The fightback to stop job and budget cuts at the University of Sydney has escalated. In the first week of semester, 700 staff and students demonstrated in the University Quad to oppose the 340 job cuts and $28 million in budget cuts. We unanimously passed a motion of no confidence in the Vice Chancellor (VC), Michael Spence and marched out chanting “Staff and students say: no cuts, no way. Not tomorrow, not today!”
The action, organised by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), came shortly after the University sent letters to 100 academics to say their jobs have been targeted for redundancy, and 64 others were “offered” teaching-only positions. These academics are now being hauled before review panels to plead for their jobs. But even if they successfully “show cause” to keep their job, it just means someone else will get the chop instead. The NTEU has now lodged a dispute claim with Fair Work Australia.
There is outrage as the names of those losing their jobs are slowly leaking out. In the Anthropology department three out of 12 academics may be axed. The department had an article published in The Australian, explaining that all three academics have major research projects in progress. One was granted sabbatical leave to work on a book, and is currently supervising four PhD students. This exposes just how arbitrary and unfair it is to cut staff according to their research output in the last three years, which are the retrospective criteria for these cuts. Other departments hit hard are Sociology, English and Law.
The discontent on campus is growing. With record enrolments this year (1200 more than last year), students are complaining of packed tutorials and continually having to sit in the aisle in their overcrowded lectures. It’s obvious that we need more staff to teach more classes, not less.
And yet the University is raking in even more student fees for this sub-par education. The NTEU has explained that, “If the VC gets his way, in 2012 at the University of Sydney there will be an increase in revenue from student fees of 7 per cent [and] a cut in academic salaries of 7.5 per cent.”
Students are increasingly seeing this fight as their own and demanding their right to quality education. A petition organised by the Student Representative Council (SRC) has already gathered more than 2000 student signatures. Activists in the Education Action Group (EAG) blitzed the campus with leaflets and posters in the first week of semester and took their message to over 50 different lecture theatres, after organising a speak out and banner drop during orientation week.
We need to keep going and draw in as many students as possible, and escalate the campaign to stop the cuts. The VC has shown contempt for student and staff opinion. Students can lead the way with demonstrations and sit-ins to disrupt the running of the University and force the administration to take notice.