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Board of Secrets

A 20-page document that has been three years in the making. The findings of a $120,000 review into the constitution and make-up of the Tasmania University Union (TUU) has finally been discussed.

The extensive review was commissioned by the TUU’s Board of Management (BoM) which is “responsible for setting the strategy and direction” of the Union and is made up of three student representatives, elected by students at yearly TUU elections, and three University staff members as well as a Chair, who are all appointed by the University.

The BoM in 2017, led by Chair, Simon Overland, voted to approve a “review of the TUU and authorise the commitment of up to $120,000 from TUU reserves for this purpose.”

The BoM highlighted that the TUU’s lack of strategic direction and trend of student disengagement with the Union were deciding factors in the decision to commission the review with an aim to “make the TUU more relevant to current University student demographics.”

The Executive Director of Student Experience for UTas, Stephanie Taylor, was invited to a BoM meeting to engage with the preparation for the review, highlighting the confusion around the differences between the student services that UTas and the TUU provide.

The review was conducted by the LH Martin Institute at the University of Melbourne which “aim to develop more effective governance, leadership and management capacity in tertiary sector institutions, so that institutions may fulfil their missions more successfully,” according to their website.

$120,000 was taken from a surplus of TUU funds to pay for the review, which was conducted by two professors from the institute.

Publically available minutes of BoM meetings show that the strategic review has been on the board’s agenda since late 2014, coinciding with the start of Simon Overland’s term. However, the commencement of the review did not progress until last year.

Current TUU State President, Jess Robinson said it had taken a long time to get to this stage of the review process.

“The process from start to now has been really slow and poorly managed. It has been sitting there,” she said.

“The TUU as it stands can’t stay the same, it needs to change. I want those four years of talk to come down to actually something.”

Overland’s 3-year term as Chair was due to end in July 2017, but then UTas Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Rathjen approved him to continue as BoM Chair until the end of 2017.

The decision to extend his term was made even though Overland relocated back to Victoria in August to start a new role as the chief executive of Whittlesea City Council. In the months after Overland returned to Victoria, the BoM convened just once with Overland hosting the meeting via Skype.

The strategic review was due to be discussed in a November 2017 meeting, with incoming student representatives for 2018 to be welcomed as observers. This meeting never took place and the 2017 student representatives, who passed the motion to allow the review to take place, never saw the findings.

The final BoM meeting for 2017 was in October, a month after Overland received an interim report into the findings, when it was agreed the issues identified warranted “immediate action”.

Current TUU General Secretary and former BoM member, Dan Probert told Togatus that Overland’s term ending and his relocation to Victoria played a factor in the hold up of the findings being discussed.

“We had a meeting scheduled in November where we were supposed to go over everything with the incoming board, however there was no continuity there,” he said.

“Unfortunately, Simon Overland took the job in Victoria and was unable to make the meeting. We couldn’t get everyone together and we never met again after October.”

Togatus understands that Michael Stoddart took over as acting Chair of the BoM and has been been in the role since the start of 2018. Stoddart is a UTas staff member and has been on the BoM as one of the University’s representatives since 2014. His appointment is a break from the tradition that the Chair has historically been someone who is independent from the University.

Jess Robinson said that it felt like she had inherited “a backpack that has lots and lots of rocks in it” from previous Union representatives.

“We’ve been taking out those rocks, lightening up a little bit. But there is one just sitting there and you can’t take it out because it is so much bigger,” she said.

“It is so much heavier than everything else because it has such a big ripple effect.”

With a decision still to be made on the recommendations of the review and future of the TUU, the current make-up of the BoM is one vote down from a complete board.

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