At a critical moment in the national debate over fee-deregulation, University management has attempted to intervene in elections for student representatives to the USyd Senate. This is an unprecedented move from the administration, and appears to be an attempt to diminish anti-deregulation voices on Senate.
Select students were spoken to by the USU and university staff, and encouraged to nominate for the USyd Senate elections. Further, one candidate is alleged to have received support from senior management.
Current USU Board Director Olivia Ronan and past Board Director Alistair Stephenson told Honi they were contacted by a USU staff member and asked to run.
Honi has reason to believe that this contact was instigated by university administration, and further, that the USU was acting on the belief that management was seeking these students to challenge incumbent representatives.
Multiple sources have said that other student leaders involved in the USU had previously claimed to be contacted by the Chancellor. However, when approached these students denied such contact.
When asked by Honi, the Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence and Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson did not deny contacting students.
“The Vice-Chancellor and Chancellor have always seen it as part of their responsibilities to encourage any student who expresses an interest to get involved in the Senate process,” stated a USyd spokesperson.
None of the students contacted were members of political factions on campus, unlike the past representatives, Patrick Massarani and James Flynn, who are members of Young Labor and the Young Liberals respectively.
Massarani has been particularly active fighting senior management over the issue of fee deregulation, and was one of the ‘rebel’ Fellows calling for Convocation.
This election was important because numbers are tight on Senate and the formation of an anti-fee deregulation “left bloc” might have been possible. If Massarani or Osborn were elected alongside Labor’s postgraduate candidate, followed by an NTEU member in the staff elections early next year, the group might have held near-majority voting power.
Spence and Hutchinson met with one student before the election period began.
Dean Shachar, a member of the Young Liberal Movement, told Honi he had a meeting with Spence and Hutchinson, which he called a “preliminary discussion”.
Shachar stated he organised the meeting and sought to discuss his “vision for the university”.
Shachar spoke to Annabel Osborn, another candidate in the undergraduate race, about the meeting. According to Osborn, Shachar claimed that Spence said words to the effect of “How are we going to win this election for you?” at that meeting.
She also told Honi that the Vice-Chancellor rang Shachar on another occasion and asked to meet with him when he returned from China.
Shachar denies both of these claims, but confirms the initial meeting took place. No other candidate had a similar meeting with Spence or Hutchinson.
The winner of the undergraduate race, who is now subject to a challenge from Massarani and Osborn, Dalton Fogarty, has told Honi he was not approached by any member of management.
“I find it hard to believe that a Chancellor would involve themselves [sic] in the electoral process in such a manner,” said Fogarty.
USyd’s stance on fee-deregulation holds national sway, and its Senate is an important forum for shaping that conversation.
Anti-fee deregulation voices from the Senate have been some of the loudest in the federal debates so far, and some of the few who have spoken out against the Vice-Chancellor, his Group of Eight counterparts, and the Federal Government.