The USU has refused to take a public stance on the University’s proposed agreement with the Ramsay Centre, ruling out a vote on the issue at Friday’s Board meeting.
According to President Liliana Tai, Board members had informally “floated” the idea of a vote either supporting or opposing the Centre’s proposed Western Civilisation course. But several directors had approached her to say they “were not educated enough about the issue to cast a vote”, Tai went on to explain.
“It would not be a well-informed vote,” she said at the meeting. “It doesn’t mean the Ramsay Centre isn’t an important issue. It just means it’s not one we are going to reply to today.”
“I didn’t find it compelling to move a motion where four or five would vote one way and the rest would abstain.”
Tai said she had circulated information to Board directors, including results from a staff survey over the proposed course, and a draft Memorandum of Understanding, which USyd intends to present to the Centre.
However, Tai explained there was limited public information on the course, which prevented the Board from reaching an informed decision. “[Directors] feel like the arguments they’re reading are hypothetical.”
“I think for a lot of people […] they don’t want to put themselves in a position where they’re publicly voting on something which in a few weeks or a few months’ time, would change their minds on,” she said.
Tai also noted the staff survey showed support for the Centre was split down the middle, with roughly half of respondents in favour of the new course, and the other half opposed.
SRC Education Officer Lara Sonnenschein told Honi she found it “hard to believe that Board Directors are uninformed on the issue of Ramsay.”
“It should also be a Board Director’s duty to inform oneself on the issue if a motion was to be brought to the Board.”
During question time at Friday’s meeting, Sonnenschein said she had spoken to some directors about the prospect of “mov[ing] a motion or hav[ing] an official position from the organisation.”
She accused Tai of “sidelining” first year Board directors Maya Eswaran and Decheng Sun, who together were planning on moving and seconding the motion.
The transparency of Board procedure has been called into question.
Although the Board meeting is open to public, members of the Union are unable to move a motion from the floor. Tai explained that Board directors could bring motions either by first submitting it for approval to the executive (made up of president, vice president, honorary secretary and honorary treasurer), or by passing a procedural motion at the meeting and subsequently moving a motion.
“The democratic way of handling things would have been to let the motion and discussion/voting around the motion to take place in a USU board meeting as opposed to holding secret informal discussions,” said Sonnenschein.
Immediate Past President Courtney Thompson emphasised that Tai had not ruled out taking a vote at a future Board meeting.
However, Sonnenschein said that the issue was “time sensitive”, adding that this was the last Board meeting before the end of semester. The MoU will be voted on by the University Senate this Wednesday 31st October.
Friday’s meeting also sparked debate about the USU’s role in the debate around the Ramsay Centre agreement.
Board Director Jacob Masina argued the Ramsay Centre was not an appropriate issue for the USU to discuss. He said the organisation was responsible for student life and experience, not commenting on academic engagements with external organisations.
Tai acknowledged different Board directors had differing views on the purview of their organisation.
“I do believe there are instances where the USU should comment on issues which are not directly [related to] the USU.”
Tai said the USU had taken an official stance on issues such as the same-sex marriage debate, and racist graffiti on campus.
She acknowledged that “people look to us as a student organisation and as leaders…what we support principally and practically does matter to our members.”
Tai said the Ramsay issue was unique in that many people did not have an opinion on the issue.
She explained that Board directors were at different points “on the sliding scale of how politically active we think the USU should be” and the decision on whether to take an official stance on an issue was done on a case by case basis.
Tai told Honi that whether a motion would be raised in the future depended on whether there was a change in information available about the Ramsay Centre agreement and whether Board directors felt like “[the information] was enough for them, personally”.