By Enoch Mailangi

Last night the University of Technology, Sydney, Student Association (UTSSA) passed a motion (found below) which moved to repudiate the Postgraduate Representative Union (PRU). This reform will see a replacement of the union and introduce a Postgraduate Advocacy Committee. In ‘laystudent’ terms the reason the PRU exists is to cater to the specific needs of postgraduate students, offering legal service and advocacy to postgraduate students, whose fees, unlike undergraduate students, are already deregulated.

Although it is unclear how the proposed Advocacy Committee will function, Michael Rosser, the UTSSA Postgraduate Officer, explains, “The Advocacy Committee will hold formal monthly meetings when practicable for discussions of postgraduate issues and pass resolutions to be put to the UTSSA SRC as motions.” As of this year, postgraduate students make up one-third of the UTS student population however the vast majority of the voting councillors on the SRC are students completing an undergraduate degree.

Before the motion was discussed, it was decided by the executive to keep speaking times to one minute as the mover of the motion would need an early departure to go to class. Michael Rosser, who moved the motion, proceeded to call for a “kick up the arse” for postgraduate representation. “UTS Students are best represented under one union for both undergraduates and postgraduates. A vibrant ‘Advocacy Committee’ will enable postgraduates at UTS to push their issues to the fore with the support of the UTSSA rather than in competition against it, which was the previous case”, Rosser stated. The potential of the PRU to undermine the UTSSA in SSAF negotiations,  was a concern also raised Rosser, who further explained that the dissolution of the PRU will ensure they are unable to “abrogate the negotiating position of the UTSSA President by putting forward a competing SSAF funding proposal to UTS Officials.

However, underlying political motives appear to have played a part in influencing the decision. Both Rosser and the UTSSA president, Sammy Howes, are members of the Labor Right. The student arm of the Labor Right, Student Unity, of which Rosser is a member, controls the National Union of Student (NUS) in coalition with National Labor Students (NLS). Last year five of the seven delegates elected at UTS were from Student Unity. Rosser is quoted as saying, “PRU aimed to eventually disaffiliate from the UTSSA. This would reduce UTS delegate numbers to the National Union of Students conference, meaning that Sydney basin universities such as UNSW and USyd would carry greater sway than UTS over votes on conference floor despite similar campus populations.

On the face it, it would appear that the succession of PRU from the UTSSA would had an adverse impact on Student Unity and their delegate numbers at National Conference. This potentially provides a clear political incentive to collapse PRU in order to protect the strong delegate count Student Unity looks to achieve in the upcoming 2016 UTSSA elections.

Rachel Evans, the Queer Officer of the Sydney University Postgraduate Association (SUPRA) stated, “The UTS student association should be condemned by all students for passing a motion last night to deregister the postgraduate Union.” She explained that, “Postgrad students face similar but distinct issues to undergraduates and need their own organisations to battle higher fees for courses, childcare, photocopying, dwindling study space, and super exploitation of postgrad student-tutors.”

Sexist insults were reportedly made during the meeting as UTSSA president, Sammy Howes, describes the verbal abuse that she faced whilst chairing the meeting. “In all my time in student politics, and since my election as President of the UTSSA [December last year], I have never been spoken to with such disrespect and contempt… I was called a “bitch” a ‘slut’ a ‘bimbo’ referred to as ‘Becky’, I was meowed at, I was hissed at and I was screamed at.”

This resulting in Howes calling for campus security, with persistent derailment at the meeting forcing Howes to vacate her chair.

Kate Alway, convenor of PRU and observer of the meeting addressed, and excused, the allegations of sexism, “Sexism is not a good thing, it is not a behaviour in my meetings I would endorse either, but calling security on someone you don’t like is inordinate and vicious, the person was not being heard, and was not given the opportunity to even speak on something that isn’t even relevant to you.” Although sexism is never an excuse in meetings, it isn’t  a culture welcomed by the UTSSA, after being warned three times, the move to having the person removed wasn’t political but a move by Sammy Howes to ensure safety of students in the meeting. Sammy Howes commented that suggestions that Howes removed members for political reasons are “insensitive and anti-feminist.”

The meeting further escalated when several people blockaded executive members from leaving. Alway noted that PRU members were very frustrated by the proceedings, stating  “We were all pretty frustrated, we were being all gagged, and given one minute to speak. All motions on block, we weren’t contacted about the motion, we weren’t asked, and there was no acknowledgment of us as an organisation.” Reports show that Rosser had failed to attend any organised meetings with convenors of PRU or engage in any meaningful contact with the organisation.

“It seemed like the PRU were trying to establish themselves as an independent union, while still receiving funding from the UTSSA. Whilst we have no problem funding collectives, separate unions don’t fall under our banner.” says Lachlan Barker, Secretary of UTSSA. “The motions passed last night reform postgraduate representation.”

A postgraduate student, who wishes to remain anonymous, questioned the legitimacy of this supposedly ‘needed reform.’ “It’s saddening that we as postgraduates are still governed by undergraduates who have no idea what it’s like to be a postgraduate student. The SA should support us in building rather than ruining what is most needed.”

Motions

7.1 Motion: That the UTSSA hereby abolishes the Postgraduate Collective and the Postgraduate Representative Union. As such, all material bearing these terms owned by the UTSSA will be disposed of and no requisitions or funding will be delivered to a body bearing these names without the passing of a motion by the SRC at a meeting.

7.2 Motion: That the UTSSA endorses the Postgraduate Officers elected agenda to reform postgraduate representation on the UTSSA by endorsing the foundation of the Postgraduate Advocacy Committee with the Postgraduate Officer as the Chair.

7.3 Motion: That as of tonight, 28 days notice be given in accordance with the by-law 3.3.2 to amend by-law 8.2.8 to replace the words ‘The Postgraduate Representative Union’ with the words ‘The Postgraduate Advocacy Committee’. 


Image Credit: Jessica Wang