USU Board Interview Transcripts 2022: Nick Dower

Honi Soit interview with USU Board candidate Nicholas Dower.

HS: What is your name, pronouns and degree?

ND: My name is Nicholas Dower (he/him) and my degree is a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Politics and International Relations.

HS: Your campaign colour and slogan?

It’s purple and it’s Dower Power

HS: Who is your campaign manager and what is your faction in this election?

ND: Moderate Liberals. Colleges.

HS: Are you a current member of any political party?

ND: Yes. A member of the Liberal party.

HS: How would you characterise the role of the USU?

ND: Oh, well the USU is the preeminent student services provider on campus.

HS: And how do you characterise the role of student unionism more broadly?

ND: Well, it’s obviously really important in providing a proper university experience for students, which I think has been frankly lacking in the last couple of years.

HS: What motivated you to run for the USU board?

ND: Well, I’m interested in giving back. I’m interested in volunteering and this seems to be a pretty good way of doing it.

HS: What has been your experience with clubs and societies on campus?

ND: So I’ve been to plenty of events, plenty of clubs and society events – DJ SOC, and SUBS and Freedom Club and SASS stuff. And, it’s all been pretty good and it’s, uh, it’s a really effective way of building networks and making friends.

I feel as though it could be, it could be better. It could be slightly improved. I feel like there are definitely some people who have missed out given the last two years. And so I want to be there for them. I want to support them.

HS: Do you have any experience being on the executive of any societies?

ND: Yeah. So I’m the secretary of the Freedom Club, although it’s been fairly limited in the past two years.

HS: With your experience with clubs and society, how that approach the way you interact with them, if he would be elected as a board director?

ND: Yeah. So I definitely feel as though the club and society execs, there could be greater transparency between the execs and the USU.

So often we’re just sort of sent standardised like MailChimp emails and it just doesn’t feel very personable. So, well, I’d like to increase transparency between the USU and the clubs.

HS: How would you describe your politics?

ND: Uh, well, uh, moderate, I guess I, on campus, I can see the role that activism plays.

Um, I think the SRC does a pretty good job of it. I think that the USU can definitely, and they should often, make decisions and they should be supporting student causes.

HS: What is one political issue that you’re passionate about?

ND: Well, there are a number, but I would probably say that the university needs to divest from fossil fuels and improve investment for ESG.

HS: You mentioned your personal politics. Will your personal and politics affect your role as board director if you were to be elected?

ND: I doubt that it’ll really affect it at all.

My job is to represent the students. Of course, there are a number of duties that are outlined for USU board directors. And so I don’t see how it would really affect it, given that the role of a board director is really to represent the students.

HS: You mentioned the USU representing the interests of students and the SRC doing a good job of activism so far. To what extent do you think the board should take political stances?

ND: I see no issue with it really. I understand that it’s been a contested issue in the past, but it looks as long as it’s in line with the student’s interests. I can’t see an issue.

HS: Are there any kind of examples of recent positions that you think that USU should have taken? The Religious Discrimination Bill?

ND: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well look, so long as the board agrees on an issue like that, then I can’t see any reason why they can’t. I personally was not in favour of the Bill and so that’s why I was encouraged to see some moderates cross the floor. In particular to repeal the section of the Sex Discrimination Act.

HS: You were referring to serving the student body and I guess the will of the student body. How are you going about determining what those preferences are?

ND: Yeah, I’m a student first and foremost. I think I’ve got a pretty good read on what students want. I think that we need to be consultative and transparent. So, if students advocate for a position, and I’m sure it’d be pretty easy to understand what they desire ,then the USU should advocate for it.

HS: Do you think Liberal politics appeals to the student body? Why or why not?

ND: I can’t speak on whether liberal politics appeals to the student body. But what I could say is that the USU elections, for example, SRC elections, consistently student voices are underrepresented. So really there’s only ever like eight or nine percent of students who ever actually engage in politics on campus.

So I can’t give you a good read of that. But I would say that I would represent a more mainstream voice on campus.

HS: If you were to be elected, you would be a board director during the New South Wales State Election next year? Do you think it is fit for the USU to be involved in lobbying during that election?

ND: It depends on the context. I can’t see an issue with lobbying for student interests.

HS: And what kind of interests do you think of when you mention student interests?

ND: I can’t think of anything specifically, it would depend on the context.

HS: Do you oppose VSU (Voluntary Student Unionism) ?

