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OUSA celebrates 125 years

Friday 22 May 2015 2:20pm

The Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA) will celebrate its 125th birthday this weekend. It has been an integral part of the University and is held close to the hearts of all of those who have been involved over the years, as the Bulletin discovered.

1979 and 1980 OUSA President Paul Gourlie.

Being president of the OUSA in 1979 and 1980 was the making of Paul Gourlie: it was in this role that he learned to read and write.

The highly successful Dunedin man who has forged a career in entrepreneurial education hesitates even now before confessing this, having closely guarded his secret 35 years ago. Then he talks of Association Secretary Mrs Biddie Sidey, the person who noticed his short-coming.

“She said to me, ‘you can’t read and write,’ to which I said, ‘that’s ridiculous I’m the President’. She said, ‘I know exactly who you are, you are here on a special admission and a friend of mine is going to teach you’.”

“I was articulate, which is how I became elected as President of OUSA, but it was in this role that I learned to read and write, gained wisdom and compassion, and honed my skills as an orator. Without this role my life would have been very different. It really helped to shape me.”

Mr Gourlie is one of around 100 life members of the OUSA and others who will converge on the Dunedin campus this weekend to celebrate 125 years of the OUSA’s service to students.

Celebrating a milestone

Some Presidents gather: Grant Robertson (President 1993) addressing a group outside the Clocktower with (from left) Fran Hernandez (President 2013), Ruby Sycamore-Smith (President 2014) and Logan Edgar (President 2012) in attendance.

A weekend of events is planned, including viewing the 121st annual capping show, touring campus, a heated debate pitting “old school” members against “new school” members to argue the moot ‘Scarifies ain’t what they used to be’, and an anniversary dinner for OUSA life members.

Current OUSA President Paul Hunt says celebrating the 125th birthday is a huge milestone.

“It lets us know we must be providing a service of value and quality to students, if we’ve been around this long! I sincerely hope that those who have contributed to the history of OUSA enjoy the celebrations and share the sense of pride we have in the organisation.”

The history

OUSA was founded on 20 May 1890 in order to run student rooms, organise activities over Capping, approach the University with student concerns, and arrange socials. It was the first Student Association in New Zealand.

Life Member Fiona Bowker, who has been researching the history of the OUSA for the 125th celebrations says bad student behaviour in the 1880s was one of the reasons the organisation was created.

“It was so bad that eventually all but one brave professor (Professor Salmond) refused to attend capping ceremonies (as graduation ceremonies were then known) at all. Letters to the Editor also contained complaints from members of the public. OUSA’s first action was to turn the ribald bad behaviour at capping ceremonies into scripted activities (rather than try to stop it altogether) – eventually resulting in a separate Capping show.”

Some highlights

Fiona Bowker says there have been countless highlights in the organisation’s history, but gaining representation on the University Council in the 1940s was particularly important.

“OUSA began lobbying for this from the very beginning, and was rewarded in 1946 with the ability to appoint a graduate to the Council. Being ‘at the table’ recognises the value students bring as University stakeholders. Changes to the structure of University Council may see changes to this, however.”

Another highlight was the opening of the then Clubs and Societies Centre (now OUSA Recreation Centre) in 1980,” Mrs Bowker says.

“This amazing resource for students is fully utilised day and night. I love the way it is possible to see activity on all three floors at once when looking in from the outside. Harry Evison, the instigator and manager of the Centre, saw student involvement in leisure activities as central to their physical and emotional wellbeing.”

An honest voice in a changing University

The Otago delegates to the NZUSA and NZU Sports Union meetings during the 1962 Easter Tournament in Auckland (from left) Warren Broughton, Roger Barrowclough, Alastair Grant, Brian McCloy, Thana Na Nagara and Ken Eglinton.

The oldest former President returning this weekend is Warren Broughton, who was president in 1963, having been ‘Sports Rep’ in 1962.

When he was leader of the OUSA, the University had fewer than 3000 students.

“The role of president brought me into contact with a wide cross section of students. While I didn’t know all of them, through sporting and social events many became good friends and they have remained so to this day.”

A hot topic in his year was having all students dress formally for lectures.

“Our Medical and Dental students were required to wear jackets and ties to lectures and it was proposed that this should apply to all students. The Student Council debated the matter but it became very heated before the proposal was carried.”

Both Mr Broughton and Mr Gourlie congratulate OUSA on turning 125.

Mr Broughton says it is “an outstanding achievement, particularly having regard to the pressures now faced by tertiary students”.

Mr Gourlie adds, “OUSA is an integral part of the University.

“In many respects it is an accessible and transparent reflection of how the whole University is run. It is an incredible training ground for the young people on its executive.”

Mrs Bowker agrees: “Without OUSA, the University would have a hard job entertaining, sustaining, and keeping their fingers on the pulses of the 19,000 or so students who come here every year. Without OUSA, there would be no Radio 1, and no nurturing music scene. There would be no Critic to inform and challenge us. Nowhere for clubs to be housed and supported. No independent advocacy. The vibrancy around campus would be decreased. There would be no Body to consult around student issues, and no student voice. OUSA is not just important to student life, but to the cultural fabric of the city.”

Eight things you might not know about OUSA:

• According to a cheeky report from its 1903 Annual General Meeting, OUSA once bailed out a cash-strapped University Council to the tune of 25 guineas. Was it real? A prank?

• OUSA owns a number of facilities around campus – not only the OUSA Recreation Centre, but also the Squash Courts, the Aquatic Centre (where the Rowing Club is housed), and the University Book Shop.

• OUSA was initially housed in a purpose-built building that was financed by the wealthy ladies of Dunedin in addition to student contributions. Constructed and owned by the University, this building now houses Allen Hall Theatre.

• During the 1990s when huge changes were made to fees, loans and allowances by the government, a nationwide rolling occupation of universities saw the University’s Council Chamber occupied by students for eight days. Current OUSA Secretary, Donna Jones, remembers nervously attending an OUSA Executive meeting in the Council Chamber.

• OUSA confers life membership on every President, but also on up to two other people per year to recognise their service to students. Some of these additional Life Members include Rod Carr (University of Canterbury Vice-Chancellor), Judith Ablett-Kerr (Dunedin criminal barrister), Jon Doig (CEO of Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland), and John Gibb (ODT reporter).

• Greg Hughson, current University chaplain, is the only staff member of the university awarded life membership while still actively in his role – an indication of the esteem in which he is held by OUSA.

• Lady Nola Holmes, OUSA Lady Vice-President from 1946 – 1947, finally received a life membership in 2006; before the 1980s, the contributions of women to the executive and students were generally not acknowledged.

• OUSA’s crest was created with the assistance of Gregor Macaulay – University Regulations Adviser and crest expert - and was granted to OUSA on 22 February 1991. It is similar to the University’s Coat of Arms. OUSA’s sports an additional border around the crest and a different scroll and motto below. In response to the University’s motto ‘Sapere Aude – dare to be wise!’, OUSA’s motto is ‘Audeamus – we dare!’.