In January this year, the Science Union were told by Guild Tenancy that their application to continue using a clubroom in Cameron hall had been rejected, No reasons were initially given for this decision, and following a lengthy appeal process this decision has remained unchanged. Throughout this process Guild Tenancy’s procedures and conduct have been criticised for a lack of transparency and a confusing mix of misapplied policies.
Leisure, Science Union, AIESEC, the Catholic Society, and UDS were told that they would not be able to keep using the clubrooms in Cameron Hall that they had previously occupied. Leisure and Science Union appealed the decision, and both appeals were dismissed. When requested by Science Union, Tenancy provided one reason for the rejection of their application – a lack of attendance at the required number of tenancy meetings in 2016 (a minimum 3 out of 5) – Science Union refuted this claim and provided evidence of their attendance at all 5 meetings. This evidence came from Tenancy’s own minutes at the Tenancy meetings. Tenancy then asserted that the clubs lost their rooms because of infractions upon the Room Access Policy.
The Room Access Policy states that tenants must ‘keep the common areas of the building clean, tidy, and in reasonable condition having regard to its age and use and resource availability’, ‘must not act in any way that is, or may be, dangerous, annoying, or offensive, or that may interfere with other tenants or people in the Guild Building or adjacent buildings’, and ‘agree to comply with all laws, including liquor licensing laws, which apply to the premises, the use of the premises or the lease, including but not limited to the statutes and by-laws of the University’. These are the rules that we assume Leisure and Science Union were found to be in breach of. I say assume, because we have been unable to get straight answers about the exact breaches that led to the evictions from Guild or the Tenancy Committee.
When we spoke to Reece Gherardi, chair of the Tenancy Committee, and Nevin Jayawardena, President of the Guild, as well as some Cameron Hall tenants there were two phrases that we kept hearing – “good clubs” and “bad clubs”. These are not official classification that appear in any tenancy reports or policies, We asked Nevin to tell us what a “good club” or “good tenant” was. He said that a club that is ‘fulfilling their responsibilities as part of their tenancy agreement’ makes a good tenant. We asked him to speak more specifically; he said, ‘the general gist is that if you haven’t had to have security file a bunch of incident reports, then you’re an alright tenant’.
Science Union sent us all of the incident reports they had received at the time of their appeal. There are a total of two recorded security reports. The first details ‘suspicious activity’. The notification reads ‘phone call received from extension 3901, the male person would not leave his name. He reported a burning smell coming from the Science Union Clubroom. [Name redacted] was advised and requested to attend immediately. [Name redacted] onsite. He states he can smell cigarettes and the aroma of marijuana. No person could be found in the area’. The severity status of this incident is ‘negligible’. The second incident is categorised as a ‘security escort’. ‘Computer Club member [name redacted] informed Security Control there [sic.] numerous person’s [sic.] on site in the Science Union club room at Cameron Hall drinking alcohol’. The action taken was ‘security staff on site and reported 8 person’s [sic.] drinking on site – these student’s [sic.] were rowdy but not overly drunk – the opened drinks were disposed of and the student’s left the premises when requested.’ Severity – ‘negligible’. Both incident reports were lodged in 2016. Both emails show that Science Union first received these reports on 2 February 2017, after their clubroom application had been rejected. Leisure also denies that they were sent any reports and both clubs say that they only discovered the history of such complaints when they appealed their evictions from Cameron Hall.
According to President Nevin, ‘when security gets involved they usually email the Guild President and the tenant themselves’ to alert clubs once a complaint or security issue has been lodged with them. Nevin said ‘if they didn’t get the report it’s either lost in the emails or security must have stuffed up’. It is clear that incident reports had not been properly submitted to clubs, but president Nevin denied that this had happened. He agreed in interview to send us evidence that incident reports had been communicated to the clubs, but after a week of probing and waiting Pelican has not received any evidence of them.
