A new constitution for the Newcastle University Students’ Association (NUSA) will be proposed to the membership at the upcoming AGM on August 11.

The proposed constitution, which can be accessed from the NUSA website here, addresses many long-time issues that students and staff have had with the current document. Criticised for being overly restrictive and meandering, multiple incarnations of the NUSA Council have attempted to amend or scrap the document altogether.

Opus approached NUSA President Phill Johnson for comment: “Amendments to the Constitution have been in the pipeline for a number of years now. Following feedback that was obtained from NUSA members regarding the 2015 proposed amendments, a new draft was developed and released for consultation in Feburary.

Since then, there has been a lot of consultation and feedback from members of the NUSA Council and broader student body to develop the current version. We believe that we now have a document that can not only improve internal governance processes but truly facilitate NUSA reaching it’s strategic vision.”

Listed below are some of the major changes you will notice between the two constitutions (OR, you can skip to the bottom for the TL;DR):

1. The configuration of NUSAC has been upended.

NUSAC has traditionally been made up of the executive (President, Vice, Education, Media, Welfare, Activities and Clubs and Societies), the collective conveners (Women’s, Queer, Equity, Transport, Environment, Part-Time, International, Postgraduate), various faculty representatives, representatives for residences and for satellite campuses.

Due to the schedules of the current constitution, this has meant that a full NUSAC contains 42 positions, most of these faculty representatives. These positions are rarely filled. The proposed constitution caps faculty representatives at two, drastically reducing the places available on NUSAC.

According to the President, “there was one faculty representative for every 1000 students in a faculty which linked the number of positions on the NUSA Council to fluctuating enrolment data.”

“Now, there are two Faculty Representatives to be elected from each faculty, providing a greater level of certainty regarding board composition. This change played a key role in reducing the over 49 voting positions on the NUSA Council to a more manageable 25 while ensuring the broad and diverse student representation is maintained.”

The satellite positions are also removed, meaning that Port Macquarie, Ourimbah and Sydney campuses no longer have formal representation within NUSAC. The First Year Representative positions have also been axed. The Equity Collective is destined for a name change, becoming the Disabilities and Carers Collective, for which a respective convener position will be created.

Current Equity Convener Ashlea Brumby welcomes dropping the term ‘equity’. “Disability advocacy has always had a fun relationship with language. There’s a long list of ‘euphemisms’ used to avoid the D word,” she told Opus. “A lot of the time and energy that should be devoted to advocating for students with a disability is spent explaining exactly who it is we represent”.

“Now, we can claim the word proudly and spend that energy on supporting students with a disability.”

The make-up of the executive remains largely the same. This has been controversial within NUSAC, as members have expressed disappointment that Women’s and Queer have not been elevated from collective conveners to executive.

Activities Convener has been elevated to executive, presumably to allow activities and events to become a larger focus of the senior NUSAC decision-making body. “By merging the two roles that have a similar context, NUSA will be able to streamline its initiatives for social events with Clubs and Societies,” the President said. “This appropriately brings the portfolio of NUSA’s major social events, activities and volunteers to the Executive Committee which is tasked with overseeing the day-to-day running of the organisation.”

The role of General Secretary, which has been informally dissolved, has been enshrined within this proposed new constitution, and has been given a place on executive.

2. Position descriptions for executive contain more detail.

The proposed constitution contains more detail about the roles and expectations of members of NUSAC, primarily members of the executive. Executive portfolios such as Education and Welfare have a strengthened focus on the implementation of relevant policy, and on engagement with the University on policy issues, a key responsibility missing from the current constitution.

Under the proposed constitution, collective conveners have had their roles and responsibilities condensed into one section titled ‘Collective Conveners’, rather than each having their own as is currently the case. The proposed constitution leaves the operation of the collectives to the Rules and Regulations; however the constitution enshrines the autonomy of the International, Disability and Carer’s, Women’s, Queer and Indigenous Collectives, and requires that collectives meet at least once between each NUSAC meeting.

3. An overhaul in how Opus Magazine is managed.

The current constitution gives the Media Officer sole responsibility for the production of Opus, from content, to budgeting, to expenditure, to publication, to convening the Media Collective. This has made it difficult for Opus to maintain a consistent and competitive presence in the student media market at the University of Newcastle.

The current constitution lists 28 different clauses which dictate the responsibilities of the Media Officer, compared to 4 in the proposed constitution. Of these 28 clauses, many refer to very specific requirements of the content and scope of Opus, such as locally-based content and number of physical issues. It is expected that matters such as these will be addressed in the Rules and Regulations instead of in the constitution.

The proposed constitution will see the Media Officer oversee a five-member ‘Opus Editorial Board’, which will be made up of elected student representatives. The position of Director of Student Publications (DSP), which previously held the power of veto, is not provided for in the proposed constitution. Presumably, this responsibility will be held by the Media Officer, providing significant journalistic autonomy to the Media Collective.

It is unclear at this time what the specific roles and responsibilities of the Editorial Board will be, or what their relationship with the Media Officer will look like. According to the proposed constitution, these details are to be laid out in the Rules and Regulations.

4. The role of ‘General Manager’ will replace Public Officer and Finance Officer.

NUSA’s long-time struggles with appropriate staffing will be addressed within the proposed constitution, which dissolves the Public Officer and Finance Officer positions and replaces them with a General Manager.

This position will incorporate elements of the two roles, but will not be a ‘merger’ of the two; instead, the General Manager position will represent a generalist and streamlined approach to the daily administration of NUSA. The current member of staff who is in the role of Public and Finance Officer has long been absent, causing significant frustration to current management.

5. More deference to the Rules and Regulations.

The proposed constitution is much more concise, containing almost 40 fewer pages than its current counterpart. Much of this is due to specific details, such as roles, responsibilities and operational procedures, being relegated to the Rules and Regulations rather than being constitutionally enshrined. This allows for more flexibility and more room for interpretation. The proposed constitution has been modernised in this respect, and is much less prohibitive.

The proposed constitution also provides more autonomy to the student association. “The proposed amendments also remove a significant level of control the University has NUSA”, the President said. “Should the changes pass, future amendments to the Constitution will no longer need to be approved by the University Council before they can take effect.”

TL;DR:

  1. There will be much fewer positions on NUSAC to address the dozen-or-so positions that are perpetually vacant.
  2. Executive members will have more details about their roles in the new constitution.
  3. Equity Collective will be re-named Disabilities and Carers.
  4. Opus Magazine will get an Editorial Board with 5 members, with the oversight of the Media Officer.
  5. NUSA will get a General Manager.
  6. The Rules and Regulations will deal with much of the specific detail instead of the constitution itself.
  7. NUSA’s governance becomes more autonomous.

The 2016 NUSA AGM will be held on Thursday, August 11 in the Auchmuty Courtyard from 12:30PM. A free lunch will be provided by the Indian and Pakistani Clubs. The team at Opus strongly encourages that you come along, grab some free food and participate – our student association is only as good as all of our efforts.