ND: Well look, I believe that there is this something outlined within the USU Constitution about supporting mandatory student unionism and look, I mean, if that is outlined, then I don’t see any reason why I can’t detach party politics with my own personal views. And I’m absolutely capable of making those decisions.

HS: Do you think previous Liberal directors have done a good job of navigating politics on Board?

ND: Yeah, I think so. I mean Cady Brown was elected, Lachlan Finch was elected, Nick Rigby, Nick Comino… And despite what people had said, I don’t think it’s sort of broken. I think that they’ve been pretty good. I think that the USU has done a decent job and I think the board has been able to work together collaboratively quite well.

HS: There’ve been some concerns about transparency within the USU for quite some time now. A lot of candidates in the past have run on promises to increase the transparency of USU, but we haven’t really seen much progress What are you hoping to bring to the election to make sure that that changes?

ND: Yeah. Well look, as a board director there are a number of constraints. I think that a lot of students are pretty upset. I mean, I’m sure Honi is upset with in-camera and how often they go in camera. And so, I think that there has to be a better way of addressing the disparity between those two things.

So look, I would absolutely signal my support for increasing transparency, wherever I can.

HS: Does that mean changes to any mechanisms or is that just kind of a general cultural push towards transparency?

ND: So look, I think it’s a cultural push and I think that one of the effective ways of doing that would probably be between USU staff and club and society execs, because there were issues in the past with the new model which came about before I was in university and clubs and societies had sort of built this whole program for their year and then within the final few weeks before the semester started, the USU just decided that they dropped some new model on them and they weren’t adequately prepared for it. And so that sort of stuff shouldn’t be happening. And so I’d make sure that that kind of stuff doesn’t happen.

HS: Say you’re talking about a cultural push more than mechanistic or constitutional change, would you, for discussing something like that, maybe when discussing funding models, do you think there should be potentially some kind of mechanism that prohibits going in camera for those discussions, so that execs know thats on the table?

ND: Yeah. Look, I mean there is regulation. Of course there are obligations and duties that a USU board director must abide by. And so whatever it is possible within that framework. I think that board directors should be united, that they should make a stance to make sure that it’s more transparent.

But in terms of specifics, I mean, I’m not privy to all of it, so I can’t give you a proper answer.

HS: USU board directors have previously been constrained with confidentiality requirements that prevent them from holding the board accountable. How will you balance your legal obligations and transparency?

ND: Yeah, so I look, honestly I don’t see… there are of course contextually some instances where your obligations and transparency might be aheads, but you know, as long as you’re open with the student body, as long as you’re making an effort, sometimes you’re indicating what is happening then I don’t see any issue.

HS: Are there circumstances in which you would breach your fiduciary duty?

ND: Look, there’s not an instance in which I’d break my fiduciary duty. It would absolutely have to depend on context, but that’s not something that I can give you a proper answer on.

HS: What is one thing that USU has done well in the past two years, and one thing it could have done better?

ND: One thing that the USU has done well in the past two years? I mean, I feel as though they’ve been active where possible. I think it’s been hard because of… given the restrictions in the state. I have been encouraged to see that in the past few months they’ve been making efforts to open up.

And so I was really encouraged to see the Manning Party, for example, that happened only a few weeks ago.

HS: And one thing it could have done better?

ND: One thing that it could have done better? Look, I think given the circumstances, it was hard for the USU. I’m not sure, I can’t really recall anything.

HS: What is your most important campaign policy?

ND: Definitely expanding campus life. Yeah.

HS: How do you hope to achieve that?

ND: Yeah, so I think there were a few things. There’s a conversation that I had with one of my mates last year, and it was sort of the start of where I got the idea to run.

He had talked about how there were $15 BLTs at USU outlets and you know, that’s fine, but it’s not particularly cheap. Right. And so it’s no wonder that he and many other students would often go off campus to places nearby in Newtown and in Redfern and Glebe, because they actually had, you know, proper food that they could offer at cheaper rates.

And so that’s something that I was not particularly encouraged by, and it’s something that I would like to improve as a USU board director. So that’s things like an expanded happy hour. So that’s things like expanded food services, late-night food options and a greater variety, and of course at a cheaper cost, I think that those are all things, that are good things, that we should be aiming for.

HS: And what control do you think the USU has over pricing in its outlets and how would you try and…

ND: yeah, look, yeah, sure. So I’m not, I’m not privy to all the of issues around USU price controls, but I have yet to see many board aspirants make these sorts of efforts. And so I want to address it.

