Student democracy – however inconvenient, annoying or downright obnoxious – should be embraced

We’ve traipsed back from mid-semester, grudgingly faced assignments that should have been started earlier and are already counting down the days until a real holiday. Between now and then are the exams, essays, emails, extensions, excuses and all other things that start with ‘e’ – including elections.

Oh student elections. This time around we’re electing board directors to the USU, our campus-wide champion of the onesie and marketing focused parent of Manning and Hermann’s. It’s easy to write off the mess of coloured t-shirts and cringe worthy slogans as being the irrelevant noise of student politicians whose need for public validation is matched only by their willingness to promise you anything. This may be (read: probably is) true, but, mess and slogans aside, the process of student democracy and its outcomes should not be quickly dismissed.

Superficially, the first reason student elections are worth caring about is how much you have already invested into organisations like the USU. Last year a quarter of the Student Services fee that you paid to the university was allocated to the Union – in other words $70 per student, just over $3 million in total, is given over to the decision making of those students elected to the board.

Who cares? Well, if one truth emerged from the recent Raue saga it’s that the USU board is capable of spending student money on all sorts of things, including the cost of defending in court a failed attempt to oust the duly elected vice-president of the board. The Union hasn’t disclosed how much was spent in this . An exact figure is almost beside the point, because the example itself is enough to illustrate that the elected figures – yes, with their tshirts, slogan and cheesy videos – are responsible for spending your cash, even in situations when it is unclear why it is in the student interest. Anyone as broke as most students are cares where there money goes and how it is being spent, student elections give us just a little bit of control over who gets to do that spending.

If you don’t care about money, or prefer a principled approach to things, your second reason to care when the ballot arrives is for the sake of student control itself. Long past are the glory days of democratic learning when students were allowed to vote in department meetings. In contrast, it’s not so long ago that the University attempted to wrest control of the USU’s commercial operations away from students. There are worthy critiques to be made of the methods and decisions of student representatives and board directors, but at the end of the day the needs and interests of student will always be best served by their own and can be defended by simply casting a vote.

Student democracy – however inconvenient, annoying or downright obnoxious – should be embraced wherever we can get it, because at least we have it.

Vice Presidents Laura Webster and Max Hall tell you why they “Stand with Raue”.

It cannot have escaped your notice that a certain Vice President is faced with the likely possibility of being removed from Board. No, it’s not us. It’s Tom Raue. If last’s weeks edition of Honi Soit is any indication, we are not the only ones who support Tom and strongly oppose any motion which would have him removed from the University of Sydney Union Board of Directors. The events that have lead to this has already been thoroughly documented in this fine publication in great detail, so we instead will tell you why we stand with Raue…and why you should too.

Tom is an anomaly in student politics. He actually cares about students as opposed to building his résumé. USU executive would have you believe that Tom has committed a heinous crime and released a confidential report; however we would argue that Tom has done nothing but fulfill his obligation to the safety and welfare of students by releasing one line of a report detailing police and University cooperation during the violent 2013 strikes. May 14 has become synonymous with abuse, trauma, lies from the University and blatant police brutality.

We can’t help but question the integrity and motivation of anyone who suggests that documents proving direct cooperation between the University and the NSW Police Force should not be made public at the time of discovery. Tom made a judgment call and we stand by him. Tom’s attempts to protect students and his attempts to hold the University accountable for the violent acts committed by the NSW police on the picket lines have been met with a motion proposed by USU Executive to remove him from his position as Vice President, citing severe misconduct. Go back and check your duty statements because you’ve got it wrong.

Disappointment is not a strong enough word to encapsulate our feelings toward the USU Executive, Hannah Morris, Sophie Stanton and John Harding-Easson.

USU Executive, we do not support you. We do not trust you. You do not represent our wishes. If a motion to remove Raue from Board is passed, we have completely lost faith in you and you will have proven that the USU is more concerned with placating the University and it’s numerous corporate sponsors than listening to what its students want.

Show your support and keep updated at facebook.com/standwithraue.

Taking a look at Diversity and Equity on Campus

We’ve always thought it was slightly unfair that Sydney Uni management do little else but treat students as nothing more than numbers on a page. In order to celebrate the release of the new Veronica Mars movie (which one of your VPs watched at 3 in the morning) we decided to do some
not-so-subtle sleuthing to find those dirty facts the Uni doesn’t want you to know.

You, dear reader, are likely a non-Indigenous, Australian wom*n who was raised in the affluent Inner West… you’re also studying a BA.
The numbers don’t lie and the numbers paint an interesting picture of the people that populate your lecture theatres, dictatorially dominate your tutes and get between you and a meat box after a hard days study at the neoliberal factory.

