Friday, September 15, 2006

Vuwsa admits: we are irrelevant

This Wednesday 20 September Nick Kelly and the other advocates of free education on the Vuwsa executive are going to have a second attempt at raising the compulsory Vuwsa levy by 20%.

In an attempt to justify this, Vuwsa have produced a poster detailing ten so-called services which the association claims will be under threat if the fee increase is not approved.

This poster is very informative. First, thanks in no small part to information circulated by student choice, Vuwsa has not claimed credit for providing numerous non-academic services at VUW such as the creche and the student health service.

Second, the list of 'services' says a lot about the executive's perception of the role of Vuwsa.

Of the ten 'services' selected, six can be categorised as relating to entertainment and leisure: funding for sports clubs; quiz nights; quad activities; student balls; Orientation fun; cheap bands.

Six are activities which require additional individual payment from the individual student so tend to be consumed by students who are already relatively well off: car parking; sports clubs; quiz nights; student balls; Orientation; cheap bands.

Six are activities which could be (and in the wider community are) provided on a commercial, user-pays basis: car parking; quiz nights; student balls; free bus (transport); Orientation; cheap bands.

One, SJS, is partially funded by Vuwsa but receives the bulk of its funding from taxpayers.

Only one, quad activities (and in some circumstances orientation and cheap bands), is an activity where it's not possible to exclude non-members.

All ten are services which VUW could provide, if it so chose, through the non-academic student levy. Whether or not VUW would wish to do this would depend upon the value VUW placed upon each service in contributing to the university's goals and objectives.

None of the 'services' relate to or even mention quality assurance, value for money, students' interests as tuition-fee paying customers, education or learning.

None of the 'services' relate to Vuwsa's primary goals, namely "promoting the interests" and "representing the views" of students.

Finally the political strategy behind the poster becomes clear when you realise that nine of the ten services involve activities which are funded by all students but are able to be accessed or required by a far fewer number. (I've included SJS in this definition but consider it to be a different case to the others).

With this poster, and other communications such as emails to clubs, Vuwsa is attempting generate support for the fee increase by communicating with the students who have some of their activities subsidised by others. Vuwsa message to them is: if you don't want to lose your subsidy and benefit, vote for the fee increase.

However Vuwsa hasn't answered the question: is it fair that students who
- are on lower incomes
- have no interest in or time for Vuwsa's leisure activities
- fully fund their own transport and food
should be made to subsidise the leisure, transport and food costs of others in order to obtain a tertiary education?

This poster confirms Vuwsa irrelevancy for most students. No wonder so few vote or turn up to meetings.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

OUSA strikes hypocrisy mother lode

If you're a student politician in a compulsory association, one of the first political skills you need to master is the ability to take highly hypocritical stances with a straight face.

This means you need to be able to:

The Otago University Students Association (OUSA) is working itself into a lather about a university-drafted code of conduct. All of a sudden OUSA is concerned about students' rights and is claiming the proposed code falls outside the provisions of the Bill of Rights Act.

OUSA have hired constitutional lawyer Mai Chen to provide legal advice. I nearly choked on my cornflakes this morning when I heard Ms Chen on Morning Report saying,

"Just because you're a student at Otago University you don't relinquish your general rights as a human being which all human beings have under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act - the freedom of movement, freedom of association, the freedom to express oneself, the freedom from double jeopardy."

What a relief - a leading constitutional lawyer has confirmed what student choice has being saying for years: just because you're a student you don't give up your right to freedom of association.

OUSA, an organisation with a membership regime which directly violates freedom of association, must be extremely embarrased that their lawyer even raised the freedom of association issue. Now they're going to have to pay her to go back through the filing cabinets and find the late 1990s legal opinion produced by Chen and Palmer and paid for by NZUSA which claimed compulsory membership doesn't violate freedom of association.

But we can thank Ms Chen for restating student choice's position to the nation's media.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Salient gives up on impartiality

One of the many flawed reasons used to justify compulsory membership is that compulsory funds subsidise student media. Student politicians tell us student media is important because it's an independent voice on campus which holds institutions and student associations to account. Students need an independent student media, we're told, so they know what's really going on.

