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11 March 2024  •  Student News

BEST IN FACULTY: The Legacy Left to Us

By Raphaella Katzen (she/her) and Bianca Drummond Costa (she/her)
BEST IN FACULTY: The Legacy Left to Us

#Meeting our legacy:

I, Raphaella, tapped my card on the entry reader outside Vertigos office and the light flashed red again. No access. 

Confused, I walked back down the hall and took a seat near the lifts. 

I was two hours early for Vertigo’s weekly meeting, planning to get some work done in the office prior to it starting. This was our third weekly meeting since taking over the publication. We had been told by Vertigo’s 2023 editorial team that we would have access to the Vertigo office from the 4th of December. Since then, our team had been trekking up to Building 3 every few days to check if our access had been granted. 

We’d thought that by this meeting surely we would have access. We were a newly formed editorial team, newly acquainted friends, and having an office to work from was the final step in solidifying the creative gel that would make this publication, and our contributions to it, legitimate.

Yet it was the 13th of December, and we still didn’t have access to our office. 

One of the staff members from the Media Lab office, situated directly opposite where I was sitting, came out and asked me if I needed help. I explained the situation. He seemed excited to meet the new Vertigo team and offered to help me get in touch with security who would be able to unlock the door to the office for me. After a tedious hour of phone calls and emailing back and forth with security, upon which I insisted I should have access to the Vertigo office, I was sent an email from Mariah Brown, the Executive Officer for the UTS Students Association (UTSSA). 

It read, 

“Hi Raphaella,

Thanks for your email. 

No access has been granted to this space. 

Please see email attached for confirmation.” 

The attached email from former UTS Students Association President Nour Al Hammouri read, 

“After careful re-evaluation and much consideration of SA spaces, I have decided to transform the Vertigo office into a safe space for the Ethnocultural Collective.”

For the next three months, our newly elected editorial team worked out of UTS study rooms rented by the hour, with the location changing every week. Not having a dedicated space to work from, where creative ideas can be pitched between the different sectors of our team (editors, social media and design) has had a significant impact on how we are able to function as a team, and the quality of the work we are able to produce. 

So how did we get here? 

How are we to maintain the prestigious legacy of Vertigo, whilst twelve team members work on laptops perched atop their knees in a 2x2m study room? 

Vertigo's weekly meeting, January 2024.

Vertigo's weekly meeting, January 2024.

#Understanding our link with the UTSSA:

To understand this article, some background context on Vertigo and its interrelation with the UTSSA must be given. The UTSSA is the student union that represents students at UTS. The UTSSA is funded by the Student Services and Amenities Fees (SSAF), which is a fee that every UTS student pays per semester. 

About 11% of the money generated from SSAF fees are given to the UTSSA by UTS management (the amount is usually bargained for), and that money is then divided between the different collectives the UTSSA runs (including the Environmental Collective, the Women’s Collective, and the Ethno-Cultural Collective etc), as well as being used to fund different community projects and initiatives, the most well known probably being the free breakfast and dinner from Blue Bird Cafe. 

Vertigo is an official organ of the UTSSA. We were elected into our positions on the editorial team by our fellow UTS students, and are therefore elected representatives of the UTS student body. We are also funded in full by the UTSSA. Each year, we present to them a budget, and once approved, this budget is then given to us through monthly reimbursements.

This creates a complicated dynamic between Vertigo and the UTSSA, as despite being an independent publication, our livelihood depends on their approval of the publication's work and operations, otherwise, we risk losing their funding. 

This article will explain how this relationship between Vertigo and the UTSSA developed over the last year, and the implications that it has had for both parties. 

#Where things went wrong:

Vertigo's Volume I: Best in Faculty was meant to be a collaborative handover issue, to be officially published by the 2023 Vertigo team. They were unfortunately unable to complete it. 