Inside these sandstone walls, 57% of 53 000 students are female, just ahead of the national average of 56%. International students comprise 22%, while regional and Indigenous students make up only 5.6% and 0.8% of the populace respectively.

This places USyd behind the national average in intake of both regional (6.5%) and Indigenous students (1.1%). These shortcomings, whilst embarrassing, don’t come close to the extraordinary under representation of people from a low socio-economic background.
Nationally, 17% of students come from a low SES area. At USyd, that number halves to 8.6%.

These statistics are damning to a University that claims to be “founded on principles of diversity and equity”. If Spence continues to run with this people pleasing line, he should closely follow it up with “but if you have the dollars, I have your acceptance letter!”. No brochure filled with buzzwords can apologise for the inequitable reality that this number represents, no matter how much money the university throws at ‘media consultants’ to cover it up. If education remains the silver bullet that improves the livelihood of all who receive it, then our University is failing abysmally to share this.

It goes without saying that an attachment to traditional demographics and tuition cheques should never be allowed to stand in the way of an inclusive and socially conscious admissions policy; yet if recent alterations to housing scholarships are anything to go by it seems as though the university could care less. These changes will leave students in need of accommodation unsure whether they will receive assistance until well into the semester – long after they have signed a lease and begun paying rent (which is also ridiculously high). Students in need
of help = not Spence’s division.

Management and admin must stop thinking about their ludicrous pay checks and realise that education is a privilege owed and deserved by all who seek it, rather than a commodity exchanged with those who can afford it.

Your Vice President’s Max Hall and Laura Webster

Amelie Vanderstock updates us on the USYD community garden project

A community garden is growing at USYD!

After years of spontaneously arising groups, writing proposals, pressuring the university, and creating guerrilla garden plots around campus to spread the word, a community garden will soon be growing at USYD. Operating through the Student Representative Council (SRC), in a joint venture with the Centre for English Teaching (CET) and the USYD Food Coop, we can now create an inclusive space where students are empowered to come together- learning from one another through building and maintaining our campus garden. We’ve received the final approval to begin construction of raised garden beds on the 5th floor Balcony of Wentworth building. Accessible through the Centre for English teaching (CET), this location and collaboration provides a unique opportunity for international and domestic students to meet and work in concert. In this expansive space students are invited to participate in workshops from no-dig-gardening to feminism and facilitation – as the garden has the potential to become a hub of cross SRC collective endeavours. Community garden allow those without gardening area or knowledge of their own to join others in a common site for such skills and soil to be shared. Local councils including the City of Sydney with the ‘grow it local’ focus, are increasingly encouraging community garden initiatives in a shift toward local empowerment and vegetating urban environments. Schools have been leaders in such projects with increasing successful University examples. From the rooftop garden at ANU (Canberra) to the vibrant vegetable beds of UOW (Wollongong), campus gardens have brought students together in more ways than planting.

Sustainability, food security, questioning the supermarket monopoly, approaches to mental health, urban ecological understanding, collaboration and community… there is an abundance of reasons and goals for a community garden on our campus. The garden will be a balance of food crops and native flora for education, encouragement of native diversity and self-sufficient food production purposes. Multilingual signage and regular working bees to plant and maintain the garden will ensure a collaborative, volunteer-coordinated project – not to mention opportunities for volunteer participants to feast on the fruits of our labour!

Student input is important at every level of the community garden’s creation. From sprouting skills, to poster design, to volunteer roster coordination – there are many ways to contribute that cater to a diversity of interests and experience. Now that we have our location secured, we are in the final design phase: looking at best permaculture practice to use our space efficiently and sustainably. If there are any budding permaculture designers amongst our student community, why not use this as a first (or umpteenth) project? After we’ve erected the beds, ready for spring planting, watch for the call out for the Inaugural Gardening Bee! Watch this space!
In the meantime we can choose which crops we want to plant, sprout seeds at home and uni, refine the everyday organising of the garden, and complete the finer tasks that as a broad collective we can learn to do together!

I envisage the garden to bring together our broad, dynamic student community in sharing knowledge, skills and experiences- not just about gardening but about our commonalities as students and the diversities of interests and futures. As the representative body for all USYD undergraduates, it is important for the SRC to facilitate these inclusive ventures and hopefully, it can then contribute to making our SRC more accessible and relevant to our diverse community.
We next meet Monday 1pm on the Garden Balcony, Level 5 Wentworth – accessible via the Centre for English teaching, upstairs from International students lounge (or look up at the protruding rail from Hermanns!).

