University of Wollongong Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings explains WUSA election decision

UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings. Picture: Robert Peet
UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings. Picture: Robert Peet

University of Wollongong Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Wellings has described as disappointing the disqualification of two presidential candidates in the 2018 Wollongong Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) elections.

His comments come as student protesters and prominent Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge plan to rally on campus on Monday to ‘protect student democracy at UOW’.

Mr Shoebridge told the Mercury, UOW management could expect an ‘’almighty and continuing fight on their hands’’ if Chloe Rafferty is not reinstated WUSA president.

Professor Wellings said the university supported a democratically elected student representative body playing an important role in student representation at UOW.

‘’Any democracy relies on all candidates accepting and abiding by clearly stated laws or rules, and on respecting transparent processes to address any breaches of those rules,’’ he said.

‘’Dispensing with the laws governing a democracy never strengthens it – it only destroys it.

‘’The only way to preserve student democracy—as with any democracy— is to uphold the integrity of the electoral process, which is what the Appeals Panel has done.’’

The 2018 WUSA elections were undertaken according to the WUSA Regulations and Code of Conduct, which provide clear rules and a transparent appeals process to address any alleged breaches.

...So it is disappointing to hear her blame University management for the Appeals Panel’s decision, claim political bias, seek to dispense with the rules or ignore the Panel’s decision because the outcome was not in her Party’s favour.

Professor Paul Wellings

All candidates signed declarations acknowledging they had received, understood and accepted those rules at the outset of the campaign.

‘’To see any candidate’s own conduct cause them to be disqualified and prevented from taking up a position for which they would have otherwise been duly elected is disappointing,’’ Prof Wellings said.

The Vice-Chancellor noted that both the ‘Revolution’ and the ‘Save Our Union’ groups recognised the authority of the appeals process and Appeals Panel under WUSA’s Regulations by lodging appeals after votes were counted, but before the election was formally declared by the Returning Officer.

‘’The WUSA regulations clearly state that the Appeals Panel decision is final,’’ he said.

‘’The University of Wollongong’s Constitution does not grant the Vice-Chancellor, University Council, Academic Senate, or any Officer of the University the authority to overturn the Appeals Panel’s decision.

‘’The University would have been quite happy to work with Ms Rafferty had she been duly elected, so it is disappointing to hear her blame University management for the Appeals Panel’s decision, claim political bias, seek to dispense with the rules or ignore the Panel’s decision because the outcome was not in her Party’s favour.’’