HS: Now we’re going to move on to the current issues with the USU, particularly those Honi has put a focus on this year. They relate to USU fossil fuel investments and then disabilities. So, with USU fossil fuel investments, a lot of the candidates in this race have divestment in their policies. What is your understanding of the state of fossil fuel investments on the part of the USU?

ND: Yeah, so I think that they, from what I’ve read in some of Honi’s work as well, they haven’t made a decent enough effort at making it transparent and available, and I just would qualify and just say, I absolutely support divestment from fossil fuels.

HS: So just to clarify, if there was a motion on divesting from fossil fuels you’d vote Yes?

ND: I’d absolutely support something like that.

HS: And how will you do the due diligence to understand the USU’s investment portfolio?

ND: Well, if I were to become a board director, then of course there’s a lot more information that you’re privy to, so that would obviously inform my decision. I do think that the USU should be making efforts to do these things because they do believe that it represents the student’s voice. And I see it as a massive cultural issue for our generation.

HS: Where do you stand in terms of complete divestment, divestment from those that will decarobinise and direct investment?

ND: Yeah, I think the most efficient way of ensuring that the USU and the university meets these outcomes is through direct investment. So I would absolutely support something like that. Of course, these are decisions that are made by the board, and so there’s a lot more information that’s at hand that we don’t yet have, but, you know, I’m encouraged to see that a lot of board directors and aspirinants want greater action on these issues.

And it’s something that I absolutely support.

HS: On the issue of divestment, the USU had some of its money invested indirectly in BHP. Fortescue Metals is an example of a company that does have an alleged de-carbonization pathway with hydrogen. Would you support divesting from institutions like Fortescue Metals?

ND: With all the information at hand, I think I’d be better equipped to give you an answer, but just to firmly clarify, I absolutely support divestment from fossil fuels.

HS: An Honi article covered the failure of the USU to establish a disability space, despite it being promised over two years ago. In what way, if any, do marginalized student communities, such as disabled students ,benefit in having you on the USU board?

ND: Well, I’d hope that they’d benefit, because I see that as an issue. If the USU has promised to deliver on this, then they absolutely should. It’s not something that I was aware of, but I make clear that that’s something that they should deliver. I see it as a positive thing, it’s something that we should be trying.

HS: Do you have anything specific in your policy platform for marginalized students on campus?

ND: Um, well of course, given that cost of living is increasing. I think that my policies which seek to address those issues, that seek to improve access, that seek to lower the price of goods on campus, absolutely support marginalized groups.

HS: You have two sections in your policy statement regarding campus safety and colleges. You say you want to continue building a positive relationship from the USU and colleges. What do you mean by that?

ND: Well I feel as though there, there has been efforts. I think, you know, we’ve seen that last year there were college candidates who ran or had associations to colleges, and they got elected. I believe this year there are another three, including myself. And so I think it’s important that there is a bridge that’s been established between the two organizations. And I think that we should be seeking to improve the relationship.

HS: And what does that look like in terms of USU outreach, outside of elections?

ND: Sure. Well, an example of something is the Palladian events that are run by the USU. I would greatly encourage more students, not just college students to get around those things. And the inverse is true. I think that that college students should be more willing to engage with things such as the clubs and societies program.

Cause I have noted that that is something that they havent done, at least not en mass. I have heard that we used to go to Manning Bar and Hermann’s bar. Now we tend to go off campus. And so I think that there is a detachment between the colleges, that has been in the past, and the USU. And so it’s absolutely something that we should work on.

HS: And just to follow up on that, obviously on campus there is a difference between the colleges and the other accomodation combination options by the university. How do you see the USUs role as different between engaging in those two distinct communities?

ND: Could you clarify that? Sorry.

HS: So the colleges have a very large social program that is a part of your fees. Whereas the University running Regiment, doesn’t have that sort of established culture and social programs to the same extent as the colleges. How do you see the USU engaging differently with the colleges versus those other accommodation options? How should they approach them?

ND: Well, I don’t see how they should approach them differently, if they had approached them differently. I would probably encourage them to not do that. So that’s things like providing greater services. And letting them know, particularly with advertising, letting them know that the USU is there, it is available for students.

It is the administrative body for student services on campus. I think that has been an issue. That’s something that I did know in being a member of the residential colleges, that you didn’t really know that these things were happening until you really actually tried to engage on campus. And then, of course you go on campus and it’s everywhere.

