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Freedom from what?

Joel Cosgrove



In last week’s Salient, resident right wing witches Lukas Schroeter and co. looked at the issue of VSM – Voluntary Student Membership. As a response to their response to the original article, this piece unashamedly thinks what they’re talking about makes me laugh, but not in a funny way, more of a sigh and eye-rolling way.

Student Choice folks like Nick O’Kane and Lukas Schroeter enjoy chucking around amusing anecdotes about VUWSA. How they have turned a motion that wasn’t voted on at an AGM, giving both $15 000 to the ACT party and a tank to the Alliance[1] into VUWSA publicly backing the Alliance at the last election is beyond me. Are they stretching the truth (lying?) on purpose? I’ll leave that for you to make a judgement call on.
There are huge gaps throughout their opinion piece. 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. 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 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… There is no fantastical marketplace of freedom. This is ignored; they purposefully don’t deal with the outcomes of this supposed freedom.
Go back to the 1999 VSM referendum in which over 70% of Vic students who voted, voted for compulsory unionism. You’ll see the reports from the Vice-Chancellors Committee backing the status quo i.e. universal student membership. 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.
Why don’t they mention this? Because it’s not handy for them to mention the fact that the freedom they’re after costs students more and takes away what little control they do have at the moment.
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. If you don’t like me trying to organise student representation on Karori campus and asking class reps what they think of the proposed student hostel on Fairlie Tce, then you’re free to test the water with a motion to roll. But you can’t do that to the Vice-Chancellor, good luck if you do! As student representatives we are accountable for the decisions we make and I stand by all I have made.
Quite simply this statement that is boldly laid down i.e. that “voluntary membership is about making sure you get value for money and have a students’ association that cares about and responds to your needs” is bullshit. VUWSA provides strong support for students. Through clubs support, through Ori and through the staunch representation of the Education Office. This could not be provided by the university at the quality and cost that the Students’ Association does. Not happy with how we do things? Stand for election! Come in and make a difference!
The only thing that will change with VSM is VUWSA’s independence.
I’d much rather rely on students than on the university. That is the situation. 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.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.