In a pointed rebuke of the University of Sydney, a former NSW arts minister has described his disappointment and incredulity with the announcement to move SCA from its Rozelle campus, calling for the decision to be reviewed by NSW parliament.
Former NSW Liberal opposition leader and arts minister Peter Collins AM QC, who oversaw the handover of the colonial-era Kirkbride complex to the art school in 1996, said he was “incredulous” of the University’s decision to “walk away” from its commitment to the visual arts.
“It disappoints me enormously dumping SCA, walking away from it and walking away from the vision enunciated now the best part of three decades ago,” he told Honi Soit. “Vice-chancellors get it wrong. Right as they are, they are capable of making mistakes. I think this is a mistake.”
The University announced the art school would be absorbed by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences on the Camperdown campus after plans to create a joint ‘centre for excellence’ with UNSW collapsed in July, following a public outcry and sustained community campaign.
The University is a statutory body in NSW and comes under the purview of the parliament’s public accounts committee, which plays an important role in accountability within the state’s public sector.
“[University administrators] are really looking at the bottom line. How valid their figures are in reaching their bottom line I think is open to examination. I would like to see the public accounts committee of the NSW parliament put it to the test,” Collins said.
Collins said the lack of consultative process and transparency around the decision was “retrograde” and demonstrated a lack of foresight on the part of the University.
“This was a decision announced unilaterally, basically as a done deal. There wasn’t any sort of consultative process. I think it was a decision taken by the University executive and I think it’s a very regrettable decision,” he said.
Collins, who is personally on good terms with both the Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence and Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson, said the two most powerful members of the University administration should be judged on their record, not their rhetoric.
“While I like [Spence and Hutchinson] as individuals, I think you judge people by what they do, and the University’s actions indicate it is stepping away from an earlier commitment, a strong and very visible commitment to the visual arts.”
He said the Vice-Chancellor had gone back on the legacy of then vice-chancellor, John Manning Ward, who he said understood the value of a dedicated visual arts campus in Rozelle.
The University is yet to finalise plans for the school’s move to the Camperdown campus.