And so there is a disconnect and I think that that should be better advertised.

HS: Are you still a member of a residential college?

ND: Yes.

HS: Which college?

ND: I’m at St Paul’s College.

HS: You also have a bunch of policies on “powering campus safety”. Those policies include, incident reporting and mandating consent and bystander training for societies. Would you mind talking about that a little further?

ND: Yeah, sure. So we saw the National Student Safety Survey and it was not up to scratch, of course. There was a number of issues and so I do feel as though, you know, I’m encouraged that the University and the USU has made efforts, but they just simply haven’t been good enough.

And so some of my policies, which I can refer you to, they outline some of the ways in which I think that we should address that. I think a canvas module for USU and SRC execs iis fine, but I do think that we can probably go a step further. I do think that we should probably mandate training for more students on campus.

I do think that those training modules could be better administrated. I do think that they could be probably led by by expert groups, as an example. And yeah, just looking at just some of the numbers. I just… they’re just simply not up to scratch. And so we should absolutely be making more efforts to improve campus safety.

HS: There’s a bit of tension between the colleges and student interests around safety. You’re putting a focus on having a positive relationship with the colleges, how do you see that, having a profile of a board director, people kind of…

ND: Yeah, I don’t see any disparity between the college’s stated goals and the USU’s stated goals. Of course, we want to eliminate any sexual violence on campus. And so, I fail to see how those, those two things are at heads. I would say that improving education, improving consent modules, mandating training, these are all really good things that we should seek to do, because it hasn’t been good enough.

HS: You listed greater oversight of student events and camps. What do you mean by that?

ND: So we saw that in the Student Safety Survey that 25% of reported incidences of sexual violence were happening at club and society events or during camps. And so I see that as obviously incredibly problematic.

And so I do think it’s the responsibility of the USU to make sure that better training is offered, greater oversight is ensured at these events because clearly it’s too prevalent and we should, I mean, we ought to address it and we should try and stamp it out. We should try and eliminate sexual violence.

HS: So in terms of that oversight. Would that be external third parties? Would that be USU representatives, not within the societies, would it be just greater training for the executives? What sort of people are going to have their boots on the ground, so to speak?

ND: Right. I think all of those things that you mentioned are all things that we should be doing that I don’t think we have seen. So, like I mentioned, there is a canvas module. It’s been mandated for SRC and USU leaders. It is yet to be mandated for club and society executives. And so of course that’s a glaring error.

I do think that we should make greater efforts there, but also that that module itself could be looked at. I do think it probably should be administered by an expert group, a greater group that could at least address some of the incidences or at least, it should be looked at through the perspective of universities as opposed to a more like generalized module, which was what I saw.

HS: With the oversight for student events and camps, or any other of those things run by societies What kind of accountability would you have? Would the threat of deregistration ever be used for repeat offenders?

ND: Yeah. I think that deregistration absolutely should be considered if you’ve got, I mean, well, they’re likely criminal offenses, right?

Like, so just de-registration is probably not enough. It’s probably not nearly good enough. So yeah, absolutely deregistration. But also, I think we want to prevent these things from happening in the first place. That’s why I think that we should have greater training, greater education, greater awareness in the first place.

HS: So with regard to cultural failings with student events, rather than individual liabilities, if there have been multiple events where there have been incidences, and there clearly is a cultural problem within a society, what would you do to create accountability there? Is deregistration the pathway?

Yes, it absolutely

ND: could be pathway. But again, like I’ve said, I just think that prevention should be the goal. So I think that the ways in which we address that is through proper education, proper training for C&S execs.

HS: A lot of students obviously use campus as their primary venue for socialising, and the USU facilitates that and needs to make sure everyone has a safe space on campus while they do so. Then it comes down to the idea of freedom of expression and the right to do so respectfully and also navigate these spaces and be respected. There’ve been some previous issues with societies that have engaged in quite controversial or harmful conduct. How would you approach that?

ND: Could you repeat the question?

HS: An example would be the Catholic society and ableist slurs included in its promotional material. How would you go about dealing with those incidences or complaints like that?

ND: Was that the whole question? Could you repeat the first bit, sorry?

HS: Okay. So basicall societies are how people primarily interact on campus. Societies often can behave in certain kinds of ways that mean complaints are then brought against them. How would you navigate that complaints process?

