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August 12, 2013 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Salient Rates: VUWSA Exec Half-Yearly Work Reports

If this was a standard year for VUWSA, the Executive will have done pretty well. They started the year with pretty ambitious goals, and seem to have most of them in the works. They’ve got students engaged and put a lot of work into apolitical campaigns (a first), which has seen McCourt capture the most (positive) media attention a VUWSA President has in recent history. Fairer Fares looked like it was really going to go the distance, though now that progress seems to have stalled the objectives have been orientated towards getting students engaged in the political processes—particularly at Local Government level, which is possibly the only election which has fewer students involved than VUWSA’s own ones.

However, this was not a standard year for VUWSA, as they’ve faced extra challenges that have arisen following 2012’s implementation of Voluntary Student Membership. In recent years the challenges were ‘professionalisation’, and quite simply learning how to be a functioning organisation that didn’t allow stupid student politicians to commit fraud, and has ‘processes’ for things. But now that that phase has been partially clocked, the Executive must think long and hard about the capacities and potential for growing—or shrinking—the organisation, as it struggles in the second year of VSM. Though, it is important to note that the Exec are students, and most of the challenges are probably well outside of their depth. Visionary, strategic direction is not what any of them really signed up for—they wanted to do a job, and that they have mostly done pretty well.

They’re suffering the consequences of previous Executives not securing VUWSA a well-funded rich future, the stresses of which have started to take their toll on the once bright-eyed and bushy-tailed optimists whose spirits have been crushed by financial and bureaucratic realities.

The nature of the relationship between VUWSA and the University has become one like universities themselves have with central government, where they are dependent on the latter for funding, while also playing a role in criticising and holding them to account. A hard relationship to balance. After VSM meant VUWSA could no longer demand a compulsory levy from students, what you would have paid was absorbed in the Student Services Levy (SSL)—another compulsory fee, though administered by the University, not a students’ association.

Dependent on the money from that Levy, VUWSA will have to convince the University that they should receive funding to carry out their activities. Otago’s students’ association is swimming in money, though it’s nigh impossible to find anything bad they have said about their university. Auckland’s students’ association, which has been voluntary since 1999, regularly storm their University Council chambers—however, their University chronically underfunds them and has established an organisation that has replaced all of their service provision. Only time will tell which way VUWSA is heading, but the current pessimism and paranoia lurking in the Ivory Towers doesn’t indicate a sustainable direction, wherever it may lead.


Rory McCourt (President)


Surplus: 284.5

McCourt made a stand early on in the year against the Student Forum, which last year’s Executive—of which he was a member—thought they could kill from the inside, by withdrawing and convincing Ngāi Tauira and Pasifika Students’ Council to withdraw too. This move really pissed off a number of the head-honchos at the University, and the relationship has been a little sour ever since.

The move was a gamble, but if the representation review works out well for VUWSA and the student voice at Victoria then it will certainly have paid off. If not, then it was a poorly executed strategy, but at least they can say they went down swinging.

Outside of the Forum, McCourt has done all he can to lift the President’s role out of obscurity this year, jumping at every opportunity that arises to appear in the media. This aptitude for writing press releases and shaking hands with politicians was a God-send for the Fairer Fares campaign, which won significant media attention.

McCourt has opened up the Oval Office, sharing a lot more information with his fellow Exec members than previous Presidents. However, this dissemination of power often seems like a further example of why Occupy failed. Executive meetings haven’t been great: as Chair, he often fails to steer discussion, which results in long meetings that people have to leave due to other commitments. Though this could also be in part due to his levels of organisation, which aren’t the best, and his difficulties with commitment, which have seen a lot of projects started but not many successfully completed.

Doesn’t seem to have attacked the staffing concerns at VUWSA (yet), nor done much to help VUWSA adapt to a post-VSM environment, but this isn’t entirely the President’s fault, or even a solely 2013 problem.


Sonya Clark (Vice-President Academic)


Surplus: 189.25

Rory McCourt either went on holiday at just the right time, or Sonya Clark stood in as President at just the right time. Either way, her bubbly personality and natural diplomacy did wonders for VUWSA’s relationships with the University and frien-emy the PGSA.

