Ian Young has a conundrum. You can’t graph student ethos. You can’t draw a “line-of-best-fit” for how much students like daily life at ANU. The closest indicator ANU has is the line of students fitting as much free-Thursday-lunch as possible into their paunches. Maybe that’s why ANU’s Vice-Chancellor has found himself in such a predicament. Ian Young, a man who used to make his living by graphing oceanic wind speeds has found himself at a university that is famously known and appreciated for something as unquantifiable as “ethos”.
ANU is a university made up of students that are mostly not from the city in which they study. It’s why we are so eager to make a home, so desperate to make homies and so in need of our new institution to be homely.
And yet, it’s no secret that student representatives deny being consulted on the specifics of UniLodge’s plans to solve the accommodation crisis. It’s no secret that a huge portion of SSAF is being used to fund building maintenance. It’s no secret that ANUSA’s Vice President approached the Vice-Chancellor to suspend Fleur Hawes’ academic exclusion and refused to exercise discretion. It’s no secret that ANU’s Vice-Chancellor has settled into the role by discounting student bodies whenever a confrontation arises.
Most controversially, the Vice-Chancellor had an opportunity to show that leniency could be granted to Fleur Hawes, who chose to spend nights sleeping in the ANUSA offices in order to serve the university, to add to the “ethos” of ANU. For wrong or right, he chose not to.
When the VC outlined his 30-page Strategic Plan for ANU last year, there was only one mention of anything extra-curricular (within a dot point where student housing also receives its only fleeting mention) and absolutely no mention of support for student led bodies. There was a lot of mention of research, educational effectiveness (whatever that means) and more public policy (which is a fancy way of saying more TV time for ANU’s lecturers and their opinions). All very important, graphable and box tickers for international rankings but not agents for improving life outside the classroom.
This is not the first time the VC has had to deal with a student representative council. In 2006, Ian Young was at Swinburne University, their student union had just illegally sacked their manager, the President was purported to be blight with misdealings and Voluntary Student Unionism had just been introduced. Young stopped funding the union, set up a new body and made students the minority on the board, disempowering them to do anything. What was hoped to be a 6-month model turned into a 6-year model. James Searle, the last student union president to see Young in charge says that the representative body became a corporation and Swinburne’s “ethos” died. Regardless of your opinion on whether he did the right thing, there is no denying: the man has just not seen a student led body that he’s happy with.
No, this is not a story for the pin-board of the student politicians. There is an observable correlation between conceitedness and running for student elections. However, more interestingly, after getting in contact with different universities across the country, an incredible statistic emerged – something that can be put on a bar graph that sets ANUSA apart from any other university’s student representative council: ANU students are twice more likely to vote in a student election than any other of the other universities (including Sydney and Melbourne). Voting indicates awareness, a want to have a say and respect of ANU’s students’ association. So, even if ANU students despise their own student politicians, they’re certainly not detached.
Yes, disdain for an ANUSA executive inevitably grows towards the end of their tenure regardless of their achievements. However,ANU students still want to know that the people they’ve chosen to serve them for a year will not be dispatched in March.
These opinions are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.