Come ye, gather by the shore as we push this burning longboat out to sea. Remember the days when we didn’t need to stress over enrolling in a face-to face tutorial? When our favourite tutors weren’t working on casual contracts, and we didn’t wait six weeks to get our marks back? Remember when Vertigo wrote about more than just its own imminent demise? No? Nevermind, perhaps you’re too young for that.
For everyone reading this, from stalwart fans to first-time readers (Ver-gins, if you will), we believe that an explanation is in order. This issue may read as an impassioned manifesto more so than a non-partisan student publication. Alas, desperate times call for desperate measures. If Vertigo is to go out of print, the least it deserves is a “Cause of Death”. See that longboat burning on the horizon? Yep, that’s us. You may be wondering how we got there.
Pt 1: Vertigo: A Brief History
Were it not despairing over its imminent extinction, UTS Vertigo would be celebrating its 31st birthday. In the beginning (1991), Vertigo succeeded Newswit as the official student publication of UTS, three years after the university itself evolved from the New South Wales Institute of Technology into the University of Technology Sydney. The original editors’ office was based on the top floor of Building 1, inspiring the name of the young university’s student publication (fyi, we now work in a windowless storage space on the third floor of Building 3, down the corridor from MediaLab — come say hi, we have a coffee machine).
So, what do you need to know about Vertigo that you may or may not know already? Here are the quick facts before we get into the good stuff:
- Vertigo is managed by an editorial team of six to twelve UTS students. A new Vertigo team is elected each October by the broader UTS community (i.e. you!).
- The publication is financed by the UTS Students Association (UTSSA), also known as the student union. Vertigo is one of many services provided by the union and is constitutionally obliged to follow their rules. The UTSSA is also voted in by you.
- The stylistic and written content of Vertigo is picked by the incumbent editorial team. Historically, the publication has maintained a focus on student issues, Australian politics, pop culture, and subculture.
- Since 2015, the magazine has produced six issues a year. Before that, we printed eight. Before that, ten. The highest number of issues printed in a year according to our archives is twelve.
Fast forward to the here and now. Over the past three months, Vertigo’s digital platforms have been spewing material protesting a reduction in their funding. As opposed to the standardised six issue suite, the 2022 Vertigo editorial team will only be printing three issues of the magazine for the UTS public, the third being this paperback spiel on the lamentable state of the world today. Vertigo say that if funding is not returned to its usual levels, the publication may go out of print entirely. So, what happened?
Pt 2: Radical Movements and Extremist Activities
The month is December 2005: After nearly a decade of unsuccessful attempts, the Higher Education Support Amendment (Abolition of Compulsory Up-front Student Union Fees) Bill 2005 is passed through the Australian Senate by the fourth government of Prime Minister John Howard. The new bill heralds the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU), at the expense of Universal Student Unionism (USU) in Australia. University students are no longer required to pay their union fees. Indeed, it is no longer compulsory for them to join their student union. Liberal Senator Santo Santoro calls it one of the Howard Government’s “crowning achievements”.
One prominent Young Liberal by the name of Edwin Dyga applauds the bill, referring to the political initiatives of student unions as “radical movements” and “extremist activities” which regularly lead to violence and disruption.
For years, the Liberal National Coalition have been barracking for “freedom of association” and, at last, they have their wish.
Fast forward to October 2011: John Howard has been succeeded by Kevin Rudd, who is in turn succeeded by Julia Gillard. A new bill, the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Bill 2011, is passed through the Senate with support from Labor, the Greens, and various independents. This bill marks the introduction of the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), an intriguing new middle-ground between John Howard’s VSU and the USU of old. SSAF is a mandatory fee paid by university students “to support the provision to students of amenities and services not of an academic nature”. In other words, student unionism is still not compulsory, but SSAF is. Money accumulated through SSAF may cover the cost of clubs and societies, sport and fitness resources, the student union and its services, student media, food relief, legal aid, and a million other services that should contribute to the university experience. But there’s a catch (and this is the important part). Instead of being distributed by a student body, the university’s SSAF money is handed over to University Management: a small executive of Chancellors, Vice-Chancellors, Presidents, and Deans who are responsible for the administration of the university. It is this executive who distribute the university’s SSAF revenue among the relevant services, usually via the signature of one Deputy Vice Chancellor in particular.
