Media Advisory:
Meeting 4pm Thursday 18 August, MacLaurin Lecture Theatre,
Kelburn campus, Victoria University

The decision announced earlier today to sack two lecturers in Victoria University’s International Relations programme to make way for new “themes” in the programme based around Security Studies and the Asia-Pacific region will lend urgency to a meeting of staff, students, University Council members and MPs scheduled for 4pm Thursday 18 August at the Kelburn Campus’ MacLaurin Lecture Theatre 102.

“We can’t tell exactly who will be attending the meeting other than students and staff at this stage,” says Tertiary Education Union Organiser, Michael Gilchrist, “but we see the current changes as a watershed issue for the future direction of the university.”

“There is no question of a lack of funds or student demand in the programme. On the contrary, an additional investment is being made. But younger staff, attempting to raise a family and build an academic career, are losing their jobs.

“We are particularly concerned that the university’s Academic and Faculty Boards, representing students and staff have not been consulted and that recent resignations in the programme have not been used to avoid making staff redundant.

“Likewise, students see the alarming implications for the courses they are taught, the relationships they have with lecturers and their plans for progression within disciplines if changes in the wind of management thinking can have this kind of effect.”

**For further information please contact**

Michael Gilchrist 021 770 846 or 04 463 5058

Further information on the situation at Victoria is also available at www.teu.ac.nz

Update:
There is another meeting happening to discuss the change proposal and responses to the VUW Council, on Wednesday 24 August at 5pm, until 8pm, in the Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington.

This meeting is being called to discuss, organise and coordinate nationwide resistance on campus.

Amongst other things, the university is under attack from the government, with VSM set to pass in the next month. It is also under attack from its own management, with lecturers being sacked and research shut down in Wellington; whilst key academic conditions are being taken from academic staff in Auckland.

Robbie Shilliam, a lecturer in International Relations at VUW, will speak briefly about general issues.

Joe Kelly, an ex-student, will speak about past experiences of occupations which have occurred at VUW.

We will then discuss how to most effectively build resistance on campus, and make some plans.

Please invite anyone you think might be interested.

The change proposal can be accessed here.

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Ken Graham, at the beginning of the show.

Ken Graham, at the beginning of the show.

Despite a rainy and cold Wednesday night, I had decided that this was going to be a major Budget in the annals of NZ history, so it would be worth a trip to the Back Bencher pub and a look at the show this week. Besides, I like listening to Ken, and it seemed that a panel composed of Louise Upston for National, Darren Hughes for Labour, Sir Roger Douglas for Act, and our Kennedy Graham for the Greens would have potential to be interesting, if not unintentionally outright hilarious.

I arrived just before the show was due to start, and not having arranged to meet anyone, ended up seated with a couple of guys who admitted to being old schoolfriends of Darren Hughes, who’d come down from the Horowhenua to see him perform on the show. They were pleasant and interesting folk, and were quite happy to have me perched on the spare edge of their table, in what was a rather packed public house – a scene I’d not participated in since the pre-election sessions of 2008.

The evening was just as funny as I’d anticipated, with the added bonus of Salient editor Sarah Robson (recently nominated for a Qantas Media Award) being given her 15 minutes of fame on the subject of budget cuts to VUW enrolments, which had just been announced this week.

Ken acquitted himself well in the ensuing melee, managing to plug the Mind the Gap green policy announcement very effectively.
(For a podcast of the policy announcement, go here.)

The full episode is available via TVNZ On Demand here.

This week’s issue of Salient has a new cartoon by Grant Buist, a former friend of mine. I say former, because this is really going to be the last straw.

You see, the cartoon, which can be found on his blog, has a panel depicting a first-year student in a very short dress, struggling to keep her door shut, on a ‘rubgy player’ – with the caption: she “narrowly avoids impregnation by rugby team during Orientation”.
This cartoon purports to be a 21st century update of Hogath’s famous 18th century series of engravings, “The Rake’s Progress”(background here), and is proposed to run as a serial in this year’s magazine.

