When the University excluded former University of Sydney Vice President Tom Raue from campus last May, I applied for information under the Government Information Public Access Act (GIPA) to try and shed light on the ban. I should’ve known better: what I got was obfuscation, clippings, and a whole lot of blacked out pages.
Among it all, the documents give the briefest glimpse into the University administration’s inner sanctum of snarky emails and PR spin. Here are three choice snippets, with more to come.
1. Some protestors are better than others
“Important stuff is happening in universities and it’s important that students care and, if that means they protest, that’s great. You’d be disappointed if they didn’t.”
Or so Michael Spence proudly told the Sydney Morning Herald in a 2012 profile. In private it seems Spence is in fact a discerning connoisseur of activism. In one email chain headed “revolting students” Spence writes of his disappointment that USyd’s protest against Bishop hadn’t been as “articulate and appropriate” as the day’s earlier protest at UTS.
Spence would be pleased to learn that the “articulate and appropriate” UTS student who shouted down Bishop at that University is none other than the University of Sydney’s own Chloe Rafferty, the National Union of Student’s Education Officer. Can an endorsement like that go on a resume?
Admittedly, Spence did have a little criticism, writing that Rafferty “…seem[ed] awfully glad to be escorted ou [sic] of the hall as I think she had only prepared a three second grab) :)”.
The smiley was in the original email :). Our Vice Chancellor uses emoticons.
With all that said, Rafferty was probably lucky Spence didn’t recognise her, the next paragraph of his email is smiley-free and a little more ominous.
“…make sure we are making good on our promise to review footage and see whether we should bring disciplinary action against any students? Thanks.”
It wasn’t long before Tom Raue was excluded from campus.
You’d be disappointed if they didn’t.
2. A cat and mouse game between former Honi editor and USyd PR
Unable to extricate himself from campus politics, former Honi editor Max Chalmers ended up in an email chain too as he attempted to report Raue’s campus ban for New Matilda.
In this set of emails to Spence and others, Kirsten Andrews, the University’s head of PR, tells her boss “our friend Max Chalmers” has been “irritated to no end” by her not commenting on the story.
Why the exasperating lack of comment? When I called Andrews she told me that while she respected Chalmers and all current and past student journalists, Chalmers had called her “10-15 times” until about 10 o’clock on a Friday night when she’d been unable to comment.
Apparently Chalmers calls a lot. A few hours after our conversation Andrews called me back realising it had been another occasion Chalmers had called her 10-15 times. This time he’d got the message early. No Comment.
During our call Andrews told me unequivocally that she respected non-mainstream media and student media as much as any mainstream outlet, and that Chalmers had not been treated differently to any other journalist.
Chalmers disagrees, telling Honi that in his experience “the University of Sydney PR team are sceptical of non MSM outlets” and see student media as “something of an irritation and distraction.” The University administration, he feels, see consultation with students as an act of generosity, not a responsibility – an attitude that colours their approach to student media.
Indeed, the black bars that cover most of the documents reinforce the idea that the University takes an adversarial, even antagonistic, approach to student media and its students. It isn’t the first time the University has been reticent to share information with me.
Despite the strong legal presumption in favour of releasing information, the University’s Group Secretary, Alex Maitland, evidently thinks what the administration said about Raue behind his back was important enough to keep from the prying eyes of Honi Soit.
55 out of 94 pages of the information released were totally or almost totally redacted. How open does the University really want to be with students? So far, it seems, as little as possible.