Enter Shirley Alexander.
Pt. 3: A High Quality Production
At UTS, SSAF revenue (the money you pay every semester) amounts to approximately $10.2 million every year. That money is spent on orientation, UTS Counselling, UTS Careers, Accessibility and Financial Assistance, HELPS, COVID-19 hardship initiatives, ActivateUTS, and the UTSSA. The exact breakdown of these finances has been made available on the UTS website (many thanks to campaign work of the UTSSA).
Since COVID-19, the UTSSA has received approximately 12% of this revenue, a downgrade from the 15% it received before the pandemic. This money (which, since COVID-19, has amounted to roughly $1.2 million) is then allocated by the UTSSA Executive to their various services: Casework andAdvocacy, the UTS Legal Centre, Bluebird Brekkie and Night Owl Noodles, Orientation, Student Collectives, and Vertigo.
That’s if Shirley says so. From her appointment in January 2006 until her resignation in June 2022, Shirley Alexander served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Education and Students) at UTS.
Every UTSSA budget required her approval. For the most part, this was not a problem. Long-serving staffers and other actors within the UTSSA have told Vertigo that Alexander rarely, if ever, stipulated how exactly the UTSSA needed to spend their budget. Until now.
On May 4 2022, Shirley Alexander emailed UTSSA President Anna Thieben about the planned allocation of the student organisation’s budget for the year. While Alexander was content with how the majority of the UTSSA’s budget would be spent, she refused to approve the requested budget until the amount of money being allocated to Vertigo (which had already been agreed to by the UTSSA and the editorial team in January) was reduced to almost half of the planned figure. The paragraphs she wrote regarding the student publication read as follows:
“What I cannot agree to, and have made clear from the very beginning, is an increase to the amount spent on Vertigo magazine. I have proposed the amount of $129,000 for Vertigo which covers the full costs of production in 2021 ($128,357) and I am not willing to almost double that to $245,000 as requested. I have made my concerns about the print version of Vertigo very clear: it is a high quality production that suits the purposes of a very small fraction of students, largely the publishing team and the design students who contribute to it. I have asked for a plan to increase its accessibility, and content designed for international students, and received no response. In years prior, I have offered the President the opportunity to work with UTS and our journalism team to turn Vertigo into a fully online publication. This has not been taken up. There appears to be no willingness to make changes to the production costs of this magazine which I do not believe is serving the interests of the majority of students.
If the UTSSA insists on continuing to publish the magazine unchanged, it will have to do so within budget.
This is my final position on Vertigo."
Having already printed two issues prior to Alexander’s verdict, the 2022 Vertigo editorial team is now unable to print their entire suite for the year, making this issue, which you now hold, the final print issue for 2022.
Pt. 4: The Great Debate
When taken at face value, Alexander’s justifications for reducing Vertigo’s budget aren’t too unreasonable. However, dissecting the matter at hand may prompt you to think otherwise. Let’s break down some of what the former Deputy Vice-Chancellor had to say about UTS’s student publication (and why she is wrong).
Topic #1: The interests of students
At the crux of Alexander’s feud with Vertigo is the need for our content to meet the interests of UTS students. Of course, the interests of the student body should be of paramount importance to any student publication. However, there are a few reasons as to why Alexander’s opinion here is problematic.
- 1. Shirley Alexander is not a UTS student.
- The Student Satisfaction Surveys which Alexander uses to gauge student interest do not contain any questions concerning UTS Vertigo, making her opinion even more poorly informed.
- Evidence suggests that if anything, student interest in Vertigo is far higher than Alexander assumes; Vertigo has a larger Instagram following than any other student publication in NSW (including University of Sydney’s Honi Soit), and, last year, more students voted in the elections for the new Vertigo editorial team than they did the elections for their new SRC, NUS delegates, or any individual UTSSA office bearers.
Topic #2: How much money is too much?
