Four hundred students marched on the University Senate meeting on 4 July against plans to close Sydney College of the Arts (SCA). University of Sydney management has released plans to move SCA and close its current site in Callan Park, Rozelle.
The university has signed a heads of agreement with University of NSW Arts and Design and is continuing to negotiate with them. Students would be moved to UNSW as early as semester one next year.
To facilitate this process the university has stopped taking enrollments into its Bachelor of Visual Arts. But with SCA’s studio space, staff, and facilities under threat it is clear that this is not a merger but a closure.
Deputy Vice Chancellor Tyrone Carlin has made it clear that if the “merger” falls through the college will move onto the main Sydney University campus.
SCA is housed in Callan Park’s historic Kirkbride buildings. Management claims that the site is too expensive to maintain, or as the VC puts it, “the Business School is paying for SCA”.
The university claims SCA ran a deficit last year of roughly $5 million. But this is based on an invented “space tax” imposed by the administration. According to Provost Stephen Garton, every faculty pays the space tax but because SCA requires more space it falls into deficit.
But we know the university has money! The strategic plan states that, “the university is in a stronger position, both academically and financially than it was in 2011”. Last year it completed the $180 million Abercrombie precinct to house the business school. Tables and chairs alone cost $4.2 million, an amount almost equivalent to SCA’s deficit.
Students are outraged that university management is placing their education in jeopardy and have started the “Let SCA stay” campaign. The campaign demands the reinstatement of the Bachelor of Visual Arts, that negotiations between Sydney University and UNSW end immediately, and that the current studio space, staff, and specialized facilities at Rozelle such as the largest printer in the southern hemisphere, kilns and glassblowing workshops are all preserved.
The campaign drew over 250 people to its initial meeting and has held sizable campaign meetings since. When Garton came to address students in an attempt to placate dissent, they took over the meeting and escorted him off campus. The “Let SCA stay” petition currently has over 4000 signatures.
Can we win?
In 2012 Sydney University put 340 jobs on the chopping block. Student activists organised leafleting and talked to students in lectures to reach out across the university. Mass rallies and successful occupations of administration buildings were able to stop most of the cuts.
Open organising meetings are a vital part of ensuring a broad democratic campaign. The 700 students at SCA must look to the community and main campus for support. Only a mass campaign can challenge management’s plans to end visual arts at Sydney University.
By Dylan Griffiths