Words by Emma Vlatko
Macquarie University has taken seven of its postgraduate students to the Supreme Court.
The University claims that the students, who are all representatives for the Macquarie University Postgraduate Representative Association (MUPRA), have been misusing funds.
Craig Oliver, Director of Campus Life Director said in a statement to Grapeshot, the organisation had not been fulfilling its duties to the Macquarie postgraduate students. “In recent years MUPRA has provided limited postgraduate services and has in fact sought, and obtained, funds from the University in order to do so,” he said.
The University is asking the Court to wind up the organisation and appoint a liquidator to distribute their net assets.
But MUPRA argues the funds, roughly $500,000 (obtained prior to 2007), were being held as a safeguard against potentially diminished future support from the University. This, Meghan Hopper, President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) claims is a completely legitimate use of the funds.
“It recognised when voluntary student unionism came in that it would need money so it saved money and invested and got interest. They put it aside for a rainy day, and then that day came,” Ms Hopper said in an interview with Crikey.
Ms Hopper says the actions by the University are nothing more than a “blatant grab at money” and an attempt to silence independent student advocacy.
“We are gravely concerned about the potential implications that this case will have not just for our friends at MUPRA, but for independent student unions at campuses across Australia and indeed, the concept of independent unionism itself”
The CAPA President also expressed concerns at the University’s attempt to replace MUPRA with the current Student Advisory Board.
“If a Court accepts that it is appropriate for a University to simply replace a union with an ‘advisory body’ chaired by a person hand-picked by the University and directly responsible to the Chancellor, that will be a tragic step in the history of student unionism in Australia and will send a very dangerous message about independent representation and advocacy.”
Ms Hopper’s argument has also attracted federal interest, with Greens Senator, Lee Rhiannon voicing her support for the “Macquarie 7″. “It is important for those of us who support independent, vibrant, democratic student organisations to stand up against attacks like this, otherwise they may start becoming a common occurrence,” she said.
In late August the Senator tabled a motion calling Macquarie University to drop its legal action, describing their actions as “unprecedented.”
Mr Oliver regects these claims completely, arguing that Macquarie’s new Student Advisory Board ensures all student constituencies are represented.
“Macquarie University makes no apology for striving to provide better student services and support,” he says. “Even if that means providing the services itself rather than handing over cash to student-run organisations to do so.”
And whilst he expressed regret over the need for legal action, he said the University has taken these actions solely because of the specific matters at hand, “not because of an ideological position on student organisations or representation.”
“The University and its Council have repeatedly tried, with numerous MUPRA Executives, to find an amicable resolution that would ensure the continuation and independence of the organisation,” Mr Oliver said. “Unfortunately those attempts, including personal intervention by the Vice-Chancellor, have not been successful.”