WORDS | Satyajeet Marar
At 4:40pm on the 17th of April, polling for the student advisory board and academic senate grinded to a halt. Turns out a minor procedural flaw by the university had resulted in the voiding of all student votes.. Weeks of campaigning by candidates, many working through intense assignment periods, disregarded. Now as hilarious as that situation is, it is a cause for concern because the marginalization of those representing students means the marginalization of the issues they are fighting for – including parking availability, tutorial hours, speedier wifi and conception day plans. The error in question? The failure to display a preferential voting option on the online voting page, contrary to university by-laws. Allegedly, no-one noticed this error until the very last minute. This incident has occurred within a wider context of university policy that has slowly taken away from the voice of the student.
In 2012, newly elected members of Macquarie University Student Representative Association (MUSRA) were unceremoniously told their body was to be shut down and replaced with a less democratic ‘advisory’ student board, functioning for half the planned tenure and with far less power. It had only limited means to make recommendations to the university – let alone to implement them.
Major changes to university policy had been undertaken with no prior consultation of the SAB and the ability of these students to make a change had been compromised by excessive procedural requirements. Associations such as Macquarie University Postgraduates Association (MUPRA ) – the peak representative body for postgraduates has been shut down completely, denying postgraduate students a forum to voice their concerns, as well as the many services that they provided. We’ve also seen sudden changes to various degree programs, the changes to the Department of Chiropractic being the mostly controversial in recent times.
A wider culture that doesn’t respect student representation means more mistakes, less consultation and less regard for the concerns of those who attend here. There is no denying that the university has done a lot for us in recent years with improvements in various student services, great new facilities such as the MUSE study space and other improvements. For these, they ought to be commended. However, student elections should not be seen as some irksome burden to be done away with before the real work can begin. They provide an opportunity to listen to the student voice, to build a less cynical, stronger, more united and passionate community and active campus life. They are a great platform for feedback that improves outcomes for all. We’ve committed ourselves to years of study, incurring swathes of debt in the process – often against offers from competitor universities. Students and those who represent them deserve to be treated with respect and professionalism and for the university to keep faith with longstanding historical practice and our rightfully justified expectations.