The Board is back
Yesterday, USyd’s favourite corporate board was joined by a curious new Senate-Appointed Director, passed transparency reforms, confirmed online elections, and avoided questions about Pulp.
The USU Board held its first meeting of the year yesterday afternoon, considering reviews, revues and revenues. The Board was joined for the first time by a new Senate-Appointed Director (SAD), David Wright, whose dual role as the University’s Director of Treasury and Financial Control has drawn the ire of some. New CEO Andrew Mills also attended his first board meeting.
Over summer, David Wright was appointed to the Board by the Senate, replacing Jane Drummond. Wright is also the University’s Director of Treasury and Financial Control. The appointment of a high-ranked University decision-maker to the Board represents a marked change of approach from the Senate, whose recent appointments have generally not been involved in the day-to-day affairs of the University. Current and former Directors told Honi that they could not recall a SAD with such close connections to University management.
The appointment may foreshadow closer involvement from the University in the affairs of the USU. Last year, in a significant shift, SADs intervened in executive elections to swing the Presidency in favour of Irene Ma. Wright’s appointment appears to be a continuation of this trend, with his secondment to the Finance Committee especially important as the USU seeks to navigate out of choppy financial waters with the JobKeeper cliff approaching.
One person familiar with the USU told Honi that “if the USU was serious about its independence with the University, it can’t have university decision makers also be USU decision makers.” Tom Raue, who has had his own well-publicised battles with University administration while a USU Director, told Honi that it was “deeply inappropriate” to have a University decision-maker on the board.
A University spokesperson said that “Given the work that David had been doing with the USU last year in responding to the challenges of COVID-19 he was considered well suited to be a Senate nominee.”
The USU’s new era of transparency got off to a bad start with President and acting Secretary Irene Ma failing to invite Honi Soit to the meeting, as has been convention for a number of years. Happily, new policy changes will enshrine this convention.
A motion containing several initiatives to improve transparency was passed by the Board. The new policy defines the instances in which meetings may move in camera. Observers will be excluded from meetings when discussion moves to – among other things – HR matters, sensitive legal matters, sensitive financial matters, and negotiations with the University.
After each meeting of the Board, a schedule of resolutions will be made publicly available. For in camera resolutions to be excluded, a ‘public interest’ test will be applied to determine whether such in camera proceedings are made public. Ben Hines expressed some concern at the broadness of this test.
Notably, recommendations from a recent transparency review to publicise (a) Directors’ benefits and (b) voting numbers on in camera motions were not included in the motion. Former USU Secretary Dane Luo, in his recent resignation letter, pointedly urged all Directors to “seriously consider all of the Secretariat’s recommendations and swiftly make recommendations that will benefit the membership.”
Revues will go ahead in 2021.
Despite the return of students to campus and relaxed COVID restrictions, the USU election looks likely to be an online affair this year.
SSAF funding for an in-person election was not made available by the University, which, according to President Ma, necessitated online polling. The SRC has faced similar reluctance from the University to fund in-person elections.
In-person campaigning will be allowed in accordance with COVID guidelines.
Simone Whetton, a former SAD, was appointed as Returning Officer. Dr Penelope Crossley, a former USU Vice President and current Law Faculty Associate Professor, will be the Electoral Arbiter.
Today’s meeting was presaged by the appointment of three new editors to PULP. Enjoying the privilege of an $8,000 stipend each, Honi looks forward to seeing PULP’s editors working 37.5% harder than us! Curiously, no PULP representatives were sighted by Honi at the Board meeting. Your student dollars, not at work!
Interestingly, the USU advertised for four editors, in addition to a newly created ‘Senior Editor’ position. Only three editors were appointed, with no Senior Editor. President Ma said “upon consideration of regrowth and rebuilding, we need to consider the needs of students and the effects of COVID.” Cost, therefore, appears to be the reason for the scrapped appointments.
The three editors are Mia Castagnone (who?), Emily Graetz (who?) and Fabian Robertson (who has written a couple of Honi articles). None of the editors have a background in student politics, which is a departure from previous years in which Madeline Ward and Ellie Stephenson have occupied editorial positions. Honi understands that Ellie Stephenson and Oscar Chaffey – both Grassroots affiliated – applied for the position but were rejected. Irene Ma denied that the USU was moving PULP in a more moderate direction and told Honi that editors were chosen on the strength of their applications alone. Given the strength of Ellie Stephenson’s CV and her breadth of experience, Honi wonders…
Abbey Shi redux
Director Eve Wang called into the meeting via Zoom from China to apologise for her recent absences. Wang, promising to rectify workload issues, took a leaf out of Abbey Shi’s book, and offered to generously forego her stipend for the rest of her term. Honi watches this space with interest.