Letters //

Dissent: ‘We think Honi got it wrong’

As cuts continue, Honi should be the voice of students, not management, write Rob Boncardo, Erima Dall, Sam Lewin, David Potter and
Imogen Szumer, members of the Education Action Group (EAG)

It is not surprising that VC Dr Michael Spence and his PR Director Andrew Potter would want to use our student paper Honi Soit to run a pro-cuts-anti-campaign diatribe, as they did last week. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and these managers are desperate to contain the anti-cuts campaign (which has already saved 45 academics from redundancy, nine from punitive teaching-only positions, and the Refugee Language Program), to restore their reputations, and to shore up their six-digit bonuses.

What is surprising is that the Honi editorial team would grant them a half page to do this. Another quarter page was given to pro-cuts student Dominic McNeil who advised protestors to “put down their placards and pick up their textbooks”. The SRC Education Officer’s column, squeezed in-between, makes the only sensible argument: namely, that a Vice-Chancellor who sets riot police on students on their own campus is clearly facing a “crisis of legitimacy”.

The tactics of mass rallies alongside occupations, walkouts, pickets and sit-ins have given this campaign its strength. The unreasonable, anti-democratic and arbitrary nature of the cuts has demanded the use of these tactics, none of which have been “violent”.

Andrew Potter may applaud “spirited debate and well-reasoned arguments” and plea for “acceptable standards of behaviour”, but how is it well-reasoned or acceptable that Dr. Adrian Heathcote, of the Department of Philosophy, who has five journal articles in the process of being peer-reviewed and a book ready for publication, is still being made redundant?

No reason has been given for not reconsidering his case, which is only one example of the disgraceful treatment by University management of academics. Even the Dean of Arts Duncan Ivison, who defends the cuts, had to admit that “This process has had a negative effect on morale and a negative effect on the reputation of the University”.

Honi should have used its coverage to add to the chorus of calls for Spence to resign, and the cuts package – which includes a further 190 general staff, $28 million of non-staff expenditure, and a host of courses – to be scrapped altogether.

That would have reflected the overwhelming majority of student and staff opinion. 3935 students participated in a referendum and 97 per cent voted against the cuts; 70 lecture theatres passed motions opposing the cuts; 1500 staff and students rallied against the cuts in week five; and 300 students, from eight lecture theatres, walked out of their classes to join the successful ‘siege on management’ in week seven. It is these voices that need to be heard. Spence has endless opportunity to sway opinion through mass emails, the university website, YouTube videos, and mainstream coverage.

But the Education Action Group (EAG) had to defend the campaign by producing its own, alternative coverage of the events (see it on Facebook at: USyd Students Against Staff Cuts).

It is heartening that, this week, members of the Honi editorial team requested this response from the EAG. Clearly, some of them grasp the legitimacy of the campaign and the fact that there is still a lot to fight for. But as the campaign carries on into the second semester, and as we continue to keep Spence on his toes, we call on Honi to get into line with the student voice that opposes the staff, budget and course cuts.

Join us at the next action to demand transparency; we want a list of all courses that will be cut due to reduced staff. “SPEAKOUT TO SIT IN”, Wednesday 23rd, 12.15pm, Eastern Ave (Fisher end).