Buist has excused himself thus:

Actually, something good that may come out of this would be discussion of the issue I’m highlighting above – many 18-year-old girls get massively shitfaced during Orientation, and are preyed upon. If you look at the crime incident maps distributed by the police (which are sometimes reproduced in Magneto), you can see that many of Wellington’s sexual assaults are committed in dark alleys near Courtenay Place, where hopelessly drunk girls have stumbled while trying to get home. It’s entirely possible, considering how the Orientation issue of Salient is full of advice for first-years, that some girls may read this panel and think “Right. Something to avoid.”

Really, if there’s anyone who should be annoyed, it’s rugby teams.

So, it’s just ‘one more time round the block’ for the tired old argument that ‘girls bring rape on themselves’, and we should police women’s behaviour – not that rapists are criminals, and we should police men’s behaviours.

There’s another good post on the subject here.

If you also find this offensive, please tell the editor of Salient, Sarah Robson, editor@salient.org.nz, as she has already replied to one member of the VUW Women’s Group that she thinks it’s not a big issue. I guess she just doesn’t get the point.

This week, I have made a momentous decision, somewhat forced by the inter-Faculty wrangles I referred to in my last post on feminism-in-academia.

As of Tuesday, I’m not a Master’s thesis candidate, although I have no intention of shelving my project to write a book on third-wave radical feminists in Aotearoa-New Zealand (that’s from 1990 – now-ish, for those who don’t recognise the terminology).

It’s been a long time coming, but I am now officially over dealing with the assortment of misogynists on the VUW Council who have been paring back the resources allocated to the School of Gender & Women’s Studies over the past 4 years.

First it was a discussion about removing the School from the Kate Edgar House, at 94 Fairlie Terrace, an old villa next to the Music School property – itself marked for demolition once the NZSM gets it’s new premises built on the Illot Green, next to the MFC, downtown. Oh, wait, the funding hasn’t come through for NZSM, has it?

But the VUW Council have already begun re-development on Fairlie Tce, having bowled 3 houses which belonged to the School of Education, whose staff were all peremptorily moved up to the Karori Campus in 2007 to make way for – a hostel for International Students!
Yes, a commercial venture based on ‘slit-appartments’, which have been built and turned into instant ghettos in Auckland, replete with drug dealers and so on, in a copy of student accommodation popular in Hong Kong.

Funnily enough, they’re having trouble finding post-grad international students ready to put up with the extremely small flats created in the hope of securing a mix of under- and post-grads in the hostel. It’s mostly populated by German and American exchange students, with a smattering of Korean and Chinese first-years.
Catering facilities are minimal, and a whole floor is dedicated to an open-air drying arena for laundry, surrounded by toughened glass plates to stop anyone blowing away in a stiff northerly..

In 2008, the results of a change proposal were to reduce the School of Education staff at Karori from 150 to 100, a net loss of 33% of staff across all categories. Staff members were approached by the AUS, the staff union on VUW campuses, but were told by the Dean of Education faculty Dr Dougald Scott, as well as by other senior staff, that speaking to the union would place them automatically on the ‘to be fired’ list.
Many staff did speak to AUS rep Michael Gilchrist, but were frightened of reprisals from both the external HR firm hired to do the redundancies, and the permanent senior staff.
There was ultimately no strong collective protest from the School of Education staff, and the job-losses went ahead as planned by the VCs on Kelburn campus.

Along the way, School of G&WS lost our Fairlie Tce rooms and ancilliary staff, as well as 4 of the 8 undergrad papers, and no guarantee from the VUW Council that undergrad majors currently in train would be able to complete.

Post-grads were given very short notice at the start of that academic year to pack up all their desks and resources, for removal to Karori campus. Space for study was not allocated immediately; PhD students who’d allowed all their work to be boxed up waited weeks, finally allocated a post-WW2 prefab, with no insulation or heaters, in which their desks and research were summarily unpacked by Faculty staff (campus care) without any discussion taking place directly with the post-grad’s involved. The disruption to research was undertaken with no apology or suggestion of compensation.

Some students opted at that stage to remove all their work from the university property, and work from home, or the office of an understanding employer.
Some of us petitioned other services on campus, receiving help from PGSA and Disability Services to be able to remain on Kelburn Campus with our work intact.
Eventually, near the end of 2008 second semester, a small house in Campbell St was procured for the G&WS post-grads – a two-storey property which was partially inaccessible to at least one of the PhD students, and due to students chosing to work off-campus, was much smaller than the amount of space needed to accommodate all of the currently enrolled post-grads.

