It has been a rough year for arts at UWA. The faculty’s decision to cut three arts majors not only represents an attack on students, it also opens the way for further course cuts throughout the university. Through all of this, the Arts Union has been missing in action.
While I am not an arts student, I am deeply concerned by these cuts. After attending the protests organised by students, I attended the Arts Union’s annual general meeting. I wanted to see what the next step would be.
The meeting itself was an undemocratic farce. The last minute venue change, the short 45 minutes allocated to discuss the union’s work, and the sheer incompetence of the AU executive meant that the whole thing was a joke. Instead of a discussion about the role of the AU and what it had accomplished this year, students were treated to a circus.
It wasn’t a particularly fun circus either. There were no death defying acrobats, no magicians to bemuse and dazzle. It was a circus of clowns (the AU executive) and monkeys (the Young Liberal rent-a crowd, Guild hacks).
First up were the Office Bearer reports, which demonstrated that the union is in a state of total omnishambles. The executive couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery, literally. It had failed to engage with arts students at every turn. The camp was cancelled due to a lack of interest, and more money was spent on this year’s charity gala than was raised for the blind children that it was meant to benefit.
Things on the education front were equally dismal. The union failed to do anything to stop the cuts to arts majors. No attempt was made to organise arts students into any sort of campaign. Instead, members of the AU executive sought to build a relationship with the faculty, by getting themselves into more board meetings and committees. Meetings that by their own admission had no power over the arts cuts.
If I presented such a sorry bunch of screw ups and excuses to my boss, that would be it. If I didn’t get the sack, I would be working overtime through Christmas and Tiny Tim would go wanting. This was not the reception that the AU executive received, however. Every report was punctured by rapturous applause and the beating of desks. The clowns had played the fool and the monkeys were whooping and cheering.
This partly explains how the AU executive could strut up to the podium to discuss failure after failure. They knew they had the full support of their peers in the Labor and Liberal parties there to cheer them on, and to tell them that they are special little snowflakes.
In some instances, the executive didn’t even recognise its own failures. The lack of a written financial report from the treasurer was explained away as par for the course for an AGM (it most certainly isn’t – imagine providing an oral financial report to your boss by simply mentioning some vague figures). More damning was the president attempting to justify the cuts to arts majors by using the same rationale as the arts faculty head. I guess it speaks volumes as to which side the president chose in this fight. If management wins, and you’re on their side, does that mean you win?
This only goes part way to describing the arts union’s total ineptitude and contempt for arts students outside of its small clique. Another factor is the completely undemocratic way in which the upcoming AU elections are being run. The position of the current executive is now entrenched, thanks to new electoral regulations that exclude ordinary arts students from contending the position of president and that limit campaigning to the online sphere.
The executive couldn’t find an excuse for their sub-par performance, nor could they defend their own changes to the electoral regulations. That is why they refused to hear any debate on the issue. They were afraid of hearing any challenge to their petty dictatorship.
By the end of the AGM, the way in which the arts union operates was abundantly clear. If you were an ordinary arts student, you weren’t welcome. If anything you said interrupted the union’s self-congratulatory circus, you weren’t welcome. If, frustrated by its total contempt for ordinary students, you swore a grand total of two times, then security would be called to hammer home the fact that you weren’t welcome.
If you are a pissed off arts student, you should make every effort to come along to the next special general meeting of the arts union, today at 1pm in the Alexander Lecture Theatre. This will be another opportunity to challenge the anti-democratic election regulations, as well as to voice your concern about the cuts to arts majors. It was the opposition of ordinary arts students at the AGM that meant we now have this opportunity. If there are more ordinary arts students at this meeting, we can ensure that there is not a repeat performance from the circus and see to it that the Arts Union actually does something to defend its students.
Words by Chris MacFarlane