Well, that's what we're told.

In recent days Salient, the magazine owned by the Victoria University Students Association, has killed the myth of independent student media stone dead.

The Vuwsa executive want to increase the compulsory Vuwsa levy. Has Salient taken an independent stance on this, weighing up the pros and cons and treating both sides evenly? Has it hell.

Salient editor James Robinson has been outspoken in his support of an increase of the levy. Salient is owned by Vuwsa and would be a possible beneficiary of any fee increase. Robinson has a vested interest in seeing the fee go up. At the SGM he spoke in favour of a fee increase and has also shown himself to be a less-than-impartial supporter of Vuwsa and compulsory membership saying:

  • A rise in the levy is the best way to preserve VUWSA at its current level.
  • In my heart of hearts I can’t help but implore you to vote for an increase in the levy.
  • You...think you are being ripped off and your money misspent. But that’s just not true.
  • You get so much more used (sic) out of a levy than you actually think.
  • VSM, will lead to higher student fees.
Now you could argue that an editor has as much right to freedom of speech of the next guy. Notwithstanding the complications of compulsory membership, I'd be willing to accept that but Robinson and news editor Nicola Keen have taken their support for a fee increase to another level.

They've used their positions within the magazine to launch personal attacks on students who've spoken out against the fee increase. This has a purpose. If you want to shut down your opponents one tactic is to ridicule them in print or online. This sends a clear signal to other students: don't oppose us or you'll end up being ridiculed by Salient. An old Chinese proverb says "kill one, frighten ten thousand." Robinson and Keen have adapted this rule to "ridicule one, silence ten thousand."

Again it all comes back to compulsory membership. The students targeted by Robinson and Keen have been forced to pay money to an organisation which claims to represent them. Some of that money has been given to Salient which then launches personal attacks on the same students. The students singled out by Salient are effectively being forced to fund an attempt to humiliate them in public.

Vuwsa's constitution says its primary goal is "promoting the interests" and "representing the views" of students. How does the forced funding of journalists who decide they want to ridicule you fit with the reason Vuwsa supposedly exists - that is to promote the interests of students and represent their views?

And given Robinson's and Keen's obvious bias against voluntary membership, students should be aware that Salient is totally incapable of providing fair and impartial coverage of the compulsory membership issue.

Again it all comes back to money and compulsory supporters' determination to keep the cash rolling in.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

you know we're making an impact when...

You open your economics test and find this:

It's a good sign people are beginning to pay more attention to the funding and focus of student associations.
For the record I suggest b. is a far more sensible answer for question 23 - and after the VUWSA meeting earlier in the week I daresay I'm not alone in thinking that.


Monday, September 04, 2006

compulsory membership: it's all about money

If you're involved in a compulsory student association, there are two rules you must always remember.

1. Compulsory membership is all about money. In particular, it's all about you being able to stick your hand into students' pockets and take their money without their consent.
2. Regardless of what else happens, always think about how it affects rule number one.

Forget about fees, loans and allowances. Forget about social justice, gender equality, globalisation and all that nonsense; your absolute number one priority is to protect your stream of unearned income. This means defending compulsory membership at all costs.

The massive increase student numbers in recent years has caused compulsory student associations to become large wealthy organisations. A lot of people now have a lot at stake with compulsory associations be it as:
- student politicians using associations to promote their worldview or gain experience before they move onto 'real' politics or jobs in the trade union movement
- employees in highly protected positions who have to stuff up really, really badly before they get fired
- activists who use student money to push their political agenda
- student media types who get to play at running their own magazine or radio station
- student sport types who can't believe their luck that there's a system which means other students have to subsidise their hobbies.

All of these people have a very strong vested interest in seeing compulsory membership continue to deliver a free flow of money.

That's why, as a compulsory membership supporter, you must do everything to ensure you continue to receive unearned income. Even if you've publicly opposed university fee increases you must be prepared to support student association fee increases.

Remember - it's all about money.