Over 100 students protested at La Trobe University’s Open Day on August 26 against savage cuts to Humanities, defying threats to suspend or expel students who joined “unauthorised” demonstrations.

In an email to all students La Trobe’s Vice Chancellor Professor John Dewar wrote, “it is unacceptable for protests to threaten the success of Open Day or disrupt other university activities.

“…To that end, I direct that any planned protest be notified in writing… at least 24 hours prior to the commencement of any protest.”

Forty one jobs—equivalent to 25 per cent of the faculty’s staff—and hundreds of Humanities subjects are under threat.

Solidarity spoke to one PhD Student at the protest who said, “its not just undergraduates… my supervisor is under threat, staff have to apply for their own jobs, everyone is paranoid. PhD students are having to consider if they will follow their supervisors if they leave, or change supervisors… but the university is making ‘profits’.”

University management claims the cuts are necessary because of a budget shortfall of $4.36 million. But the shortfall is actually on the administration’s self-imposed target of a 3 per cent return on revenue. La Trobe made a surplus of $84 million dollars in 2011.

In his previous job at Melbourne University, John Dewar pushed through the “Melbourne Model”, which cut jobs and increased staff casualisation. He has a salary of $720,000 plus a university-provided house in Eaglemont, a driver and entertainment and phone allowances.

His attack on student protest came after 150 students occupied faculty offices the week before. The university has been forced to make concessions, reducing the original number of job cuts planned and moving to incorporate Gender Studies into the Politics department rather than cutting it entirely.

After the failure of his clumsy attempt to ban student protest, Dewar has backtracked, saying he now supports students’ right to protest. “I think it adds colour and movement to life on campus, I think it’s fantastic”, he said.

But the university has not dropped threats of disciplinary action against student demonstrators. Emma, a third year undergraduate student, said, “what they are cutting is valuable to society, cutting subjects that deal with keystone issues in society. It makes the university lose meaning for me.”

The students have pledged to “keep protesting and build support”.

Chris Breen

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