A packed out information session at USyd’s Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) on Tuesday evening saw students and staff pass a motion of no confidence in Dean Colin Rhodes, and demand that all SCA merger negotiations cease immediately.
The meeting was billed as an opportunity for Rhodes and the Provost, Professor Stephen Garton, to update the SCA on the proposed merger with UNSW’s Art + Design School, and was attended by SCA staff, students and their main-campus counterparts, who have joined to form the action group “Let SCA Stay”.
After a frosty welcome – the two administrators were greeted with hisses – Garton began by explaining the University’s justifications for the merger, including the SCA’s “significant deficit” and a “drop in student numbers over the last five years of around 25%”.
The meeting’s chair, Jemima Wilson, a second year print media student at the SCA, then interrupted Garton’s speech to explain how the meeting would run. Selected SCA students and staff gave speeches on their concerns regarding the merger, which they termed a closure, with the administrators made to listen, and allowed brief responses between speakers.
Wilson told Honi, “We didn’t want to let Stephen Garton to take over the conversation…we wanted to get our students, our postgrad students, our disabled students, our international students, we wanted to give them a chance to talk”.
In addition to the Provost’s refusal to commit to zero SCA staff cuts, students and staff decried the loss of studio-based learning should the closure of the Callan Park campus proceed. They contested the notion of an amalgamated “Centre of Excellence”, instead arguing the University should become occupied with making the SCA the “Centre of Excellence”.
After the prepared speeches had expired, staff and students directed questions to the Provost, whose answers were frequently cut short by heckling.
Questions included why the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, which has a greater overall deficit, is not being similarly threatened, whether the University has exhausted all strategies to combat the alleged drop in SCA enrolments, and why the university cannot support a single faculty in deficit.
Wilson also presented a list of demands to the Provost and Dean, including that all merger negotiations cease immediately and assurance that no staff members would lose their jobs. Neither administrator signed them.
SRC Education Officer Liam Carrigan told Honi “It’s clear there is strong community opposition and fightback over the closure. Management’s evasion and neglect has been fully exposed”.
A student meeting was held following the information session to discuss future actions. Carrigan added, “We’ll be continuing to protest major events to show how strong the opposition is and will campaign at all levels: media, legal and grassroots”.
Photo by Victoria Zerbst