Students at Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) are occupying administration offices in an effort to stop the closure of their campus, at Callan Park in Rozelle.
“We wanted to make it clear to the university that if nothing changed or they didn’t meet our demands then we were going to escalate the campaign”, SCA student and occupier Suzy Faiz told Solidarity.
“At a general meeting on Monday we had a vote on it and decided to occupy. When we walked in the whole meeting came in with us, about 65 or so people, and then when we barricaded the doors there were 20 of us left in there.”
“It’s been quite organised, having three meetings a day, morning, midday, evening, discussing how we can get more students involved, how we can get outside support, and dealing with media”, she said.
The occupiers are holding the top level of the administration building at SCA, which includes the office of Dean Colin Rhodes. The student campaign is calling for his sacking.
Earlier this month the university’s initial plan to merge SCA into the UNSW arts school fell through, after a wave of outrage from students. But it has now released a Draft Change Proposal which outlines cuts of up to 50 per cent of staff and an end to jewellery, ceramics and glassmaking programs, as part of a move to the main Sydney University campus. The university suggests 25 of the 43 full-time equivalent staff positions will go.
The latest action follows a successful “student strike” that saw SCA students boycott classes and converge on the main Sydney University campus last week.
Around 400 people marched through Sydney University in a joint rally with the NTEU before briefly invading the student centre.
“A move to main campus is not suitable for the SCA”, student Jemima Wilson told the rally.
“There is no purpose built, shiny new business school for SCA. We are not being relocated to something that retains what we love, and that’s why we have to fight.
Students have been given no guarantees about what kind of arts facilities and studios will be available for them on the main campus.
The occupation has already drawn wide support and embarrassed the university.
“When the occupation began I was on the phone all afternoon talking to newspapers, bloggers and radio. We’ve had a lot of unions that have signed on to support us, artists such as Mike Parr speak at one of the 1pm support rallies, Friends of National Art School who are also facing their own struggle at the moment, as well as staff and students”, Suzy said.
“Over the past few days about ten other students have come in, and on Wednesday we had a visit from the Maritime Union with another group of about 30 who stayed for about half an hour.”
The Sydney branch of the MUA announced a $1000 donation to the occupation during their visit, and another $1000 for the occupiers to create a painting.
The university’s only concern is its bottom line. It claims maintaining the separate campus for SCA costs too much money, and says the arts college is running at a $5 million deficit. But the bulk of this is a charge invented by the university that it applies to penalise departments that use more space.
“The university has said that they support peaceful student protests but they will not change any of their plans. So we definitely will hold this out longer, and the campaign will escalate until we get a reasonable response from them”, Suzy said.
For now, the university seems to be tolerating the occupation in the hope it will fizzle out. The challenge is to draw in more SCA students and wider support to make it clear that the “Let SCA stay” campaign will not budge.
As Suzy said, “This is about showing the university that we’re serious about our demands that we want to stay at Callan Park. This occupation is just a first taste of how future occupations will go if they try and physically move us from that space.”
By James Supple