Words || Grapeshot team
If you’re new to Macquarie, or even if you’ve been around for a while, you mightn’t know that Macquarie has a very particular way of running things. From stripping independent student representation to blatantly censoring reportage about sexual assault on campus, the uni has a number of shady incidents in its recent history that you should know about. (The recent absence of ATMs on campus didn’t make this list, but that’s fucking annoying too.)
Macquarie Uni may well be the only major university in Australia without a student union – a body that traditionally advocates for student concerns and decides how to spend millions of dollars’ worth of Student Services and Amenities Fees – and that’s all because of a now-mythic figure named Victor Ma.
Dubbed ‘Chairman Ma’, the political science student dominated every major student body at Macquarie between 2002 and 2007; he represented students at the uni’s highest level on the Council, was chairman of the Student Council AND President of SAM (Students at Macquarie), our former student union.
But Ma’s rule crashed when it was discovered he’d transferred over $200,000 from student accounts to a personal account. He wound up in front of the Supreme Court. After he was ousted the uni jumped at the chance to dissolve the student union and council, stunting student representation. Student organisations were replaced by U@MQ, a corporate subsidiary of the uni. As an article about the fall of student unionism in Grapeshot pointed out last year, ‘Students are now consumers, not co-owners. [U@MQ’S] corporate board has just one student member in ten.’
The re-vamped SRC only controls $200,000 annually, compared with the millions controlled by USyd’s student union, and Ma’s downfall has led to an ongoing hostility from the uni administration towards student politics and representation. The enmity has led to limp student elections and stunted student power – and that’s just how Macquarie likes it.
THE DEMOCRAZY SRC
We now have the Student Representative Committee, a body of students who are allegedly the ‘peak consultative body for undergraduate and postgraduate students.’ But the body is viewed as impotent by students, largely because of poor communication on the SRC’s behalf; for the last few years they haven’t allowed a Grapeshot reporter into their meetings, despite the fact that most other university SRCs have open, public meetings.
Further, many members of the SRC aren’t elected by the student body, but appointed by a university-organised panel. For example, the ten Equity and Diversity representatives of the SRC aren’t democratically elected, leaving people suspicious that the university selects representatives that won’t give the uni a hard time.
When the panel process was first introduced in 2012, Gemma Quinn, the outgoing student representative to Council, told The Australian, “It’s a travesty. This body will be guided and directed at every stage by senior employees of the university. Independent voices will continue to be quashed.”
As for the students who were actually elected, the most recent election was dominated by one ticket, Alliance, which was run by former Liberal Club president Damien Pace, a member of the hard-right faction. Eight undergrad nominees on his ticket were elected, compared to one from the progressive ticket, Voice.
Until 2014, Macquarie hosted Australia’s longest-running music festival. The birthday of the uni’s namesake, Lachlan Macquarie, falls during exam time, but someone counted back 9 months and figured out the day he was likely conceived. Since 1969, we celebrated Mr. and Mrs. Macquarie’s fruitful fucking with a music festival that pulled great lineups (past performers include Birds of Tokyo, Bluejuice, and Flume) that attracted huge crowds to three stages around the lake.
There were mass streakings, a strange tradition involving hidden garden gnomes, and in 2003 over a thousand punters broke the world record for Most Tequila Shots in a Row. Needless to say, Conception Day was a fantastic shindig.
But in 2015, the festival was canned.
The SRC Treasurer explained that this was due to ‘unacceptable amounts of drug and alcohol abuse’. (Rumour has it that people would bury bags of pills by the lake a week before the festival, and on the day would sail through security and dig them up).
The iconic Macquarie bash was replaced with the terrible FAME festival; the vibe was lame and the event was poorly publicised, so in the end headliners Stonefield played to an empty courtyard.
After the FAME fail, the Facebook page Bring Back Conception Day garnered hundreds of signatures petitioning for the reinstatement of the original festival. Since then, a new, watered-down festival called RE: Conception has started, and has pulled headliners such as San Cisco, Montaigne and Thundamentals.
