Every Tuesday afternoon, we send off comment requests to the University’s public relations department. On Friday at 5pm, “‘X Y Z’, a University spokesperson said,” is added to the end of articles, and we send them to print. It’s a ritual so common to us that we rarely question it.
With the two biggest activist campaigns this year – the campaign for reform of the University’s sexual harassment policy and the Let SCA Stay campaign – a recurring theme has been the need to “embarrass” the University, because only poor public relations will force them to act. The SRC Wom*n’s Officer, Anna Hush, writes words to this effect on page 12. We’ve seen these tac- tics employed by Let SCA Stay through their iconic banner drop in week ten, their occupation of the Dean’s Office, and the performance art protest they held outside the Art Gallery of NSW.
The need for these campaign tactics evidence the best example of the University’s neoliberal shift – its increased concern for public relations. In an era with cripplingly low levels of tertiary education funding, philanthropic donations – in the order of $137.5 million from the 2015 Inspired campaign alone – are the University’s new lifeline. The need for that money however, requires that dissent is silenced.
Although as Honi, we perceive ourselves as a voice for students and therefore, part of the University, management undoubtedly sees us as in opposition to their aims (who could blame them, tbh). It is for this reason that we can rarely approach a member of management through an e-mail to them. Usually our answers need to be wrung through the pub- lic relations machine. It is also for this reason that the answers we – as the student newspaper – are given, are oftentimes identical to the beige platitudes farmed out to the mainstream media. In fact, it’s often just as hard – if not harder – for us to get comment from the University on student issues because they see us as needlessly hostile. Emails are sometimes not responded to multiple follow ups before we get an answer.
Every time we provide the quote of a “University spokesperson” it leads us to question, are we not part of the University? As the University moves through the various stages of the strategic plan, as our Vice Chancellor continues to be a proponent of fee deregulation, Honi retains its relevance: we need to keep dispelling the myth that there is one, homogenous “University spokesperson” and to support our fellow activists in the fight for University as a public institution, not a corporation.