The 2016 OUSA Executive year has been marred by communication failures, finger-pointing, on-going arguments, and a lack of cohesive action, and inevitably the penultimate executive meeting of the year was similarly frustrating.
The meeting was largely consumed with the presentation of each executive member’s fourth quarter reports, of which most were passed without any issue. Administrative Vice-President Jarred Griffiths criticised President Laura Harris and Colleges Officer Bayden Harris for the lack of professionalism in their reports, pointing specifically to numerous typos, unfinished sentences, and informal language throughout. Laura Harris responded by claiming her report was a draft copy that she accidentally sent through, and told the group, “If you want the more comprehensive report I can send it to you.” This ‘comprehensive report’ was sent in sometime after the meeting, with the typos and unfinished sentences largely fixed, though minimal substantive additions were added.
She went on to congratulate the executive, some of whom were on speakerphone or Skype, for their achievements throughout the year. She specifically pointed to Campaigns Officer Sean Gamble’s 24 hour study space, Welfare Officer Bryn Jenkins’ help with Thursdays in Black, Bayden Harris’ Cuddle Fix, and Education Officer Alexia Cochrane’s work in relation to special consideration for exams (surprisingly this is not an exhaustive list of their achievements this year).
As has become routine this year, the meeting turned to the dysfunction of the executive, and in particular to the communicative issues that were largely soured by the disintegration of Laura Harris and Jarred Griffiths’ friendship in the months leading up to the beginning of the executive year. Laura Harris said, “let’s address the elephant in the room”, going on to admit that the “communication this year has been pretty poor...and that’s been one of this executive’s biggest failings.” She then defended herself by saying that she would have liked it if people had approached her with their concerns well before the reports were written, to which Griffiths responded: “Isn’t it your role to take the lead on these issues?” Finance Officer Jesse Hall came to her defence, stating that he and the executive appreciate the work Laura has done and they recognise how difficult the year has been for her. He finished by saying, “there’s a lot of critique going on...and you should almost turn around and say the same back to a lot of us”. Harris then said that “sometimes I think the exec look at me and see Obama failing instead of a student who’s trying her best.” Welfare Officer Bryn Jenkins, who is also Education Officer-elect for 2017’s OUSA Executive, also defended her, saying “I am exceptionally proud to say that I was part of this executive in spite of the failings and I think the achievements you’ve made are far greater than those.“
Bryn Jenkins then talked through his report, before Griffiths asked whether Thursdays In Black, an NZUSA movement seeking to raise awareness of sexual assault on student campuses, and which Jenkins has been helping to organise for Otago University’s campus, is something that the feminist group on campus can take a role in? In response, he said “those groups often have their own objectives…” before Griffiths interrupted and said that the movement’s objective is simply to “end sexual violence against women.” Laura Harris then assured Griffiths that “there is no bad blood between the head office [of the OUSA Feminist Group] and Bryn...she (it’s unclear who she’s referring to) speaks very highly of Bryn.” Griffiths replied, stating that the Feminist Group have been excluded from a process that intimately affects, not only women on campus, but also off-campus too.
Another issue Griffiths had with Jenkins’ handling of the OUSA arm of the Thursdays in Black movement was “whether there could is a markup on those [materials, t-shirts, and badges that OUSA makes] and whether the additional money could be donated to women’s refuge, for example, and that’s something that you’d taken umbrage with.”* In response, Jenkins said that “it’s important to recognise that we ourselves are a charity for students, and we ourselves have to prioritise our money”. Jarred then asked whether the Thursdays in Black movement has actually “contributed to helping end sexual violence on campus” without contributing at all to charity. Laura Harris jumped in to defend Bryn’s handling of the movement, which she has been “intimately involved with”, and said, it definitely “has some responsibility for the very serious focus the university is putting on sexual violence policies and provisions around this campus.”
All of the reports were passed, and honoraria payments will be made to each executive member for their contributions in the fourth quarter.
*Thursday's In Black sells merchandise to student associations to use for the campaign on campus' (including t-shirts, badges and more). This merchandise is purchased by OUSA with a 'mark up' - the profit made by TIB nationally is then donated to charities to support efforts to reduce sexual violence against women.
During the course of the year, Bryn Jenkins has taken issue with what he sees as the excessive cost of these materials, and believes OUSA should be able to purchase them at cost price, which would effectively eliminate the contribution to charities that purchasing these products currently provides.