“We will not censor any questions,” were the words sprawled in the title paragraph on the POPin page where UC students and community members could submit anonymous questions.

The SRC Town Hall was held on Tuesday of week 10. SRC President Keisha Preston and BGL Representative Claudia Jenkins moderated the conversation with Vice-Chancellor Paddy Nixon and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Geoff Crisp. The SRC and UC’s executives seem to believe that mentioning the broad topics of student questions is the same as answering the specific questions asked.

Parking on campus has been a hot topic for years at UC, but with a recent petition by students for better infrastructure, led by the UC Liberal Society, and the release of UC’s master plan it was expected that these questions be paid close attention to. SRC President, Keisha Preston, questioned Nixon on why annual parking at UC costs more than ANU, at $473 per year compared to ANU’s $448.25 per year. Nixon noted the differences in sizes and needs of the universities, including maintenance, and said his priority is campaigning for improved public transport to the university.

Quietly slipped over in the parking on campus discussion was a question regarding a two-week period in the final weeks of 2020 where all car park boom gates were left open. Staff were provided with a refund for their parking passes for this period however student parking passes were excluded. Curieux followed up with Associate Vice President of Campus Estate, John Owens, who said that should students like a refund for this period they would consider their application. You can contact Campus Estate via email at parking@canberra.edu.au

Owens recently submitted an article to Curieux at the request of a member of the SRC outlining the university’s position to paid parking on campus. The editorial staff at Curieux are committed to ensuring our independence as a student magazine and as such, believe that Curieux should not be used as a platform for UC staff to advertise internal UC policy. Rather, we act under the ethos in which student voices are prioritised above all and chose not to publish Owens’ article.

Moving away from parking and on to campus, moderators at the town hall failed to discuss a recurring topic on POPin: the lack of in-person classes. Students are unsatisfied with studying in virtualroom while classrooms on campus sit empty. In their questions, students pointed out the benefits of face-to-face conversations with peers, tutors, and lecturers; as well as the almost-non-existent-restrictions in the ACT. Another student noted the possibility of remote students tuning into face-to-face classes, and nursing students, in particular, raised concern due to the practical, hands-on nature of their degree. None of these questions or concerns were addressed in the Town Hall.

Within classrooms, students are concerned with the lack of oversight of unit convenors and what some feel can be an unwillingness to take on board student feedback. ISEQ surveys were mentioned multiple times; students are concerned that the surveys are not anonymous, having heard that teachers or their superiors can find out the identity of respondents. This was also not addressed in the Town Hall. Students are concerned that the feedback they provide in these classes are not being taken on board by unit convenors, especially when there are repeated complaints against one teacher. Concerns included units being “copy and pastes” of other units, rubrics not being mandatory, assignment descriptions being changed mid-semester or being too broad or left up to student interpretation, as well as specific faculty members being called out by name.

Moderators edited students’ questions, instead, asking how they can know if their feedback is being implemented. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Geoff Crisp responded by saying that unit convenors can show changes in their units from feedback in the canvas site and unit outline if they choose to, although this is not mandatory. Once again, while the general topic was raised, students’ concerns were not addressed.

The town hall was held online and scheduled for only one hour, and given the complaints from students regarding a lack of on-campus classes, Curieux questioned SRC president, Keisha Preston, on the decision. Preston said the event was held online due to the “recent COVID-19 outbreak in Brisbane and the number of close contacts identified in the ACT” and because online events typically gain more engagement. The SRC Forum which was held on the 25th of March was run synchronously, allowing students to attend both online and in person. Despite having a much lower attendance than the Town Hall, the SRC Forum had more engagement by students who were continually asking questions. Students could participate in the town hall by writing comments and questions in the chat function in the virtual room, where the Town Hall was held, though few did.

Two questions in POPin addressed Nixon’s salary. The first asked what it is, the second asked why it is not clearer in UC’s annual report. Vice-Chancellor Nixon and the SRC only addressed the latter, which allowed Nixon to answer the general topic, claiming that his salary is in fact published and public knowledge without disclosing it in the Town Hall.