No matter your skills and experience, If you are interested in gardening, or simply finding or expanding your community on campus, contact us at usydcommunitygarden@gmail.com or call me on 0413679269 to find out more!

Amelie Vanderstock gives you the inside word on what the collectives are up to and how to get involved

As second semester brings its usual array of new courses, readings and lab demonstrators, with it comes a refreshed and active SRC! Returning from winter conferences around the country, office bearers and collectives have met, planned and crafternooned to build campus campaigns. If collective didn’t fit into your timetable 1st semester- perhaps now is the chance? From feminism to global solidarity- many likeminded folk are coming together to create change on and off campus;

Anti-racism collective are participating in weekend-ly refugee rallies across the city to demonstrate broad student outcry against the inhumane and outrageous PNG solution. The Indigenous officers have been celebrating NAIDOC week whilst planning for the National Indigenous Tertiary Student Games in September. Disabilities and Carers collective are busy compiling an info-booklet for Carers week in October, and are calling for student carers to complete the online survey. By filling it in and passing it on, we can compile useful stats to pressure the university to recognize carers’ needs! Queer collective is frantically, and fantastically prepping for Pride festival in Week 8, building a campus ally network and seeking identifying writers for Queer Honi! Womens collective will be hosting ‘Knightess’ –showcasing the talents of USYDs incredible women-identifying performers in Week 7.

We’ll then be reclaiming the streets from sexual violence in late October for the annual ‘Reclaim the night’ march. As part of the ‘fossil free universities’ campaign, Environment collective participated in a city-wide ‘divestment’ training on Sunday- joining Doctors for the Environment and other groups who are seeking to withdraw financial ties between coal, CSG and our respective institutions. Join the Thursday discussion group on ‘divestment’ and watch out for some colorful campus actions to learn more!

The Education Action Group (EAG) are working  towards the National Day of Action (NDA) on the 20th of August-where students around the country coordinate rallies, marches and creative campaigning on the value of Education- for everyone, not profit.  This coincides with the USYD strike-support staff, don’t go to class!  It would have been difficult to miss Tuesday’s canvas and color on Eastern Ave, as students from varying faculties, collectives and interests painted banners expressing our reason’s & asks’s for education reform.  ‘Funding education, not deportation’ to recognition of student carer’s – there’s a myriad of ways that we can improve education for all.

Looking for even more ways to engage on campus and meet some rad people of diverse interests? Why not join the community garden collective? In a collaborative SRC endeavour, we sketched and imagined our ideal campus workshop-garden on Sunday- a space for domestic and international students to share knowledge about native and food plants, get our hands dirty and hang out. We’ve come a long way from guerrilla gardening in Eastern Ave- now with a space and ongoing dialogue with Campus infrastructure and the Centre for English teaching and learning- but there’s much room for growth! If you’re interested in organising, brainstorming ideas, learning some gardening skills, or finding out more, feel free to contact me on 0413679269 or by email at  vice.president@src.usyd.edu.au.

Too much happening to remember? Stay updated and get organized by picking up an A1 SRC Semester 2 planner from an Honi stand or the SRC office- collective meetings and events included!!!

vice.president@src.usyd.edu.au

Amelie Vanderstock reports back on the Edufactory conference

What is the education system we wish to see? 
One where learning is a positive ongoing, experience rather than an overwhelming pressure? Where teachers may pursue academic endeavors and still have energy to help students understand complex equations and ideas? Where we emerge without being chained to debt? Where we choose what we learn and the future we hope for? Where the full spectrum of genders, ethnicities, abilities, ages and socio-economic backgrounds have the opportunity to enter into and flourish into said system? 
That is an education that the national network ‘Class Action’, born of the April 2013 Edufactory conference, is actively working towards. Following the 2012’s mass action against the staff cuts, and 2013’s student-staff strikes for a fair workplace agreement, what better sandstone pillars than that of Sydney University to converge such a fight? 
The conference itself brought people from as far as Perth to facilitate discussion and a national response. Indigenous Australian students from the Koori centre explored gaps in Indigenous education and the dangers of ‘tokenism’.

