The idea of calling a convocation has recently been propounded by several prominent members of the University Senate as a way with consulting with the University community about our stance on the federal budget, the implications thereof, and the University’s response to it. The convocation is a body which exists under the University of Sydney act but which has not been convened in sixty years. It consists of all of the alumni and academic staff of this university.
The convocation offers something that I have never seen before in my years at USyd; a “consultation process” that allows the consulted to speak publicly with each other, debate their perspective and then make resolutions together. It is nothing like most consultations. There is no possibility of cherry-picking quotes, or of railroading for a desired result. For better, worse, or neither, we shall make the decision.
There are of course criticisms of this idea, even genuine limitations. For example, it excludes current students unless they have a prior degree here, as well as general staff. But there are ways and means around these difficulties. Here’s just one way around that – a convocation might be called, as well as separate and similar gatherings for current students and general staff, all of which could debate and discuss their perspectives.
I have always imagined the University as petulant, rough beast, a creature not entirely of this age – probably slumbering under a pile of books somewhere in the professorial boardroom. Elitist to its core perhaps, but certainly not neoliberal. This deeper University, this animal of strange ceremonies and customs is, despite its seeming placidity, able to awake with a fury. And if arousing it through a deliberative democratic process might create a new enemy for the government’s anti-student agenda, I’m all for it.
We know what the result shall be, but making that decision with thousands of us present and in conversation gives a formality and finality to our rejection of this budget that no opinion poll – however decisive – could have. What better purpose to call a convocation than protecting current and future students, and indeed the defence of education and higher education in total?
Bring. It. On.