wheat told Honi she is “super proud” of the candidates — to some chuckles from the rest of the Board. The nominees have apparently also received resilience training, which frankly might come in handy when they see the results of the Honi quiz (more to come…).
If there was one take-away message from the meeting, it is that the Union is fucking rolling in it.
Finance Director Rebecca Sahni told the Board of the USU’s better-than-expected February-March revenue, with the organisation reforecasting its budget thanks to the bonanza on events. In particular, the USU hit a jackpot in Sydney’s queer community, with Manning’s Heaps Gay event raking in money. It pays to slay!
Andrew Mills walked us through the performance of the USU’s outlets, which also got a boost from graduation season. Describing the surplus of money sitting in the Union’s coffers, Mills complained “we are victims of our own success.” A hard spot to be in, truly.
Honorary Treasurer Ben Hines’ report focused on this profusion of disposable income. “The money we have cash-on-hand has essentially doubled over our time on Board,” he contextualised, arguing that the USU should increase expenditure on its members.
Naturally, given Hines’ position as SULS President, his suggestion was “conflict of interest pending, more money to C&S.”
SRC President Lauren Lancaster, who was an observer at the meeting, asked why the glut of spending money wasn’t being spent on restarting FoodHub, a joint initiative between the USU and SRC which lapsed this Semester after admin problems. Wilkins-Wheat indicated that the USU is broadly supportive of the program but needs to reforecast its budget to fund FoodHub before it can restart.
Honi asked the Board whether they intended to pursue divestment, following recent coverage of the USU’s investments, in the fossil fuel industry. The Board could not make a commitment to doing so, instead waiting for the recommendations of their investment review before they take action.
With the open portion of the meeting over, the Board moved in camera to discuss tenancy arrangements and nominations for USU Life Membership.