Three feminists from Wollongong shared experiences of running free school; direct action against the cuts to UOW’s gender studies major. International students discussed constraints of visas, unjustified costs and challenges to fighting for change in a country which is foreign to them. Students conferred the challenges of abilities differing invisibly, and how we can work towards equality in the everyday as well as when campaigning. Nepalese students came to share their experiences in what is an international struggle. Historical occupation, economic theory, the role of government, unionism, police intervention, skills, actions and organising principles were workshopped. Delicious food was shared. Silent films of alternate primary school systems were screened. Music was played. Friends were made.
Overall? A success. However, in this conference and in the new network formed, we must remember that it is not only our words, but in our actions and organisations which must reflect the world we wish to see .

Organising Edufactory, I had the fortune to work with some incredible, inspiring women, whose invisible work was often overlooked despite our goals. These women make the show go on whilst despite our best efforts; men often dominate verbal space to debate policy.
Class Action is in its beginnings and has the opportunity to be inclusive of these gaps that exist in education and a broad student movement for change. As participants and organisers both spoke on and experienced, we must make every effort to address these persistent, structural challenges fuelled by a neoliberal, corporatist patriarchy, both in our fight for education, and in our interactions when doing so.

What’s next?

May 14. The National Student Strike.

We welcome all to join convergences (we’ll be at Victoria Park!) from around the country to skip class and rally for free, fair education!

Amelie Vanderstock responds to a letter in last weeks Honi

Unfortunately, Harry Stratton needs to master the humble Google search engine before announcing ‘I tend to research my claims.’ Indeed, the Kimberley Land Corporation initially voted 60% in favour of the LNG processing plant going ahead in the Kimberley region. That must have appeared in the first search option. However, Harry, I’m sorry to inform you that quite a great deal of supreme court level corruption has occurred on the part of the WA government on this issue.

Prior to the vote, the Goolarabooloo/Jabbir Jabbir people had been threatened by the WA Government that if the Kimberley Land Council voted against the LNG proposal their land would be compulsorily acquired, the project would go ahead anyway, and they would not receive the compensation package which would arrive if they voted ‘yes’. Surely, such threats entwined in a ‘democratic’ vote is evidence of corruption?

Yet with such threats to land and livelihood, only 60% of the indigenous representatives voted yes. That’s not exactly an ‘overwhelming vote in favour.’

In September 2011, after Walmadan (James Price Point) had been confirmed as the exact location of the gas hub, traditional owners from across the Kimberley denounced the Kimberley Land Council as their legal entity and announced their staunch opposition to the project. The Goolarabooloo people even went so far in their opposition of the project to invite Sea Shepherd Conservation Organisation, amongst other ‘professional protestor friends’ to join them on their land, in their fight. Does that sound like the actions of people who wanted the project to ensue? Community campaigning then took form as Indigenous elders and community members set up a blockade at Walmadan to stop the destruction of their lands and of their songlines. The Lurujarri Heritage Trail follows part of a traditional Aboriginal Song Cycle which goes directly through Walmadan. I’d agree that those traditional owners ‘know a damn sight more about where their songlines are’ ‘’than the both of us.

Evidently, indigenous communities of the Kimberley are not a homogenised mass and there were those in favour of the project due to its economic benefits or otherwise. But making an ‘indigenous benefits package’ contingent on the project is evidence that State and Federal governments are still withholding from remote indigenous communities, and using autonomy as a bargaining tool. I feel quite comfortable labelling that as corruption. Is it not a repetition of ‘paternalistic policies of the past’ when indigenous Australians are forced to compromise their lands, their beliefs and their heritage in order to gain the economic and social support that every other Australian living in cities across the country receive? It’s really really easy for ‘inner city trendies’ such as ourselves to argue within the lines of a student newspaper. It’s harder to sustain solidarity when complex questions of environmental and social justice are playing out in the real world. Community campaigning in the Kimberley demonstrates the coming together of not just ‘professional protestors’, but everyday people for intersecting reasons. Whether they feel personally afflicted or no, they choose to fight corporations to save the land of a peoples for generations to come. Hopefully the rest of the country agrees that autonomy and justice to indigenous Australians is long overdue.

Amelie Vanderstock writes an open letter to the student protester

Dear Students on the picket fence,

We are all at university to learn. We are able to do so because we are fortunate and intelligent enough to be to here, to expand our minds and think about the ways of the future. We hence understand that academic freedom, ant-discrimination laws and job security are fundamental to an equitable, quality teaching and learning environment. We can’t possibly disagree with these endeavors. But, we still allow ‘political neutrality’ or fear of short term academic disadvantage to stand in the way of our value for a worthy and fair education institution?

Striking is a polarizing choice. There is no politically neutral ‘grey zone’ when it comes to crossing a picket line.
It is easy not to go to class when our classes are cancelled. That choice is made for us by our lecturer who is striking in solidarity with a majority union vote to stop University operations.

