A Response: “To Fringe, or not to Fringe: that is the easy question”

Words by David Elliot

Maths Lawns, one of the many areas RCC will occupy during O’Week

Lack of consultation with the students and the AUU has indeed been a rallying cry for those crying foul over the RCC take-over of our North Terrace Campus. And well may people say that it is overdue that our campus is activated during the Fringe Festival; we do indeed have some fantastic spaces. To say that all those opposing any kind of Fringe activation of those spaces is fallacious. What we oppose is the complete and utter disregard both the VC Peter Rathjen and RCC operators have shown students in mobilising a complete take-over of those spaces to the exclusion of students. Yes, some students will go to RCC, that’s undisputable and some will love it. But the issue is deeper than such flippantly basic arguments of ‘to Fringe or not to Fringe’ as Jden Redden attests in his article.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival — in contrast to Adelaide’s — runs entirely during their summer break in August and does not interfere with the normal operation of classes or student events such that we now face. The beginning of the semester is the most challenging adjustment period for thousands of new students and a fundamental part of that adjustment is O-week. This period is absolutely about having fun, getting to see some performances and meet people; but it’s also when we showcase the best parts of our campus culture. We have over 120 student clubs and societies, run by students, for students and not at a profit which the University proudly advertises to prospective students.

Ironically, clubs are now given the meagre scraps left by RCC to build a second-rate space for new students to interact with clubs and build a thriving campus community for the year. It is clear that RCC profits for a month are a much more enticing prospect. Meanwhile, O-week will operate at 60% of the scale in previous years and at an estimated $20,000 in increased costs to the Union to set-up and vacate as quickly as possible as to minimise disruption to RCC operations. AUU, funded by student services and amenities fees (SSAF) means that all students are footing the bill to host RCC.

What the RCC take-over demonstrates is a complete lack of willingness from the University leadership to invest in the meaningful reinvigoration of campus culture, a cause which Rathjen purportedly champions but is nonetheless found wanting. The claim that RCC will enhance O-week is misleading as the AUU must now plan O-week to fill the gaps in between RCC venues with little space for clubs and the Union to run any of the normal and expected welcome events. How is this congruent with the desired ‘Beacon of Light’ vision? Rathjen has effectively privatised O-week by inviting a Fringe venue whose reputation is dodgy at best to take over; having previously declared bankruptcy and causing such damage to the spaces used that the Adelaide City Council refuses to work with RCC after 2018. Why is this somehow good enough for students at the University of Adelaide?

Further claims that hosting RCC will in any way showcase our University’s performing arts achievements are blatantly unfounded in the context of recent severe cuts to those degree programs since Rathjen assumed office. The argument is as hollow as the relevant departments and another source of discontent amongst many of our students who have been sidelined as Rathjen pursues a slash-and-burn agenda against departments and programs which do not run at a profit.

Any claims — anecdotal or otherwise — that O-week has been declining in quality are not sufficient to justify a non-consultative sell-out of our campus spaces during that time. The RCC is not enhancing O-week, it is effectively replacing it. Rathjen has abrogated his responsibility and his self-proclaimed mission to reinvigorate O-week by selling out students in another underhanded process similar to his handling of the merger negotiations. Students are supposedly, in both cases, the chief beneficiaries of non-consultative processes which in one way or another ignore the very real concerns students raise. RCC has shown no interest in working with students nor the Union. We have been pushed aside by the VC in favour of profits and a momentary spotlight. We have no reason to accept the terms they have dealt us. We are not anti-Fringe but the RCC is not campus culture, they do not have our interests in mind as part of their operations and degraded opportunity for students to showcase real campus culture is not at all beneficial to students.

Get the RCC off our campus!

David Elliott is University of Adelaide student holding a Bachelor of Social Sciences and is a candidate for Bachelor of Geography, Population and Environment (Honours). He is also the president of the Pride club, committee member of the Geography and Development Society, senior PASS leader and National Union of Students Delegate.