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New life for Convocation?

Christina White reports on a second push to hold a meeting of Convocation at the University of Sydney.

A second petition pushing for a meeting of Convocation has been sent to the University Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson. The petition proposes a motion demanding that the Vice-Chancellor publicly abandon his support for fee deregulation.

This petition comes after last month’s Town Hall meeting, at which only one speaker out of 26 expressed clear support for the Pyne reforms. The meeting came about after a first petition calling for Convocation was organised by four so-called ‘rebel’ Fellows of the Senate – Verity Firth, Catriona Menzies-Pike, Patrick Massarani, and Andrew West.

Their efforts to hold a Convocation were thwarted by the Senate, and while the former three were content with the Town Hall compromise, West told Honi that he still believed a formal meeting of Convocation was needed.

Following the Town Hall meeting, 17 of the speakers signed an open letter to Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence confirming their opposition to fee deregulation and, like the petition presented to Hutchinson, calling upon Spence to stop advocating for fee deregulation.

“It is unseemly and anti-democratic for the spokesperson of the University to use his position to advocate against the clear view of the majority of the University community,” said the open letter.

The statutes of the University require 20 signatures, and the petition sent to Hutchinson includes over 90. Most of the petitioners are staff members of the History and English departments. It is believed the Chancellor will present this new petition to the Senate at their monthly meeting this afternoon.

Last Friday, the Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Stephen Garton emailed students to announce that the University will hold a series of focus groups on the 2nd October to be followed by surveys in late October.

These moves come weeks after Spence travelled to Canberra with other Go8 Vice-Chancellors to lobby the government to continue efforts for deregulation.

Honi has previously editorialised on the necessity of mobilising the alumni to spark change.

What is Convocation?

A meeting of Convocation would differ from the Town Hall meeting in a number of ways. It would be able to make a formal recommendation to the Senate and the University would be required to publicly advertise it. While students are not formally included, all alumni and staff would have a right to speak to the motion put. In the past, Convocation has been used in order to get the University to respond to alumni interests

The full motion

That convocation

(i)                notes that the Vice-Chancellor has in recent weeks repeatedly stated his intention to consult with the university community on the university community on the university’s response to the government’s proposed higher education reforms;

(ii)              notes that the meeting of the university community in the Great Hall on Monday August 25 was the most significant consultation yet to have occurred;

(iii)            notes that this meeting voted overwhelmingly to oppose fee deregulation;

(iv)             notes that, subsequently, the VC has in fact increased his advocacy for deregulation, despite the overwhelming opposition of both the university community and the public;

(v)               notes that this constitutes a serious breach of faith with the university community;

(vi)             demands that the VC publicly abandon his support for deregulation.