Various tenants of the clubrooms in proximity to Leisure and Science Union have also made complaints in recent years regarding the conduct of those clubs. These complaints regarded a general feeling of disrespect towards other inhabitants of Cameron Hall. Jake, a member of many clubs residing in Cameron Hall, including UNISFA and Unigames, told Pelican that he had made ‘a number of complaints over the last four years in regards to the behaviour of both Leisure and Science Union’. Jake alleged that the clubs drink in their rooms, which he notes is a breach of Tenancy policy, but that his main concern was that ‘the effects of their drinking in the hall started to spread into Cameron Hall proper… breakages, fire alarms being smacked, rubbish left out’. Jake felt that the behaviour of the two clubs undermined attempts to recruit new members to the other groups residing in Cameron Hall.
Jake also alleged that in 2014 he and other Cameron Hall inhabitants had once left the Hall at 1am and had found an intoxicated young woman ‘passed out or lying asleep’ outside the Science Union clubroom. She had apparently been left there alone by the club, and required much attention to rouse her and get her into a taxi. ‘The Science Union committee had brought up a party to their clubroom. She wasn’t, I believe, a committee member and therefore, when the committee members wanted to leave, she couldn’t keep the room open or lock it after her, and so they moved her out front’. Jake did not know the identity of the young woman. No formal complaint was ever made, and it was not a noted contributing factor in the Tenancy committee’s decision to evict Science Union. However, it is one of many examples of the lore that surround these clubs. Ivan, the current president of Science Union, noted that he was in year twelve at the time of this alleged incident. The committees and clubs that dealt with their evictions at the beginning of this year are different to the committees and clubs that were complained about. Actual events or not, such indiscretions and abuses by previous members impact ascending club members, and imperil their reputations.
In an interview Michael Kabondo, the Societies Council President, told us that ‘previous complaints are looked at’ when determining a club’s outcome with Tenancy. It is unclear whether the complaints considered were limited to formal complains, or if alleged incidents such as the one in 2014, were also considered. Given that leases last three years, many members and multiple member cultures could potentially come and go before a club is reprimanded in this way. Michael also noted that ‘previous Tenancy chairs haven’t kept [logs] that well’. It is the responsibility of the Guild to liaise between security and the clubs, and to address concerns as they occur. If complaints are simply being noted but not dealt with at the time they occur, the problem is unlikely to be fixed and clubs are not given the chance to address their issues and change their behaviour. Subsequent committees are therefore left to deal with the problems of the outgoing ones.
At the February Guild Council meeting a motion brought by Launch member Michael McKenzie to “Recognises the vital role that Leisure and Science Union play in contributing to campus culture and as a representative body for students, respectively” did not pass. During the meeting there was open and widespread disdain expressed for Science Union and Leisure by Guild Councillors, and the Tenancy Committee’s decision was applauded. Much was said about the clubs’ reputation of having a strong drinking culture. Michael McKenzie was questioned on his support for the clubs. In interview Leisure told Pelican that their club was “for having fun and being yourself”. Since their application was rejected, Science Union have tentatively been given a space within the Science faculty. This was negotiated by Science Union with the assistance of Owen Myles and the Postgraduate Students Association. After the negotiations were underway the Guild offered to assist with negotiations, but this offer was not taken up by Science Union.
Science Union claims that in 2016 the then Tenancy chair told them that they had fulfilled the requirements of their tenancy agreement satisfactorily enough to pass reallocation in 2017. Given that the only formal blackmarks recorded against Science Union were classified by security as negligible, and neither was communicated to the club at the time, it seems like an insufficient reason for a longstanding club to lose its clubroom. Given the difficulty that Pelican had to find out what broadly makes a “good tenant” and the criteria the Tenacny Committee used to assess application for reallocation we find it very believable that Science Union and Leisure had even more trouble in ascertaining the specifics of their breaches in conduct. It seems that their recent experiences with Tenancy have been characterised by miscommunication. The current Tenancy Chair, the new Guild Council and committee members have only been doing their job since December 2016. Nevin told us that ‘given this was the first time [that Tenancy has handled a reallocation]’ they had done ‘a good job’. It seems a little unfair that the Guild could not extend this same generosity and understanding to the clubs.
By Pema Monaghan, Ruth Thomas and The Fridays.
The Fridays are Pelican’s Invesitgative Journalism Team – if you know of something that needs to be looked into send us an email or come by our office.