Vice Chancellor of the University of Sydney (USyd) Michael Spence today announced that he would be leaving the role in December of this year, ending a tenure he’s held since 2008.
This is despite the fact that Spence had accepted an invitation to stay in the role until 2022. Instead, he will take up an appointment as President and Provost of University College London (UCL) in January 2021.
During his time as Vice Chancellor, Spence has clashed with students and staff alike over University decisions.
In 2012, 100 University staff members were made redundant. The following year saw seven days of strikes led by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) over the enterprise agreement concerning pay and conditions of staff. The University’s reputation took a significant hit during this period, as students complained about the force police used on campus.
In 2014, he was roundly criticised for failing to oppose the fee deregulation measures of the Abbott government.
In 2016, Spence oversaw the closure of the treasured Callum Park Sydney College of the Arts campus. Despite stating publicly that the closure was financially motivated, documents obtained by Honi in 2017 indicated that to be untrue.
Further, in 2017 the University refused to come out publicly in support of marriage equality during the plebiscite debate, Spence arguing that coming out in favour of the “yes” vote would compromise the institution and have a “potentially chilling effect on debate.” This is despite the fact that other universities came out in favour of marriage equality.
From 2018 to 2019, Spence had advocated for the right-wing Ramsay Centre being housed at USyd, proposing to introduce a “Bachelor of Western Civilisation”.
During his time as Vice Chancellor, Spence has been seen as key proponent of the corporatisation of the University, as he oversaw the restructuring of the University which led to increasing casualisation of staff.
Spence has also been criticised for inaction on campus sexual violence. Despite supporting the Broderick Review, feminist activists have argued there has been no meaningful change in the way the University responds to sexual assault and harassment.
The University’s search for a new Vice Chancellor has already begun.