ANU has made a gross error in judgement that we as students must call to attention at all levels of the university and beyond. We must equally hold ANU and the decision-makers behind this error to account, and demonstrate to them that the situation with Kambri is unacceptable. To affect positive change and avoid a poor outcome for ANU and its students, we need to understand the situation, and be willing to take action.
Holding ANU to account: The Strategic Plan
The Strategic Plan has been developed and promoted at the highest levels, including by our own Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt. It aims to create “excellence in student experience”, states that ANU is committed “to better outcomes for our community” and “to equity and diversity as fundamental values.” Equity is a recurring theme: elsewhere the plan states clearly that “ANU stands for equity in all that we do”.
With regards to the campus experience, the Strategic Plan aims to build a “campus amenity that befits its status as the national university” and states that the “facilities, infrastructure and environment of ANU will exemplify the excellence we seek to achieve across the University.”
Specifically referencing Kambri, the Plan declares that ANU “will regenerate Union Court as the heart of University life. It will be home to outstanding student and staff services”.
I cannot see how, with the proposed booking fees, ANU can achieve these admirable goals. For example, charging students $800 to use the lawns on Kambri is the antithesis of “equity”. This is the antithesis of “outstanding student… services”. Booking fees such as these price student organisations out of the area, impose financial barriers to accessibility and undermine our desire and ability as students to create the thriving campus life that signifies “excellence in student experience”.
As argued in a previous article submitted to Woroni – one written before these booking fees were leaked – our campus has been gentrified. That is even more apparent now, since these plans have been revealed.
This is not befitting of the national university. This does not exemplify excellence. Decision-makers at the highest level, like Vice Chancellor Schmidt who plays a key role in charting the course for our university, must be made aware of the profound disconnect here between our strategic goals stated on paper and decisions being made on the ground.
Holding our student representatives to account: Questions about consultation, representation, and transparency
From Woroni’s previous news article: “The draft [booking fees] document does, however, recognise “anchor users” – certain groups that “have been considered in the design of the spaces. These users are limited to the ANU Film Group and the National University Theatre Society (NUTS). While these two groups are granted special allowances in regard to fees, similar clubs and societies – like the ANU Musical Theatre Company – do not enjoy such allowances.”
So, what about the rest of us – other clubs and groups that haven’t been considered? Where is the broader student-led advocacy? And why, if it is present, has it resulted in a policy that is not in student’s interests? In short, how did we end up here?
According to reports delivered at the most recent SRC, at the undergraduate level, the responsibility for advocacy on this issue falls to the ANUSA President, the Vice President, and the Social Officer – the three students chosen to represent the rest of the student community and its groups on this matter. Both ANUSA and PARSA have a duty to advocate on these matters. At the undergraduate level, however, our three representatives have been advocating for us in meetings that are closed and confidential. Meetings that have no transparency. Because these meetings are confidential, they’ve apparently concluded that we as students cannot therefore be consulted, at least not until this draft becomes public. This isn’t necessarily the case because consultation can still happen, so long as confidential information is not shared. The obvious problem with this course of action – a complete lack of consultation – is that once the policy is finalised and locked in, it will be much more difficult to change.
It is important for us to question what these confidentiality terms were, why these terms were accepted, and why other approaches to consultation were not considered afterward. These terms not only make it more difficult for those representatives to consult the student community, but have also delayed that consultation until the process is complete.
It may have been possible, for example, for our three undergraduate representatives to have banded together and rejected any terms of confidentiality, arguing instead that as representatives, to do their job most effectively they needed to do it openly and involve students earlier in the process. If those demands for transparency were rejected, they could have taken a principled stance on this matter and refused to participate in this process. Kambri would then be left to make and present decisions without being able to say they consulted students – a far weaker position for them to maintain.
Instead, we now have Kambri making decisions that are clearly not in student’s best interests, and yet that process is bolstered by being able to claim that those decisions were done in consultation with students. This is only true in the most minimal sense; consulting three students out of tens of thousands on a matter with serious and far-reaching consequences is lacklustre, to put it mildly. There is nothing to indicate that our representatives fought for broader consultation, increased transparency, nor meaningful representation.
Let’s also keep one thing in mind here: Were it not for Woroni getting a hold of that draft policy, we wouldn’t know anything about this right now. We’d be hearing about it first at this upcoming public forum the ANU is hosting in a few weeks’ time when they will present the final policy. For all we know, that policy is being rushed through, now that these details have been leaked, to limit the opportunity we as students have to affect any substantive changes. If not for the Woroni article – if the first we heard about this was when a final policy was presented – affecting change would have been even harder. We are honestly lucky that someone involved in this process had the awareness to recognise the low level of consultation was problematic. That gives us a fighting chance to affect change and make our voice heard before it is too late.
There may be good reasons for all this, but the questions remain important, and should be asked even if doing so is uncomfortable. I do not like conflict. I have to work with the people I’m holding to account here. This isn’t easy, but I think it should be done. I simply want to question the approach chosen and understand why it was done this way. Even more importantly, I want to ensure that the final policy is equitable, that it represents the excellence ANU strives for, and that it places students in the centre of life at Kambri – the way it should be.
We should all support the idea that our representatives are held accountable, and that, as students affected by this, we have both a right to ask questions and a duty to advocate for ourselves and future generations of students who would be burdened by these fees. I genuinely believe our representatives are trying to do what is best, but even still, questions must be asked.
Holding ourselves to account: Student satisfaction as a key performance indicator
In ANU’s Strategic Plan, one key performance indicator is “improvement in the overall satisfaction of ANU students”. In other words, student satisfaction is something that ANU will pay attention to as a critical measure of success. As students of this university, we are also responsible for responding to this situation, now that we have an opportunity to do something, however small that window may be. Clearly, we need to show our dissatisfaction. Thanks to this information being revealed ahead of time, we have an opportunity to do so.
We need to know what students think about paying for spaces. It seems reasonable to assume that some amount of money to use the space may be necessary for certain exceptional events, and in certain circumstances. What this pricing looks like, and what is affordable to student clubs and individuals is another question. I implore you to make your voice heard – as it should have been all this time.
Nick Blood is the ANUSA Environment Officer. The opinions in this piece are his alone and are not representative of the ANU Environment Collective or of Woroni.