Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I think I feel sick

This editorial that has appeared in today's Australian makes me feel sick. There is nothing at all rational about the argument for voluntary student unionism. In the editorial a paragraph is devoted to attacking National party senator Barnaby Joyce, I quote:
In effect, student unionism has been little more than a playground and training
facility for Senator Joyce's political enemies. He has a short-sighted view of
his own interests if he throws it a lifeline.
What exactly are Senator Joyce's interests? Does he believe in democracy? Do you think the editorial would read the same if the Labor party were in power and they were making efforts to destroy the National Farmers Federation, the AMA or any number of other breading grounds for Coalition members of parliament? How exactly is it in the interests of the country if it decided that it is okay for a government to blatantly economically destroy their political enemies. It's really nice to see that the editor of the Australian believes that the government doesn't need to win political battles by, gee I dunno, providing arguments and evidence for there point of view.
What's next? Maybe they should make payment of membership fees to the Labor party voluntary.
As for the argument that VSU is about implementing a "user pays" system of service and support in universities, well, this is just plain bullshit. This argument that "only a fraction" of students use student union facilities is total crap. Apparently:
students are grown-ups and perfectly capable of choosing what they wish to spend
their money on.
Again, total crap. Student unions are mini-governments. In fact, they aren't even so mini. My old university had a population of about 50 000, the student union organizes and provides services for these 50 000 people. This is not a union, it's a government. The notion that student unions are purely left-wing political organizations is also complete crap. Students VOTE FOR THEIR LEADERSHIP is it the left-wing organizations fault that THEY WIN THE ELECTION. Students don't want Liberal party leadership of their unions. They don't like the Liberal party. So students are being made to suffer because of their political preferences.
Would the Liberal party be happy to let student unions change their name to student governments? Maybe then the "union fees" could be called a "tax", which everyone should be forced to pay. The point I'm trying to make is that the student unions ARE GOVERNMENTS. The argument that they are unrepresentative can equally be made about any government at any level. It is bullshit, they are representative.
There is one more extremely disturbing point to the arguments put forward in this editorial. The editor tries to argue that good universities will get more students, will have more funds, and will subsequently be able to chose whether or not to spend money from their budgets to spend on services. It seems like a reasonable argument. I know plenty of pro-VSU people who put this forward. Again, it's complete crap. I'm going to bypass the whole "they probably won't use the money for services because they are broke anyway" argument and get to the real problem. The pro-VSU camp likes to say this is all about choice. They are giving people the choice to spend their money on what they want to spend it on. In short, they are not being forced to subsidize the union.
Where this argument falls down is that by letting universities decide how to allocate support budgets they have completely taken away the only control that students had over their money. It could be countered that all services on campus become strictly "user pays", thus letting economics become a quasi-democratic process. Well, this might happen, but it is unlikely. I believe it is much more likely that services will be subsidized by the university as as attempt to try to lure more undergraduate students. Universities with nice campuses, good facilities, and an active student life will attract more students therefore the big, wealthy, universities will introduce a service budget which won't be controlled by student unions but nevertheless will control services (especially sporting clubs and counseling services etc) that were previously administered by the student body. Democracy is definitely vanquished by choice. With student unions, students can vote for a party that decides on how money is allocated. With VSU, the university administration is the sole arbiter of service funds.