Op-ed: We’ve stopped faculty mergers before — and we can do it again
As higher education feels the aftershock of COVID-19, staff shouldn’t be made to bare the brunt of it
The University of Adelaide’s plan to fire up to 130 staff and merge the five faculties into three is nothing new. These exact mergers have been threatened before, and students and staff organised a campaign that stopped them. We can do that again.
For those of us who’ve been on campus for a little too long, the recent announcement was strikingly familiar. In fact, my first education campaign, as a bright-eyed first year back in 2016, was against these attacks.
Just like current Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj, ex-VC Warren Bebbington planned to merge ECMS with Sciences and Arts with Professions, and in doing so diminish professional staff numbers. The plan was a raw deal for all the admin staff, who do more for the everyday functioning of the university each day than Bebbington or Høj (or Rathjen, boo) ever did in their entire careers combined.
Further, by making the remaining admin staff manage double the number of degrees, some of that extra work would be pushed onto the teaching staff, meaning that already overworked tutors and lecturers would have to spend less time talking to students, planning lessons and researching, and more time on paperwork.
Vice-Chancellors are constantly trying to increase the university’s profit margin, and inflate their own massive salaries, bonuses and travel budgets. This comes directly at the expense of students and staff, as the courses that are profitable are not always the courses that are interesting, useful or important. And it’s always cheaper to have fewer over-worked staff trying to teach more and more students. That’s why Høj’s plan to dig up the zombie of Bebbington’s horror mergers should come as no surprise.
In 2016 we organised a protest campaign. We protested repeatedly outside Bonython Hall, as well as on a University Open Day to make sure new students knew what kind of administration we had. This was exactly what the University did not want — the kind of publicity that targets the potential fee-paying students.
Meanwhile, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) organised a meeting of 150 staff, which passed a motion of no confidence in the VC. The student campaign followed suit, organising a student forum which unanimously declared no confidence in Warren Bebbington. These public denunciations of the plan attracted attention from the mainstream media, further embarrassing the University. Bebbington was also wary that the NTEU was indicating that it was willing to fight. They wanted to make the cuts but weren’t necessarily ready to face industrial action.
Ultimately, it was clear that the new changes were overwhelmingly unpopular with students and staff, and the University had to back down. The University wanted to cut stuff because they care about profits, but bad publicity and threatened staff action risked those profits as well. If we are going to beat these attacks again, we are going to need to build a similar campaign that can put real pressure on the University.
Help build this campaign by joining the Education organising meeting Wednesday, July 21, 1PM in the Ira Raymond Room, Hub level 3, to decide on the strategy and next steps for the campaign.
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