On Monday August 13 the La Trobe University Council met to decide on plans to slash more than half of the Humanities subjects and majors offered and sack 41 staff. Students rallied beforehand to demand that all the cuts be withdrawn. They later linked up with protesting staff. The students warned that if the Council refused to stop the all the cuts, they would drastically escalate their actions.
About 150 students marched to the main university administration building to make their demands known but were promptly locked out by beefed up security. Soon after they marched to the Humanities building and occupied the foyer of the administration office. Within minutes the main door was pushed open and students flooded into the office.
A vibrant and militant hour-long occupation drew up a list of demands including not one single cut, the sacking of the Dean, pay cuts to the top handful of highly paid university executives and a democratically controlled and properly funded public education system. They added that this occupation was a warning shot and that if the university continued with the cuts students would step up their actions.
Plans have been made for a demonstration and occupation on Wednesday August 22, and to protest at the university’s Open Day on Sunday August 26. There is no doubt that the university is worried about these planned actions. Senior management has placed a huge amount of pressure on the leaderships of both the student union and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) to distance themselves from the occupation and further protests.
This highlights the fact that the university’s main concern is that students and staff will join together in united action. This response should be seen as encouragement to link up and escalate the actions.
-Say ‘NO’ to all cuts – there is no ‘financial problem’
-Escalate the actions – for a joint picket of students and staff to shut down the administration building
-For staff to take industrial action as a necessary step to stopping the implementation of the cuts – students should complement this with a co-ordinated student strike
By Wjard van Leeuwen
See also this article from the August 2012 edition of ‘The Socialist’
Students and staff oppose La Trobe cuts
La Trobe University is set to slash funding to its Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (HUSS). The planned cuts would dramatically restructure the department. In recent years the faculty has already been undermined. Since 1997 HUSS has endured two “regeneration plans” which resulted in hundreds of jobs and thousands of subjects being lost. The latest round of cuts continues this concerning trend.
If allowed to go through the cuts would result in the quality of education provided at the university being further undermined. 513 more subjects will be cut, 5 areas of study will be abolished and 45 full-time staff will lose their jobs.
Professor John Dewar, Vice Chancellor of La Trobe University, claims these changes are necessary. The truth is that in 2011, the university made a surplus of $84 million dollars, one of the highest in the country. Management claims there is shortfall of $4.36 million dollars in the HUSS budget, prompting the need for cuts.
The so called shortfall was not due to the faculty running at a loss. Rather it comes from the fact that the faculty did not meet the University Council’s self imposed target of a 3% return on revenue.
The areas under fire – gender, sexuality and diversity studies, linguistics, languages, art history, religion and spirituality studies – are seen by university management as part of “an outdated Bachelor of Arts structure”.
By limiting the available courses on offer, and placing greater emphasis on specialist degrees, the university is trying to exploit student fears that they will not be able to compete in the job market. Rather than being able to choose what to study the university is trying to force people into courses that purely benefit corporate interests.
Protests against the cuts have already been organised. In late June, 30 students occupied Confucius House for an hour, forcing the University Council to move their meeting. Hundreds of students and staff have also voiced their concerns at consultation meetings hosted by the faculty during the winter break.
Most impressively a 400 strong joint student and staff campaign meeting met in late July and agreed to oppose all of the proposed cuts. At the conclusion of the meeting students and staff marched to the Vice Chancellor’s building and staged a brief occupation of his floor. The protest then moved on to the HUSS student administration office where another brief occupation was staged.
The campaign against the cuts has already forced the university to extend the consultation period until second semester. This is a small victory, but it is not enough. If these cuts are to be defeated joint action between students and staff needs to be taken to a higher level. The Socialist Party is pushing for a joint student and staff strike as part of a day of action in the HUSS faculty.
The attacks on the HUSS faculty at La Trobe are part of a wider offensive against higher education. At the end of the day if there is any shortfall in funding we should be demanding that the government provide more funding to the sector.
Rather than increasing funding the government is pushing towards further privatisation and corporatisation of the sector. Corporate profits should not dictate what and how we learn. Education should be seen as a right and just another commodity.
By Conor Flynn