It was a dark and stormy Wednesday morning. Campus had reopened and with it, the spectres of austerity, course cuts, and mass staff casualisation were out in force.
Timely, considering that 2021’s second Student General Meeting is planned for October 27, to oppose cuts and restructuring in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).
Along the cloisters of our venerated Quadrangle, I, and a number of other unwitting undergraduates, embarked on “The Haunting of USyd,” organised by the Education Action Group. Immediately, we were accosted by a figure clad completely in black and with a face that was ghostly white. Speaking in front of a banner inscribed ‘Enter if you dare’ – written in what I can only assume was the blood of students enrolled in units containing less than 24 people – they beckoned.
“Students, good morning and welcome to the University of Sydney. It’s a beautiful day and I’d like to invite you to join us on a tour.”
Primed to embrace interdisciplinarity and bolster the employability of my arts degree with compulsory classes, I naturally had no choice but to follow.
However, before our guide could speak another word, the party was stopped in its tracks as three more figures crossed our path. With black horns, wielding two red pitchforks and what looked to be a dismembered hand and – worst of all – dressed in business casual, they exclaimed.
“We’re the demons of the DCP,” they said by way of introduction. ”250 courses and over half a million dollars will be slashed – despite an over $100 million surplus!”
Fellow tour victims recoiled in fear. I myself took several steps back and contemplated a hasty escape. But it was too late.
“CASUALISATION, CORPORATISATION, STANDARDISATION,” they chanted in unison and at an increasingly shrill pitch, before letting forth a cacophony of screams.
Under the Draft Change Proposal (DCP) released in September, FASS students will have less variety in the subjects available to them, due to plans to merge units with similar content and cut those with low enrolment and which aren’t “necessary for student progression and completion.”
With scarcely a moment to contemplate re-planning our degrees, we were led further down the wretched pathway and introduced to the Vampires of Casualisation.
“We suck the blood out of casuals by overworking and underpaying them. Up to 15 years into their contracts, we deny them conversion for … ‘reasons’,” they said, casting a fearsome gaze.
I looked to my right and spotted a skull and small pile of bones strewn around a landline phone. Our tour guide gestured towards them and cleared up any questions by informing us that this was, in fact, “the skeleton of student services.”
Then, from a nearby doorway, the arbiters of our declining education emerged – The Executioners of Education.
“I’m gonna cut Gender Studies, I’m gonna cut your tutorials, and I’m gonna cut staff hours,” one of them said, wielding the scythe of austerity.
These statements were met with a chorus of groans. “But why!” a fellow student cried in desperation.
The DCP proposes that the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies will be moved into the new School of Social and Political Sciences, sparking concerns that relocation would diminish the Department’s adjustments for individual needs and lived experiences.
When pressed for comment later, an unnamed Executioner of Education described FASS’ current course offering to me as “poor pedagogical practice.”
“Nothing hurts students more than choices,” they said.
Approaching the end of this blighted promenade, it seemed we’d reached the boardroom at last. Our “special guest,” the ghost of former Vice Chancellor Dr Michael Spence himself, careened into our presence, quickly regaling us with the tale of how he was summoned by current VC Mark Scott to aid in his “project of austerity.”
Before I could spend too long wondering whether Spence’s new casual haunting gig would see him having to perform unpaid work in order to complete his tasks to an acceptable standard, we were confronted with “the one who cannot be named.”
Heavily creased copy of #Girlboss in hand, Dr Annamarie Jagose herself materialised in front of us.
“Poor students with your small brain cells, it’s too difficult for you to choose your courses. So I’ve made it easy for you with these new cuts!”
As if on cue, an EAG activist leapt forth to our defence, extolling the virtues of education organising, dispelling my visceral fears and bringing a shred of light to the neoliberal hellscape.
“Student choice is an essential part of our education!”
The Education Action Group is opposing the DCP, staff, and course cuts at the October 27 Student General Meeting, which requires over 250 students to attend to reach quorum. Further details and registration may be found here.