She pours a lot of time, effort and mental wellbeing into the role. Incredibly dedicated at the expense of herself, she’s carried on 2012 President Bridie Hood’s commitment to lobbying for academic issues, which makes VUWSA the only Students’ Association which seems to be prioritising academic quality. Clark was appointed by NZUSA as the student representative on the national Committee on University Academic Programmes (CUAP), and geekily relishes hobnobbing with the academic-management elite. She recently lamented that she contacted every single students’ association president nationwide about their thoughts on academic programmes, but did not receive a single response.

With Vic obviously prioritising academic quality, as opposed to a FUN time, Clark’s passion for all things academic stand her in good stead to rebuild the partnership with the University, which has been on shaky foundations following the demise of the Forum. When she seeks to take McCourt’s place for 2014, this relationship will be among her key strengths.


Rick Zwaan (Acting Vice-President Welfare), (Formerly Wellbeing & Sustainability Officer)


Surplus: 293.45

Beginning the year in charge of what could fairly be considered a reasonably minor portfolio—Wellbeing and Sustainability—Zwaan soon made it clear that when it came to VUWSA, he meant business.

Although McCourt stepped in as the official face of the Fairer Fares campaign, a lot of its success came down to Zwaan’s tireless commitment to the cause, which ranged from design of campaign materials, to meeting with reluctant Wellington City Councillors. Attracting a large crowd to the Forum, and getting significant mainstream media coverage, the campaign was one of the most successful that VUWSA has executed.

Since the mid-year break, Zwaan has continued to exercise his work ethic in the Vice-President (Welfare) role, left vacant following Simon Tapp’s resignation, and has been involved in a number of other representation roles too.

As the only Officer to log a surplus of hours—and a massive one at that—Zwaan’s definitely staking his claim for a presidential campaign for 2014; becoming increasingly outspoken at Exec meetings is testament to that.


Mica Moore (Vice-President Engagement)


Surplus: –74.1

Moore is the first person to fill the Vice-President (Engagement) role, which was created following last year’s Governance Review. VUWSA certainly seems a lot more engaged with students this year, though that seems to be more down to the general priorities of the Executive rather than that of anyone in particular.

The role exists within a difficult structure, as the responsibility for communication with students (essential to engagement) falls outside of the role and clashes with VUWSA’s own staffing, and Moore has suffered from having to do a job which should really be executed by professional events coordinator, and better resourced.

Moore has gone to lengths to diversify the ways in which VUWSA engages with students, organising events such as the Autumn Market, After School Specials, House Party, and speaker events. Despite lacking the much-needed nous that a professional events manager would bring to the Association, Moore has a good feel for what will and won’t work in terms of student engagement, which has made for a much more self-aware VUWSA. Moore was away for the first part of the year on unpaid leave, so her actual deficit count is technically closer to the surplus side of the scale.


Jordan McCluskey (Treasurer-Secretary)


Surplus: 10

VUWSA’s current financial status sees McCluskey operating as Treasurer in an environment where there’s not much to treasure: hardly any revenue streams and a lot of people who want to spend a lot of money. McCluskey has a keen eye on the future of VUWSA’s finances, especially regarding NZUSA and Student Job Search. Responsible for ensuring work hours and money is running as it should, though it would seem he was handed a poisoned chalice. Last year’s changes to reporting processes shifted Exec work reporting out of the public eye and into some bureaucratic channels which obviously aren’t working if half the Exec are running deficits.

The Audit and Finance Committee, of which McCluskey is a member, has only ‘met’ once this year, and that was over the phone. It is absolutely baffling how they are two-thirds of the way through the year without a proper meeting, especially given how much of VUWSA’s future is dependent on ensuring they and their contracts are being run cost-effectively. What is even more baffling, however, is that after a couple of months ago discovering they were on track for a $300,000 deficit, the Exec are yet to finalise a budget for 2013. Contracts with the University caused some delay, sure, as did McCourt’s trip to the States. But though they only have four months to change their spending, or say goodbye to a third of VUWSA’s reserves, a sense of urgency hasn’t arisen among those ultimately responsible for VUWSA’s financial direction.


