By Charles Fedor

 

After a significant number of readers emailed me asking, “where is the Guild in all of this?” I had to give it some serious thought.

They are technically here; the activist Education Action Network (EAN) is a sub-entity of the Education Council, which is a department of the Guild. Besides this, the Student Guild has been present at a number of crucial meetings. To answer a number of burning questions, this is the story of three big meetings and the conduct of the Guild representatives during them. I will leave these without personal comment; however, I am sure you will be able to draw your own conclusions.

 

Academic Board Meeting

The Academic Board met on Wednesday the 21st of July at 9:00am. The agenda was restricted to members of the Academic Board. Student representatives of the Academic Board are Guild President Emma Mezger, Postgraduate Students Association President Joseph Chan, Education Vice-President April Htun,  Postgraduate Students Association Vice-President Ana Abad, Vice-President of Guild Council Jameson Thompson and International Students Department President Abdul Rahman. Of interest to note is these representatives were provided an agenda which included a question on notice reading:

“The proposal for a restructure of the School of Social Sciences will result in a substantive reshaping of the school, with certain academic disciplines discontinued and others changed in nature.

Without engaging with the merits of that proposal, the question is whether structural changes of this kind, which significantly impact the academic identity of the university, can appropriately be carried out without approval of (or at least consultation with) the Academic Board.”

This question was to decide if the Academic Board has the ability to scrutinise and weigh in on the restructure and cancelling of the Anthropology and Sociology majors. Given the unclear process for how this proposal would be passed, the Academic Board’s involvement increased student representation on the matter from two representatives in the Senate to six in the Board.  Note that student representatives were aware of this question and did not inform students on this or the outcome. Further, sources in the Academic Board confirmed that during the discussion on the question our student representatives “said nothing”, another source noting, “your Guild representatives made no contribution to the discussion whatsoever”. In response to a question on their silence, Joseph Chan noted he firmly believed the Academic Board should have been consulted before these changes said that “rather than echoing the comments in the room there was nothing more substantial or fruitful that could have been contributed without taking up the time of the academics in the room”. To quote a source from the Board “make of that what you will”.

Emma Mezger and April Htun did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Guild Council Meeting

On Wednesday the 28th of July at 6:00pm the UWA Guild Council met for its first meeting of the semester. A number of sources urged me to attend promising an “interesting meeting”. The meeting was dominated by three crucial moments I took note of. It was opened with a presentation by a UWA staff member on the university’s future ‘masterplan’, specifically the redevelopment of the university estate and buildings. Due to an apparent “quirk” in timings the Senate had already approved the masterplan and thus the Guild’s presentation was more out of ‘courtesy’ than meaningful consultation. The Masterplan included and I swear this is true:

  • A proposal for a large urban botanical ‘forest’ between the business school and the Guild Village
  • A commitment to building more buildings across the university
  • The University to be Carbon Neutral by 2030 (a commitment the staff member noted was made without consideration on exactly how we are going to get there)

The presentation received very little questioning from Guild Council. I will note that a number of council members were glued to their phones across significant parts of the meeting and/or seen gossiping. The exception was a  Socialist Alternative Councillor’s increasingly exasperated questions over “how the university will get this money?” given the current cuts and apparent financial distress of the university. The staff member noted it was not his responsibility to find a way to fund this project but simply to invest in the university estate. The staff member promptly left the meeting.

Discussions then proceeded into a more than 1 hour discussion over how to fill casual vacancies as three resignations had been tendered since the previous meeting and somehow trying to identify which agenda every councillor was working off. My copy turned out to be an older copy as Viknash’s candidacy as Guild Chair was snuffed out. The Guild Executive had nominated Elise Anthony to fill the casual vacancy that was objected by a number of councillors. Viknash VM’s nomination to a casual vacancy was approved resoundingly.  Procedural squabbles ensued in which the managing director had to step in multiple times to apply the correct standing orders. A motion for a secret ballot on the question ended in a deadlock and thus failed. Crucial questions raised by councillors included:

  • How to properly scrutinise the credentials of OGC casual nominees
  • How to reconcile with the convention of filling a vacancy with a nominee from the same “party” (which by Guild regulations cease to exist after the election period)

These questions remained unresolved by the end of that discussion.

