The University of Sydney is in a bid to slash 340 jobs. A staff and student campaign is gearing up to push them back.
Academics will be sacked on the basis of crude output measures—those who have produced less than four publications between January 1 2007 and 11 November 2009 are at risk. This has nothing to do with research quality, let alone their teaching, which makes up 40 per cent of their workload.
The Vice Chancellor Michael Spence (whose salary is over $1 million per annum) has said the cuts are necessary for the university to reach financial targets for 2012. It’s clear that the administration has concocted a budgetary crisis to justify the job cuts. The university recorded an operating surplus of $113.7 million for 2012, the third highest of all Australian universities.
The selective nature of the austerity budget also makes it clear that the problem is not a lack of money, but spending priorities. As staff are lectured about “not pulling their weight”, the administration is spending $385 million on infrastructure, including a new business school and another swimming pool.
Spence has now de-funded the Refugee Language Program, that costs a measly $42,000 a year and is run by volunteers. One hundred refugees were taught English by the program each year. But he thought the $750,000 spent on redesigning the university logo in 2011 was worth it.
The University is already badly understaffed, with overcrowded tutorials and lecture theatres and threats to many courses. Student protest saved the Political Economy from a planned merger with the Government Department last year. Biology subjects will come under the knife in the near future.
The neo-liberal logic of profit and competition is behind the University’s warped priorities. Despite declaring an “education revolution”, Labor has failed to reverse Howard’s enormous cuts to education spending. Less than 50 per cent of tertiary funding now comes from government investment. Meanwhile, Labor has uncapped university enrolments, creating extra places that universities must compete for. As a result, our universities increasingly act like businesses, competing for students, and crucially, for corporate funding.
Spence’s slash-and-burn attitude to lecturers and staff is a stark example of where this logic leads.
Encouragingly, the staff have not hesitated to fight back. At one of a series of actions organised by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), 100 staff and students chanted, “Staff cuts hurt students” in earshot of the University Senate meeting.
As the new semester approaches, student activists are planning to blitz the campus with stalls and posters, and pass motions in classes to raise awareness, build protests and work towards direct action against the cuts. A mass student campaign can make life difficult for the likes of Michael Spence, embolden staff to exercise their industrial strength, and help win the fight for quality education and staff jobs before profit.

Adam Adelpour

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