The SRC Have Called a Student General Meeting to Stop Faculty Mergers. What Does This Mean?
A Student General Meeting (SGM) has been called by the Student Representative Council (SRC) on 24 March. How does an SGM work, why have we called one, and how can you get involved?
By Nix Herriot and James Wood
What’s a Student General Meeting?
Student General Meetings are forums in which students discuss, debate and vote on important issues. They are an exercise in direct democracy, allowing every student to have their say about how the university and their union are run.
SGMs are rare events on campus and this makes them a powerful expression of collective protest.
For an SGM to be considered official and its decisions to be binding on the SRC, we need at least 150 students to attend.
What’s the history of SGMs?
SGMs have long been used to challenge injustice. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, mass assemblies and protests were central to bringing about far-reaching sociopolitical change, including disrupting the Australian tour of the apartheid South African rugby team and ending the Vietnam War. This radical style of student activism reflected new ideas about direct, participatory — not parliamentary — democracy. At Adelaide, Flinders and Monash universities, students dissolved politically ineffective, conservative and unrepresentative SRCs and replaced them with associations governed by regular SGMs. Committees and representatives had to draft policy for hundreds of students to democratically consider, alter, accept or reject.
During the 1980s, mass general meetings were used to resist the Labor government’s introduction of university fees. They grew the confidence of thousands of students to participate in energetic and vibrant protest movements.
SGMs were central to the fightback against corporate-style university governance. They often sparked student occupations and boosted anti-cuts campaigns, including here at Adelaide University. In 2015, a general assembly of music students passed motions of no confidence in the Executive Dean of Arts, Jennie Shaw (now Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic), for cutting the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music.
SGMs have engaged large numbers of students, encouraged discussion about political issues and helped confront money-hungry university administrations. A recent SGM highlight was called by the Queensland University Union in 2019 to oppose then Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj’s efforts to invite the racist Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation onto campus and to demolish the historic student union complex. This SGM was an important forum for student democracy that overwhelmingly rejected the hateful, divisive politics of the Ramsay Centre and its supporters.
Why has this SGM been called? What’s going on at Adelaide Uni?
The SGM has been called to express student opposition to education cuts at Adelaide University and to formally condemn the Vice-Chancellor and University Council. Major cuts and mergers are underway. The Faculty of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences is merging with Sciences, and Arts with Professions on 28 March. Around 100 professional staff have lost their jobs and 160 more were cut in 2020. Support services like the Library and Counselling have been pummelled with permanent staff replaced by casual workers and funding for journal access and inter-library loans cut.
This year even more workers are on the chopping block, with management signalling that entire Schools will be next to merge (for example, the School of Chemical Engineering and the School of Chemistry). Pure Maths and other courses lacking obvious benefits for industries have also been threatened.
These cuts spell disaster for the working conditions of staff and, by extension, student learning conditions. Fewer staff chasing-up ever growing workloads will mean reducing the quality of courses, scaling back student services and increasing class sizes. Expect less contact time with tutors, more old pre-recorded lectures and longer waiting times for essential services like counselling.
What’s the No Adelaide University Cuts campaign and what have they done so far?
No Adelaide University Cuts is a campaign group established in 2015 (when the mergers were first proposed) to organise a student fightback against the cuts and mergers.
We have called several large on-campus protests and hosted organising meetings, a student-staff forum and information stalls. Now supported by the left-wing SRC, our campaign has been fighting an uphill battle against management. Nonetheless, we have had a number of important wins.
We launched an energetic and successful campaign to save the amazing permanent staff at the Maths Learning Centre (MLC). Organising solidarity photos, campaign meetings, leafleting blitzes, posting online and sharing a petition to save the MLC that garnered almost 1000 signatures was crucial to defeating these attacks.
These small but significant victories point the way forward for how we can win. When we organise collectively in our numbers, kick up a fuss and create a crisis for those in charge, we can pressure uni management to back down.
The total number of professional/admin staff cuts has decreased by over 25% from 130 to 96. This is still 96 too many staff being fired, but it shows that fightback can make management less confident to barrel ahead with all cuts.
Click here to read more about No Adelaide University Cuts and message us to get involved.
What’s happened to the SRC? Why should I care?
Funding for the left-wing SRC has been indefinitely suspended by the right-wing controlled Adelaide University Union board. This means all financial resources used by the Council to carry out and support progressive campaigns have been stripped.
This is an attack on student democracy. It undermines the ability of elected representatives to fight for student rights. Last year, your SRC was elected with a mandate to fight faculty mergers and staff cuts, as well as to build campaigns for fossil fuel and weapons divestment on campus.
By cutting funding, the Young Liberal coalition who control the AUU are tying the SRC’s hands behind our back. They are conservatives who support the way the university functions like a business. The funding cuts have aimed at prohibiting the printing of the SRC’s anti-cuts publication, Counter Guide, and the payment of anti-fascist stickers to counter far-right propaganda which has been appearing on campus.
If you think our student unions should be left-wing, anti-fascist and fight cuts to education, you should care about the suspension of SRC funding.
How can I get involved?
The SGM is being held next Thursday 24 March at 12pm on the Barr Smith Lawns.
All Adelaide University students are encouraged to attend, speak and vote. This will be our opportunity to come together, voice our opposition to attacks on education and affirm our support for student democracy. You can register in advance and find the event details here.