In justifying her revised figure for Vertigo’s 2022 budget, Alexander claimed that $129,000 would cover the entire cost of production for Vertigo in 2021. So, what’s the issue here?
- The 2021 Vertigo budget was made to account for the extensive Sydney lockdown. Only three issues were printed for the public in 2021. The 2022 team, just like the teams before the pandemic, is expected to print double this amount. Alexander is well aware of this.
- The proposed budget for 2022 is closely aligned with pre-pandemic Vertigo budgets ($209,177 in 2018 and $236,715 in 2019). Note that SSAF revenue in 2021 actually exceeded the amount accumulated in 2018, so it’s not as if the money isn’t there.
- Vertigo’s budget can be neatly divided into two parts: the expendable budget and the overhead costs. Overhead costs cover the cost of technology hire, UTSSA staff salaries, and honorarium. Despite being attributed to Vertigo, this money cannot be spent by the team. Due to overhead costs, the 2021 Vertigo team was only allowed to spend approximately $60,000 of the $128,357. These overhead costs have increased to almost $100,000 in 2022. That means that, with the reduced budget, the 2022 Vertigo team has a record low <$29,000 to work with. This has been completely disregarded by Alexander.
Topic #3: Willingness to make changes
Alexander has attempted to heap the blame for Vertigo’s budget onto Vertigo and the UTSSA themselves, claiming that she offered past Presidents the chance to turn Vertigo into an online publication while also asking for a plan to increase accessibility and content designed for international students.
- There is no record of Shirley Alexander ever making direct contact with the Vertigo team.
- The fact that the Vertigo team and UTSSA President change every year means that the possibility of progress towards Alexander’s vision is near impossible, which she knows.
- There is absolutely no specificity about what “increasing accessibility” would entail. This demand is also ignorant of the fact that Vertigo and the UTSSA staff recently implemented a translation service for our website and, since 2021, have been replicating all print content on our digital spaces.
Topic #4: Relevance of content
In an interview with Central News, Alexander expressed her desire to see “a newspaper that is relevant to UTS students,” referring to Vertigo as a place to “read poems, and look at photographs, and movie reviews”.
Additionally, according to past UTSSA President Aidan O’Rourke, Alexander has also longed to see a publication more akin to the University of Sydney’s Honi Soit.
- As mentioned in Topic #1, Alexander has no metric for measuring student engagement with Vertigo. If the content is irrelevant to students, that should be made apparent by the students, not by an administrator who is paid to speak on their behalf.
- The notion that Vertigo publishes little more than poems, photographs, and movie reviews demonstrates an even deeper ignorance of the publication’s content. See a list of articles explicitly concerning UTS below.
- Honi Soit is a fantastic student publication because it relies so heavily on the strong Arts contingent at the University of Sydney. Similarly, Vertigo falls back upon the highly commended Communication and Design courses that UTS offers. The fact that we have a high-quality publication as a result of this is not a coincidence.
And one more thing:
In stipulating that the budget for Vertigo should be reduced from the agreed upon figure, Alexander is overruling the autonomy of two democratically elected student organisations. The UTSSA is constitutionally required to finance Vertigo and ensure that content is relevant. Any qualms over the production of the magazine should be managed between them and the Vertigo editorial team. Numerous avenues were at Alexander’s disposal had she been serious about evolving the student publication for the better. She pursued none of them.
Pt. 5: Findings and conclusion
Now, as the last of our lonely longboat dissipates into the fog, let us turn to the seasons ahead.
If the budget allocated to the 2022 editorial team is replicated in 2023, Vertigo will be forced to undergo huge reductions in quality and quantity, that is, if it is kept in print at all. Not only does this erase the proud history of visual excellence that has earned Vertigo a reputation around university campuses, but demonstrates a complete disregard for student media altogether. The ultimatum provided by Shirley Alexander places the university’s official student publication in a no-win situation, wherein it must adhere to the personal preferences of an outgoing Deputy Vice-Chancellor or suffer the consequences.
Perhaps the most insidious feature of the budget reduction, however, is Alexander’s total indifference towards the autonomous processes which form the basic tenets of student unionism. Management’s refusal to approve the UTSSA’s requested budget, in a period when SSAF revenue has returned to prepandemic levels, signals a clear cut contempt for both Vertigo and the right of students to make decisions on matters about themselves.