Moving on to 2009, the resources continued to be straightened. Dr Leslie Hall was put on a one-year-rolling contract, with Faculty and Academic Board members commenting that ‘falling roll numbers meant that they could not guarantee G&WS papers continuance unless enrolments increased’. This was after a fight at the Academic Board in late December 2008 to keep the undergrad papers at the same level as 2008 (a reduction from 8 to 4 papers, remember?), which meant that the papers did not go onto the online enrolment website until about 6-8 weeks after the massive “Get online and enrol early” PR campaign had kicked off – creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that G&WS would attract few enrolments.

Late in 2009, as the School was ready to celebrate the graduation of one of our PhD candidates, the Academic Board again threatened not to list G&WS papers, citing ‘low enrolments in 2009’, and once more Dr Hall had a huge battle to keep her teaching contract, and to keep the undergrad papers on the prospectus. In early December, Dr Alison Laurie resigned from teaching, although she committed to continuing supervison of the currently enrolled post-grad’s for the duration.

Then the 2010 VUW Calendar was published, with no reference to the School of Gender & Women’s Studies under Faculty of Education, although Alison is still listed in the Faculty staff (but not Lesley…) There are no undergrad papers listed in the Calendar.
A perusal of the 2010 School of Education undergrad prospectus does show 4 papers, with Dr Laurie listed as teaching one, and the others ‘tbc’ – telegraphing to students, who can’t find these papers listed on the website, that the Faculty is not committed to continuing teaching Gend papers at this level.
Oh, and the Calendar, under MA statutes, mentions that there will be no more MA enrolments in G&WS from 2010. Gee thanks for telling me that my thesis enrolment cannot be continued, folks. When I enrolled in mid-2009….

I have had administrative support from FHSS on Kelburn campus frequently during 2009, as the Fac Ed office in Kelburn is not capable of offering full support to post-grad students, and it appears that FHSS (under whose broad mantle Fac Ed operates) has not been told that the lid is sinking on G&WS enrolements.
It also appears that Fac Ed admin are incapable of interrogating the Kelburn Registry database for information (as every other Faculty does), since they told me in late November 2009 that ‘they had no communication with me, and did not know I was enrolled’ – 6 months after Registry produced my course confirmation and fees demands, which my student loan duly paid. (WINZ being perfectly capable of interrogating the database & finding my enrolment and course confirmation …)

As I went through the process of filing my 6-month research report I realised with a sinking heart that most of the paperwork I’d done so far, applying for Ethics Consents, grants and scholarships, had been negated by the complete refusal of Fac Ed to acknowledge that I was actually enrolled for an MA thesis.
Having wasted six months of my research time, they then went on to try to patronise and bully me about the missing 6-month report. I quoted back the sentence they’d e-mailed me about their failure to find me on the student database, and suggested that their incompetence was not my
problem, and they would get the report when I had time to fill it out properly.

Along the way, I found a copy of the Minimum Resources Agreement (MRA), negotiated by PGSA and in force when I enrolled in mid-2009. It’s here on the PGSA webite, if you’re interested in the details.

Suffice to say that the Faculty had not met a skerrick of the MRA for the majority of students doing PhD’s through G&WS, and for none of the MA thesis researchers.

At this stage, I’m going to apply to have my tuition fees refunded, on the grounds of failure to provide the conditions of research set out in the PGSA agreement; and I may attempt to get compensation for the waste of my time and resources during the time leading up to my first 6-month report, when Fac Ed ‘had no record of my enrolment’ and thus denied my existence to any funding agencies to whom I had applied. There is also a group of concerned post-grad students who are meeting on-campus irregularly (as our conflicting time resources allow), to discuss grievances collated by one of our number.

This article is my first sally in direct action against the misogynist behaviour of the VUW Council, VC’s, Deans of FHSS & Education, and I hope it will be the beginning of another protest campaign to keep Gender and Women’s Studies alive on VUW’s campus, where our tradition of Women’s Studies courses goes back to papers taught by Phillida Bunkle and Jackie Matthews in the mid-80’s, when 20KP was the location of the Women’s Studies office. (Now PGSA office and study resource rooms.)

Most of you know I’m currently an academic feminist.

