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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 17. July 23, 1968

Oligarchy Possible?

page 4

Oligarchy Possible?

'It would be a mistake to substitute for participation (by students in the University) greater representation on the part of those who already represent the student body.'

This statement by Mr H. George, director of the English Language Institute, in his submission to the Joint Committee on Student Participation in the University, highlights the problem encountered when discussing increased student participation.

Are we willing to accept elected student representatives on the university administration, or is it 'at the grass roots that closer relations might more effectively be established' as Prof. C. Bailey, Head of Dept. of Education believes?

What would this student representation consist of? The Students' Association Executive in its submission suggest that 'there should be three student representatives on Council.' One of these should be appointed by Exec. Another should be the President of the Stud. Association (or nominee) and the last should be directly elected by the student body.

But if student participation, and hence, representation within the Association remains as it is now, not one of these people would be any more representative than the Association Executive.

The argument may be produced that by increasing representation, increased participation will follow, but it is doubtful whether very many people are likely to be interested, at present, in the actions of the sub-committees of Council (other than perhaps the Student Union Management Committee— but this is a special case).

It seems then that any moves to increase representation before increasing participation will result in increased power for a minority group within the Association. This the Exec. submission tries to justify: "The indifference of a majority should not serve as an excuse for excluding from the decision-making process the ideas and talents of those who are 'civic-minded' enough to want to offer them."

But this only seems a justification if it is accepted that the mythological concept 'democracy' has failed totally in our situation, and the Exec. has no longer a duty to encourage its practice within the university.

Because, if this is not accepted, a nonapathetic electorate being one of the fundamental precepts of democracy, the Exec. should realise its paradoxical position of being democratically elected from a non-democratic electorate.

And more important its primary concern should not be to increase the power of the 'civic-minded' but to reduce the apathy of the 'non-civic-minded' so that it can justify its existence.

It is unfortunate then that the first recommendation to come from the Joint Committee asks for greater student representation on Council, although the method of election is not disclosed.

Most submissions have asked for some kind of departmental student/staff committees and for these to have some degree of power. The Law Faculty however, on question of student representation at Faculty meetings passed this motion "That this Faculty, being divided on the question of student participation in Faculty meetings, has no recommendation to make."

The major problem seems to be the staff's desire for autonomy. "I don't think there is any advantage in students seeking representation on faculty committees. Instead I think there should be meetings of all interested students from time to time to discuss departmental matters with the staff. In these meetings students would express their opinions and influence the department more effectively than by any form of representation. I think there would be more goodwill among staff for such consultation than there would be for Committee representation" said a staff member of the English Department when questioned.

But this is the area where students are most likely to be induced into participation, one need only compare the number of people who get annoyed with some aspect of their degree, caused by lack of communications between departments and students, with the number that take part in student elections to realise this.

But without any form of elected representatives by students this cannot go any further in administrating the Association.

So the suggestions of Prof. Bailey and Mr George are valid: some kind of student representation within the departments leading on to Faculty committees.

Eventually one would hope this to go further, to elect representatives to Council and Prof. Board.

The only alternative to this increased participation would.be the forms of direct democracy proposed earlier this year.

Unfortunately this would probably induce some kind of coercion allowing government by pressure groups.

Because the deliberations of the Joint Committee will be in committee close contact cannot be kept with it, but it is to be hoped that its members will keep in touch with the group they represent. It is to be hoped that a satisfactory system will eventuate.

Simon Arnold.