Matthew Ellison (Equity Officer)


Surplus: –45.5

When the role of Equity Officer was established for 2013, concerns were raised that it would be difficult for one cover-all officer to do the job well. In this sense, Ellison has completely erased these concerns, consistently acting effectively and tirelessly in collaboration with and on behalf of a diverse range of equity and representative groups.

Perhaps the most positive member of the Exec, Ellison has put in long hours into the groups that fall under his portfolio, the organisation of Pride and Women’s Weeks, and to monitoring and seeking to improve the wellbeing of his fellow Exec members. Given this output, it is surprising that he is running such a high hours deficit.


Harry Chapman (Campaigns Officer)


Surplus: –48.55

Maintaining a generally cheery disposition even when VUWSA hits bleak peak, Chapman’s key strength is his work around the edges—he does a lot of helping out at events and things like sausage sizzles.

At the start of the year Chapman often seemed oblivious as to what was going on, but has since upped his game and often has insightful contributions at Exec meetings, particularly towards the second half of Trimester One.

During the Fairer Fares campaign, Chapman’s role was overshadowed by the huge work output by Zwaan, but it is likely that he will take more of a lead with the upcoming Get Out the Vote campaign—a good chance, too, to reduce that sizeable deficit.


Gemma Swan (Education Officer) Resigned


Surplus: –108.75

Often the most positive voice on the Executive, Swan struggled to balance her work at VUWSA with working as an RA and study, and resigned at the start of Trimester Two.

Swan’s portfolio was very much under Clark’s watch, but the two worked well together during the year—especially on the class rep system. Swan didn’t seem to have much to do outside of her work with Clark (as reflected by a large deficit of hours), which may suggest that the position is somewhat redundant—or could simply be symptomatic of working under Clark, who has a tendency to absorb the responsibility of many a task. Although Swan was one of the quieter Exec members at meetings, her work as an RA and experiences as an education student meant that she could bring much-needed insights into sometimes overlooked areas of the student body, namely first-year halls and the Karori campus.

Just before her departure, Swan confessed that her priorities in life—in order—were “grades, VUWSA, love”; with dedication like that, we anticipate a successful return to the Exec in the coming years.


Ramon Quitales (Clubs & Activities Officer)


Surplus: –15.08

Despite control of clubs being wrangled from VUWSA’s grasp by the University last year, VUWSA decided to retain the Clubs Officer position for 2013. Although Quitales has provided assistance to a number of clubs and University boards relating to clubs, he has found it difficult to find enough things to do within the portfolio.

Quitales is often quiet during Exec meetings, and at times has missed opportunities to raise concerns with the University’s handling of Clubs. The major failing of Clubs this year is that only one team went to University Games—probably something he could get to work on for the next six months, working with the University on this.

As with a number of VUWSA’s Officers, Quitales has racked up a number of hours doing general work for the Exec; however, the VUWSA offices have remained a shambles for months, and reception is often manned by Clark or VUWSA Manager Mark Maguire if the receptionist is absent—something that shouldn’t be happening with so many hands (or deficit hours) on deck.


Simon Tapp (Vice-President Welfare) Resigned


Surplus: 255

Offered a job at Parliament with the Greens, Tapp resigned from VUWSA at the end of Trimester One. Salient had not received his work report when the magazine went to print.

During his stint in student politics, Tapp was renowned for spending long hours at the VUWSA offices. While it is not clear that his time spent at work reflected actual work done, Tapp did rack up a huge number of surplus hours working on projects like the Welfare Review and VUWSA’s impending office move. Despite a dedication to drastically improving student welfare, Tapp was often unrealistic about the cost of possible initiatives.

Before he left, Tapp was responsible for developing the most positive relationship that has existed between VUWSA and Associate Director of Campus Operations Rainsforth Dix in recent history. Thanks to his penchant for excessive abbreviation, Tapp also leaves in his wake an Exec-wide ban on using acronyms during meetings and in work reports. RIP, Tapp.


About the Author ()

Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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