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September 6, 2015 | by  | in News Splash | [ssba]

Vested interests and kamikaze presidents

The middle of Trimester Two brought Salient’s favourite time of year, VUWSA’s Annual General Meeting.

Not only is the association required to stage an AGM every year, but it was a chance for students, and I quote VUWSA’s Facebook event, to “learn about the work of your VUWSA exec team, have a say on proposed changes to our constitution, and share your stories on course-related costs”.

What resulted was a relatively cordial discussion between President Rick Zwaan and a few participatory students featuring a kamikaze appearance from NZUSA President Rory McCourt, who, as one student put it, “doesn’t even go here”. The highlights for this reporter included the one student who voted against every motion in a fit of pedantic peacocking, and being urged to accept free tickets to a shit Zac Efron film. VUWSA Clubs and Activities Officer “Naughty” Rory McNamara also tried to introduce a secret ballot to end NZUSA/VUWSA squabbling once and for all.

While the students in attendance revelled in their access to free pizza, Zwaan was heard appealing to the Hub at large for “just one more person” to fill the AGM quorum. However, most Hubbites were happy to simply maintain their perch by Vicbooks and watch Zwaan be accused of running a “Ricktatorship” and putting forward “classist” proposals.

Constitutional changes

Some constitutional changes were made, and some weren’t. A lot of it had to do with legalease and subheadings becoming not subheadings and blah blah blah. According to our Twitter Fanz, “If VUWSA wants the Constitution to be more readable they should just get Salient to write it”.

Your wish is our command.

Election spending

VUWSA proposed to increase election spending limits for executive campaigns from the current $100 to $500. According to the association, the limit had never been been changed to keep up with inflation. That, and it was hard for nominees to pay for campaign material with just $100 (which meant many nominees were just circumventing the limit anyway).

The proposal saw mixed reactions among audience members, the most memorable being “$500 is a shitload!” and claims that a cool half-grand was not a “legitimate cost” when considering the current levels of student hardship. There were also concerns that raising the limit could prevent students from running. As a result, a compromise was reached to raise the spending cap to $250, and despite some remaining “against” votes, the motion passed.


VUWSA also sought to introduce a constitutional clause that would ensure any decision to affiliate or disaffiliate with any outside groups had to be voted on and decided by members in a referendum. This is for deciding things like, I dunno, whether VUWSA will continue to be members of NZUSA.

What resulted was a pro-NZUSA/anti-NZUSA spat. NZUSA President Rory McCourt, who had somehow been given speaking rights, expressed his concern that the clause would not be introduced until after VUWSA’s scheduled/promised referendum regarding its decision to leave NZUSA. While other audience members questioned whether the association would put the levy amount VUWSA has had to pay NZUSA would not be “put into context” (ie. that it would be made to look larger than it is. It’s $45,000 annually, and VUWSA is paying around $33,000 because it plans to leave NZUSA in September).

Vic student and former Salient editor Stella Blake-Kelly dubbed McCourt’s failure to identify his vested interest in NZUSA as “underhanded and unfair”. Crowd members responded by asking why McCourt was present if he was no longer a student, and Zwaan tried to assure members that the referendum changes were all democratic and very much above board. Zwaan noted the move would ensure decisions were made by students rather than just the Exec, and that the decisions would be binding. The motion was carried to sighs of relief.

Zwaan later told Salient that McCourt’s presence “was somewhat frustrating because AGMs are meant to be about members… Universities New Zealand wouldn’t get involved in an individual university’s processes.”

Zwaan refused to say which which way he will vote in the upcoming referendum on NZUSA membership. Salient invited Zwaan to “blink twice if you’re voting to stay”. Salient can confirm that Zwaan did not blink twice.

However, Zwaan was full of inspiring words for students planning to vote in the referendum. “Students should actively engage in this process and, y’know, do their own research and look at what NZUSA is doing and think about is this worthwhile or not and um and come up, y’know, with their own decision on it,” he said.

Executive Remuneration

The Exec also proposed to acquire control over their own pay and job descriptions—rather than having these be subject to an AGM as they are currently. The rationale for this move, according to Zwaan, was to amend the current pay disparity between vice-presidents and officers. Current pay rates see officers paid $2000 annually, for what is an estimated 10 hours of work per week. Any pay changes would take place the following year, to mitigate conflicts of interest. Zwaan insisted that there were no actual pay increases being proposed, just a change in process.

The crowd, however, was less than receptive to the proposal. Comments from the audience included “I’d just like to say that it seems fucking shit” and “this seems completely ridiculous”. McCourt took another chance to pipe in, claiming, as a student politician, that “you shouldn’t trust us to choose our pay ourselves”. Unsurprisingly, the notion that VUWSA would choose its future Exec’s pay did not pass; Exec members were the only attendees to vote in favour.


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