Monday, July 30, 2012

Update on the struggle at LaTrobe

Vanguard August 2012 p. 2
Henry L

The last issue of Vanguard outlined the breadth and severity of the cuts to the Humanities and Social Sciences announced at LaTrobe University, Melbourne.

The cuts, the details of which include almost a quarter of staff within faculty being axed, the list of 913 subjects within the faculty being cut by up to 500 and whole streams of study such as Gender Studies and Linguistics being gutted and merged.

These cuts were pushed through by stealth while most students were away on the holidays, following absolutely no level of consultation. It was clear that those responsible for the cuts thought that making the announcement midway through the holiday period, with the so-called ‘consultation’ period ending a mere week after students arrived back, would render a fightback by students and staff almost impossible.

Despite the fact that many students were away or unable to get to Bundoora campus during the holidays due to work commitments, a diligent grassroots student campaign gathered steam over the holiday period, with many affected students and staff attending planning meetings as well as the sham ‘consultation’ sessions put on by the university. It was starkly demonstrated that the administration would not waver from what amounts to a clumsy ideological neo-liberal attack on staff and students of the Arts faculty, driven by the global capitalist crisis.

This campaign had clearly gathered a fair bit of momentum by the time the new semester was almost about to commence, so much so that one of those responsible for the cuts, the Dean of Arts, Tim Murray, was given a feature article in The Age to put forward the administration’s neo-liberal rationale for the brutal attack on the HUSS faculty.

Students and staff get organised
Carrying on with this momentum, during the first week back, on the 25th of July, a joint mass meeting was called by the LaTrobe Student Union and the LaTrobe branch of the National Tertiary Education Union. The meeting was extremely well attended, with more watching on via video link at the Bendigo campus. The 200 strong crowd at Bundoora overflowed off the seats and onto the floor.

It was pointed out by the LTSU that the Arts faculty was being decimated due to it not producing a surplus. The Arts faculty receives no subsidy from the university, yet continually breaks even. All business related schools at the university are heavily subsidised, but they are not being singled out for attack. This clearly established that these cuts are ideological in nature, aiming to turn LaTrobe further in the direction of being nothing more than a degree factory, producing cogs in the capitalist machine.

A motion was unanimously passed declaring that the students of LaTrobe oppose any cuts to our education and to respond to such cuts with an aggressive campaign of direct action. At the conclusion of the meeting, it was proposed from the floor that the campaign of direct action was commenced immediately. Another motion which was passed unanimously, resulted in the vast majority of those present at the meeting marching on the administration building of the university, ending up with an occupation outside the Vice-Chancellor’s office.

Eventually the 150 strong crowd was given some rather condescending treatment by the Chief Financial Officer of the university, who claimed that it was he and the administration that were on the side of the staff, referring to the rallying students and staff as ‘a threatening mob’. He was rightly laughed out of the room. During this occupation, those involved took the chance to discuss what tactics to in future. The idea of hitting the university where it hurts, through a public campaign to expose the cuts on occasions such as open days, was met with a very positive reception.

Mass rally planned for 31 July
The next step in the campaign is a mass rally at the LaTrobe Bundoora on Tuesday the 31st of July at 12pm. The LTSU, the NTEU and all supporters encourage as many people as possible to turn out at this rally to show their opposition to this wave of neo-liberal attacks on our ever diminishing tertiary education system.

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