19 July, 2010

Downsize Your Exec - Destroy Minority Representation

OUSA is currently running a referendum to ask it's members if it should make a smaller, more efficient executive. But while this might be good for governance, it could be disastrous for minority groups at Otago University.

The "Downsize Your Exec" question is to put in place the recommendations of the Governance Structure Review Working Party, which calls for the removal of most of the representational portfolios on the OUSA exec. This would mean the removal of the Queer Rep, as well as the Women's Rep, Maori Rep, Pacific Islands Rep and International Rep (Though Te Roopu Maori will delegate an officer ex officio instead of the Maori Rep and the international students will be represented by one of the General Reps).

Over the last decade or so, the students at Otago decided that the Welfare Rep was unable to accomplish all of these roles on their own (International and Women's Reps have existed since at least 1996), so each different rep position was created to ensure that they all got the time needed to fairly represent all these disparate groups.

While, publicly, OUSA has been proactive on certain queer issues, historically, queer issues were often pushed to the sidelines. It was codified in their policies to be proactive on queer rights, but these rights were often put at the bottom of the list, and were neglected. By combining the Queer, Women's, Maori, Pacific Islands and International Reps back into the Welfare Officer, we're going to see the same thing happen again - it's too many disparate things for one officer to handle. Harriet's response is that the reps are being replaced by sub-committees, but this is similar to what already happened previously (and is from where UniQ originally sprung) and what OUSA already has the power to create.

Furthermore, the Welfare Sub-committee will be comprised (potentially, according to the Working Party Report) of a Maori Rep, Queer Rep, Women's Rep, Pacific Islands Rep, International Cultural Council Rep, Disabilities Rep, and a Postgrad Rep. Each of these different groups are equally important and deserve equal time and respect, but I think that it's utter folly for them to all be deliberating on each other's issues. The PI Rep cannot truly comprehend queer issues in the same way that I cannot truly comprehend women's issues - which is why these all need to be separate positions. By putting all of these different things into one sub-committee, we risk losing an effective voice through OUSA, as do Maori, PI, female students, et al.

Finally, the sub-committees are appointed by the Executive. There is absolutely no democratic recourse if we disagree with whom they appoint. If they appoint someone that, for example, we feel doesn't have the backing of the queer community, there's nothing we can do about it. They could even appoint a man as a women's rep - there's nothing in any of the proposed constitutional changes that guarantee that any appointed reps on the committee must actually represent the people they claim to. In fact there is nothing in the proposed constitutional changes that have anything to say about the appointment of the sub-committees.

I truly believe that we should strongly oppose the Governance Structure Review. It is anti-queer, it is anti-women, it is anti-diversity. I do believe that the working party is not being deliberately sinister or malicious and that they do have our best interests at heart, but I think that they are naïve. "Downsize your Exec?" will destroy our representation on OUSA and University councils - representation we fought tooth and nail for, and we should not sit idly by while that happens.

The structure that they are proposing isn't even established by the referendum: The constitutional amendments in the referendum question are only going to axe all of the representatives. The sub-committees have to be established in further policy. While OUSA says that this policy is already drafted and waiting for the results of the referendum, there is absolutely nothing binding them to passing it - and it could all change before it gets a chance to.

So, those of you who actually read this, and of that subset those who are OUSA members, please vote NO in this referendum. The referendum is on the OUSA website 

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