Think of it this way; you’re an admin of a, say, rugby league club in a completely random city in Central West NSW. You’ve got a fifty year history behind you, you’ve struggled a bit in the pandemic, but you’ve come into your own out on the field. And then a new university edict says the majority of your players are no longer eligible to be in the club, unless they specifically make an exception. Completely hypothetical, you have to understand. 

A change for clubs across Charles Sturt

The Division for Student Success (a name that would be so easy and cheap of me to call a misnomer I wouldn’t even think to) is in the process of introducing three new rules. 

These state:

(23) Current students of the University must constitute a minimum of 75% of student club members.  

(24) Non-students may join a student club as an associate member. No more than 25% of a club’s membership can be associate members without the prior approval of the Executive Director, Student Success.

(11) The Executive Director, Student Success has the sole discretion on behalf of the University to decline a request for affiliation without showing cause.

It’s that first one, Article 23, that’s going to be most devastating for the Mitchell Rugby Club, according to President Marcus Burrell.

Burrell, a non-student himself, has been involved in the club for the last six years and was in shock at the path the university chose to take. 

“Our club has been going for fifty years. We’ve been alive longer than the uni has”.

The proposed changes would force all clubs, including sporting clubs, to have memberships made up of at least 75% current students studying at CSU. For Mitchell Rugby, resulting in catastrophic losses to both their mens and womens divisions. 

“We’ve built a club around both university and community lifestyles. We’re always trying to get into the community, whether it be through charitable events or community sponsors”.

Marcus revealed that during the 2021 season, 96% of Mitchell Rugby Club’s funds came from the community, using the money for vital club supplies. 

Credit: CSU Mitchell Rugby

However, concern around the pending changes peaked when the club was informed that they would not be subsidised for this funding if the university chose to limit community involvement.

“Most of our sponsors come from the community, and that’s how we’ve funded our club over the years.” Burrell explained. 

“We have so many old boys and old girls in the community who still want to come and play for us, that’s just how we’ve always designed the club” 

This feeling is supported by first-year student Eli Mitchell who also raised concerns over the loss of legacy associated with the club. 

“The club has such a rich history” Mitchell stated.

Both Mitchell and Burrell especially expressed concern over the university’s third proposed rule change: that the Executive Director of Student Success has the sole discretion on behalf of the University seems like a ‘unilateral decision’.

Rushed through the system?

There are also growing concerns that the policies are out of whack with what’s widely accepted as best practise for all club policy. 

Prepare yourselves, little ones, it’s gonna get heavy. Credit: Play by the Rules

Luisa Foliaki is the President of both the Online SRC and the Student Senate, and says the policies are not in line with how the University is promoting itself, as hubs in the regional cities they’re a part of.

“The new policies are going to be a massive change for all clubs” 

In an email sent to the entire student executive, Luisa has detailed her concerns about the Division of Student Success, who developed the new clubs regulation, not following the normal process for getting these types of significant changes approved.

“During that initial drafting of the policy, there should have been a student consultant appointed to the team. And before we got to the stage where it ended up in the policy library, there should have been regular consultation with both the clubs and the SRC that oversee them. Neither of those happened.”

Club members were only given 9 days from a meeting on Wednesday the 29th of September to read the new brief, coordinate with members of their team, and then put any of their suggestions in the policy library.

Even within the initial meeting, Luisa says there wasn’t an adequate opportunity to have questions addressed there and then, with many club members asked to contact Student Services directly. 

“Communication was clearly intended to be a one way street.  The chat function had been disabled and students could only message the meeting hosts, effectively shutting down the most obvious means of communication and support at the meeting for students who did not know each other”

“We are seeking feedback from all parties”

In response to the substantial feedback the University has received, the consultation period has been extended by Student Services. Jacqueline Clements, the Executive Director of Student Success and the potential final arbiter on whether clubs will be affiliated, says the Division is now working with clubs on an individual basis.

In a statement, she said that “should decisions be made to adopt new policies, executives and members of impacted clubs will have the opportunity to request special consideration.”

Clubs will have to approach Student Services on an individual basis for special consideration if they want to retain the current 51% rule for students

“We know students really care about the clubs and their connection to Charles Sturt. Given the amount of feedback we have so far received, we have extended the consultation by another week. After the first the consultation round revisions will be made and put up for a second round of feedback.”

According to Foliaki, however, the changes are failing to meet some of the underpinnings of Governance, a University body that defines how any new policy needs to be approved, and also  reviews all new policies.

“Governance (Student Representation) Rule 2007 No. 4 has been broken here.”

She also believes power is being taken away from the SRC’s under the changes. 

“Currently, SRC’s retain the right to provide terms for affiliation of any club, such as reporting regularly to the SRC. Even though I raised this in a meeting some months ago with Student Services, it’s been omitted in this draft policy.”

“The policy describes the SRC as the ‘formal channel for affiliation’ for clubs, but now, that power will rest with one person, a University employee.”

For her part, Clements says the University is aiming to encourage more students to become active in CSU-affiliated clubs.

“As part of their fees Charles Sturt students contribute financially to the costs associated to administer and support all of the University’s clubs. As such, we want to make sure there is an appropriate return on this contribution by maximising the student participation in these clubs.”

“Charles Sturt wants to maintain and support a vibrant community of clubs for its students, one which canvasses a broad spectrum of interests to help ensure our students are given every opportunity to make meaningful connections with their communities.”

A matter of survival

First-year student Eli Mitchell also doubles as a member of the Bathurst SRC. Mitchell expressed the concerns of the council around how these proposed changes may impact the well-being and study patterns of current university students.

New rules would mean only students could hold executive roles within clubs Credit: CSU Football Club

“Senior students would be taking up executive roles usually held by non-students which require a lot of time and effort,” Mitchell explained. “It would put a lot of strain on students to take up these roles during their studies”.

The SRC have proposed solutions such as implementing a 12-24 month grace period to train students into executive roles. This comes amid concerns that “the clubs may have to rely on the SRC more for funding or leadership” Mitchell told Interp magazine.

Whilst Burrell concedes that implementing a club’s policy of some sort was a good idea, he believes this was not the right way to go about it, describing the proposed changes as “a kick in the teeth for anyone that’s come and gone before”.

Ultimately Burrell sums up the goal of his Mitchell Rugby Club: “We’re a club that wants to stay forever but we’re not just fighting for our club. We’re fighting for every club that’s at CSU.”

“We’re a club that wants to stay forever but we’re not just fighting for our club. We’re fighting for every club that’s at CSU.”

For more information on the official policy and to have your say on the matter visit the petition created by Student Senate CSU:

Petition · Review unfair draft clubs policy at Charles Sturt University ·