So, where to now? While Alexander may be stepping down, she recently revealed that a “benchmarking review of comparable student publications” will be undertaken with the aim of helping the UTSSA improve what Vertigo delivers” (let’s hope they check out the University of Sydney’s Pulp, the creation of which was inspired by Vertigo). UTSSA President Anna Thieben has requested that at least one Vertigo editor is included in this process. She is yet to hear a response.
Between now and then, it’s up to UTS students to make clear their wishes to Management.
God forbid, they might end up making our decisions for us.
Parting Gift: a list of “relevant” student content published by Vertigo since 2021
Note: this list does not include any of our content about Australian politics, the economy, pertinent social issues, popular culture, student lifestyle or the work of UTS alumni, which may also be relevant to our readership. No sir. This is your cut-and-dry, strictly-about-UTS, Shirley-Alexander-approvable con- tent only (at least we think it’s what she wants, we’re not entirely sure tbh).
- ‘3 night stand with Respect.Now.Always’ by Olivia Mathis and Sevin Pakbaz
- ‘5 myths about uni: debunked’ by Tessa Pelle
- ‘5 things my VisComm degree taught me’ by Emilia Tortorella
- ‘A conversation with Amanda White: UTS senior lecturer’ by Erin Ewen
- ‘A conversation with Nour Hammouri: President of the UTS Palestinian Youth Society’ by Sevin Pakbaz
- ‘A systematic review of the university food court’ by Clara Atkin
- ‘Beneath the tower, the beach’ by Joshua Green
- ‘BTS with UTS: SRC reps meet with the university’ by Anna Thieben
- ‘Breaking down Atilla’s anti-racism statement’ by the UTS Ethnocultural Collective
- ‘Challenging racism with comedy: the first ever UTS PoC review’ by Hebah Ali
- ‘Fast cuts to FASS courses’ by Joey Chalita
- ‘How to make friends at uni (for people who know nothing)’ by Andy Lee
- ‘How to nudge UTS into saving the world’ by Miranda Crossley
- ‘Humanities degree fee hikes hurt us all, here’s why’ by Ella Smith
- ‘In conversation with Andrew Parfitt’ by Joseph Hathaway-Wilson and Joey Chalita
- ‘In conversation with UTS startups’ by Sevin Pakbaz
- ‘Lust Slut’ by Frances Harvey
- ‘Motion passes: UTSSA set to partner with UTS Executive in controversial new agreement’ by Joey Chalita
- ‘Never cross a picket line’ by the UTS Education Action Group
- ‘Notes from a 2020 Graduate’ by Dylan Crismale
- ‘Pandemonium within the pages: book recommendations with
- UTS Litsoc’ by UTS Literary Society
- ‘R.I.P. environmental subjects’ by Melissa Sukkarieh, Damien
- Nguyen, Anna Thieben, and Finn Billyard
- ‘Silicon Valley Girl’ by Alice Winn
- ‘The Casual Vagrancy’ by Joseph Hathaway-Wilson
- ‘The questions you’ve always wanted to ask: Socialist Alternative’ by Alice Winn
- ‘Things I would tell my first-year self’ by Josh Hortinela
- ‘The ultimate guide to making friends at uni’ by Emily Dwyer
- ‘Top 3 modern facilities around campus’ by Sevin Pakbaz
- ‘Unmasking universities: leveraging a pandemic’ by Charlotte Sheridan and Eve Cogan
- ‘USyd SRC and Honi Soit stand in solidarity with UTS Vertigo’ by Joseph Hathaway-Wilson
- ‘UTS renter rich-list: the most expensive suburbs around campus’ by Joseph Hathaway-Wilson
- ‘UTS Stupol 101’ by Erin Ewen
- ‘Vertigo campaign strengthens as UTSSA, NUS declare support’ by Joseph Hathaway-Wilson
- ‘What the hell is the Student’s Association?’ by Joseph Hathaway-Wilson
- ‘Zoom fatigue’ by Anna Lei