It’s Voluntary Jim, but not as we know it

Did you know OUSA considers you a member of their organisation? Well they do. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t sign up, OUSA President Logan Edgar reckons there’s no law preventing OUSA from signing up every single student as a member, so long as they’re not being directly charged any fees.

The voluntary student membership (VSM) legislation states: “No student … is required to be a member of a students’ association.” Edgar argues OUSA is allowed to sign up all Otago students, so long as he gives them the option of quitting.

The battle over this decision is mainly philosophical, centred around whether students’ right to freedom of association is being breached. There is a slight practical element to the debate too – by signing everyone up as a member, whenever OUSA makes a public statement, they can claim to be representing 20,000+ students. This makes them appear more legitimate in the eyes of the public. Of course, some students feel Edgar doesn’t represent their views, and a few unhappy campers have already written in to tell OUSA they want out.

Young Nationals Southern Region Vice-President Todd Dickens says OUSA’s automatic enrolment “undermines the VSM law change”, and Dickens and his fellow Young Nats are considering whether to take action against OUSA. “To claim an opt-out system is voluntary is nothing but a cheap cop-out.”

Edgar argues OUSA’s campaigns have broad support among students, such as the petition opposing the liquor ban. Says Edgar “We’re never going to side with a political party.”

In previous years, OUSA used to offer special deals to members, such as $10 cheaper tickets to O-Week events, and if a student somehow managed to quit as a member of OUSA, they would no longer get the benefits of membership. These days, all students will get the benefits of membership, even the ones who opt out of OUSA.

There are rumours of a legal challenge to OUSA’s actions. OUSA insists that they’re not doing nothing illegal. Critic hopes the matter goes to court. There’s nothing like a good old fashioned courtroom drama.
This article first appeared in Issue 6, 2012.
Posted 7:07pm Sunday 1st April 2012 by Callum Fredric.