‘Extremely aggressive’: SUPRA Council criticised for lack of transparency and toxic culture

Concerns surrounding an inappropriate work culture and lagging Office Bearer reporting standards are being levelled following a rancorous meeting in 2021.

Allegations of systemic opacity, a toxic culture and corrosive conduct have arisen at SUPRA’s (Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association) Council over behaviour from a former President.

During a Council meeting in November last year, SUPRA Councillor Arash Araghi submitted a motion calling for better transparency standards. For Araghi, transparency reform was needed as  he felt the Office Bearers’ reports were both inadequate and overly reliant on announcements from university management. 

Subsequently, the proposal was met with significant hesitation. In response, SUPRA Disabilities Officer Eva Midtgaard asked for alternative ways to address concerns surrounding transparency. Upon this, Wendt* alleged that a former SUPRA President resorted to “shouting” at the Disabilities Officer.

“He just lashed out. He was very verbally aggressive towards Eva who was trying to calm him down but he just lost it.” said Wendt*. 

Araghi’s motion was voted down by every Councillor bar himself and Midtgaard. 

According to Wendt*, the alleged behaviour is indicative of a toxic culture that has been simmering inside the council. Attempts at instituting more rigorous reporting standards for Office Bearers and enhanced transparency were either voted down or never discussed. 

In an email seen by Honi, twice-elected former SUPRA President Weihong Liang voiced his strong opposition to a motion moved by Araghi to instigate an investigation into the organisation’s internal culture following “concerns of inappropriate conduct and culture within Council.”

Liang opposed the motions put to council, stating that they “…are not a suggestion or comment”. 

Exasperated, the former President continued to say that the accusations of a toxic culture within Council made him “feel [like] I am a little boy and need others to help me.” 

“From July to now, I have never heard from our students and other friends that SUPRA has a bad culture and needs to change.” Liang argued, denying the accusations further. This is despite a report in December 2021 from Education Officer Yinfeng (Benny) Shen noting a considerable decline of 20 per cent in student’s perception of the organisation’s importance. 

Liang also contended that motions regarding the Council’s internal culture were “empty issues” that detract from the body’s mission to assist international students in a time of change. He was part of Infinity – a former Panda-aligned electoral group that purports to represent Chinese international students. 

It is understood that Liang is nominating for the presidency once again tonight which, should he succeed, would mark his third term in the role. Liang’s previous tenures have been described as “ineffective” owing to his sudden resignation mid-term in 2019 for a job in China after presiding over noticeably less activist SUPRA Councils. 

In response to controversy surrounding the motions, Benny Shen told Honi that he could not “recall the specific details” and assert that the motions were “amended”. However, minutes obtained by Honi do not record any amended forms of the respective motions and indicate that motion 6.4, which called for an investigation into the Council’s culture, was never brought to a vote. 

SUPRA will be conducting internal elections tonight for a new Co-President following Shiyu Ma’s abrupt resignation from the organisation at 6:30 PM. 

* denotes a pseudonym used for an anonymous source.