The LTSU in 2021: Undermined but not undereffective

Whilst the La Trobe Student Association (which students pay for through SSAF fees) maintains a stance of absolute complacency in the face of staff cuts and a time of pressurising uncertainty for students at La Trobe, there is one representative body that continues to fight relentlessly for student representation issues.

This representative body is the La Trobe Student Union. An elected group of students who despite having 88% of their funding funneled into the LTSA, have spared no effort in ensuring that students at La Trobe are properly advocated for and represented. Whether through pressuring the university to reinstate the V-grade during the lockdown or to extend library hours, the LTSU has had a part in ensuring that students’ academic future is left up to their hard work and effort rather than a global pandemic.

In March of this year, when library hours at the Borchardt Library on the Bundoora campus were reduced to 9 am-5 pm from the previous 24/7 opening hours, the LTSU immediately struck back, calling on the university to be more understanding of the issues students face and the fact that “students’ lives do not usually operate on a 9-5 schedule”. With this push, the University relented and extended the opening hours.

Later in July, following the universities announcement that the V-grade would no longer be in effect for semester 2, the LTSU uncompromisingly pushed for the university to recognise the safety net lying below a COVID-affected education that the V-grade provides. Once again, the university gave in to the pressure that an effective, elected student representative body commands.

These achievements show just what student representation is capable of. When students come together to converse on the multitude of issues that other students face, a solution can be reached through advocacy that benefits the entire student body.

Clubs and societies are an integral part of many students’ university experience, and many of these clubs have chosen to continue affiliating with the LTSU despite the uni transferring most of its funding to the LTSA. Among them include The Patch, International Students Association, Business and Commerce Students Association, and many more.  

The LTSU works with numerous other clubs to provide students with events and other opportunities to meet and connect with their peers. This year, they have been working with many College of Science, Health and Engineering (SHE) student clubs such as the Nursing and Midwifery Students Association, the Biomedicine Society, Physics Club and more to bring together the 2021 Science Ball.

The upcoming Humanities Gala has also been made possible by the LTSU’s continuous support of the La Trobe Politics, Philosophy and Economics Society, La Trobe International Relations Association and Economic Students Society of Australia.

The La Trobe PPE Society released a statement on Wednesday reaffirming their support for the LTSU. Noting that while their “experience with the LTSA has been lacking in support”, “The LTSU has actively shown us support in promoting our activities and has been instrumental in combating La Trobe University’s structural issues that negatively impact our community.”

La Trobe’s International Relations Association also expressed their gratitude for the LTSU’s support, “both for general development and financially.”

Furthermore, in May the LTSU partnered with Two Birds, One Scone to deliver food and other essential items to students who needed them during the lockdown.

The LTSU is currently involved in campaigns regarding the university administration’s “Change Proposal” announced in July. This proposal involves the cutting of 200 staff, described by the La Trobe Casuals Network as “devastating cuts” that will impact students’ education and the following establishment of new casual positions which the now-redundant staff will have to compete for. College accommodation will also be privatised.

This restructuring is a topic among many that the LTSU has engaged the university administration on through meetings and forums. Footage of one of these meetings was leaked by the LTSU which shows members of the university administration desperately trying to avoid questions by LTSU members by sitting in silence for multiple minutes, waiting for other students to raise their hands. An understandably exasperated LTSU president, Jake McGuinness, is seen calling on the administration to engage with students who are already trying to raise their concerns. The footage was unfortunately later taken down, due to complaints from the university’s Senior Executive.

This demonstrates one of the many challenges that the LTSU faces in its work for representation, yet they nonetheless continue to not only fight for students but succeed in doing so as illustrated above.

Moreover, Jake recently spoke at a public online forum held by the ‘Students Against Uni Cuts’ campaign, which seeks to fight these cuts and the broader restructure induced by the Change Proposal. Here he expressed one of the fundamental principles that the LTSU operates from, which is that “the only person who gets to decide who represents students is students, and not Vice-Chancellors.”

Further, the LSTU has made over 300 welfare calls this week alone to students who reached out for support. If you would like a welfare call to see how you’re doing, email Georgie Beatty, one of the LTSU Welfare Officers at 20770777@students.latrobe.edu.au.

Lastly, LTSU has supported hundreds of students during the most recent lockdown by giving away over $15,000 in Coles gift vouchers. They state in a Facebook post that, “despite not receiving funding to operate on regional campuses, approximately 20% of our vouchers were given to those located in regional and remote areas.”

All in all, LTSU has been extremely effective in its work for student representation this year, benefitting the entire student body through the success of their campaigns, support of clubs and societies and assisting students in need. While the future of the LTSU has always been in the hands of students, this point could not be more heavily emphasised right now. The university administration is actively trying to undermine and ultimately replace the LTSU with a complacent organisation run by staff whose view is that it is not students’ place to change what the university is doing.

This sets a dangerous precedent for other universities to follow, wherein a university can defund elected student voices and re-direct this money to organisations they have established, which students pay for. If the university continues its trajectory of defunding the LTSU into 2022, there is a very real threat that La Trobe will lose its culture of student advocacy, representation, and political activism.

If you believe that the work the LTSU is doing is important and think current and future students deserve to be properly represented,  then I strongly encourage you to Join the Fight to Shut Down the LTSA.