Te Ara Poutama Student Rep Resigns Over ‘False Allegations’, Blasts AUTSA ‘Lip Service’
By Justin Wong (he/him)
A former member of AUTSA’s Student Representative Council (SRC) said her departure was forced by “false allegations”, slamming the student association as “a lot of lip service” that serves mainstream students and accused its upper management for being unresponsive.
Tasha Tahā Henneker was Te Ara Poutama’s faculty representative on the SRC but resigned early May.
In her resignation letter, Henneker said there had been allegations that she was starting a petition and decided it is in her best interest to “not to be part of a community that would place false allegations with no clarification on an individual”.
She denied starting a petition, saying the situation “has been largely misconstrued, and I do not have the faith that this would not happen again.”
“I entered the SRC to represent the best interests of the Te Ara Poutama faculty students, however the issues I have discussed with others have instead been twisted against me.”
She also warned of a “large discourse” between AUTSA and Te Ara Poutama students that needs to be resolved in the letter, and said she does not “have the mental capacity to try and change this.”
AUTSA President Sisifa Lui said in a response to Henneker’s resignation letter that she offered to mediate between the two SRC members, but Ms Henneker declined and resigned.
The statement also said Te Ara Poutama students remain “a vital and much-loved part of our community” and AUTSA’s Representation staff team would support Te Ara Poutama students until a new representative is appointed.
Neither of the statements go into more details on the allegations, but Henneker told Debate that they came from an SRC member, who claimed members were “hounded” into signing a petition that called to exclude General Manager Simon Bell from AUTSA’s governance board and future SRC meetings and would have been handed in on May 7. From Debate’s understanding, the General Manager is not a member of the governance board, and instead reports to them.
She said she only knew of its alleged existence after being told by email on May 4 and the SRC member who made the allegations had not provided any evidence.
“I actually told them if a petition came through with my signature on it, I would like legal action taken because that’s forging signatures.
“And I did offer for them to go through my laptop right then and there because there was no petition.”
However, Henneker admitted she was preparing to draft a critical letter of AUTSA for Te Ara Poutama students to sign after some expressed concern in the association’s ability to represent them.
She said while monthly SRC meetings raised different issues on mobility parking or gender-neutral bathrooms, non-communication with upper management left a lot to be achieved, with plans for the SRC to participate ina Noho Marae and creating a graduation letter in te reo Māori not going ahead because senior officials did not reply to emails.
“I don’t feel like there is student representation for anything, except for the average student who passes and might need basic support. That’s why my graduation letter project never went through because I need to know how to do it.”
Minutes for the March SRC meeting showed a proposal for a Noho Marae was presented, with the Council deciding Ms Henneker and two other SRC members would liaise it with the Office of Mori Advancement.
Responding to queries from Debate, AUTSA General Manager Simon Bell claimed that staff never received requests for additional support on the initiative.
He also said AUTSA already connected Ms Henneker with AUT on the te reo graduation letter because the student association does not run graduations, but it was never completed due to time constraints.
Debate understands some SRC members and AUTSA staff have already raised similar concerns on the association’s responsiveness and effectiveness with AUT.
This comes after the student association failed to secure drug testing for its O-week concert and mishandled the process to hire a new designer for Debate, which forced the student magazine to postpone issue 5.
AUTSA was also questioned for its absence in the parliamentary student accommodation inquiry.Debate also understands AUTSA is preparing a code of conduct, with four working groups aiming to publish a draft by August and finalise it by September.Henneker said it was long overdue.
“There should be a way to deal with harassment, bullying and victimisation within the SRC”, she said.“There’s heaps of people, heaps of different backgrounds, and there’s going to be clashes and allegations.”
AUTSA’s constitution ruled that if a position becomes vacant, the SRC must “give written notice of the vacancy as soon as possible” and “fill any vacancies as soon as practicable”.
As of late June, the student association is still yet to announce Henneker’s resignation on its social media pages and announce its plans to fill the position and the vacant North Campus Accommodation Officer role.
The SRC meeting on May 17 was scheduled to discuss the issue but no minutes have been released more than a month later.
Lui said she cannot comment on whether the allegations Henneker raised were true or false as the resignation “impeded” the investigation.
She also said AUTSA staff still have her confidence to support students, and expected SRC members to raise concerns with her.“We acknowledge that whilst none of us are perfect, and we live in an imperfect world, we strive to improve every day, we can only do so if parties raise their concerns with us.”
Mr Bell did not respond to the claims of miscommunication, but said AUTSA has “dramatically increased the resources to directly support the Student Council” over the past 12 months.
However, Henneker does not want others to go through what she experienced.
“If anyone asks me, ‘should I run for TAP [Te Ara Poutama] Rep?’, I would be like ‘no’.
“The SRC has lots of passionate members on there. There’s lots of people who want to make a change for their students but they can’t – AUTSA doesn’t want to deal with the bigger picture.
“AUTSA blocks too much – they will not get anything done".