Leaving university and student politics is never easy for the hardened addicts. Much worse if your departure was not voluntary. While this could be perceived as just not letting go, actually there is a good reason why a number of us ex student politicians still lend a hand to help out from time to time. The executive and staff turnover in student associations is high when compared with other member organisations, due to students only being around on average 3-5 years (often less).
One way in which exec officers remain involved, is to be on the election committee for student association elections. Your role is guide the returning officer as to how to run elections that are consistent with the constitution. This would be a relatively painless task were the constitution well written. However prior to 2012 the VUWSA constitution was an over complicated and prescriptive document that could be inadvertently breached very easily. Us seasoned VUWSA exec members had all been through this and knew its many pitfalls, so we knew when someone claimed the constitution had been breached that a) it probably had, and b) how to stop said minor breach from derailing the entire election.
The other role I played was to support candidates in both 2007 and 2008. Having won elections 4 years out of 5 on campus I was seen as someone who knew how to play that game. What I soon realised was that while I could get people elected, this would then mean I’d also be heavily relied on for support. I did find it hard seeing successors in the various roles I’d held doing things differently, or worse making the same mistakes I’d made. After a year or two I found it easier to be an ex president who was willing to help when called upon, but not involved in the actual politics on campus.
Where I still found I did need to be involved was during the Voluntary Student Membership campaign. The ACT Party had put up a private members bill to make all students’ associations voluntary. Up till that point the decision about universal or voluntary membership was decided by referendum, and the majority of students’ associations had voted to retain universal memberships. The bill had little support, and over 90% of submissions at select committee were against the change. Despite this, the National led government felt obliged to support a bill from their junior coalition partner.
The campaign for the VSM bill, involved a lot of nonsense. They’d cite examples of students’ associations wasting money. One involved a case of fraud where the police had arrested someone and the money was recovered. The others were generally examples of executives making dumb decisions, and usually those involved were voted out or left in disgrace. Contrast this with the major financial institutions who around the same time had plunged the global economy into recession due to their greed and incompetence. In this case the institutions were bailed out and their executives continued to receive bonuses. This, unlike petty issues at students’ associations, was of no concern to the National or ACT partys.
Post VSM coming into force in 2012, I along with 2004 VUWSA President Amanda Hill were part of a review of the VUWSA constitution. Now that VUWSA had voluntary membership the constitution needed amending. This also gave VUWSA the opportunity to develop a much more user friendly constitution. After about 3-4 months of regular evening meetings and rewriting clauses, we eventually made a recommendation. I helped present this to a reasonably well attended Annual General Meeting who voted for the changes.
After this my stints on election committees were significantly easier. From 2013 to 2016 I reenrolled as a post graduate student, while still working full time. Unlike at undergraduate level, for postgrad I attended classes every week and finished assignments on time. As a result my time for extra curricular activities such as student politics diminished.
I still try to keep a eye on VUWSA stuff. In 2017 I attended a VUWSA exec reunion. At some stage I’d be keen to help organise a VUWSA alumni event in London as there are a couple of us over here, and probably others who’d be prepared to travel to it.
Being involved in student politics has a significant impact on my early adult life. I loved being involved and don’t regret for a second the involvement I had. I hope that students’ associations will continue to be strong advocates for their members. Further that attacks on these institutions by short sighted political ideologues can at some point be reversed.