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“Our uni has been overrun by a culture of profit”: Hundreds protest to save the Arts

Students and staff united against the potential dissolution of SLAM and closure of departments.

Photo: Aman Kapoor

Hundreds of students and staff gathered on Eastern Avenue today to protest the disbanding of the School of Literature, Art and Media (SLAM) and potential cuts to the departments of Theatre and Performance Studies, Studies in Religion and Linguistics.

Speakers emphasised the importance of the departments facing closure as spaces of knowledge and community storytelling, before marching to the Quadrangle to chant outside FASS Dean Annamarie Jagose’s office.

Isla Mowbray, Vice-President of the Sydney University Dramatic Society (SUDS) said: “We need [Theatre and Performance Studies] to stay for the future of the Australian arts community. Think about how many future directors, writers, actors, creators will lose out if this degree is cut.”

“If they get through with this next will be English, Media and Communications and possibly other arts degrees,” she continued, highlighting that the proposed cuts take place in a broader climate of government attacks to the arts.

Photo: Aman Kapoor

Alana Bowden, of both Theatre and Performance Studies and Studies in Religion, expressed anger at having to push the University for transparency over the last two months: “The numbers we’re faced with don’t add up. SLAM is in a surplus of $36 million.”

“I’ve just spent four years working in these two incredible departments that I’ve found a home in… I’m angry because I’ve got students, friends who are worrying if their degrees are worth it, whether they should just drop out.”

Bowden argued that management salaries should be cut rather than compromising on the quality of education: “As critical thinkers, we’re a threat. We’re a threat to big business, we’re a threat to the Liberal government.”

“It doesn’t end here, we’re part of a global crisis in the arts and humanities … These attacks are ideological and we’re going to keep on showing up, we’re going to keep on fighting.”

Photo: Aman Kapoor

Senior lecturer in Studies in Religion, Chris Hartney, said that “the corporates want a dumb, uncritical Australia.”

“Studies in Religion is the critical examination of the impact that religion has on society, and there are a lot of people in this country who don’t want that critical reflection. One of them is Annamarie Jagose.”

Hartney drew attention to the fact that these cuts are likely to occur despite the University’s better than expected financial situation, having experienced a net loss of only $2.2 million in 2020 rather than the $470 million loss forecasted at the beginning of the pandemic.

Photo: Aman Kapoor

Political economy student Simon Upitis argued students shouldn’t have to pay the cost for an economic crisis: “Universities to no end are run as total degree factories with no concept of the beauty of learning … if the schools aren’t profitable we don’t give a fuck, they still shouldn’t be closed.”

Linking cuts to SLAM to the situation at the Sydney College of the Arts, Veronica Bull spoke to the diminishing quality of education, fee increases and the lack of space that visual arts students currently face: “The art school has been treated as a financial liability rather than a legitimate and important part of this institution.”

“Our uni has been overrun by a culture of profit, so consumed by its finances that it’s lost sight of the very thing it exists for: education.”

A University spokesperson told Honi that “no final decisions have been made” and that “change in some areas is an inevitable consequence of an organisation of our size.”

The protest, which was organised by the Education Action Group, saw the F23 Administration Building go into lockdown again.