A PLAN to cull half a million books from Sydney Uni’s Fisher Library and make thirty staff redundant has met with a student outcry.
Anger brewed when the Head Librarian, John Shipp, told The Sydney Morning Herald that items not borrowed for five years would be moved to storage or discarded. When asked about books that could be used but not borrowed, he said the administration would make the decision based on a “dust test”!
Three hundred students responded on May 18 with a mass “read in” in the Library’s foyer—designed to literally disturb the dust and send a message that the cuts were unwanted.
In its defence, the university says that most books will go to storage. But the only operating storage facility, in Darlington, will be destroyed next year. They have conceded that books judged “not of scholarly value” will be sold or given away. Academics are only going to be given a single week to decide if the books up for the chop are of scholarly value or not.
There was a mood of outrage at the “read in”, with students recounting stories about bloated tutorial sizes, subject restructures and overcrowded lecture theatres. There were flags from both the NTEU and the CPSU and a number of library staff took the day off to join the action.
The university claims the downsizing is needed to improve disability access and provide more study spaces. But the cutbacks will only reduce the quality of education and research and put pressure on the remaining staff. The culls are part of a university plan to downsize in areas that aren’t profitable or don’t attract corporate funding. Recently the university has invested enormous amounts in a new law building and library and $750,000 on a new logo.
Yet countless of the so-called “less applied” courses have had resources withdrawn. The size of language classes has doubled over the past few years. Arab and Islamic Studies have had to reduce contact hours from three to two per week.
The Gillard government is just as responsible as the university administration. Gillard has done nothing to restore Howard’s massive funding cuts to higher education. Australia is the only OECD country to have decreased spending over the past decades. Currently the government provides less than 50 per cent of universities revenue (as opposed to a 75 per cent OECD average).
The neoliberal push even reaches into our own student organisation, the SRC, where Liberals have gotten into student positions. Our Labor Left president has buckled under the pressure, announcing her support for the Library restructure. The SRC should be leading the fight for progressive education, but is instead acting as a mouthpiece for university policy. Students are set to debate the cuts at an SRC meeting in early April. Fighting inside the SRC will be a key part of defending the library and building the campaign to kick the Liberals out.
We will also deliver a petition to the Vice-Chancellor.
Last year the university announced that it was slashing four geosciences subjects and sacking two staff members. Students won back two subjects through a determined campaign at the end of last semester. We can learn from their example. The angry response of students, sick of a system that values education by the amount of money it generates, shows that we can fight and win.