The choice comes when our classes are running. Perhaps, like me, you are of a faculty such as science, where university corporatization is less threatening because it is more ‘economically profitable’. As such, these staff may feel less personally endangered, so choose to continue teaching. But although these subjects are vital, they need not run at the expense of future working conditions of all staff on campus.
Still, as students who value our education, concerns with missing valuable classes cannot be overlooked. Unrecorded lectures, compulsory tutorials, assessable laboratories…we feel by skipping these we’ll miss out on core content, or be unfairly disadvantaged.

The Vice Chancellor capitalized on these concerns when sending every student an email painting the strikes as an “inconvenience” to our studies. Of course administration wishes to isolate students and staff when they are the very body placing the educators, and quality of our education at risk.

But even the Vice Chancellor’s debasing email cannot mask our right as students to support the strike:

“No student will be penalized if their class does not take place or if they are unable to attend their class”

Striking is a legitimate reason for being unable to attended class. We cannot be penalized.

The SRC is here to support you make the choice not to cross the picket line. If you feel you are being unjustly disadvantaged, the SRC Case Workers can help you. Email help@src.usyd.edu.au  or come see us in the SRC office (Basement of Wentworth building).

The SRC values your education as you do, and hence asks all students to choose to stay home, or join the picket on an NTEU strike day. If the University continues to refuse negotiation with the NTEU on fair teaching conditions, there will be another.

To cross or not to cross a picket line is an active, polarizing choice, and we ask you to choose to act in solidarity with your teachers.

University Investments called to account

University. For me? Research. Usyd! Apply. Accepted. Registration. Complete. O week. Free stuff. Too much guarana. Timetable?  Workable. First class? Found and attended! Congratulations, our university education begins. But let’s back track a second. What was it that made us choose Sydney University in the first place?

Is it the 160 year old sandstone buildings that makes us feel as close to Hogwarts as we can be without a wand? Is it the ‘student life’ so sought after? Is it the abundance of lecturers with academic freedom for quality teaching? Is it USYD’s forward research into a sustainable future? Is it the social justice initiatives that such an internationally renowned institution has the capacity for, which makes us as students feel a part of something worthwhile?

While USYD does carry a certain rep for historically derived prestige and bustling student life, I’m willing to guess it wasn’t the later justifications. Perhaps these aren’t always at the forefront of our minds- after all its arguable that the connection between research, investment, education and the outside world is intentionally mystified. But as we witness the cutting of staff on financial grounds alongside a little research into where this capital goes, academica, sustainability or social justice cannot be why we chose USYD. Simply because these reasons would be inaccurate.

We as students are implicated in an institution who’s ‘Investment and Capital management’ (ICM) department’s objective is to  “enhance the overall wealth and fiscal capacity of the University through the adoption and implementation of investment and capital management best practice.” No mention of ethical or sustainable ventures in USYD finance. So what are our investments and who are the investors?  These speak loudly to the interests of our institution. To name three;

  • ANZ, the bank on our student cards, is also the funder of $20 million to companies expanding the coal industry in NSW and QLD. Companies including Rio Tinto, Xstrata, BHP Billiton, Whitehaven which are remembered for oil spills and encroachment on farms and state forests. Surely an ethical investor would reconsider partnerships with socially and environmentally unsustainable fossil fuel projects?
  • BHP Billiton donates a subsequent slice of the $13 million pie to finishing bio-molecular/chemical engineering students. While these grants give futures in the work force, isn’t our university constraining our opportunities for development in sustainable industries?
  • Nuclear weapons – Sydney University invests $2 million into 15 companies that manufacture and manipulate nuclear weaponry. On what grounds can we justify an education institution funding nuclear warfare?

USYD investments don’t stop financially. Our new chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson, is the current director of AGL (known for its propagation of coal seam gas, a socially and environmentally unsound fossil fuel). She is also the former director of the conservative think tank, The Centre for Independent Studies, known for libertarian views on education as a business rather than a quality learning experience. Appointment of leaders with such vested interests again question what USYD really is invested in.

We, as students, are implicated in this system. This is where our fees and SSAF are pooled. But more importantly, these interests fuel our education. This feeds into the centers established, the direction of research, and the scholarships/grant options we receive for our hard earned years of study.
So although it may not be at the forefront of our minds when we choose our institution, our courses or our timetable… maybe it should be?

Want more information? Lock the Campus is a nation-wide campaign looking into investment relationships between university and the Coal/CSG industry.

Visit lockthecampus.org.au to find out more