Documents obtained by Honi show that Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence privately contradicted the University’s public rationale for closing the Sydney College of the Arts’ Callan Park home and merging it with the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
Emails among senior University management suggest the plan to close the SCA was not purely financially motivated, and show that the closure would involve significant cuts to student numbers.
In a meeting with representatives from the National Tertiary Education Union in 2015, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence claimed that the reasons for merger and closure “would not be financial”, and that if cuts were to be determined purely on a financial basis, “there are many other areas of the university where we could begin”.
Yet at an information session last year, Provost Stephen Garton told students the planned closure was motivated by the SCA’s “significant deficit”.
Similarly, in a July 2015 email exchange obtained by Honi between Provost Professor Stephen Garton and Human Resources Director John Dixon, Garton claimed “the simple fact is the campus is too expensive to maintain”.
This indicates that whilst the University has long been committed to shutting down the Callan Park site, there is considerable inconsistency around the justification for the closure.
Honi also understands that the University’s plan to move the SCA onto the main campus could involve a significant reduction in student places.
In an email sent one week before the termination of the merger in July 2016, Spence told Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson about plans for a “small but beautifully formed SCA on the main campus”.
According to Spence, the new SCA would house just 120 students—less than a quarter of its current number.
The smaller SCA on the main campus was considered by the University as a back-up plan, in case the proposed merger failed.
Again, Spence’s private correspondence is incongruous with public statements made by University management.
Last year, University management claimed that the proposed merger would boost enrolment numbers.
However, this concern is not reflected by Spence’s private commitment to a smaller SCA.
According to NSW Greens MP Jamie Parker, these inconsistencies are all indicative of a “seriously degrading attitude to arts education”.
The University’s failure to be forthcoming about its motivations leaves SCA students facing a difficult and uncertain future.
The University has been contacted for comment.