Angry ANU students storm dean's office

May 27, 1998


Angry ANU students storm dean's office

By Will Williams

CANBERRA — After a successful strike and rally on May 20, 250 Australian National University students occupied the dean of arts' office. Students questioned the dean about the absurdity of cuts to the arts faculty for 45 minutes before leaving.

Arts classes were cancelled on the day because of an all-day student strike called by the ANU Students' Association education department. Students involved with picket lines spoke to more than 40 classes, and most voted to support the strike and rally.

The 1pm rally attracted more than 250 staff and students despite rain. Speakers included NTEU ANU branch president Doug Kelly, ANUSA president Harry Greenwell, ANU education officer James Connor and David Gosling from Resistance.

While management claims that 12 staff must go to reduce the arts faculty's $800,000 debt, it has a bank balance of over $60 million from accumulated interest on its superannuation fund.

Doug Kelly told the rally that the NTEU mass meeting on May 19 voted unanimously to support the student strike and rally. The union is planning a 24-hour strike against the cuts.

"It's very clear that this administration doesn't care about the value of teaching and research", Kelly told the students. "This decision is the result of long-term policies and long-term neglect of university people and tradition."

During the rally, Vice-chancellor Dean Terrell's office was closed and evacuated. A line of police was outside. Angered by this, the rally decided to talk to the dean, Professor Paul Thom, instead.

Thom conceded that management had more than enough money to pay the faculty debt. Students told Thom that they would not accept any cuts to staff or the arts department.

Following the rally, NTEU organiser Peter Davidson told Green Left Weekly that as many as 17 jobs are at risk in the arts department. "The difficulty is that management has changed the size of the 'debt' continuously throughout this dispute. At one stage it was $240,000, then it went to several million, and now it's back to $800,000."

Davidson said that the history, art history, modern European languages and political science departments are the first to be examined for possible downsizing, "meaning sackings".

"I doubt [Thom] will be able to get 12 or 17 [redundancies] from those four departments, so other departments will be pulled into the net as well", Davidson said.

The NTEU is planning a 24-hour stoppage and calling for messages of support from around the country. The union is also calling for an inquiry into the arts faculty's mismanagement.

"If it's not mismanaged, at least it has skewed priorities. They don't give a rat's arse about people's livelihoods, courses or students. What they want is the accumulation of money above all else", Davidson said.

Davidson agreed that the demand for management to "open the books" and to make the university's financial records accessible to everyone, to determine if mismanagement has occurred, was a good one.

"Just the other day, management sold a building in St Kilda for $23 million. They have been selling all the housing stock around Canberra for a couple of million. They got $9 million for Graduate House, they took $46 million from the superannuation account last year and $11 million the year before. They have millions, and yet management is talking about a debt in arts of $800,000!

"Dean Terrell's argument is that we can't use money from windfalls to sustain viability. We are not asking for that; we are just asking them to use some of the interest they earn on that money. All that means is that the university would still be accumulating money, just at a slower rate."

Terrell and Thom blame the cuts only on the federal government, Davidson explained. "There is no doubt that the government has got a lot to answer for, and hopefully they will answer for it at the next election. But this university has $60 million sitting in the bank, so they can blame the government as much as the like, but the power to stop the sackings is in their hands."

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