Through The Looking Glass

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A look back at the good, the bad and the weird from the  past decade at MQ

Words|| Saliha Rehanaz 

It’s the beginning of a new decade and a new start for Macquarie as the highly (un)anticipated MQ2020 program kicks off. While we’re all scrambling to figure out all the new unit codes and program changes, why don’t we take a stroll down memory lane and look back at the past ten years. Momentous changes have occurred over the past decade, that have taken place shaping the culture and identity of Macquarie we know today. Let’s start with the good, and end with the bad, and hopefully it’ll help you answer this question:  is a university education even worth it when an incurable disease is on the loose? 

One with Nature

One of the many changes that marked the beginning of the last decade was the Macquarie University Arboretum. In 2010, the only campus based arboretum (botanical garden) in Sydney was launched to commemorate hundreds of years of botanical land use. From occupation by the Darug people, through to the development of market gardens, and the present day park-like landscape of the university campus. 

The Arboretum celebrates the past and builds on the core research and education priorities of Macquarie through it’s areas of native vegetation, tree landscapes and themed teaching gardens. The Arboretum aims to provide a resource which  enhances learning, protects endangered ecological communities and facilitates biodiversity on campus. There are a range of different walks around the Arboretum. If you haven’t already, you can book a guided tour or download the notes for a series of self-guided walks from the Macquarie University website. 

Winners are Grinners

In 2018, the Macquarie University Team won the Champion Identifiers Trophy and came 5th in the Spotters list, at the University bioQuest. This is an international competition against other universities in  recording sightings of native plants and animals, held every year in April. The Macquarie team had submitted sightings from the Macquarie Arboretum, and as such it seems like there is more use to it than just harvesting deadly spiders. 

Hitting the Books

Our state-of-the-art Macquarie library was also opened this decade. Apart from providing a place for students to enjoy the air conditioning on hot summer days, the library was designed as a sustainable building with features including, low energy and water intensity, water tanks, a green roof and low volatile organic compounds. Next time you’re sipping on your 35% sugar, 70% ice, almond milk bubble tea tapping away on your iPhone instead of actually studying in the library, you’re also helping the environment right?

Last year was also the first time in the decade that the library was open 24/7. This was thanks to a motion passed by the Student Representative Committee (SRC). During the final exam sessions last year, Levels 3, 4 and 5 were open all day and night. Security guards were even employed to check student ID cards like bouncers at clubs, but at least the students finally had a space to eat overly-priced snacks from the vending machine while studying only the night before exam day.

Top of the Ranks

In 2012, Macquarie University was named the number 1, modern university in Australia by QS Top 50 Under 50, according to the 50 year Jubilee report released by the university in 2014. This happened soon after opening of  Macquarie University Hospital, Australia’s first and only private not-for-profit teaching hospital on a university campus. In 2017, to ensure the facilities were being used to their fullest capacity, Macquarie University launched the innovative four-year graduate entry program, known as Macquarie MD. In a 2018 interview, Professor Patrick McNeil, Executive Dean for the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, explained, “[The program] integrates applied medical sciences with clinical sciences, professionalism, research and cultural responsiveness”.  Lucky for us, despite being the second most expensive degree in the country, the hospital is close enough to get a doctor’s note so you can apply for special consideration after being hungover on the day of your midterm.

Ears Up!

In 2014, the Australian Hearing Hub opened which united researchers, clinicians and innovators with expertise in linguistics, audiology, speech and more. As an initiative of the Australian Government, The Australian Hearing Hub is  part of the Education Investment Fund. There are a total of eight clinics located inside, which ensures that clients receive first-class clinical evaluation, testing and diagnosis from leading practitioners. The academics at Macquarie and the staff at the Hearing Hub are pioneering a new approach to collaboration, which fosters opportunities for innovation across a range of fields.

