INDEPENDENT NEWS

Student "Radicals" Embarrass

Published: Mon 3 Apr 2000 09:02 AM
This week's column - by Philip Rennie, Young Nationals
Last week saw the tired spectacle of student 'radicals' occupying university registry buildings, demanding that other people pay their fees. Student occupations are nothing new, but as a student politician myself this year I felt very angry and embarassed by the behaviour of my colleagues.
Even if I agreed with their list of demands (and I agree with some) then this is still not the way to behave. Most universities hardly pay any attention to students as it is; vandalism, trespass and violence are hardly going to put us into their good books.
Some of the demands were ridiculous - they included:
*Wiping $3.4 billion of existing student debt *Totally free education *Universal allowances *A pony *No closures of departments, no matter how unpopular and uneconomic.
Wiping all existing debt is a totally impractical and inequitable idea. Not even the Alliance supports this policy. As for free education, hardly any students or the public support this policy. Last year the only political party promising free education was the Alliance, which got under 8% of the vote. 92% of people voted for parties endorsing some form of user-pays. As usual, the Left's answer to everything is take more of other people's money.
One serious issue raised was the golden handshake for former Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Michael Irving. Irving receives a $390,000 payout at the same time as departments are closing and budgets are cut. While this is shocking, the law is the law. The contract is signed, the university can't go back on it or they'll get sued for even more.
The occupations also do serious damage to student's reputation with the public. The protesters don't come across as heroic crusaders for freedom; they look more like juvenile larrikins having a bit of fun. What's more embarassing is when the leaders proclaim that they have the support of all students
The timing of these occupations were totally ironic. Last week Vic News published a major survey of students at Victoria University which found significant levels of discontent with VUWSA, the students association. 27% of students said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with VUWSA, (including 42% of commerce students), with many saying they wanted VUWSA to be "less politically biased".
Also in this survey 53% rated social life on campus as worse than at any other campus, and wanted VUWSA to organise "more social events". Yet because of the VUWSA people involved in the occupation, we struggled to run a movie showing in the Memorial theatre.
I don't feel comfortable slagging off my friends when I know the effort they put into serving students, and their strongly-held beliefs. But it's about time the silent majority of students, who are quietly getting on with life, stood up and disassociated themselves from these stunts.
Feedback to jrennie@the.net.nz

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