USU Board Recap: Strikes, Student Life, and $$$
Yesterday, on the eve of the launch of the USU Board of Trustees election campaign, I sat in a seat in the Cullen Room of the Holme Building to keep tabs on the current Trustees of your Board of administration at their April meeting. Here is what happened :
One of the main topics of the meeting was the upcoming NTEU strikes, which will be held on Wednesday May 11 and Thursday May 12.
Good news for student-staff solidarity, USU passed two motions expressing support for staff strikes and pledging to close USU outlets during the strike period.
President Prudence Wilkins-Wheat argued at the meeting that USU should care about the quality of learning conditions for students, saying “student life begins in the classroom.”
This marks an improvement over USU’s previous record for solidarity with academic staff; the organization was condemned as a “scab-busting union” in 2017 when it refused to close its outlets during strikes due to financial problems. While CEO Andrew Mills signaled that the strikes would likely impact union revenue from April to May, the meeting nevertheless unanimously backed the strikes.
However, the council refused to call on its members to attend the picket line – a step the CBC has taken – Wilkins-Wheat said joining the picket line is a matter of personal choice, but that she would attend.
Another big talking point stemmed from the various student life initiatives that USU implements.
In her report, Honorary Secretary Belinda Thomas noted that USU has redesigned PULP magazine will kick off soon, congratulating newly appointed editor Marlow Hurst on being given the role. The magazine will kick off once the full team of six editors are appointed.
PULP magazine represents a revamped version of the Union’s publication; after several years as an online news site, it will return to print, with a focus on cultural writing. Although initial discussions of the plan suggested that a “people’s vote” would be held to inform the final editorial team, it appears the plan has not materialized, at least for now.
Various reports have drawn attention to a marked increase in campus life, with various well-attended Manning concerts (read our reviews here) and a steady increase in the number of visitors to Verge Gallery.
Ben Hines, who sits on the debates committee, praised the USU debaters for their performance at the Australian Intervarsity Debating Championships (aka ‘Easters’) earlier this month.
It was all very bright! However, a less fantastic initiative is attending the student leadership sessions organized by the Office of Student Life, which offer courses in mental health first aid and RSA, among other skills. SSAF-funded courses have around 20 empty spaces, with board administrators suggesting the marketing and scheduling of courses needs improvement.
Asked about the status of the upcoming USU board elections, Wilkins-Wheat said Honi she’s ‘super proud’ of the nominees – a few laughs from the rest of the board. The nominees have apparently also received some resilience training, which frankly might come in handy when they see the results of the Honi quiz (more to come…).
If there was one take-home message from the meeting, it’s that the union fucks roll in.
Chief Financial Officer Rebecca Sahni updated the Board on USU’s better-than-expected February-March revenue as the organization reviews its budget thanks to the events windfall. In particular, USU hit a jackpot in Sydney’s queer community, with Manning’s Heaps Gay event making money. It pays to kill!
Andrew Mills took us through the performance of USU’s outlets, which were also boosted by graduation season. Describing the excess money that sits in Union coffers, Mills complained “we are victims of our own success”. A tough place to live, really.
Honorary Treasurer Ben Hines’ report focused on this profusion of disposable income. “The money we have in cash has essentially doubled in our time on the board,” he contextualized, arguing that the USU should increase spending for its members.
Naturally, given Hines’ position as chairman of SULS, his suggestion was “unresolved conflict of interest, more money for C&S.”
SRC President Lauren Lancaster, who was an observer at the meeting, asked why the glut of money being spent was not being spent on restarting FoodHub, a joint initiative between USU and SRC that expired this semester after administrative problems. Wilkins-Wheat said USU broadly supports the program but needs to re-budget to fund FoodHub before it can restart.
Honi asked the Board if it intended to pursue divestment, following recent coverage of USU investments, in the fossil fuel industry. The Board could not commit to doing so, instead awaiting recommendations from its investment review before acting.
After the open portion of the meeting was over, the Board proposed in camera to discuss lease terms and nominations for USU Life Membership.