Vertigo may be facing a change of format to continue, after UTS’s executive overruled the Student Association’s decision to increase the magazine’s budget.
The UTS student magazine, which normally produces six editions a year, but because of the pandemic went down to two in 2020, when its budget was slashed to $122,000, and three in 2021 on a budget of $129,000, this week learnt its request for more funding had been denied by the university.
Vertigo staff had asked for funds for 2022 of $245,000, an increase from the pre-pandemic 2019 budget of $205,000, however it was kept at last year’s level of $129,000. To complicate matters further the UTS Students Association had prematurely informed the magazine the increase would be granted.
However, it was a condition of the UTS executive that extra funding for the Association not be spent on Vertigo‘s budget.
The university agreed to increase the UTSSA’s budget by 16.2 per cent in 2022, a figure that would have covered Vertigo‘s extra budget claim, and which the Association told Central News it was ready to grant.
In a document seen by Central News from Deputy Vice-Chancellor Shirley Alexander to the UTSSA, she wrote: “What I cannot agree to, and have made clear from the beginning, is an increase to the amount spent on Vertigo magazine. I have proposed the amount of $129,000 for Vertigo which covers the full costs of the production in 2021 and I am not willing to almost double that to $245,000 as requested.”
Anna Thieben, President of the UTSSA, said at the beginning of the year, under the impression funding would return to its normal pre-pandemic rate, the UTSSA approved a $245,000 budget for Vertigo so six editions could be printed in 2022 as had been done in 2019.
“Approving the whole of Vertigo’s funding at the beginning of the year was done under the assumption that we would be getting more funding for them… But we approved that before we even got signed off for the year,” said Thieben.
“Normally, we get to have much more say in where funding is allocated and therefore in approving, like full funding for Vertigo.
“This is the first year that Shirley has directly stipulated where our budget can be spent.”
The peak of UTSSA’s funding was in 2019 when it received $1,519,000, $205,000 of which was allocated to Vertigo. However, when the pandemic struck UTSSA’s fundings went down by 20 per cent, or $303,800. As a result Vertigo‘s budget was slashed.
In 2020, because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic Australian Universities lost over 17,000 jobs and $1.8 billion in revenue when compared with 2019, according to Universities Australia. UTS had to bring in significant costs savings, resulting in job cuts across the campus.
Alexander, who has worked at the university for two decades, and has been Deputy Vice-Chancellor since 2006, told Central News: “As I mentioned the SA received a 16.2 per cent increase in their budget this year, and after some discussions, the increased funding was directed towards the Bluebird Brekkie Bar & Night Owl Noodle Bar as well as Clubs and Collectives, and Orientation rather than Vertigo. I am very supportive of those items of expenditure being higher priority items.”
They are saying that it was half the amount agreed to at the beginning of the year. And that is just not true.
Vertigo announced on Instagram on Saturday that their funding had been “slashed” to half the amount promised (by the Student Association) at the beginning of 2022.
However, Alexander denied there was ever an agreement to provide that amount in the first place.
“They are saying that it was half the amount agreed to at the beginning of the year. And that is just not true,” Alexander said.
“There was never an agreement to double the amount of funding that they have… And overall, their (UTSSA) budget has increased by 16.2 per cent from last year.
“I really want to see a newspaper that is relevant to UTS students. And while it might be nice to read poems, and look at photographs, and movie reviews, and so on, there’s a big question, ‘why should all students be paying for that?’”
Joseph Hathaway-Wilson, editor at Vertigo, claimed Alexander, on behalf of senior UTS executives, accepted the UTSSA’s budget proposal earlier this year on the condition the amount set aside for Vertigo be virtually halved.
“This is the first instance in many, many, many years that the Deputy Vice-Chancellor has interfered with the autonomy of the Students Association and said ‘I will not approve your budget until you take away funds from Vertigo specifically’,” said Hathaway-Wilson.
“If we knew that we were working with this reduced budget at the start of the year, it would still be disheartening, but it would be doable, because we are working on that reduced budget and we would be able to plan accordingly.”
He said Vertigo would be unable to print the rest of its expected 2022 volumes because of the decision, although it would work on a last edition for the year, which he said would be “an in depth examination of the recent relationship between Vertigo, the UTSSA and the senior executive”.
Hathaway-Wilson added: “I’d love to be able to tell you that this is going to fragment things and that relationships are about to be ice cold, but the fact is those relationships between the senior executive, UTSSA and the broader student body were almost non-existent to begin with.”
Alexander told Central News she believes the magazine should follow the lead of the University of Sydney’s monthly paper Honi Soit.
“I’ve just strongly encouraged them to look at the Honi Soit approach, because I think that’s really, really good,” said Alexander.
“They (Honi Soit) have got a really engaging, very newsworthy publication. And their print publication doesn’t look like a high quality magazine, it looks like a newspaper.
“I’ve also been suggesting to them for some time to take an online format where students post articles and people express different views. I think that would be terrific.”
If things are going to be changed, they should be changed on the students’ terms.
While the UTSSA has no editorial influence over Vertigo, Thieben said it wasn’t opposed to seeing a change of format.
“They struggled to get their second issue out,” she claimed. “Maybe we are doing something wrong with the magazine.”
Hathaway-Wilson said change should be led by student initiative rather than executive pressure.
“I think it’d be stubborn not to take every opportunity we can to bring Vertigo into a new direction,” he added.
“But, if things are going to be changed, they should be changed on the students’ terms, they shouldn’t be changed because senior executives are telling students how they need to run a student body and a student publication.
“Of course, we will have to make changes. Whilst we love to have this vision of student activism and being the riotous young overthrowing the heads at the top, the reality is that we are going to have to change some things.”