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Students rally as Uni suspends Spurr

USyd’s Professor of Poetry and Poetics Barry Spurr has been suspended and banned from campus, Will Edwards and Justin Pen report.

A rally titled ‘Sack Barry Spurr, Professor of Bigotry’ ended with an announcement that Professor of Poetry and Poetics Barry Spurr has been suspended from teaching and banned from campus.

Over the last two years Spurr used his university email account to send messages littered with racist and sexist slurs, New Matilda revealed yesterday.

“Professor Spurr is suspended, effective immediately, from teaching and engaging in any other University business and is precluded from attending any University campus, while the matter is investigated and dealt with in accordance with the terms of the University’s Enterprise Agreement,” Vice-Chancellor Spence wrote in an email to students.

“Racist, sexist or offensive language is not tolerated at the University of Sydney. The expectations for our staff and affiliates in respect of their professional and personal conduct are clearly set out in the University’s Code of Conduct.”

The rally, which began at 1pm outside Fisher Library and ended an hour later inside the John Woolley Building, was organised by the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) Education Department in response to bigoted comments made by Spurr.

Speeches were made by SRC Education Officer Ridah Hassan, NSW Greens candidate for Newtown Jenny Leong, SRC President-elect Kyol Blakeney, Sydney University Postgraduates Representative Association (SUPRA) International Students’ Officer Maral Hosseinpour, National Union of Students National Environment Officer Damian Ridgewell, and Undergraduate Fellow of Senate Patrick Massarani.

Among all speakers was an unsurprisingly definitive consensus that, in Hassan’s words, “[Spurr’s] views have no place in this university… in this country!” The majority of speakers further criticised academics and officials who received Spurr’s emails but ostensibly did nothing about the offensive content therein.

With chants such as “Barry Spurr rhyme this, you’re a white supremacist,” the rally progressed to the John Woolley Building, where Spurr’s office is located. After being denied entry, several protesters entered the building through an open window before staff admitted the group at large.

At the door to Spurr’s vacant office, confirmation of his suspension and campus ban was received. Following additional speeches by Hassan and SUPRA President Timothy Scriven, the rally ended.

Dispersing protesters were largely satisfied with the outcome. A sense of accomplishment was best described by USU Board Director Ed McMahon: “Abbott and Spence want students to be shackled with debt so things like this slip under the radar. Today we showed students still do, and should, run this place.”

USyd staff and students were shocked by revelations of Spurr’s private correspondence.

“Barry’s reputation is for conservatism, not the kind of shocking prejudice and racism there is in these emails”, Dr. Nicholas Riemer, a senior lecturer in the English Department, told Honi.

“It’s important that natural justice be observed in this case just as in any other, but the first priority has to act unequivocally against racism and sexism in the university.”

“I had a great deal of respect for [Spurr],” said Bryant Apolonio, a fifth-year law student, who majored in English. “I’m appalled and angry and what he’s done.”

When asked whether he thought Spurr’s recently discovered views informed the content of his teaching, Apolonio said: “Unsurprisingly every poet he taught was a white dude.”

“I guess you could dismiss that by saying that almost every Modernist poet was a white dude,” he said. “But then he co-ordinated Reading Poetry, every poet was still white and a dude.”

Chris Warren, a first-year arts student, called Spurr a “dinosaur” who lacked “the ability to relate to his fellow human beings.”

Warren had applied to Spurr for special consideration last semester, following his mother’s passing a week before StuVac.

Spurr denied the application, suggesting an exam might be a “welcome distraction” in an email to Warren.

The SRC’s Ethnic Affairs officers similarly condemned Spurr.

“I obviously condemn his racist and sexist language, but I’m not shocked because it’s merely a manifestation of a broader racist, sexist framework that is not uncommon,” said Autonomous Collective against Racism (ACAR) Officer Oscar Monaghan.

Monaghan said Spurr’s appointment as a consultant to the national curriculum review was not the panel’s only problem.

“The curriculum review itself is headed by Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire; Donnelly is critic of multiculturalism for all the wrong reasons, which probably suggests something about the political ideology underpinning the review.”

Anti-Racism Collective (ARC) Officer Gabriella Pei Tiatia connected Spurr’s remarks to the recent spate of racist incidents on campus.

“Female Muslim students have been spat on campus and people have refused to sit next to them in lecture. Students from ethnic minorities are already suffering because of the political climate, and we don’t need someone like Barry Spurr to be adding fuel to the fire.”