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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 38, Number 10. 22nd May 1975

The death agony of New Argot

The death agony of New Argot

Salient ran six articles criticising New Argot, and Arts Council. As I wrote one of them, I am undoubtedly biassed, but I thought them generally well-argued and reasonably constructive criticism. On the front page of the second New Argot for the first term is a reply (of sorts) to these, and other, criticisms. Of sorts because it doesn't really reply to the points Bruce. Graeme and I raised. Kaye Turner, the editor, blankets us as 'politicians with no imaginations, no energy, and no vision beyond incessant wrangling, 'takeover bids' and power plays'. She also states, 'this kind of political hatchet exercise is no more than the work of lazy and expedient politicians'. It's nice to know you're liked.

Kaye goes on to write, 'New Argot has already established itself as an attractive quality newspaper, and one that students enjoy reading', (my emphasis). I would strongly disagree with this — on most campuses New Argot has a very small readership, judging by the number of copies left over of each issue. Certainly this is true of Victoria. Peter Dunne, President of Canterbury, supporting the present New Argot at May Council, did request that the number of copies for Canterbury be drastically reduced as students weren't reading it. If there is a market for a magazine centring on literary events, by all means let it go ahead, but not on the backs of unwilling students.

SRC at the end of last term strenuously opposed New Argot, and recommended a national student magazine be set up in its place. These ideas were taken to May Council of NZUSA for discussion. The first debate on the topic was emasculated, apart from Peter Dunne's statement on Canterbury's feelings. A vote was taken to continue publication, passed by Auckland (9 votes on the system weighted by numbers of students), Canterbury (7), Massey (5) and Waikato (4). Against were Victoria (7), Otago (6) and Lincoln (4) — an overall poll of 25 for and 17 against. Vic's ideas of a national student newspaper aroused some interest, out it was felt they needed more expansion and so some work will go into them by August Council.

So on to Final Plenary where the issue came up again. The same arguments were gone over: For —
  • there is a need for an Arts mag.
  • NZUSA shouldn't interfere with NZSAC (which runs New Argot) as it consists a lot more than universities.
  • Arts Council is discussing with Tech. Institutes whether they want to join it, and an axing of New Argot could adversely affect this.

Against —

  • it's not read by students, if there is a need for it, it should be funded by students.
is a need for it, it should not be funded by students.
  • NZSAC is a subcommittee of NZUSA, and owes it some $15, 000. It would be irresponsible not to interfere.
  • what the Tech. Institutes want to do is largely up to them, but joining Arts Council on the strengthe of New Argot seems a rather funny sort of step.

Anyway, it was put once again to the vote. For New Argot: Auckland, Waikato (total 13 votes). Against: Victoria, Otago, Lincoln, Massey (total 22 votes). Absentation: Canterbury.

So New Argot bites the dust — but a big fight with both Sac and Teacolls seems to be brewing over the decision. Perhaps Arts Council could recoup its losses by selling ring-side seats for a moving tour?

The New Argot story should have stopped at May Council but it hasn't. At Council all sorts of arguments were put up as to why New Argot had to be kept going. Tony Ward has outlined a few of these arguments, but there are more that are also relevant. The Arts Council heavies were well aware that there was a body of opinion that saw the axing of New Argot not as an end in itself but as a move towards a national student newspaper. They proceeded to give some rather debatable figures demonstrating that the axing of New Argot would make it almost impossible to set up a national student newspaper for a very long time. They were trying to prove to Council that if there was to be a national student newspaper. New Argot was to be it. Unfortunately the figures we heard from them varied somewhat. We heard that it would take $5,000 to set up a national student newspaper. We heard that it would take $10,000 to set up a national student newspaper. We heard that it would take 2 years to set up a national student newspaper. We heard that it would take 5 years to set up a national student newspaper ... needless to say, no justification was offered for these figures.

Another thing that was thrown in the wind was the observation that Teachers Colleges would withdraw from Arts Council if New Argot was axed by the NZUSA Council. Just before Bruce Kirkland sulked out of Council as a result of the axing of New Argot he had said that the decision was a 'massive political blunder'. Arts Council's credibility would fall to nothing, he said.

Sure enough, within days of Council finishing remits to the STANZ Council the next weekend had appeared condemning the NZUSA decision, asking for New Argot to continue, and recommending all Teachers Colleges to withdraw from Arts Council if New Argot was not continued. The principle behind these remits was that the NZUSA decision was undemocratic and dectatorial.

It seemed that the 'prestigious literary journal' was to create more excitement in its death throes than it ever did when it was alive. Fortunately the STANZ Council decided to table the motions till its next meeting in August, by which time — you guessed it — New Argot will be well and truly dead.

The whole exercise raises interesting questions about how much Students Arts Council is prepared to listen to students. Certainly they fought the New Argot decision with every gun they had and they fought from one national student body to the next.

People have let Arts Council grow until it now claims to have 120,000 students under its umbrella. Yet it still does not see itself responsible to those students. Instead, as in the New Argot case. Arts Council is more interested in being responsible to the literati of New Zealand at the expense of students.

We should take the example of New Argot to heart and have a look at how we can change Arts Council to something different from a pretentious entrepeneurial agency specialising in productions for students (and relying on mainly unpaid and unreliable labour at each campus). Very importantly we should ask why developing and and promoting artistic endeavours by students has bever been very high on Arts Council's priorities. Finally to demonstrate the attitude of Arts [unclear: Council] to the students it supposedly respresents, I will quote from its Chairman, Don Stedman: (Don was saying that Arts Council was going to make submissions on the Censorship Bill and that it would like a motion or two on censorship on NZUSAs books), 'When we go there we will say that we are representing 120,000 students so we will have to have one or two students who agree with us'!