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May 26, 2008 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

President’s Column

Dear Salient,

At Graduation on May 16th I wore a t-shirt emblazoned “I (Heart) My Penis”. This T-Shirt is concerned with a campaign run by both VUWSA and the students association of Massey Wellington, it is about raising awareness of the shockingly low levels of male sexual health checks.

On leaving the ceremony I was approached by hundreds of students/ parents/ grandparents who were interested in the aims and goals of the campaign. The level of support and encouragement for the campaign itself was something that I took strongly to heart.

That people were offended by this t-shirt, is sad, I did not mean to offend any members of the audience, I didn’t consider the word penis to be “obscene”, I find it worrying that it could be seen in that light. It was a serious t-shirt about a serious issue, namely men’s sexual health.

To those who are offended on behalf of people they assume to be offended or think should be offended. I find that attitude condescending and patronising. If people choose to be offended at the mention of a term like “penis”. That is their choice. That people choose to be offended on behalf of others without reference to whom they are acting on behalf for or why, I find insulting that others feel that they can make broad sweeping statements and usurp the potential offendee’s ability to communicate any displeasure or pleasure at my actions themselves directly to me.

I thought, with Wonder Woman collecting her BTeach, or the woman who turned her thesis into a pink corset, or the music students playing TV themes as graduates walked across stage, that there would be no issue with my t-shirt, as it was not a joke or meant as a laugh like the above situations. That it could be discussed in that manner is worrying.

As I have said on national television. I am sorry to any who are offended by the slogan “I (Heart) My Penis”.

What’s Involved in Being a Conscience of Society.

In the grand words as defined in s162(4)(a) and s162(4)(b)(iii) of the Education Act 1989

Universities have all of the following characteristics and other tertiary institutions have one or more of those characteristics:

They are primarily concerned with advanced learning, the principal aim being to develop intellectual independence: Their research and teaching are closely interdependent and most of their teaching is done by people who are active in advancing knowledge: They meet international standards of teaching and research: They are a repository of knowledge and expertise; They accept a role as critic and conscience of society.

The University makes a big hullabaloo about this statement “critic and conscience of society”. It is regularly brought up as an article of faith. This is something that the University positions as a reason for its existence and its intellectual license on government money.

In its mission statement the University states that “We will participate actively in our local community and play our part as critic and conscience of society”. This is the University that has built a high-rise accommodation block on Boyd-Wilson field, this is the University that when faced with a command from the council to cut two stories off the building. The Uni cut out the social space allocated for students. The University has spat in the face of local residents. That is not the conscience of society.

The University called in a change proposal on the Film School, that had no academic or rational basis, only some vague threatening human relations lines. It was placed onto staff and students, with an embarrassing proposed level of token involvement. Many students left the film school, or stayed away altogether. Students were the losers in this. Film was the loser in this. Yet the University stated that the fundamental deconstruction of the Film School had nothing to do with students and treated them like that. That is not a conscience of society.

Right now the University is clamping down on the Teaching College. This is in the creation of a $1.8 million deficit on the college and the forcing through the cutting of 29 academic staff jobs. They even have the gall to claim that their cuts will improve student outcomes. The University has a proven track record of not acting in the benefit of either students, staff or the wider community. That is not the actions of a conscience of society.

Now I have apologised to those chose to be offended by the statement “I (heart) my penis.” The reaction of the university has been vociferous and heavy. Whether that is a legitimate response or not is not what I am calling into question. What I am calling into question here is, where do we see this sort of care for the views and well-being of students and their families on issues that effect students i.e. student accommodation, student debt etc. etc.? Where are our academic leaders at this point? Sending a couple of meekly worded letters. Official Information Act requests have shown that. That is not what changes societies. Refusing to join with students, staff and wider workers in taking the challenge to the government itself is telling.

Why does this supposed term not work in reality? Because the people involved are tied to the state through job employment and job advancement. Historically people who have swum against the tide at universities, against the university or the state itself, have been marginalised and belittled. Maybe not fired, but more subtly stalled. Because as I have talked about in the past, the existence of the university is not to be some sort of conscience of anything, as that makes things uncomfortable. The point is for advanced training of conformity and reaction. Training for white collar jobs or a place in the upper strata of society. There are always exceptions to this rule and that’s the beauty of the archaic nature of the University.

However a conscience of society is someone or an entity who make observations and statements on the nature of society itself. This is not always welcome, akin to the “fleas on a dog” description that Josiah Hanan quipped in referring to opponents to the racist Springbok Tours. It is the actions of Peter Munz who described the university in the 90’s as ‘being run as if it were a bank or a firm of stockbrokers’. Or Herbert Marcuse, who lectured and theorised on the radical student movements erupting around 1968 onwards, supporting developing and deepening critiques and ideas of society.

What can be done though? It is students, those who are not directly tied to the system itself who can make a difference, in the knowledge that university cannot be isolated from wider society, it is however reliant on a wider societal movement of the workers in wider society to make change. Students can change nothing by themselves. Yet students are pushed further and further into a vocational debt trap. The university and the government would rather students and academics stayed quiet, trooping through the system, rather than critiquing it.


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Comments (7)

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  1. Graeme Edgeler says:

    The formatting of this mucked up in another thread so I’ll post it here too:

    “As I have said on national television. I am sorry to any who are offended by the slogan “I (Heart) My Penis”.”

    No Joel, what you actually said was:

    “Yeah, I do understand how some would [find it disrespectful], but I fink the most important fing is that it’s not a joke and it’s a really serious campaign and if I’ve done anyfink that’s taken away from that then I apologise for that.”

  2. blogette says:

    graduate – very funny. cosgrove is a raging marxist. he genuinely believes, from what i can tell, in communism and proletarian revolution.

    and you ask him to “get more in touch” with students…

  3. Superior Mind says:

    Joel, that is just a piss-poor apology and you know it.

  4. BIG TED says:

    Good work Joel… incredible why anyone would be offended over such a trivial matter.



  5. think its funny says:

    think its funny – appalled and laughing at the same time

  6. think its funny says:

    however if the staff were just peeved – then i would say good on him but due to photos being ruined and being on national TV i think the students are owed a more genuine apology

  7. Bon Labrousse says:

    Impeachment! Impeachment! My penis is fine, thank you very much. Anyone thinks otherwise obviously suffers from penis envy. Stop worrying about everyone else’s willies and look after your own! Penis love is great, but keep it to within closed curtains.

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