Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, No. 1, March 1, 1976
Student representation is a farce. It divides students one from the other, politically castrates the most active and reinforces the power system of the university. It is dangerous politically and insignificant practically. If we want any say in how this University is run, or in the sort of education we are receiving, student representation in its present for must be scrapped.
Tough words. But tough words and though action are absolutely vital. To justify any action we must look at what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how successful we are. No one has done this yet for student reps. If it is done, as here, the picture is dismal.
At present, if some student stands up with good ideas, if he/she wants to get something done, what does Studass do? We nod our silly head and throw them onto an inconsequential committee. What is remarkable is not that so few people are interested in this process. What is astounding is that anyone maintains interest.
Let's take it from the top. Let's not look at it in terms of dedicated individuals trying to win reforms (which is the way the University wants us to think). Let's go a little deeper, and look at the structure and our place within it. Most of those interested in student representation come from two area. Either they are involved in outside issues (Hart, Ecology Action, the Church) or they get pissed off with something around the University, be it their courses or the cafe's food. Both ways they want to get the Students Assn, and particularly, the Student Rep. Council to do something for them, either to give a lead or to support their lead.
There are two jobs those who want to lead students have to do. One is to do things effectively for students. The other is to do things well with students. There are considerable dangers in doing one without the other. In just the former, an elite bureaucracy is probable. In just the latter it's easy to get lost through spontaneity and lack of research. So the ideal is to link the for and with functions. What's the experience?
We first got student reps to do things through the University. We were promised that radical change was not necessary, that we could work through the system. Maybe it wasn't intentional, but we were cheated. Sure, some student reps can do small things for students, but normally only if the idea would have got through anyway. Worse than this is the reverse - when ideas we don't like get put into effect, the excuse is "You had reps on that committee - why didn't they do something?" Fat chance and we get blamed when the system screws up our ideas. Infernal assessment is a prime example.
So we don't do much for students. And the structure of student reps and university committees means we do absolutely nothing with students. Many committees go to some lengths to tell students that they are not representatives, only student members. In fact, student reps waste much time on commutes they could be spending on far more useful political activity.
"What are we doing?" The trappings of student representation are there, but the substance is virtually nil. "Why are we doing it?" Presumably we have some idea of making life better for students, and of building student awareness. Again, the practice is far away from the reality, and there are more effective ways, as suggested below. "How successful are we?" That's been answered again and again - we're not. Student interest and involvement is falling, and we're wasting time.
Richard Rowe, sometime Auckland student "heavy", once said "we're not talking about student representation, but student implication". How do we stop implicating ourselves, and get into real and effective representation? Firstly, while the bulk of student rep positions are next to useless, there are some that are important, and do have some sway: Union Management Committee is one, the University Council another. You can possibly think of more - that's a good point to argue on.
Secondly, look at some of the academic things that happened last year.
|1.||In Pols 213 there were justified complaints that the university's own regulations were not being followed. Studass officers followed the case up (see Salient 29/4/75 p7).|
|2.||A student wished to take a Geog course to which the lecturer involved agreed but the Department Chairman intervened. Reps took the matter up at Prof. Board.|
|3.||There is considerable evidence that the University's exam regulations are interpreted in a heavily biased way. Lecturers trying new techniques with the approval of their classes run foul of them while autocrats with more political 'clout' can ignore them. Educ, Pols and Hist courses show this clearly.|
|4.||After a lot of student complaint, the Arts Faculty set up a workloads committee. The first report of this committee was hatcheted and the second was impotent. The only tangible result was to quieten students.|
|5.||In SOSC 301 a group of students got together to reduce the workload, improve the course content and scrap the end of year exam. After direct discussions with staff involved the case was won. (See Salient 4/6/75 p3).|
|6.||In Hist 307 also a final exam that students didn't want was scrapped by effective student organisation within the course.|
There are further examples, but the lesson is clear. In the four examples where the "correct channels" of student reps within the power structure were followed, the results were disastrous. In those where direct discussion and action were taken something happened. The conclusion: if students are pissed off with something, students must organise within the course, with leaders showing the best methods of working together. If students aren't sufficiently angry to do anything themselves, student reps really haven't any mandate to do anything either. In both cases, student reps are superfluous and misleading.
Thus, both from analysis of the structure and from experience we get the same answer. Let us remember: the University is a power system in a society based on power and the control of underlings. Any concessions that we might get within this framework do not at all challenge the framework. In fact, they strengthen it by creating the myth that real change is possible. Experience - in the impotence of the workloads committee, in the failure to abide by university assessment procedures - backs up the idea that concessions are minimal.
So what's the alternative? We might say that nothing's better than the present, but that's taking anarchism too far. Some discussion between students on effective tactics would be valuable and help in leadership may be required.
Either SRC or Education Committee would be good forums for these. If we get rid of the boring reports from University committees and get into this more students would be interested and student leaders might learn something about real leadership.
An important point to realise in this is that students and teachers are not necessarily in opposition. The above criticisms are not primarily against the individuals involved (tho' a few could do with it) but against the institution of the University. As with other institutions in our society, there is an inherent bias toward the status quo and against change. This bias works through the people in it, but is effectively independent of individuals. The more effective means of proceeding is to avoid the institutions and work outside them.
If we students want an effective voice in running our own education, in improving our own conditions, we've got to work outside the system that manipulates us at present. To expect an institution that creates and recreates the problems to be able to solve them is just slightly naive. Student representation is not just a farce, it's a highly dangerous myth. It must be seen as such and done away with.
By Anthony Ward