Following this, Nixon moved on to talk about staffing cuts at the university during 2020 and immediately said that UC had none. However, had to retract this statement later after Curieux reporters noted that the faculty of Business, Government, and Law made cuts to its casual teaching staff. National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Branch President, Craig Applegate, who also works as an Assistant Professor at UC, told Curieux that “initially all were to be let go, however that proved to be impossible from a teaching perspective, so casual staff were to be reduced as much as possible.” Applegate said that classes in the School of Politics, Economics and Society that were previously taught by these casual staff were instead taught by staff pulled from the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis in semester 2, 2020. Crisp and Nixon reiterated that there were no wholesale cuts across the university.

Most shocking, perhaps, was Crisp’s response to why UC is not a part of a student union. Crisp said that the SRC and UCX act as the student union at UC, and stated that “the history of student unions in Australia are quite traumatic in many ways” due to unstable funding and opinions of the government of the day.

UCX, formally known as UC Union, and the UC SRC, provide student services, such as the UC gym, student representation, student advocacy, Curieux, and student clubs. Neither the SRC nor UCX are currently affiliated with an external student union such as the National Union of Students (NUS), which other universities’ student associations and representatives are, including ANUSA at ANU. The SRC is funded through Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF). It was created in 2018, before this, UC students were represented by the UC Student Association (UCSA). UCSA was a member of the NUS until UC and the ANU were dis-accredited due to failing to meet the requirement for minimum student numbers. In 2017 the UCSA voted 9-1 not to accept a re-accreditation offer sent by the NUS, and between late- 2017 and early- 2018 the UCSA was dissolved.

The UC Women’s room was also mentioned in POPin questions, specifically why women do not automatically have access. Curieux can confirm that the SRC Women’s Officer, Alanah Pike, has been working with security on this issue, as well as updating the room, since taking on the role.

One student asked if Rainbow UC is still active. Rainbow UC recently announced they will be holding their Annual General Meeting very soon. Dates and other details are yet to be announced, but you can follow them on Facebook to keep up to date.

Another student inquired about lockers on campus, SRC Diversity Officer, Jacob Webb, confirmed with Curieux that there have previously been lockers available for students on campus. More details on how students can access lockers will be released on the SRC canvas page in the coming weeks.

Webb has also put together a diversity survey relating to all diversity issues, including Reasonable Adjustment Plans (RAPs), accessibility on campus, and other disability support services. RAPs and other diversity issues were some of the most popular issues mentioned in POPin, Webb hopes the diversity survey will act as the first step in advising him and the SRC on how they can improve these services. You can access the diversity survey via the SRC canvas page. Webb also noted in the SRC Forum that a Queer room is currently being discussed and that the SRC is currently discussing the possibility of room for neurodiverse students.

Questions regarding Curieux were also asked in POPin, including the budget. Our editors have provided a detailed statement discussing the exact budget and how it is allocated.

If you asked a question in POPin and you don’t feel as though it was answered in the SRC Forum, the Town Hall, the SRC Canvas page (which is coming soon), or this article, please get in contact with us via email at curieux@canberra.edu.au and we will look into your concerns. 

The UC SRC provided this statement in response to this article.

“The SRC would like to thank the students for their involvement in our first Student Town Hall of the year. The SRC are in their final stages of answering all the questions that were directly asked on POPin, with the response and recording of the Town Hall be available on the SRC Canvas page. We are also reviewing how we operated our first student Town Hall and welcome feedback from our peers on how they’d like to see Town Halls run in the future.  

The SRC did not make promises that all questions will be asked during Town Hall verbatim. Our POPin and Facebook event messaging was clear that not all questions will be asked during the Town Hall, but they will be answered following the event on our Canvas page and that questions of a similar nature will be grouped together. 
Please see below messaging copy and pasted from our POPin and Facebook Event:

“We will not censor any questions, but questions of a similar nature will be condensed into a single question. Questions with hate speech will be deleted,” and “All questions asked on the POPin may not be answered due to time constraints; however, there will be a full Q&A posted on the UCSRC canvas page in the weeks following. Questions of a similar nature will be combined into a single question”

Questions that didn’t make Town Hall are already in the works offline by our dedicated group of SRC members. All our Faculty representatives are following the questions specific to their discipline, as well as the student support services, and will have these answered in our Canvas Q&A document. 

If students require an urgent response to a question asked, they can contact us any time at ucsrc@canberra.edu.au

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