This week, I have made a momentous decision, somewhat forced by the inter-Faculty wrangles I referred to in my last post on feminism-in-academia.
As of Tuesday, I’m not a Master’s thesis candidate, although I have no intention of shelving my project to write a book on third-wave radical feminists in Aotearoa-New Zealand (that’s from 1990 – now-ish, for those who don’t recognise the terminology).
It’s been a long time coming, but I am now officially over dealing with the assortment of misogynists on the VUW Council who have been paring back the resources allocated to the School of Gender & Women’s Studies over the past 4 years.
First it was a discussion about removing the School from the Kate Edgar House, at 94 Fairlie Terrace, an old villa next to the Music School property – itself marked for demolition once the NZSM gets it’s new premises built on the Illot Green, next to the MFC, downtown. Oh, wait, the funding hasn’t come through for NZSM, has it?
But the VUW Council have already begun re-development on Fairlie Tce, having bowled 3 houses which belonged to the School of Education, whose staff were all peremptorily moved up to the Karori Campus in 2007 to make way for – a hostel for International Students!
Yes, a commercial venture based on ‘slit-appartments’, which have been built and turned into instant ghettos in Auckland, replete with drug dealers and so on, in a copy of student accommodation popular in Hong Kong.
Funnily enough, they’re having trouble finding post-grad international students ready to put up with the extremely small flats created in the hope of securing a mix of under- and post-grads in the hostel. It’s mostly populated by German and American exchange students, with a smattering of Korean and Chinese first-years.
Catering facilities are minimal, and a whole floor is dedicated to an open-air drying arena for laundry, surrounded by toughened glass plates to stop anyone blowing away in a stiff northerly..
In 2008, the results of a change proposal were to reduce the School of Education staff at Karori from 150 to 100, a net loss of 33% of staff across all categories. Staff members were approached by the AUS, the staff union on VUW campuses, but were told by the Dean of Education faculty Dr Dougald Scott, as well as by other senior staff, that speaking to the union would place them automatically on the ‘to be fired’ list.
Many staff did speak to AUS rep Michael Gilchrist, but were frightened of reprisals from both the external HR firm hired to do the redundancies, and the permanent senior staff.
There was ultimately no strong collective protest from the School of Education staff, and the job-losses went ahead as planned by the VCs on Kelburn campus.
Along the way, School of G&WS lost our Fairlie Tce rooms and ancilliary staff, as well as 4 of the 8 undergrad papers, and no guarantee from the VUW Council that undergrad majors currently in train would be able to complete.
Post-grads were given very short notice at the start of that academic year to pack up all their desks and resources, for removal to Karori campus. Space for study was not allocated immediately; PhD students who’d allowed all their work to be boxed up waited weeks, finally allocated a post-WW2 prefab, with no insulation or heaters, in which their desks and research were summarily unpacked by Faculty staff (campus care) without any discussion taking place directly with the post-grad’s involved. The disruption to research was undertaken with no apology or suggestion of compensation.
Some students opted at that stage to remove all their work from the university property, and work from home, or the office of an understanding employer.
Some of us petitioned other services on campus, receiving help from PGSA and Disability Services to be able to remain on Kelburn Campus with our work intact.
Eventually, near the end of 2008 second semester, a small house in Campbell St was procured for the G&WS post-grads – a two-storey property which was partially inaccessible to at least one of the PhD students, and due to students chosing to work off-campus, was much smaller than the amount of space needed to accommodate all of the currently enrolled post-grads.
Moving on to 2009, the resources continued to be straightened. Dr Leslie Hall was put on a one-year-rolling contract, with Faculty and Academic Board members commenting that ‘falling roll numbers meant that they could not guarantee G&WS papers continuance unless enrolments increased’. This was after a fight at the Academic Board in late December 2008 to keep the undergrad papers at the same level as 2008 (a reduction from 8 to 4 papers, remember?), which meant that the papers did not go onto the online enrolment website until about 6-8 weeks after the massive “Get online and enrol early” PR campaign had kicked off – creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that G&WS would attract few enrolments.
Late in 2009, as the School was ready to celebrate the graduation of one of our PhD candidates, the Academic Board again threatened not to list G&WS papers, citing ‘low enrolments in 2009’, and once more Dr Hall had a huge battle to keep her teaching contract, and to keep the undergrad papers on the prospectus. In early December, Dr Alison Laurie resigned from teaching, although she committed to continuing supervison of the currently enrolled post-grad’s for the duration.
Then the 2010 VUW Calendar was published, with no reference to the School of Gender & Women’s Studies under Faculty of Education, although Alison is still listed in the Faculty staff (but not Lesley…) There are no undergrad papers listed in the Calendar.
A perusal of the 2010 School of Education undergrad prospectus does show 4 papers, with Dr Laurie listed as teaching one, and the others ‘tbc’ – telegraphing to students, who can’t find these papers listed on the website, that the Faculty is not committed to continuing teaching Gend papers at this level.
Oh, and the Calendar, under MA statutes, mentions that there will be no more MA enrolments in G&WS from 2010. Gee thanks for telling me that my thesis enrolment cannot be continued, folks. When I enrolled in mid-2009….
I have had administrative support from FHSS on Kelburn campus frequently during 2009, as the Fac Ed office in Kelburn is not capable of offering full support to post-grad students, and it appears that FHSS (under whose broad mantle Fac Ed operates) has not been told that the lid is sinking on G&WS enrolements.
It also appears that Fac Ed admin are incapable of interrogating the Kelburn Registry database for information (as every other Faculty does), since they told me in late November 2009 that ‘they had no communication with me, and did not know I was enrolled’ – 6 months after Registry produced my course confirmation and fees demands, which my student loan duly paid. (WINZ being perfectly capable of interrogating the database & finding my enrolment and course confirmation …)
As I went through the process of filing my 6-month research report I realised with a sinking heart that most of the paperwork I’d done so far, applying for Ethics Consents, grants and scholarships, had been negated by the complete refusal of Fac Ed to acknowledge that I was actually enrolled for an MA thesis.
Having wasted six months of my research time, they then went on to try to patronise and bully me about the missing 6-month report. I quoted back the sentence they’d e-mailed me about their failure to find me on the student database, and suggested that their incompetence was not my
problem, and they would get the report when I had time to fill it out properly.
Along the way, I found a copy of the Minimum Resources Agreement (MRA), negotiated by PGSA and in force when I enrolled in mid-2009. It’s here on the PGSA webite, if you’re interested in the details.
Suffice to say that the Faculty had not met a skerrick of the MRA for the majority of students doing PhD’s through G&WS, and for none of the MA thesis researchers.
At this stage, I’m going to apply to have my tuition fees refunded, on the grounds of failure to provide the conditions of research set out in the PGSA agreement; and I may attempt to get compensation for the waste of my time and resources during the time leading up to my first 6-month report, when Fac Ed ‘had no record of my enrolment’ and thus denied my existence to any funding agencies to whom I had applied. There is also a group of concerned post-grad students who are meeting on-campus irregularly (as our conflicting time resources allow), to discuss grievances collated by one of our number.
This article is my first sally in direct action against the misogynist behaviour of the VUW Council, VC’s, Deans of FHSS & Education, and I hope it will be the beginning of another protest campaign to keep Gender and Women’s Studies alive on VUW’s campus, where our tradition of Women’s Studies courses goes back to papers taught by Phillida Bunkle and Jackie Matthews in the mid-80’s, when 20KP was the location of the Women’s Studies office. (Now PGSA office and study resource rooms.)