‘Is Harry Styles playing Hermann’s?’: USU February Board Meeting
What ties together Harry Styles, $6 pizzas and emails from the VC?
With its Executive fresh from an expenses-paid trip around the UK over summer, the University of Sydney Union (USU) Board sat down for its first meeting of the year on Friday.
Welcome Week: Great success!
The Board meeting was a cheerful affair after the USU successfully conducted its annual Welcome Fest earlier this month. CEO Andrew Mills told the Board that between 45,000 –50,000 attended Welcome Fest, an increase from 2022. With the amount of USU members also rising over Welcome Week, there has been a 14% increase in membership from this time last year. Welcome Fest was conducted without any safety issues, Mills told the Board, due to the USU taking longer to install and dismantle stalls than they did previously. Such was the success of Welcome Fest — Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott sent an email to the USU congratulating them, much to the excitement of Mills. Scott doesn’t send Honi nice emails.
Finances: How is the USU going with divestment?
As has been the case for the last year now, the USU continued to record strong financial results, with profits at its outlets, and revenue stronger than expected in January.
Honorary Treasurer David Zhu told the Board that the USU has spent $1.2 million on student initiatives thanks to the USU’s strong financial performance.
However, the tensest moment of the meeting came following questions by Honorary Secretary Isla Mowbray about the USU’s progress in divesting from companies involved in unethical practices, including the fossil fuel industry. The USU Board originally passed a motion in 2020 calling for divestment from fossil fuels, and its quest to do so was renewed following an Honi article last year criticising the Union’s lack of progress in doing so.
Finance Director Rebecca Sahni told the Board that the USU was divesting gradually, and that this process was dependent on market conditions. Sahni told the Board that the USU has not yet divested from some of its unethical investments due to not wanting to ‘lock-in’ losses on those investments. Mowbray expressed her concern at the USU’s delay in divestment. She told the Board that the Union’s desire to not make a loss on its investments should be balanced against the harm done by continuing to invest in these companies, and the reputational cost of maintaining those investments.
To address that tension, Board members have been asked to complete a survey to outline their opinions relating to the USU’s investments. Yet, University Senate Appointed Director David Wright told the Board that he preferred that the Board’s opinion be canvassed as a whole, rather than the opinions of individual directors. He said that this was because Board directors only serve two-year terms. With such back and forth, it seems that full divestment is still some time away.
Cost of Living Measures
The USU is planning to combat the cost-of-living crisis. CEO Mills announced the USU’s new range of discounted food items. Highlights include six-dollar pizzas at Courtyard, three-dollar chips at Carslaw, and sixdollar eggs on toast at Laneway Café. In response to Honi’s questions on the initiatives, Mills said that these would be offered to students on a one-per-student-per day basis for the foreseeable future. USU President Cole Scott-Curwood said that a free-breakfast initiative, as Honi has previously proposed, has been fast-tracked.
USU staff received a 4.6% pay rise last year and received an end-of-year bonus which was described by Mills as a “part performance, part cost-of-living” measure. Although this means USU staff received a pay cut in real terms in 2022, Mills compared the USU’s pay rises to the 2.1% rise offered by the University to its staff last year.
Questions from student media — Honi and the USU’s own Pulp — pointed out shortcomings in the USU transparency practices. Pulp Senior Editor Marlow Hurst pointed out that the USU’s conflict of interest register wasn’t on the Union’s new website. Mills said this was a consequence of the transition to the new, custom-built, site and the Board agreed to action the required updates. Honi pointed out that the motions discussed in the Board’s private in-camera sessions have not been made available in Board minutes for a number of months, despite the USU’s website listing this as a transparency measure. Scott-Curwood and the Board accepted the error and read the motions to be discussed in this meeting’s in-camera session.
In response to questions from Honi, Scott-Curwood said that the USU will totally shut down operations during the University staff’s upcoming strike action in Week 3. Although the Board unanimously passed a motion to do the same thing before last year’s strikes, the USU continued to operate some services in spite of this. It is yet to be seen if the USU will in fact totally shut down this time around.
What to watch
Disabilities Portfolio Holder Alexander Poirier said that the new disabilities room has been fast-tracked by the University and will be ready by September this year, as opposed to September next year. Vice-President Telita Goile said consultation is underway on a student safety conference,, and Ethnocultural Portfolio Holder Naz Sharifi said changes to the ethnocultural room “are being communicated about.”
The USU has quietly soft-launched a new bakery in the Holme building, in the space formerly occupied by Cereal Hub. Apparently, it’s good.