Incubating Ideas

This decade, Macquarie also launched the Macquarie University Incubator Program, first kicking off in 2017. Not to brag, but we promptly received four awards at the Australian Timber Design Awards. The Incubator is a nexus for students, researchers, staff and the broader startup & entrepreneur community to explore, develop and realise their ideas. The Incubator program has nurtured the growth of numerous start-ups such as the Bawurra Foundation. The Bawurra Foundation was founded in 2015 by Macquarie students and young professionals  aiming to use technology to improve educational outcomes and celebrate the rich oral history of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The organisation has grown rapidly and is now working with numerous communities across New South Wales. 

International Focus

Macquarie also became the first university in the state to offer our international students free access to an innovative and multilingual legal information app, which  addresses issues international students might experience while studying in Australia. In 2019, over 8,000 international students from all over the world studied at Macquarie University. As an international student, lack of legal knowledge makes it difficult to understand working rights associated with the student visa and often leads to landlords exploiting international students via housing rights. My Legal Mate app provides legal information about employment, housing, disputes and sexual assault, in several different languages. This initiative was delivered by Macquarie’s Student Success Network, and all international students can register for the app for free on the Macquarie University website, as a part of their enrolment. 

Events Aplenty 

There have also been other incredible moments at the University focusing on mental health and the organisation of events such as RUOK? Day and World Mental Health Day, initiated by the SRC and other clubs and societies. Some notable student society events in the past decade include the Macquarie International Chess Tournament, the Australisian Women’s Debating Tournament and Enactus’s PeerLink Program. 

However, if it was all good, would we really dread waking up every morning to go to university? Apart from paying thousands for tuition, (triple for international students like me), some stories from Macquarie’s past make you question where you’re actually standing. From embezzlement to censorship, here’s a rundown of moments we hated Macquarie in the last 10 years.

Student Union Who?

Whether we wanted it or not, the ghosts from the years before have definitely continued to haunt us this past decade. Victor Ma, a name that perhaps we should have remembered with admiration and respect, is a constant reminder of the fact that Macquarie is one of the very few universities that does not have a student union of its own. Macquarie’s hostile attitude towards student unionism originates from the legacy of this glorious man, or otherwise called Chairman Ma. It is unlikely that any of our current readers have heard of Chairman Ma, however it is important to note that  his actions have prevented student elections to take place, and representatives to own and operate food and beverage outlets, gyms and childcare centres through their student unions.

Ma was the undisputed king of Macquarie University from 2002-2007. He held every possible elected position on campus, serving as the President of Students at Macquarie (SAM, the student union), Chair of the Macquarie University Students Council and Student Representative to University Council – the chief governing body of the University. His reign came to an end in early 2007, when police were called to investigate the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of student dollars which Ma has embezzled. SAM wound up in the Supreme Court, and as a result, the Students Council was liquidated. 

This has led to Macquarie holding an ongoing and reflexive hostility to any efforts towards a traditional brand of student unionism. It became clear at the initiation of the Macquarie University Postgraduate Representative Association (MUPRA), and its refusal to allow accreditation with the National Union of Students in 2017. However, this has not always been the case. Macquarie University has had a rich tradition of unionism and activism since it was founded in 1964. Perhaps, this will be the decade when student unions reform again? 

XXXX Rated

Speaking of voicing opinions, last decade freedom of speech at Macquarie was questioned when Grapeshot’s coverage of a campus sexual assault and harassment was censored. In 2017, Grapeshot’s editor-in-chief, Angus Dalton had written an opinion piece about the history of student activism on the issue of sexual assault on campus. In an interview with Junkee, Dalton said that a representative of the university directed him to remove the article, following his refusal to edit it to include university comment. This was on the grounds that it was an opinion piece informed by fact. 

As the article could not be published in that particular issue of Grapeshot magazine, a blank red page was printed in its place.  A simple statement on the page read, “This was an article about sexual assault and harassment on campus. It was blocked by the university.”

Travel Trauma

While we now enjoy the Metro services which began last year in May, there was a period of eight months when students and staff were disadvantaged as the train line from Epping to Chatswood was closed. Station link had replaced the trains. It was quite difficult for anyone who lived more than  30 minutes away from campus. Thankfully, this dark time is over, and all we students need to worry about is whether we can afford the skyrocketing parking rates on campus.

