Reprinted from the Capital Times. Organising meeting 5pm Wednesday, Collins Room, Student Union Building, Victoria University of Wellington.
ONCE upheld as the bastion of liberal thinking in Wellington, Victoria University is turning into a capitalist business, say past students.
Workers Party parliamentary aspirant and political activist Don Franks has had a long association with the university. He was a student in 1968, worked as a cleaner there during the 1990s, and was the event-coordinator for the Students’ Association for 18 months. He says it’s clear the university no longer tolerates political dissent, and the barring of two former students following a protest against fee rises recently is the clincher.
“Suddenly people are booted off the premises. Just about every student is pissed off about the fee rises. What I’ve observed is things tightening up in an ugly way,” Franks says.
He says this extends to the programmes the university offers – a dwindling number of “more liberal studies” and an increase in business related degrees.
Franks is concerned about the university’s hard line approach to two past students after the recent protest. Reported in Capital Times last week, Helenyi Pratley and Joel Cosgrove were banned from Victoria University grounds for two years after Cosgrove threw an egg and Pratley held up a sign. Soon after, Pratley says she was accosted by two “threatening” men who turned up at her home to give her trespass papers. The university refused to comment on the alleged visit. It has since confirmed Cosgrove and Pratley are among 16 people who have been ‘trespassed’ from Victoria University over the past five years.
“There are two concerns,” says Franks. “First, this most unpleasant event happened, and secondly, the university didn’t take responsibility for it in any way. That’s gutless stuff, and we don’t want this behaviour continuing.”
In response, Franks chaired a meeting on Tuesday evening at Victoria University that aimed to reverse the trespass orders, and call students to action. The meeting was organised by Cosgrove and Pratley, who ironically were unable to attend because of their barring.
“We’re raising awareness about what’s going on,” says Cosgrove. “The first question people always ask [about the trespass orders] is ‘how can they do that?’ Every time you want to stand up and do something, they come down hard.”
Cosgrove says the proposed fee rise - which would see the Student Services Levy rise from $251 to $510 as well as a general fee increase of 5% - is an example of the change from education as a right, to education for the privileged.
Cosgrove is uncomfortable the university sent two men to visit his girlfriend, Pratley. Soon after, he received a call from a man who would only identify himself as “Darryl” informing Cosgrove of his two-year-ban.
Capital Times was informed last week that “Darryl” is an employee of First Security, coincidentally the company Victoria University contracts to work on site.
But Central Regional Manager for the company Bruce Hewitt, says there is no Darryl working for First Security.
He admits his employees were present at the protest, but denies they paid Pratley a visit. That, he says, was the university’s doing, although he isn’t aware of the details.
“As far as I’m aware that’s what happened,” he says. “We were there on the day, but that was that.”
This is contrary to a statement from Victoria University’s director of facilities management, Jenny Bentley.
“The University used a professional security company to serve two trespass notices last month and also posted one of the trespass notices by registered mail,” she says.
Activist Franks will not be placated.
“We want to reverse the trespass that’s been issued. We mean business, and we’re not going to go away.”