It is important to note, that Vertigo initially had extensive and ambitious plans for 2023, wanting to expand their readership and engagement by printing more issues than required. To achieve this, they requested an increase of $20,000 to the previous year’s budget (which had already been slashed in half under orders from former Vice-Chancellor of Education and Students Shirley Alexander, halfway through the 2022 team’s term). Will Simmons, the 2023 General Secretary of the UTSSA had promised Vertigo that he would try to secure this extra funding on their behalf. This increase would allow them to print an additional three issues. Subsequently, their estimated total budget requested for the year was to be $76,000, accounting for the extra $20,000 they’d requested to allow them to print a total of 8 issues throughout their term.

The team published their first volume on the 20th of February, 2023, and their second volume on the 12th of May, 2023.

However, after it became clear that they were unable to secure that extra money, a revised budget was created that accounted for only five printed issues and the repeated concerns from the UTSSA on budget allocations for the year. This new budget totalled $43,788. In light of this, the team decided to forgo the additional two issues they’d hoped to print that semester, to ensure they had enough money for the semester two issues. In an interview with Vertigo, members of the 2023 team provided us with correspondence to show that their desire to preserve funds for printing in semester two was relayed to Simmons.

In late March of 2023, Editor-In-Chief Joseph Hathaway-Wilson and his team received an email outlining the agenda for the SRC meeting that was to take place in 48 hours, as is standard. This email contained a motion titled 8.2: Vertigo Research. In this meeting, the UTSSA put up a motion for $30,000 to be spent on a ‘Vertigo Research Project’, and the motion was passed. There was no mention of where this money would come from. 

Earlier in their terms, Simmons had instituted a Vertigo Working Group to facilitate communication between two bodies that had historically been at odds. During their meeting in March, members of the UTSSA and Vertigo convened to discuss the proposed Vertigo research project. Vertigo expressed their dismay at their lack of warning and inclusion on the project, and Simmons assured them that nothing had been decided yet, and the motion was just to approve money being spent, if the project were to happen.

Correspondence between Mariah Brown and the third-party research company given to us throughout the investigation of this piece, reveal that the project was confirmed as of April 3rd.

In April, the 2023 editorial team reached out to Simmons to reconvene and discuss the project and the redistributed budget. Simmons claimed he would arrange a new time for the working group to meet, however, the 2023 team disclosed messages to Vertigo that showed that this never eventuated. The survey was released to students in May by the UTSSA, without any further consultation with the Vertigo team.

Further communications between the UTSSA and the third party research company hired to conduct Vertigo's readership research, also reveal that Vertigo was not consulted at all during the development or implementation of the project.

#Relations after the survey:

The May SRC meeting that followed the research project’s launch, has been described by multiple parties as a ‘shitshow’. The research project had been launched, and Hathaway-Wilson explained that he wanted the research project’s costs to be fronted by the UTSSA and not be taken out of Vertigo’s personal budget. 

At the meeting, Hathaway-Wilson addressed the council:

“We didn't ask for the project to happen, we were not consulted. I completely understand the UTSSA’s need for this. If this was coming out of the Vertigo budget – we should have been consulted… This will devastate our budget and sap all our ability to engage in other projects. 

There are reasonable and effective methods to engage in better communications. Consider utilising the UTSSA reserves. If we are going to pay for it, then half this year and half next year, rather than cramming the cost of the project into a budget that cannot contain it.”

[source: 2023 May SRC Minutes – full minute records available here.]

In an interview with Vertigo, Al Hammouri stated that the money funding the Vertigo Research Project was taken from the Student Publication budget, which is separate to Vertigo’s individual budget. He commented that this could have “potentially” eaten into the Vertigo budget, however, if it did, he was unsure how much. 

However, in the 2023 May SRC Minutes, Al Hammouri is recorded as responding to Hathaway-Wilson's address saying, “this funding came out of the Vertigo’s budget. There's nowhere else we can take it out from. We have paid for this.

In the meeting, council members also allege that Vertigo was made aware of this fact at the last council meeting in April, however, there is no record of this in any council minutes. The 2023 editorial team maintained that they had not heard of it prior to the May council meeting.

#Breakdown of relations:

After the 2023 team reached out to management regarding their third edition (to be published at the end of July, right before Semester 2 commenced), they were told that Vertigo had blown its budget for the rest of the year. This was a dramatic change to their previously understood state of finances, and one that would have lasting effects on whether they would be able to go to print for the remainder of the year. While it cannot be confirmed, one could assume the rest of Vertigo's budget was used to fund the readership project.

