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24 June 2022  •  Student Life

Motion Passes: UTSSA set to partner with UTS Executive in controversial new agreement

By Joey Chalita
Motion Passes: UTSSA set to partner with UTS Executive in controversial new agreement

Student Partnership Agreement passes with slim majority

The UTS Student’s Association (UTSSA) has voted to sign a new Student Partnership Agreement (SPA) with the university’s Senior Executive, after a motion to do so was moved at the UTSSA’s latest Council meeting on Wednesday June 15.

The SPA would join the four main pillars of student governance at UTS: the Student association, Activate UTS, the Academic Board and the UTS Council, to work with the Senior Executive and board of the university.

According to President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Parfitt, the agreement seeks to provide a collective platform that fosters student engagement at UTS. 

“Partnership and collaboration are core values at UTS,” Parfitt says.

“It is through the cultivation of close working relationships between students, staff and other key stakeholders that we can achieve our common goal of being a leading public university of technology recognised for our global impact.”

As is often the case at Council meetings, however, the motion for the SA to sign the SPA did not go down as smoothly as a bottle of prosecco.

Kurt Cheng, the UTS student and Academic Board member for Law who engineered the SPA, spoke of the opportunity for UTS students to sit at the “decision table” when it came to university commitments. Cheng referred to the SPA as “a mutually beneficial agreement where student leaders can work with university management to deliver a quality student experience. It is a commitment on the part of the university with student leaders to work collaboratively on areas that concern the student experience.”

Various Council members were quick to challenge the validity of Kurt’s points about the strengths of the new partnership. Assistant General Secretary Melissa Sukkarieh echoed the points made by UTSSA President Anna Thieben in stating that the agreement had “watered down” all of the SA’s original demands, referencing the impending NTEU strike on campus.

“Every tangible [demand] has been taken down, how can we sign an agreement like this in a strike year?” Sukkarieh said.

Speaking against the motion, Ethnocultural Officer Suzy Monzer warned Councillors of the performative words often used by the university and its spokespeople. She mentioned how previous discussions on the need for a safe space for people of colour on campus had returned with statements to first “conceptualise what anti-racism looks like”. 

“We’ve been at this point for the last three years. If management really cared that much about students, they wouldn’t need to put it in an agreement,” Monzer said.

Socialist Alternative (SAlt) member Vinil Kumar also shared some personal opinions on the agreement, calling it a “a right-wing piece of crap” and declaring that the Labour councillors who supported the motion needed to “get it through their thick skulls how crap of an agreement this is.”

Despite a heavily divided room, the motion was passed by a slim majority of councillors, namely those from Student Unity (Labor Right) and National Labor Students (Labor Left). 

Speaking in favour of the motion, General Secretary Sabrine Yassine spoke to the opportunities created by the SPA as a student platform.

“We can still do all the work we’re doing now – we can still condemn management. What we’re doing with this agreement is getting these things in writing as a reference point so we can actually do our jobs as a student union.”

UTSSA President refuses to sign off on SPA

In a more recent development, UTSSA President Anna Thieben has declared in an email to the SA that she “will NOT be signing the Student Partnership Agreement”, noting that the SPA “materially undermines the ability of the UTSSA to conduct criticism of the University activities.”

“Due to the watered-down nature of the SPA, management is not obligated to meet any of our demands. So once again, unless the demands are in their capitalistic and corporate interest, they will not take the steps to achieve them,” Thieben said. 

“The agreement will also not increase our ability to lobby. We still only have access to the same channels and if there is no commitment in the agreement to act on the demands, management will not do so.”

“Signing an empty agreement is not only detrimental, it proves to management that they can give us nothing and that we will roll over and accept it ‘on a silver platter.’ It prevents us from fighting for a better agreement in the future”.

Following the SPA motion, the UTSSA unanimously agreed to endorse Vertigo’s Campaign against the UTS Senior Executive infringing upon the autonomy of the SA. 

This follows an email from Deputy Vice-Chancellor Shirley Alexander to the UTSSA President, declaring her intention to effectively halve the amount agreed upon by the UTSSA and Vertigo's editorial team at the beginning of the year. 

The motion was spoken to extensively by Vertigo Editor Joseph Hathaway-Wilson. 

“I’m standing before you today because, what I cannot agree to is a posse of suits - not students or tutors - but suits on six-figure salaries, making shockingly uninformed decisions which erode student media and infringe upon the autonomy of a democratically-elected student council who were elected by the student body to make those very decisions themselves” said Hathaway-Wilson.

“Student media is vital to any university setting, and the decision to attack it is appalling, but Vertigo, at its core, is a service of the union. To get to us they had to go through you, and by the sounds of it, it wasn’t particularly hard.”

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