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Hundreds rally outside Anderson Stuart Building against Medical Science cuts

The university proposes to cut more than 40% of academic staff in Physiology and Pathology.

Photo credit: James Supple

Academics and students from the School of Medical Sciences hosted an afternoon of action today to protest against proposed cuts to staff and courses, which will have a tremendously detrimental impact on the quality of both MedSci research and teaching at USyd. This is the first action of the newly launched Defend Medical Science Education campaign.

Research projects at risk of being suspended include research on the transmission of COVID-19 and how to protect against it, research on brain diseases including Parkinson’s disease and dementia, as well as research on cancer prevention and osteoporosis.

Moreover, 40% of academic staff in Physiology and Pathology are slated to lose their jobs. In a press release by the campaign, the organisers stated: “If the university’s current plans are implemented, all academics in Physiology and Pathology will be sacked and forced to reapply for roughly 60% of the previous positions. The redundancies are particularly deep in Pathology, the Discipline that investigates diseases and viruses, where redundant staff will be reapplying for only 45% of the positions.”

Students began the afternoon of action by supporting a protest at UTS against upper management’s austerity measures, before marching up Broadway to the Anderson Stuart building at USyd, where another group of protesters had already gathered. The total number of participants was around 200.

At the Anderson Stuart building, an extended speak-out was co-chaired by third-year Medical Science student Campbell Watson and Physiology professor and USyd staff member Dr. Meloni Muir.

Professor of Endocrine Physiology Rebecca Mason spoke first, drawing attention to the fact that it has taken 25 years to build up the School of Medical Sciences to the internationally renowned School it is now, but that if these measures go ahead, it will only take nine months to tear it down. 

“The upshot of this is that we won’t have enough staff to give our students a good experience. And that is a tragedy for disciplines that have been recognised as the top 30 in the world.”

NTEU USyd Branch President Kurt Iveson spoke to the need to connect the dots about what is happening across the whole university.

“There is a deliberate and calculated and coordinated set of cuts that are going on across this campus that are all being justified in the name of the pandemic.”

Iveson said that the data given to staff to explain why these cuts are occurring “is full of holes. It’s absolutely been made to justify a decision that was made ages before. That manipulation of data is exactly what the whole university has seen in the voluntary redundancy process.”

The university stands to make a surplus this year, and has projected a $50 million surplus for every year for the next five years.

“We have to hold management to account by collecting the evidence and the data and showing the holes in their arguments, but we also know that’s not going to be enough to win. That’s not how our management operates. We have to do the work but we also have to be noisy about it,” Iveson said.

Oscar Chaffey spoke on behalf of students, as a third year Medical Science student about to go into Medicine, and as an activist who helped organise today’s afternoon of action.

“It’s my absolute conviction that my degree has been made worthwhile by these people and their work, which is all too often far beyond what they’re being paid to do. The phrase ‘staff working conditions are student learning conditions’ gets thrown around a lot but I think it describes my experience in Medical Science pretty much perfectly.”

Organisers had also prepared a 20-metre banner – one of the longest and largest in recent memory – that read ‘DEFEND MEDICAL SCIENCE EDUCATION’, in support of today’s action.

After the speak-out at the Anderson Stuart Building, protesters marched down Eastern Avenue, trying out some new chants which targeted senior members of the Faculty of Medicine: “What about Robyn Ward, we will not be ignored! Sarah Young, stop your lies, save staff jobs, save Med Sci!”

Outside the F23 building, Senior Lecturer and staff member of the Learning Centre Helen Drury spoke about the devastating impact that shutting down the Learning Centre will have on the university. 

“We will lose our jobs. However, all students will lose a valuable service,” said Drury. “Especially students who are new to university culture, come from non-traditional university backgrounds, students with English as an additional language, Indigenous students.”

Following the protest, academics held a public teach-in outside the Anderson Stuart building. They spoke about their disciplines and areas of expertise which are at risk by the proposed cuts to the School. 

Higher Degree Research student, education activists and casuals representing the National Higher Education Action Network (NHEAN) also spoke at the teach-in.

In further statements released by the campaign this afternoon, Emeritus Professor and previous Director of the Worldwide Universities Network John Hearn stated: “The last two years has seen a disgraceful destruction of a famous school (and faculty) by an imported group of mercenaries who care nothing for the university, history, team or achievements. The approach has been cynically sexist, ageist and racist, ignoring the relevant policies.”

Moreover, Local MP for Newtown Jenny Leong (Greens), said: “It is beyond belief that the School of Medical Sciences would be under attack right now. The blatant disregard for quality education and academic expertise in this field during a global pandemic is unbelievable.”

“This move is clearly connected to an agenda that is seeking to cut staff and courses while increasing fees, greatly impacting student wellbeing and shutting many potential students out of this opportunity.”

More to come.

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