Fighting for our Human Sciences

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Words || Grapeshot Magazine

The Vice Chancellor, Bruce Dowton, has called a Town Hall for staff to discuss proposed changes to the Human Sciences faculty. In response to the town hall, the NTEU have called all Macquarie University Staff to participate in a solidarity walk to the Macquarie Theatre. The walk set to take place at 3:30pm today from x5B (29 Wally’s Walk), and has been advertised on posters around campus calling for staff to “say no to job cuts”.

The Town Hall comes two weeks after a National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) protest on the 7th of November 2019, Macquarie’s largest on campus protest in years which consisted of 400+ individuals. This protest saw the occupation of the Chancellery by the NTEU, and came after the NTEU’s unanimous vote to oppose the job cuts on the 31st of October, 2019. What has triggered this rise in activism over the last few weeks is an email from Vice Chancellor Dowton informing staff and students that the “Human Sciences” faculty would be redistributed to other faculties. The proposed redistribution would affect more than 400 staff, including those in Psychology, Linguistics, Educational Studies, and Cognitive Science disciplines.

So what does all of this mean? To answer this, we have to look deeper into recent events and some emerging staff concerns on our campus.

12 Day Deadlines

On the 22nd of October, Staff were sent a draft copy of the Learning and Teaching Strategic Framework for 2020-2024, with the university asking for feedback by the 5th of November. This provided only a 12 day deadline for staff to review and make suggestion to a framework which would impact them for the next four years of work.

This was given to staff during the mid-semester break, meaning that individuals actually involved in the learning and teaching process were required to give feedback to this new framework while they were already at low capacity. With the University expecting staff to provide this feedback alongside curriculum reviews, marking of assessments during a busy period of semester, and putting units into a new system for next year.

On campus activism’s renaissance

As Grapeshot have previously explored, Macquarie University was once a campus with a strong activist spirit. With students previously campaigning against the Vietnam War in 1970, setting up a “tent city” to protest the lack of student accommodation available in 1969, using the underground tunnels to sneak into the then Vice Chancellor’s office to protest the introduction of HECS in the 90’s, and even saw labourers stop work against the expulsion of Jeremy Fisher from RMC in 1973. This had largely seemed to disappear by the 2010’s, with the ghost of Victor Ma’s embezzlement haunting our Student Union-less campus, and student media largely regulated by the University Administration.

However it seems that the hard work of student group presidents, individual SRC members, and successive Grapeshot editors has finally started to pay off. The key ingredient here is the rise of the MQ Socialist presence on our campus in Semester 2, 2019. Building from the momentum of the climate movements, the MQ Socialists group have managed to do something that so many individuals over the years have been trying to push for – promote an activist culture on Macquarie University’s campus.

No matter your political leaning, this is an impressive feat, and one of the most significant on-campus developments in our recent political history. Working alongside the NTEU, the MQ Socialists have managed to engage students in the fight for the human sciences. Grapeshot is eager to see what 2020 has in store for on campus activism, with what is looking like a more engaged student population.

Timely News

However, student engagement was stifled by the convenient timing of the announcement to redistribute the Human Science’s faculty. The announcement came in the last weeks of semester, and this Town Hall is taking place during our exam period. It is unclear whether the convenient timing of this decision highlights disorganisation of Macquarie University in revealing their decisions, or an attempt to sweep this change under the rug. Especially given that the majority of affected students would be deep in assessments or exams, and staff would be distracted by marking deadlines, exam preparation, and finalising results for the semester.

The timing of this left Grapeshot largely unable to report on this issue, as students ourselves we were required to prioritise assessments. With student groups busy performing handovers, finalising budgets, and taking some time off planning student group engagement after a whole semester of work. In announcing this decision during the busiest period of semester, Macquarie has limited the capacity of students to engage in protest, provide feedback, or report on the redistribution.

The future of Human Sciences

Grapeshot is uncertain whether the staff Town Hall taking place today will provide further clarity or alter the proposed changes of the University. In an email provided to members, the NTEU intends to use the solidarity walk as “one last opportunity to send the VC a strong collective message, that we the membership, and university community are not happy with what is happening at our university”. A facebook group entitled “MQ students against the cuts” has also called for a student contingent to join in solidarity for our staff.

The proposed redistribution seems to be only the beginning, and it is not just staff in the Human Science’s department who are concerned. Grapeshot has been informed that last week an overnight retreat was organised for the Faculty of Arts to discuss “strategy”. It is unclear what this strategy entails and whether staff in the Faculty of Arts can expect a similar redistribution or job cuts in the future. Moreover, Grapeshot has been informed that the Law Dean has plans to take staff out for individual lunches, including at least three meals, at the upcoming Law School retreat. Why this money is being spent talking individual strategy is unclear at this point in time.

All of this news comes after the Human Sciences faculty dominated 2019’s Academic Staff awards. With 6 of the 24 awards going to staff members in the faculty of Human Sciences. Which begs the question that if one of the more successful faculties is not safe from redistribution, without meaningful University consultation prior to a decision being made, then are any of Macquarie University’s teaching staff and faculties safe from job cuts?

As posters around campus have acknowledged, you can’t have “you to the power of us” without the us.

[Grapeshot Magazine has reached out to the University for comment, none has been provided at the time of publication]