“Clique of elites” vote to lay off 130 UofA staff as faculty mergers go ahead

Andrew Keough (right), University Council member and managing director of Saab Australia, with former Premier Jay Weatherill.

The University Council — the University of Adelaide’s peak decision-making body — has voted to move forward with an organisational restructure that would see five faculties merged into three, and around 200 professional and academic staff laid off in the next few years.

Professions will be incorporated into the Arts, and ECMS with Sciences.

Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj made the announcement this morning, saying that staff and student consultation would be ongoing in the coming weeks and months.

Høj said the forthcoming measures — which would also see low-demand courses phased out — will save around $20 million and allow teaching staff to focus their attention on understaffed, high-enrolment courses.

Yesterday, roughly 100 staff and students from the No Adelaide University Cuts campaign rallied in front of the Mitchell building, where the Council meets, for one last push. They urged the Council to reconsider its position amid chants of “Peter Høj, go to hell, take your mergers there as well.”

Speaking in front of Walter Hughes statue on North Terrace, SRC Councillor Nix Herriot (Left Action) took sharp aim at what he characterised as the “clique of elites” who comprise the University Council, only 5 of 15 who are elected by the university community.

“The council includes people like arms dealer Andrew Keough, currently managing director of weapons company Saab Australia. I think Hughes, a miner of stolen Aboriginal land, would approve of mining executive Kenneth Williams and Kathryn Presser of Beach Energy, formerly Beach Petroleum.

“For proof of a revolving door with politics, look no further than former Liberal Education Minister Amanda Vanstone… we can thank her for fee hikes, funding cuts, $100,000 degrees for international students and wounded student unions.

Former Education Minister Amanda Vanstone.

“Let’s be clear: no matter how they vote today, University Council isn’t on our side.”

Herriot encouraged students and staff to stand together and remain vigilant in the possibility of further cuts.

“When they touch our tutors, we’ll be there. When they slash our learning conditions, we’ll be agitating against them. It’s high time for resistance and that means everyone here getting involved in the fightback.”

“Out of step with community expectations”

Greens MP Robert Simms also spoke, criticising the lack of proportionate representation from staff and students on the Council.

Simms will introduce legislation this week calling for South Australian Vice-Chancellors’ “exorbitant” salaries to be capped at the State Premier’s pay (roughly $400k).

Greens MLC Robert Simms delivering his speech yesterday.

“I’ve had informal conversations about the bill with my parliamentary colleagues. I’ve not yet formally asked the parties yet for their support, but will do so after I introduce it on Wednesday”, Simms told On Dit.

Australian Vice-Chancellors are some of the highest paid in the world, on average taking home $985,000 per annum.

While Peter Høj’s salary is unknown, the previous VC, Peter Rathjen, was paid $1.09 million in 2019.

SA Liberal Minister for Education, John Gardner, told us the bill is unlikely to have his party’s support.

“We haven’t considered the details of the legislation at this stage but note that it would be inconsistent with our general approach which has been to limit state government interference with the internal operations of our universities.”

Simms says he is “not surprised”, calling the current state government “big advocates of the corporate university model.”

“But I certainly encourage people to lobby the Labor Party and crossbenchers to join this campaign.

“These salaries are exorbitant and totally out of step with community expectations. They’re particularly galling when you’ve got staff facing job cuts and casualisation.”

If re-elected for another term, Simms said he would move to amend University of Adelaide Act to increase the number of staff and student representatives on the Council.

“I was really concerned about the reduction in staff and student representatives a couple of years ago, which was an issue raised to me by the NTEU.

“They’re key stakeholders and they need to be appropriately represented at the table.”

Other speakers at the rally included NTEU branch president Kent Getsinger; student disability activist Orla Breege Spurr; and casual tutor Tamika Glouftsis.

Glouftsis said casual teaching staff often do unpaid work which is not incorporated into their contracts.

“Casual tutors are not paid to meet with students, to have office hours, to give assignment help, or to answer questions via email. We are also normally expected to have weekly meetings, do course administration work, do all the lectures and readings, and plan tutorials.

“Make no mistake, this university is built on the backs of the unpaid labour of casual tutors.”

Universities bleeding jobs

Yesterday, students at the University of Western Australia also rallied to oppose 400 local staff cuts and measures which will gut the School of Social Sciences, despite independent audits showing UWA has $1 billion in cash reserves or “cash equivalent investments” like bonds or shares.

A University of Adelaide spokesperson said it is too early to tell whether specialist programs here may similarly come under threat.

“Reducing disciplines is not a focus or intention — though if there are few enrolments in a discipline, as revealed in assessing programs, we may need to consider the future of the discipline.

“This will not be purely a financial decision — we will continue to offer comprehensive programs and disciplines for intrinsic and strategic reasons as well.”

Peter Høj told ABC Radio that long-term cuts to academic staff would amount to $10 million in savings per annum, or roughly 70 jobs.

Universities Australia estimates that 17,000 jobs in the higher education sector disappeared last year, largely owing to the closure of borders and ensuing drop in international student enrollments.

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