Sydney College of the Arts is playing host to the longest student occupation challenging management dictates in the university’s history. A group of students and allies have been holed up in the administration building for over three weeks in protest against proposed budget cuts that would see a 60% reduction in staff and the relocation of the arts school to the main campus.
“They’re trying to cut the courses that they think won’t get a lot of aggression out of people first.” Said Bronte, one of the occupiers. “And they went very wrong there.”
While the current cohort would be ‘taught out’ – allowed to finish their degrees before the change is implemented – the students believe that the problem will only get worse if they co-operate with that measure.
“In Cairns I experienced this first-hand.” Bronte continues. “Teachers with thirty years – experience had their jobs taken away from them; best [in the] state ceramics facilities just sit there for interest. They could be filled with happy students.”
The budget cuts have been met with widespread criticism. Former NSW arts minister Peter Collins told Honi Soit:
“It disappoints me enormously [that they are] dumping SCA, walking away from it and walking away from the vision enunciated now the best part of three decades ago … Vice-chancellors get it wrong. Right as they are, they are capable of making mistakes. I think this is a mistake.”
The occupiers have received support from dozens of organisations, with the Maritime Union of Australia paying one thousand dollars for the commission of an artwork from the group.
“Occupations have a long history in student political activism and resistance,” said Riki, a member of the occupation’s security team. “The last occupations that centred on the struggle for education were in the late 90s. I’m proud to be renewing that tradition. We’re confident. The group is attracting a lot of attention and financial support, and the SCA has really been hindered in how it organizes itself.”
The university has cut off Wi-Fi to the building, and has apparently experimented with cutting electricity and water. The students, however, are adamant that they will remain in the building until their demands are met. Dylan Griffiths, one of the occupation’s organizers, told the Australian Associated Press:
“Until they’re willing to sit down and talk we’re not leaving.”
That could be a while. But when Chattr spoke to the occupiers, they seemed prepared for the long haul. A note above one of the windows read:
“Tell him I’m gonna die here.”