Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 19. 3rd August 1972
The Arrogance of Power
The Arrogance of Power
As a so called former "NZUSA Heavy" a close friend of David Cuthbert, and as one who has personally been a strong supporter of the organization and its policies it is regretable at an article such as this has to be written. In the seven years I have been at University I have never known an NZUSA executive that has become so divorced from students. This may not be true of individual presidents on their own campuses, but it is certainly true of their actions as a national executive. First it should be noted how they have accrued to themselves unprecedented power. Some years back the constitution of NZUSA was amended to have presidents sit on the national exec. The purpose of this was to bring to the 'Clique' the views of students in other centres. For a couple of years this system was reasonably successful. However in the last year the presidents, wearing their NZUSA hats, have simply become outlying branch officers for the Wellington heavies. We have had several examples of this recently. N.U.S. is a classic example. The plans for this new 'militant' student body were drawn up in Wellington by NZUSA's Cuthbert and ex-NZUSA, now STANZ, Lindsay Wright. Two fine people in normal circumstances. However neither can claim to be the sole sources of wisdom. Their plan was eventually published and a number of copies made available. But no real steps were taken to initiate informed discussion on University or Teachers College Campuses or Technical Institutes. (Auckland Technical Institue is very bitter at being left out of the negotiations). No effort was made to draw from students suggestions on a likely format. Of course at Victoria, and presumably elsewhere, Cuthbert has blamed the local presidents for this lack of publication What Cuthbert hasn't realized is that they were acting in this respect as they have done all year - daddy in Wellington waggles his finger and they comply, without bothering to consult. Furthermore no inter-university debate had been initiated by NZUSA. One would think that a massive change like this deserved some discussion between students from different universities, free of the inhibiting influence of well informed 'Heavies' jumping up and correcting every speaker. If the Victoria debate is any example of Cuthbert/Wright democracy, then little real debate took place on any campus, at Vic, for every time someone spoke, a 'heavy' corrected, interpreted or interjected. Thus there was no opportunity for students to develop ideas among themselves.
A second example of this power grabbing is reflected on policy decisions. Policy is supposed to be decided at Councils after full and exhaustive debate on each campus. But today, policy that the 'clique' and their branch managers want is deamed to be 'administrative' and rammed through an executive meeting.
A third example of this point is the fact that the executive is endorsing often without debate, the recommendations of the president. After last weekend's meeting (July 29/30) Auckland president John Woodroffe expressed his conern that outside presidents are simply rubber stamps for decisions that had already effectively been made. Lack of consultation with students was recently highlighted by the NZUSA executives 'decision' to have tea with the P.M. It seems that Mr Marshall met Cuthbert in the loo at the V.S.A. A.G.M. Marshall then proposed tea with the whole executive. Despite being asked to by his friends, Cuthbert never found out what the P.M. wanted to talk about nor did he consult with the the students or their presidents. Again he may blame the presidents, but it appears that the decision to attend the meeting was never fully discussed at an executive meeting nor were the presidents really consulted - they were told!
My third complaint is the development of a political paranoia which exceeds even that of the NZBC Board. Discussions with candidates for various NZUSA positions such as Instinctive Impulses Board, Office holders positions and Vice presidential positions clearly show that the predominant quality sought is 'political acceptability'. Competence is of secondary importance.
Finally I must bring up an old complaint. That is domination of the organisation by present and past executive members of the Canterbury University Students Association. There was a time when I naively believed that it was simply an accident of history that the best student leaders came from Canterbury. I have now become convinced that it is no accident and that Canterbury has no mortgage on latent ability.
The Canterbury influence dates back to accidental ascension of one Peter Rosier to the NZUSA throne. During his term of office he maintained very close links with Canterbury's Paul Grocott. I was always amazed at meetings to see how well informed Grocott was. The consequence of this was obvious, the mantle slipped gracefully from Rosier to Grocott.
As a president Grocott was very good But Canterbury came first. Dave Cuthbert was now well informed about NZUSA affairs, and it was only very late in 1970 that I for one woke up to what was going on. NZUSA money contributed by all constituents, of which Auckland was the biggest, was being disproportionately spent on toll calls and travel to the Canterbury Campus.
One would have though that this 'Cantervury Mafiosa' would have disintegrated under David Cuthbert's leadership. To some extent it has. However now the chips are down. Id is being set up (along the lines of a folded tabloid, timid, Focus) and David could be phasing out. So back to Canterbury for the Instinctive Impulses Board, Vice-presidents etc.
Having said all this I doubt whether anything but a complete upheaval on all campuses simultaneously will break this accumulation of power in the hands of a small clique.
The problem is that N.Z.U.S.A. is too good a service organisation. Travel Insurance etc supplemented by correct, radical policies on political issues have proved to be sufficient 'Bread and games' to keep the masses from questioning other aspects of the organisation's activities.
At August Council we will get an undemocratic, overbureaucratic National Union of Students. Shortly we will get a 'tabloid Focus' produced by Yesteryear's students for todays 'youth' and, in the final analysis our leadership will be drawn from the fountain of all wisdom, Canterbury University.