If it had been up to the VUW Academic Board, this would not be so.
At long last, Dr Lesley Hall has been confirmed in her position for another year, and the undergraduate papers in the School of Gender & Women’s Studies (GWS) will remain.

Great news, I hear you say.
Well, yes, but not for the mass of undergraduates who have been trying to enrol in papers that have not shown on the VUW enrolement website, nor have they been confirmed in any on or offline prospectuses so far.

It is a travesty of education policy to arbitrarily choose from one academic year to next whether courses will be continued, as the VUW Council have been wont to do with GWS over the past few enrolement seasons.
“Oh noes, we have falling enrolements, we must cut courses”, they say, when their late approval of courses has contributed to uncertainty about course provision – along with the mega-PR campaign encouraging undergrad students to enrol early online, where the courses don’t show.

So, if you, or anyone you know, had intended to take a Gend paper this coming academic year, jump back on the website and dump that Accy or Eng paper you chose instead, and create a huge paper trail of grumpy feminist students who want their courses back!

Rant over.

Tonite, and tomorrow afternoon, some students are graduating with majors in GWS, including (soon to be) Dr Alison Hopkins.
I shall be joining the other post-grad students in progress to congratulate Alison and the others, at our School pre-grad morning tea, then joining the procession in Lambton Quay as a ‘sidewalk photographer’ to record the achievements of those of my peers who have finished theses despite the distinctly unwelcome air we have studied in, as Fac Ed and FHSS fight over the living, breathing bodies of our postgrad students.
But I’ll save the ongoings of that argument for another post!

Here’s something pretty from back in 2008, when we first started complaining about the cuts to facilities for GWS.

2008 protest poster

2008 protest poster

Despite the rainy night and the presence of a significant crowd in the Bar on campus, a good turnout showed to the panel discussion organised by Vuwsa and NZUSA on the topic of “The importance of students being collectively organised when the global economy carks it”.

Sue B, Peter Conway, Andrew Little speaking, Jordan King, MC.

Sue B, Peter Conway, Andrew Little speaking, Jordan King, MC.

The panel comprised Jordan King of NZUSA, MC-ing, with Sue Bradford MP, Green party spokesperson on employment and union issues; Andrew Little, President of the Labour Party and National Secretary of the EPMU; and Peter Conway, Secretary of the CTU.

Each speaker in turn gave some insights into their years as students – Sue in the 60’s & early 70’s at Auckland Uni, then again in the 80’s doing her MA, was involved in some of the great student activism efforts, against Vietnam War, Springbok Tours, and Anti-nuclear demos; Andrew and Peter were both at VUW, Andrew as President of Vuwsa for some of his time, Peter admitting to involvement in campus Folk Music and Communist clubs (…a heady combination!)

All three stressed the changes they’d seen, for the worse, in the amount of time students have to engage in clubs and politics on campus, due to the onerous requirements of work necessary to keep fed and housed, since the removal of universal student bursaries when the student loan scheme came into force in the early 90’s.

There was a lot of general discussion about the impact of the recession – which Sue B likened to a ‘phony war’ over the last 18 months to two years – which may this year begin to be felt by students, as job retrenchment begins to hit families who have been supporting their children at university, and as part-time positions dry up in the workplaces traditionally supplying casualised jobs to students.

Whereas factories and industrial sites have been gradually laying off workers as demand for consumption has eased over the past year, which has seen many unions negotiating better terms for staff, student jobs haven’t been as much affected yet; although the VC’s committees and TEC have been bracing for a roll-on effect as redundant employees register for tertiary education, to make the best of a shrinking job market by taking the opportunity to upskill during the downturn – a pattern of behaviour that is repeating the experiences of workers made redundant around the time of the ‘87 crash; to which there are many parallels in the current recessionary period.

All of the speakers stressed that the Government needs to be made accountable for the quality of the decisions that are being made around where ‘recession relief’ spending is to be done, and questioning whether big ticket projects such as roading or buildings should be balanced by investment in upskilling workers via tertiary institution funding, with suggestions that 2009 may be our “Winter of Discontent”.

A short but lively discussion concluded the evening, which carried on for about half an hour longer than the event had been advertised, resulting in some time-pressed individuals leaving during the question time.

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