It’s a pretty solid time – and because it’s a smaller affair it’s way easier to sneak in goon – but it doesn’t hold a candle to the iconic, multi-stage, tequila-laden fiasco that was the Conception Day of old.
Last year, Grapeshot profiled Professor Bruce S Dowton, Macquarie’s Vice-Chancellor; essentially, he’s the CEO of the uni. (We have a Chancellor, Michael Egan, but it’s more of a figurehead position – he’s busy with his work as chairman of Newcastle Coal).
Turns out Bruce, the bespectacled, bow-tie wearing head honcho isn’t totally on the same wavelength as students.
When asked about engaging students on campus, he said: “To me, today, you try to plan your timetable so you can cram as much of your university time into three or three-and-a-half or four days a week, so you can preserve time for paid, outside work, to make money to support a party-living high lifestyle. Is that an accurate reflection?”
No, Brucey. For the most part, we’re dashing between uni and work only to sit on the floor of our overpriced rental properties and weep into bowls of Mi Goreng.
The VC’s supposition that students put as little energy into student life as possible just so we can fund our ‘party-living’ lifestyles came as particularly galling given that in the same interview he bragged that Macquarie has hit a billion-dollar yearly turnover. In 2016 Brucey also raked in at least 890,000 dollary doos, straight out of your HECS debt.
MEDICAL SCHOOL CASH-GRAB
Against the will of peak medical bodies and students nationwide, Macquarie is starting a private medical school and charging students $256,000 for the degree, making it the second most expensive medical degree in the country. Industry leaders said that the move would continue to lock people from low-socioeconomic backgrounds out of the medical industry.
There is also a huge over-supply of medical students compared to internships and jobs available, meaning another medical school just isn’t welcome. The fact that students will be forking out hundreds of thousands of dollars to go to a medical school that can’t promise them jobs led the President of the Australian Medical Students Association to describe the plans as ‘devastating’ and ‘irresponsible’ on behalf of the uni.
Last year, Grapeshot revealed that the university planned to boot out them a majority of the university’s independently-owned businesses as the old food court was demolished and the new Campus Common area built.
Lost to the carnage was the historic Marxine’s café, which had been serving up excellent coffee and moist banana bread since the 70s, and Wicked Mexican, a cheap-as-cornchips joint owned by a couple who had invested their lives in the business.
Sue, one of the owners of Wicked Mexican, told Grapeshot: “We’re too young to retire. We don’t want to be forced on to the dole for the first time in our lives.”
Many members of staff, who had worked at Macquarie for over a decade, were told their outlets were being closed and weren’t given a reason why. Students were dismayed to lose their favourite eateries, and rallied behind business owners to no avail. A woeful lack of student consultation on behalf of the uni didn’t improve matters; a motion passed by the SRC calling for more transparency in regard to the business closures did little to improve the dialogue between the university and students.
ALL ABOARD THE CENSORSHIP
The university’s attitude towards student media could be described as rather Trumpian. Last year the CEO of U@MQ fired Grapeshot’s Editor-in-Chief when she asked for the reasoning behind the uni’s directive to delete a comment she had written on a Grapeshot Facebook post. As the new EIC took over, uni executives tried to grasp control over our hiring process and ‘appoint’ editors, rather than allowing the team to hire the new team based on editorial experience and merit.
Last year, an article written about sexual assault and harassment on campus was blocked from print by the university. The article mentioned past examples of the university’s handling of sexual harassment in student groups. When it was blocked, instead of an article the Grapeshot team ran the line ‘This was an article about sexual assault and harassment and assault on campus. It was blocked by the university.’
Students immediately rallied behind Grapeshot and Junkee ran a news story about the censorship. We were eventually able to run the piece online, but a tense relationship continues between Grapeshot and our ‘publisher’, U@MQ.
Grapeshot Issue 1: X is out now. Keen to contribute to Grapeshot this semester? Join our Facebook Contributor Group.