Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fisking Joel Cosgrove

Back in May, Vuwsa education vice-president and Workers Party member Joel Cosgrove wrote an article ‘Freedom from what?’ in Salient. Joel’s piece was in response to an earlier article by Lukas Schroeter and Peter McCaffrey in which they argued in favour of voluntary membership.

Here at the international headquarters of Student Choice, we’ve been rather busy so we’ve only just got round to reading Joel’s article. Let’s take a look at his argument:

In last week’s Salient, resident right wing witches Lukas Schroeter and co. looked at the issue of VSM.

First sentence and Cosgrove has already resorted to ad hominen attack.

They say that VUWSA asks no one if it does a good job. Yet 3500 students gave up on average 30 minutes last year answering an in-depth survey ABOUT VUWSA concerning what VUWSA does well, what it doesn’t do well and what it could do better at and we’ve been implementing that this year.

Cosgrove misconstrues Lukas’s argument. Compulsory membership means that Vuwsa gets income without any effort. This means the association doesn’t need to prove its value to students and never needs to ask if it is doing a good job. This question would take the form of “do you want to join Vuwsa?” Compulsory membership means Vuwsa never needs to ask this question.

I don’t know the obviously lofty standards Student Choice have in terms of consultation, but maybe they can take some time to inform us of them in this year’s survey…

The main question Vuwsa needs to ask is not a survey question directed at forced members. Instead it’s simply ‘do you want to join Vuwsa’. Why is Cosgrove so terrified of this simple question?

The key point of their piece and one they drone on to anyone they come in contact with is the thorny concept of freedom of representation. They tot it out as one of personal choice! Your rights! Freedom! Yet what options exist? Quite simply it is VUWSA or the University in this debate. Nothing else…

The idea that there are only two forms of representation – Vuwsa or VUW - is total and utter rubbish. People are represented when they give others permission to speak on their behalf; this permission can create models which take numerous forms, including voluntary organisations such as political parties, charities or unions.

There is no fantastical marketplace of freedom. This is ignored; they purposefully don’t deal with the outcomes of this supposed freedom.

Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders enjoy voluntary representation. How does Cosgrove explain this and why can’t tertiary students enjoy this same right?

Go back to the 1999 VSM referendum in which over 70% of Vic students who voted, voted for compulsory unionism.

Red herring. The membership referenda were simply a mechanism which allowed activist students to get everybody else to pay for their hobbies and interests. And if the level of support for Vuwsa is as high as Cosgrove implies, why does the association need compulsory membership?

You’ll see the reports from the Vice-Chancellors Committee backing the status quo i.e. universal student membership.

Of course the vice-chancellors support compulsory membership – it makes their lives easier and they have a tame lobby group on tap which conveniently kicks up a fuss for more government funding of tertiary education.

Why keep it the status quo? Because otherwise it will COST YOU MORE. That is what happened at AUSA. Yes there is no direct AUSA levy as our friendly Student Choicers pointed out, but they forgot to mention that instead the university charges students and it increased the amount charged compared to that of AUSA. They didn’t mention this in their article and yet I have brought this up every time they try and badger me about “voluntary”students’ associations.

The argument that under voluntary membership institutions would simply charge students for the same price as compulsory membership is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the price charged by compulsory associations.

The price of compulsory membership is not a market price; it’s not set by supply and demand. Instead the price of compulsory membership is a political price; it’s set by a vote.

In turn, a compulsory association’s income is spent on priorities that are determined through a political process. Why would an institution decide to take an arbitrary price – set through a political process and spent on items of unknown value – and add it to the already substantial cost of enrolling at university?

Because students DO have a say. Presidents and Exec members have been rolled for their actions, that is accountability. I mean, if you’re pissed off at a decision made by VUWSA then you can attempt to roll Geoff or me or whom ever you feel is responsible.

The ability to roll a student politician is one level of accountability but it’s a far weaker form than that provided by voluntary membership. Under compulsory membership you can roll a student politician but they’re merely replaced by another student politician. However under voluntary membership, student politicians have to persuade people of the value of membership and provide value on an ongoing basis. If Joel is truly interested in accountability he should support voluntary membership.

VUWSA provides strong support for students. Through clubs support, through Ori and through the staunch representation of the Education Office.

Joel has made the mistake of thinking that things he values are of value to all students. He has no way of knowing this. The only way to determine if the things he’s listed are valued by enough students to make them viable, is to allow students to choose whether or not they fund them.

This could not be provided by the university at the quality and cost that the Students’ Association does.

Of course it couldn’t; the two entities provide, or are supposed to provide, entirely different things. The university’s role is deliver education through tuition. An association’s role is protect and advance the interests of its members. Part of the current mess is caused by associations failing to understand their role and becoming involved in areas where they have no license to operate – such as trying to defend the integrity of the Palestinian elections.

Not happy with how we do things? Stand for election! Come in and make a difference!

Joel seems to forget that students are already ‘in’ – they’re already members. The problem is not with the lack of students’ participation but rather it’s caused by a membership structure that doesn’t need to take account of individual student’s interests.

The only thing that will change with VSM is VUWSA’s independence.

Vuwsa’s independence is a myth. This seen most clearly in its total dependence on the university to collect its income. If Vuwsa wants to be independent it should try collecting its own income without relying on the university.

I’d much rather rely on students than on the university.

Joel the trouble is that Vuwsa does not rely on students. It relies on a law that enables compulsory membership and it relies on the university to collect Vuwsa’s income. If you actually wanted a regime where Vuwsa truly relied on its members you’d support voluntary membership.

For if the world of Lukas and Peter comes about, we’ll only be poorer for it, they will have hijacked the one part of university you do have some control over.

Note the language: votes in the current regime are legitimate, but if students or New Zealanders in general vote for voluntary membership then things have been “highjacked”.

If we’re up shit-creek at the moment, with ever higher student loans, decreasing availability of student allowances as well as higher rents, what they’re talking about only pushes us further up shit-creek, with no paddle in sight.

Hang on Joel, get your story straight. Earlier on you said “VUWSA provides strong support for students” but now you’re saying “we’re up shit creek”. Well, which is it Joel?

Well, so much for Joel’s argument.

You might be asking why Joel would support compulsory membership. In September last year we identified reasons why some people support compulsory membership. One group we identified was “activists who use student money to push their political agenda”.

As mentioned above, Joel is a member of the Workers Party, and items like this make his political agenda quite transparent.

Joel’s poorly argued piece shows he’s more than happy to use compulsory membership and students’ money to promote his own agenda.

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 08, 2007

press release - OUSA Takes Steps Towards Voluntary Membership

Press Release - Student Choice
6 July 2007

Student Choice would like to congratulate the Otago University Students' Association on moving towards becoming an organisation that students would want to join voluntarily.

OUSA's recent announcement that it's preparing for a future under voluntary membership shows an acceptance that the days of compulsory are numbered, Student Choice spokesman Mike Heine said.

"Student associations have never had any incentive to serve students properly under compulsory membership. The result has been decades of misrepresentation and misuse of student money. OUSA's announcement that it is actually going to try representing students is long overdue, and sadly all too rare," Heine said.

"While OUSA are to be commended for their change in attitude, there is much more that needs to be done. No association can ever be fully relevant to every individual. OUSA - and every other student association - should test their relevance by giving students the freedom not to join.

"Only by introducing freedom of association will OUSA achieve their aim of becoming truly relevant," Mike Heine concluded.

Student Choice is a student-run, national organisation promoting voluntary student association membership on the grounds of freedom of association.


Labels: , ,