 

The Council then turned to a motion which read:

 

“The 108th Guild Council

4.7.1 Opposes the cuts to Social Sciences courses.

4.7.2 Opposes any reduction in funding that negatively impacts the student experience.

4.7.3 Calls on UWA to repeal its decision to rescind the Anthropology & Sociology major.

4.7.4 Opposes the reduction in unit offerings for Master of International Relations, Asian

Studies and Human Geography & Planning.

4.7.5 Directs the Education Council President in consultation with Arts Union to run a

campaign to raise awareness and preserve courses and units in the School of Social

Sciences.”

 

This motion was adopted, (with amendments including further masters degrees and mentioning postgraduate students) with the abstention of OGC Cooper Mason. There was very little debate despite attempts by Socialist Alternative to ask what the Guild’s plan was to actually oppose the cuts and noting the absence of a significant number of Guild Executive and councillors from recent protests. It was a question that remained unresolved with guild councillors giving varying excuses including class (protests were on outside of semester times) and extra-curricular sport. This motion sparked interest from myself as it completely ignores the contributions of the Education Action Network (EAN) which is the chief organiser of protests and lacks specificity in an actual plan. Further it also mentions the Arts Union which have not organised a single protest. After a fact check with the Arts Union, readers should note:

  • The Arts Union education team (presumably the ones responsible to liaise with April) had suffered a number of resignations. As a result, there was not an education team to liaise with at the time of the motion passing.
  • The Arts Union noted “there was no real and explicit communication that the Arts Union was to drive a campaign. As we have extremely limited resources to be able to create and conduct a campaign at the same level that the Guild could, we find it unfortunate we were not adequately spoken to before the motion was passed. Clear communication is key, and we hope this is improved upon going forward”
  • Even if the above somehow was not true it is the Arts Union’s position that it is an apolitical body that prohibits it from taking on campaigns that “could have any negative detriment to the relationship AU has with the Schools of Social Sciences and Humanities, the Guild, and the University more broadly”. Though I personally object to this position, it is clear that resisting the social science restructure would fall directly under this category.
  • April Htun “has been in contact with our President in relation to Saving the Social Sciences cuts, but only in relation to us releasing a statement of support, not to direct a campaign”.

If it is not clear, the motion certainly caught the Arts Union by surprise: “Arts Union were not made aware of the motion by any Guild member before it was passed by Guild Council on Wednesday evening”. It did not direct the Guild representatives on the Senate and Academic Board to explicitly lobby and oppose the cuts.  Meaning that it is extremely unclear what the purpose of this motion is actually trying to accomplish. Further it leaves enough loopholes for Guild representatives to drive an oil tanker through.

 

Activist Forum

Less than 24 hours later, an EAN event was held at Fox Lecture Theatre providing an update on the campaign, a panel discussion on the university restructure and finally soliciting ideas from the community. A number of Guild councillors attended and some executive members were also in attendance (albeit some were late). It was clear after interviewing a number of students present the indignation students felt about the silence of the Guild. One source laughed after I quoted the motion passed the previous night, retorting, “is that it?! F*ck me. Guild at its finest”. Anger seems to be building over the perception that the Guild are abdicating its responsibility to defend students from the restructure. In heartbreaking scenes fearful academics broke down reflecting on their treatment by the university, some noting the feeling of abandonment and cruelty that the University has inflicted on them. Specific proposals made at this forum included:

  • Greater on campus presence including lecture bashing and flyers
  • Boycotting the prompt payment of the SSAF to put financial pressure on the University
  • A sign at the free breakfast raising awareness over the restructure.
  • A referendum at the next General Guild Election on the question of the restructure

I suppose the only question I have for you, reader, is this: “Does this meet your expectation of your student representatives?”. If you would like to give your thoughts before the next Guild Council meeting on August 25th, please follow the link below:

Talk to your Guild

 

This piece can only be provided to you through the hard work and courage of a number of sources across the university and community. If you have information that you think needs to be shared, please contact me via phone at 0437 496 648. Your anonymity is guaranteed.

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