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UTSSA to partner with UTS executive in contentious agreement, endorses Vertigo campaign

The Student Partnership Agreement is the “first of its kind at a NSW University”, although was described by councillors as being a watered down version of its demands.

The UTS Students’ Association passed a motion in last night’s council meeting in support of a new Student Partnership Agreement (SPA) between the Association, ActivateUTS, the UTS Council and Academic Board.

The University has described the agreement as “the first of its kind at a NSW university” and has said that it aims to provide “inclusive governance” between student leaders and university executives, with the purpose of improving the student experience.

“This agreement explicitly acknowledges that the UTSSA is the student union at this university,” said Kurt Cheng, Academic Board student member for Law and member of the Labor party.

“It will support the goals of the UTSSA and furthers your ability to fulfil your goals in the provision of student services,” Cheng told the council.

“It will also elevate your organisation’s position to be at the decision-making table,” he said.

However, the agreement came under fire from multiple councillors, including UTSSA President Anna Thieben, who called it a “watered down” version of the Association’s original demands.

“This isn’t a new avenue, this isn’t a new pathway. This is just a way for management to look good,” Thieben said.

Assistant General Secretary Melissa Sukkarieh also spoke against the motion: “Every tangible thing has been taken down. How can we sign an agreement like this in a strike year?”

Ethnocultural Officer Suzy Monzer criticised the agreement for removing specific requests for student services such as ethnocultural safe spaces and effective grievance systems for incidents of racism, only to be replaced with ambiguous language.

“Both of these [services] became ‘let’s conceptualise what anti-racism looks like’, but we’ve been at that point for the last three years. If management really cared that much about students, they wouldn’t need to put it in an agreement,” Monzer said.

Socialist Alternative (SAlt) member Vinil Kumar called the agreement “a right-wing piece of crap” and said that agreements between unions and management such as the SPA only serve to pacify unions.

“The whole point of agreements like this is to get student representatives to think that if they ever disagree with management, then they’re risking ruining their relationship,” Kumar said.

“Your power fantasy of getting a seat at the table is gonna sell students down the drain,” he said.

While the motion to sign the agreement ultimately passed with the support of many Labor councillors from both Student Unity (Labor Right) and National Labor Students (Labor Left), they tacitly acknowledged that the SPA was a softer version of the UTSSA’s original demands. 

“There are still things in the agreement that are part of our demands. Our demands for a single point of contact liaison for handling sexual assault and sexual harrassment complaints are still there,” said General Secretary Sabrine Yassine.

“We can still do all the work we’re doing now, we can still condemn management. What we’re doing with this agreement is getting these things in writing as a reference point, so we can actually do our jobs as a student union,” said Yassine.

In spite of supporting the agreement, councillors voted to condemn the UTS Senior Executive for effectively halving Vertigo’s budget, supporting its Save Vertigo campaign.

“Our primary goal is securing a $170,000 budget for 2023, which is still smaller than any other non-COVID year. We would also like to secure an additional $25,000 so the rest of the suit for this year can be printed,” said Vertigo Editor Joe Hathaway-Wilson.

Hathaway-Wilson also said that while the editors agreed with Shirley Alexander, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education and Students, on the need to diversify the contents of the magazine to cater to a broader range of students, they disagreed with how it was handled and communicated with them indirectly through the UTSSA.

They also disagreed with Alexander’s justification for Vertigo’s budget cut, which is based on 2021 figures and does not account for increased overhead costs.

“Management is very out of touch with who we are. Students need a voice,” said Vertigo Editor Joseph Chalita.

“We just want to represent students and we want your support,” Chalita said.

Sign the petition to save Vertigo here.