A valid conclusion to draw here, is that a research project that contributed little to the success of Vertigo as a publication, and whose research was safeguarded until the investigations for this article began, meant that Vertigo 2023 was unable to print the remaining three issues they had planned for the rest of the year. 

The team went on to publish the annual Election Guide, and their 'Vertigo Wrapped' issue, both only online, but failed to meet their quota of issues as outlined by the constitution, due to what Hathaway-Wilson and Jamal described as low morale within the team.

As a result of not printing the minimum required 5 issues, the team’s stipends were reduced significantly. The final issue of 2023, 'Vertigo Wrapped' ended up not counting towards the team’s five minimum issues, as it was published on the 5th of December, 4 days after their term had officially ended. Perhaps unconstitutionally, their election guide was also not counted as an issue.

We say ‘perhaps’, as there is some grey area surrounding this issue.

Under the UTSSA bylaws, Vertigo must print a minimum of five issues, one being the annual election guide. However, when Jamal and Hathaway-Wilson approached management regarding their stipend slash, they were met with resistance based on the notion that the election guide was not an official issue as it “contained no Vertigo content, only what was provided by the RO (Returning Officer)”. The UTSSA bylaws does not explicitly state that as a requirement for publishing the issue.

The 2023 Vertigo team accepts the responsibility and consequences for not meeting their position requirements – but in an interview with Vertigo, they explained this as the final blow of an incredibly emotionally taxing year.

#So, where does that leave us now?

Vertigo’s previous office was converted into the Ethno-Cultural safe space, as of Thursday the 29th of February. This means that the space was left empty for four days shy of three months. 

There is no denying that the Ethno-Cultural collective requires a designated space on campus. The decision to make the transition from Vertigo’s office to the Ethno-Cultural collective’s safe space, was based upon cleanliness warnings that Vertigo's 2023 team failed to adhere to. In saying this, Vertigo also requires a stable space from which to operate out of. 

Al Hammouri said in an interview with Vertigo, that despite authorising the transferral of the office space, he was very unhappy with the way the decision was executed by UTS management. 

Vertigo was unable to have access to the room once it was taken from us, and the clearing of the room, which was home to thousands of dollars of equipment and decades’ worth of Vertigo archives, was done on our behalf by UTS staff members. 

“Vertigo should have always had access to their items and archives, as it is essential to the functioning of the magazine,” Al Hammouri stated.

He continued that the tedious process of converting the space into the Ethno-Cultural Collective safe space, and the Collective’s subsequent delayed access to the room was very disappointing. Al Hammouri understands that this delay caused “severe detriment to both parties” [Vertigo and the Ethno-Cultural Collective], and that the nature of communication regarding the room’s conversion – or lack thereof, was unacceptable. 

Al Hammouri claims that the idea was first pitched to him by UTS management on the penultimate day of his term, which he felt was the right move to make given the circumstances. His decision was officially made on the last day of his presidency.

#Continuing the Vertigo legacy:

At our orientation day stall, it was bittersweet to hear so many of your comments. 

“You guys are still running? I haven’t seen the magazines on campus in forever.”

“Vertigo isn’t dead?!”

No, we aren’t. Vertigo is here to stay. It’s our duty to be a megaphone for student voices. We reflect your hopes, your dreams, and your fears. 

That is what Vertigo has done for fifty years, and it is what it will continue to do (we hope) forever. 

Yet, we believe that it is important to explain to our readers why you may not have seen our covers across campus. It is important that our readers know the struggles faced by student journalism, and by Vertigo historically, and the work we are doing to overcome them.

Student journalists and creators deserve to be compensated for the blood, sweat and tears we pour into creating and editing a magazine for our fellow students’ enjoyment, which is created to such high standards. Though this magazine is essentially a wonderful and exciting passion project for many of us, based on the sheer number of hours we spend weekly to sustain it, it is essentially a job and deserves to be respected and recognised as such. 


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