ND: Well, I don’t think that any one individual should be navigating the process. I think that the decision that is taken up by the board that is a conversation with board directors that have varied views. That, well I mean, that’s the best way to address it.

How you deal with the complaints process being against groups, particularly political groups, on campus. How do you navigate that process?

I’m not familiar enough with the complaints process, but of course it’s something that no one individual can ultimately decide. So I do think that the USU board needs to take these sorts of incidences very seriously. And I do think that the USU board needs to work collaboratively together to achieve some sort of outcome there. But yeah, we certainly don’t want to see ableist events on campus.

HS: Is there any test that you have of societies that you would not let be registered with the USU?

ND: Um, look, I can’t give you any single answers, but I I think that you should use some common sense. Let’s say that there’s some heinous sort of club and they want to advocate for hate speech, as an example, like that obviously shouldn’t happen.

HS: Do you think there should be a pro-life club on campus?

ND: Uh, well I think that that is. Uh, well, I mean, obviously that’s a political issue. It’s a contested issue. I think, if they want to make with their own pro-life club, then, then they can do it. I mean, I disagree with it personally, but that shouldn’t affect, I don’t think that that should be an issue for the USU board. I think that we should, you know, if a club wants to register, then sure.

HS: With the clubs that are registered with the USU, do they have an absolute right to book whatever spaces they want and use USU venues to hold events or panels?

ND: Uh, yeah, I would say so. I mean, I think that we have systems are set up and so if there is a complainant, then someone should make the complaint and then itll be addressed.

HS: So if there was student outrage over a perspective speaker, would you support withdrawing the ability to use a USU venue to host that person? Or are you suggesting these are complaint after the fact for accountability against that society?

ND: Would you mind repeating the question?

HS: A lot of people who have denied the existence of rape on campus, particularly that there even is an issue (of rape on campus) , those people have been hosted at USU events previously. Would you support them still speaking on campus?

ND: If you have a speaker who is giving hate speech, then obviously we shouldn’t support that. No. So the USU should be seen to be making efforts to make sure that you don’t have such speakers.

HS: So if that speaker was proposed by a society, would you withdraw the ability for them to use USU venues to host them.

ND: That sounds like a good idea.

HS: A lot of revues have sadly gone away because of COVID. Do you have any policies to bring them back?

ND: I don’t have any particular policies to bring back revues on campus, but I would encourage more revues on campus. I think that that’s just a sign of the times.

It’s obviously the last few years have hardly been the experience that students have wanted or deserve. And so, we should be making efforts to bring them back on campus.

HS: So who are two candidates you would most like to work with on board?

Oh look, honestly, I want to get elected. I’m keen to work with whoever. I mean, whoever wants to work with me, I’m keen to work with them.I don’t know any of the other candidates nearly well enough. I wouldn’t say that I’m like necessarily aligned with any of the other candidates.

ND: I do think that efforts to bring back campus life, greater student services, if there’s a candidate who’s supporting that then I’m keen to work with them. But look like ultimately if you’re elected as a board director, then you should be able to work with anyone. I don’t have any particular issue with any of the candidates or any previous candidates. So yeah, I’d be happy to work with all of them.

HS: Who would you vote for to be Board president in the executive elections, if you were a board

director?

ND: Look, that’ll have to happen when it happens, if I am elected. I mean, I guess I know Nick Comino. I would support him if he wanted to run, although I’m not sure if he wants to run, again, this is something that we’ll have to look at if I am elected.

HS: Is there anyone that you wouldn’t support for board president?

ND: I mean, there’s no good reason why I wouldn’t support someone. So no I’d probably support most candidates.

HS: Do you have any preference deals lined up for the selection?

ND: Yes. I have some tea. No, there’s nothing lined up.

HS: Do you have any intention to do preference deals with any of the other candidates?

ND: Well, we’ll look at it. Yeah. It’s something that we’ve considered.

HS: And who are you open to preferencing?

ND: Um, everyone.

HS: And when you are thinking about preferences, what is your calculus? Is it mainly those who align with your policy statement or electability?

ND: Oh, I think, uh, yeah, probably a combination there. Yeah.

HS: And lastly, in one sentence, why should students vote for you over any of the other candidates?

ND: Because I’m looking to expand student services on campus. And I think that that is something that the common student will get around.

HS: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

ND: um, nothing in particular. I mean, I feel like I’ve survived the Honi interview. And so I’m quite proud of myself for that.

HS: Congratulations. Best of luck for the election.

ND: Thank you.