An Open Letter to Prof Stuart McCutcheon

Dear Professor McCutcheon,

I am writing with respect to an agreement made by The University of Auckland Council to hold its meeting on the 21st of October 2013 in a locked-down location inaccessible to University students, staff, and members of the public.

The Council is a respected body, governing the country’s most highly-regarded and largest research and teaching institution. In carrying out their duties to their stakeholders, their institution, and their country, Council members have a duty to uphold the very highest standards of democracy and reasoned decision-making. These are traditions that universities have upheld since their very founding, and the people of this country deserve no less than this from their leading university.

A key part of a legitimate democratic process is transparency. In order for Council representatives to be held accountable by the stakeholders who put them there, any dialogue and contests of ideas around the Council table absolutely must be subject to real-time scrutiny by the people that make up The University of Auckland. This is what makes the Council’s decision so regrettable. Denying students the opportunity to be a genuine and respected part of the fee-setting dialogue is a cynical and foolhardy move that will only serve to alienate the University further from those very people who make it so great.

To a degree, I understand your concern for the security and safety of the meeting. Fees are always a topic that causes emotions to run high. I must ask, however, if it has ever occurred to you that perhaps the actions of the University are primarily responsible for the debacle that has occurred around previous fee-setting meetings? The cynical actions seen in 2012 whereby a meeting that was promised to be open to the students was subsequently held in secret quite rightly drew the ire of the students. Instead of shutting us out, treating us like the highly intelligent and aware people that we are will earn you much respect in return. I see absolutely no reason why a Council meeting conducted in the glare of transparency ought to get out hand. Respect and dialogue begets respect and dialogue. As a senior academic, you of all people ought to know this.

As a Council member, the power that you hold over very large numbers of people on this issue is very great. Perhaps it is easy to forget this, but a 4% annual increase in University fees does devastate livelihoods and shatter dreams. More than 12% of your students are in serious and dire financial hardship. It defies belief that an institution of enlightened pursuit of knowledge finds it acceptable to continue to force its students to live in poverty in exchange for a lifetime of opportunity-crushing debt. It is time for the University to demand a better way, rather than acquiescing itself to the broken status quo. The current weak state of student unionism ought not to diminish the voice that we have: and it is a voice that is hurting.

If the University Council nonetheless wishes to continue to pursue a path whereby it rejects the role it has always played in protecting and furthering the core New Zealand egalitarian values of opportunity and universal pursuit of knowledge then that, regrettably, is its prerogative. To deny a real, genuine, and respected student presence at the very table that makes these decisions, however, would be truly criminal indeed.

As a concerned democratic citizen, and a desperate student, I very much look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Kieran Gainsford

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