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Academics hit back: “the VC should resign”

Max Chalmers reports on the backlash against staff cuts.

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Over the summer Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence released a video to all university staff.

Shown smiling with egregious effort, his gaffer-taped grin suddenly fell as he announced the University could “no longer carry” staff “not pulling their weight”.  Since this awkwardly-shot Razzie contender hit inboxes in late November, 100 academics have been offered redundancies and 64 teaching-only roles.

Staff have steadily mobilised against the cuts.  Last Wednesday at least 500 academics and students attended a rally on the Quad lawns overlooked by the vacant office of the VC.  “No cuts, no way! Staff and students say” was chanted as a large banner was mischievously unfurled from the top of the Quad’s sandstone façade.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has now lodged a formal complaint with Fair Work Australia and is hinting that industrial action is not far off.

A group called “Students against Staff Cuts” has started lecture bashing on the issue and is set to begin a joint campaign with the SRC Education Officers.  SRC President Phoebe Drake has labelled the cuts “unfair to students”.

Academics and the NTEU have denounced both the need for staff cuts and the way the University has implemented them.  A key section of the Final Change Plan, which established that academics with less than four publications in three years would be considered for redundancy, has particularly caused outcry.

The Political Economy Department’s Dr Damien Cahill told Honi Soit there are currently stringent measures in place to ensure academics maintain appropriate work levels.  Like many others he blasted the “retroactive” nature of this publishing quota which he compared to moving goalposts after a game.

Senior Lecturer Dr. Nicholas Riemer of the English Department echoed the sentiments, saying such arbitrary measures of productivity were “a recipe for shoddy, hasty work that will only damage the university’s reputation”.

Academics believe the publication quota is a thinly veiled excuse to justify sackings.  “The VC should resign, as should all the underlings that have defended the redundancy plan and are implementing it,” Dr Riemer said.

Impending infrastructure spending and overestimated profit growth appear to be the causes of the University standing accused of manufacturing a reason to fire staff.

At the Quad rally NTEU University of Sydney Branch President Michael Thompson questioned the urgency of the University’s spending priorities, especially the Abercrombie Street Sports and Aquatic Centre extension. He argued it was not the fault of academics the University had overestimated its future revenue growth.  “They got it wrong and they want us to suffer,” he said.

The Vice-Chancellor and his staff did not respond to Honi Soit’s enquiries.