An Untimely Death

Aside from climate strikes, the university’s students and staff displayed their strong activist spirits last year, in protesting the redistribution of the Faculty of Human Sciences. This announcement was made at the end of Session 2 last year, while most of the student faculty impacted by the decision were busy with exams, and the staff were marking exam papers and finalising results. The walk for the Human Sciences faculty was just another reminder that Macquarie has a strong history of student activism and mobilisation when the occasion arises. Jayden Whaites, the treasurer of the SRC, says that students and staff can create a better atmosphere on campus next decade by working together to ensure there is proper communication and accountability on large scale changes on campus, such as the closure of the Human Sciences Faculty. 

Conception…FAME…RE: Conception…huh?

Alongside activism culture, one of Macquarie’s most iconic days also had a bumpy ride in the past decade. Last year marked the 50th year anniversary of Conception Day, a tradition which started in 1969. Macquarie University was only five years old when students decided to hold an event that would enable them to put on their raunchiest outfit and party the night away. The early Conception Days were outrageous, consisting of flour fights or student bands on roofs. (Fun fact: the Great Garden Gnome Hunt was introduced in the second year of Conception Day).

Regardless of all the crazy traditions associated with this day, it truly became popular for its live music performances, market stalls, pyrotechnics and carnival rides. Conception Day was the epitome of university life and had delivered line ups of some incredible artists including Birds of Tokyo, Blue Juice, Flume, Tigerlily and Allday. Unfortunately in 2014 the highly anticipated Conception Day was cancelled due to “decline in student numbers” (read: drugs).

In an effort to replace Conception Day, FAME was hosted instead. To everyone’s disappointment, FAME consisted of only overpriced food trucks, unimpressive artists and poorly set up marquees. Just like in other events in Macquarie’s history, the students did not stay quiet. The failure of FAME led to an uproar amongst student bodies and started the “Bring Back Conception Day” movement. Michael Pellegrino, along with the SRC, were behind this petition and a Facebook page, which became a platform for students to voice their recommendations and  demands to bring back the single-most traditional day of Macquarie history. 

Giving into the demands of the students, RE: Conception Day was born in 2015. The event still had live music, which is a huge part of the original event, however some things are just not the same. As mentioned earlier, it was the half-century anniversary of the original Conception Day last year and around five thousand students had taken part in the celebration. Leading up to the days of the event,  Macquarie Village authorities had tried to put a stop to the tradition where pres are held at the Village before walking to Conception Day. In an email sent to all residents, it was announced that pre/post parties would not be approved and all non-residents had to vacate after 11 am on the day. I’m sure you can guess what happened next…the students revolted and won…

Construction Destruction

Of course, we can’t forget the obtrusive construction sites decorating the campus. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t because of how much noise pollution it’s been making. Now, you might think the new construction would fall under developments at Macquarie because of the new and exciting features it will offer. However, the construction has taken away the cornerstone of Macquarie, which was the old food court and Atrium. This decade Macqaurie saw the closing of historic eateries such as Marxine’s Cafe and Wicked Mexican, replaced by the temporary Campus Common. In true Macquarie fashion, students were quick to show their support when business owners rallied against the demolition of the old court, but unfortunately did not prevail.

MQ 2020

Last but not least, the wonderful MQ2020. If you’re studying in a degree which is being restructured like mine, you’ll understand how infuriating everything has been so far. Your inbox might be filled with emails assuring you that help and support is available at all times, but what do you say when no one can “guarantee” anything? Starting this year, there will be completely new unit course codes and grading systems will be changed to Weighted Average Marks (WAM). I would love to attempt to explain all these drastic changes impacting your  education, but unfortunately I can’t. I don’t even understand them myself. 

While we may be  excited for the coming Central Courtyard and other new installations, we should be concerned about whether we are entering a decade where our educational institutions exist on the sole basis of profit. Hopefully this trip down memory lane has helped you learn a little more about Macqurie’s past and the part you play in controlling what happens in the next decade. And at least we have a beautiful lake where you can relax and enjoy the sun! Oh wait, you can’t do that anymore either because of the construction…good luck.

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