This Wednesday night, the University of Queensland Union is holding a Student General Meeting. You’ve probably seen the signs and you’re wondering: “What the H is an SGM?” Semper is here to answer that for you.
This General Meeting will consider two questions. Firstly, whether or not a new Schonell Theatre should be run by students, and secondly, whether the UQ Union should oppose the Ramsay Centre’s degree in Western Civilisation at UQ.
Student politicians have the power to call general meetings to decide official policy positions for the UQ Union. You might be surprised to learn that student politicians actually try to do a lot in your name. For instance, at the first meeting of Union Council this year, students raised motions on matters close to home, like whether smokers have a right to smoke on campus, to wider issues like support of transport workers and climate strikers. Union Council usually considers about a dozen motions like this at monthly meetings, but those meetings are not highly attended, despite being free and open to students. On the two issues at this SGM, student politicians want a mandate to actually take action on these issues.
Meetings like this are very rarely called. The most recent one took place in 1971 when apartheid South Africa’s rugby union team, the Springboks, toured Australia. The national response to that tour was roughly similar to what you might expect if North Korea were to tour Australia today. So the Union held a meeting to determine what its position should be — that is, to be officially agnostic on the issue, or publicly oppose the tour. A good chunk of the Cold War, three wars in the Middle East, and 9/11 have all happened in the meantime, but somehow 2019 is the first time since then that political issues have heated up enough to where the Union needs a clear answer as to your opinions on current affairs.
Why is it happening now?
The University’s new go-to term is “the Student Voice”. The big-wigs in the administration are really frothing the idea of listening to students, and what they have to say (finally). But their newfound interest has come at the expense of listening to the student politicians whom the student body elects annually to represent them.
UQ Union President Georgia Millroy says that it’s about proving that students actually do care about these issues.
“The UQ Union executive are democratically elected to represent students, but issues like Ramsay and Schonell will have such a big impact on the student body,” Ms Millroy said.
“It’s easy to think that students are disengaged, or don’t care what’s happening, but UQU wanted to facilitate an opportunity for students to show their University that they do care about what is happening on campus,” she said.
The University administration has dragged their heels on giving a straight answer to whether or not students will get control of the Schonell Theatre. That’s despite President Millroy asking the University for such an assurance publicly on ABC Radio earlier this year. To date, the University has not made such a promise.
The University Senate has also forged ahead on approving the Ramsay Centre’s degree in Western Civilisation at UQ despite widespread protests. When UQ’s Academic Board voted against approving the degree, the Senate continued to consider making a deal. That’s technically not illegal — the Academic Board is advisory only, and doesn’t have a final say — but as the Undergraduate Representative Academic Board Alexander Asher told UQ Union Council earlier this year, it’s incredibly rare for the Senate to ignore the Board. The general sense is that the University is open to making a deal for the money, rather than whether or not this will actually bring benefits for students and society at large.
Giving both the student union and the University administration a clear idea of how you feel on these issues will be immensely helpful.
So should you go?
Absolutely. The UQ Union Constitution requires that at least 300 students be present at the SGM to consider these matters, so even just showing up helps. It starts at 5pm in the Schonell Theatre itself, and it’ll be over before you know it. You get to have your voice heard, and you’ll get some light refreshments afterwards.