The University of Western Sydney Student Association passed a controversial motion on May 10 to remove student activist and Resistance member Shelly Dahl from the position of UWSSA queer officer. This decision comes in the context of a campaign against course cuts and privatisation that was endorsed but not fully supported by UWSSA.
Despite boasting by the UWS Vice-Chancellor Janice Reid in the 2006 UWS annual report about a "strong financial position", an operating surplus of $20 million and Commonwealth grants of a further $16 million, the university decided in 2006 to slash the fine arts course. This year the university merged a number of degrees into the Bachelor of Business and Commerce and axed half the majors for the Bachelor of Economics.
Activists from the student newspaper, The Western Onion, and Resistance responded by demanding more funding for courses, opposing the sale of campus land to private developers and demanding increased funds for the cash-strapped student association. A speak-out, petition campaign and protest action outside a Board of Trustees meeting were held. These activities were reported in local media.
Dahl told Green Left Weekly that the reluctance by several key figures in UWSSA to fully support the campaign was partly attributable to the newly introduced "voluntary student unionism" legislation, which has increased pressure on all student organisations. The UWSSA budget has been slashed from $2.5 million to $450,000, and university management still owe the association $800,000 from the period prior to VSU's introduction.
"Some office bearers weren't confident to mobilise students against the university administration in support of our demands and so instead relied on lobbying the university", Dahl told GLW. "This approach also means they have relied on sacking UWSSA staff instead of campaigning for more funds from the university."
Dahl believes that her sacking was a result of manoeuvring by some UWSSA office bearers who opposed her enthusiastic support for the campaign against course cuts. This belief is reinforced by an email sent to UWSSA representatives by the cross-campus education officer, Luke Fomiatti, on April 11. Fomiatti criticised Dahl's efforts in the course cuts campaign claiming they "substantially detracted from UWSSA's ability to lobby the university for support in this transition period". In the email he threatened to move a motion to remove Dahl from the student representative council.
Dahl's sacking comes on top of resignations by around 20 UWSSA representatives since December who, according to Dahl, have disagreed with the direction taken by the current UWSSA board.