A rally against staff cuts earlier this month at the University of Sydney drew more students than any protest since the campaign against the Howard government’s attack on student unionism seven years ago.
Thousands of students and staff gathered and marched across the campus to the quadrangle where speakers expressed their concern that cuts to staff and programs would negatively impact the quality of their education.
Student activist Freya Bundey told the crowd, that the university would push the cuts through unless the students stop them.
“We will use our collective power, the fact that we are thousands, yet they are just a few sitting in the office.
They can only make these decisions about our futures so long as we let them,” she said.
The university, hit by lower than expected enrolments from international students, higher domestic enrolments and heavy maintenance expenses has opted to make staff redundant, hoping to find 7.5 per cent saving in their staff budget.
A total of 150 academic and 190 support staff face the axe in the near future.
The University’s Vice Chancellor, Michael Spence said this savings would pay for a sorely needed $53 million IT upgrade and a $385 million backlog of building repairs.
Dr Spence announced last November that staff who had not performed to retroactively enforced standards would be forced into redundancy.
This would be assessed arbitrarily on the number of academic’s published research.
In 2011 Dr Spence reportedly earned a bonus of $169,655, bringing his total package to $923,679.
After the rally, about 300 activists occupied the office of the Dean of Arts until they were asked to leave.
Before they left, they issued an ultimatum, promising to “commit to a campaign of escalating mass direct action” unless the proposed staff cuts were withdrawn by April 15.
Organisers did not elaborate on their plans for direct action, but some students online were speculating that this might involve vandalism of the iconic quadrangle or front lawn.
The University of Sydney spends the same amount of money maintaining its buildings and grounds as UTS, UNSW and UWS combined. In 2010 that was $53.7 million.
By Jason Marshall