Monday, October 09, 2006

Compulsory student associations are illegitimate

Ask any student politician why compulsory student associations exist and you’re bound to be told that they exist to provide representation and services.

Yet supporters of compulsory membership don’t want to debate representation. It’s the issue which dare not speak its name. For example in the recent debate about the Vuwsa fee increase, the Vuwsa executive focused entirely on the so-called services which they claimed were under threat if the fee was not increased.

Compulsion supporters don’t want to touch representation because they know it’s an issue where they have absolutely no credibility. This is because by its very nature compulsory membership is the equivalent of misrepresentation.

An organisation’s form of membership is key to the organisation’s legitimacy particularly where representative (as opposed to service) organisations are concerned.

Representative organisations exist to stand on behalf of their members. People indicate their willingness to have an organisation represent them by consenting to become a member of the organisation. By doing so a person is saying, “I agree with the goals, values and policies of this organisation. I agree to join this group and give my consent to have this group act and say things on my behalf”. This is what happens when people agree to join trade unions, political parties, charities, pressure groups etc.

An organisation is illegitimate if it does not have an individual’s consent yet claims to speak on behalf of that individual.

Compulsory student associations do not receive permission from individual students to speak on their behalf. Instead students join an association so they can gain access to tertiary education. Yet compulsory associations continually claim to represent all students. In fact compulsory associations misrepresent the students who don’t agree with the things associations do and say in their name.

Imagine you wanted to buy a house and, without your permission, someone presented themselves to the vendor as your agent. Imagine if this pseudo agent then negotiated the purchase on terms which were not acceptable to you. You’d be outraged that someone had claimed to represent you without your permission and had said things which you don’t agree with. Thousands of tertiary students face this same situation every day.

Misrepresentation should be an issue of great ethical concern to student politicians yet they don’t want to address it as they realise it would expose the illegitimacy of all compulsory student associations.

Student politicians tolerate the misrepresentation caused by compulsory membership because compulsion also delivers big money. And the most important thing to supporters of compulsory membership is their free and unfettered access to other people’s money.



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