Words || Rayna Bland
On the 9th of September 2020 at 1pm, a snap rally burst into action at the MQ food court. Led by the Macquarie Students against Uni Cuts the robust event featured many student activists speaking out against the large cuts staff in the tertiary sector face. The cuts Macquarie Staff are facing are among the worst in Australia. The National Tertiary Education Union predicts the loss of 600 to 1,000 jobs. This is not great, especially considering Macquarie’s staff ratio is already 65:1 students to staff. According to the World University Rankings, this is one of the lowest ratios in Australia.
As Berna Erkan, an activist and leader of the campaign against the cuts said yesterday during her impassioned speech “staff are facing these awful cuts to their employment and livelihood while Bruce Dowton resides in his CBD mansion”. Dowton is MQ’s Vice Chancellor and a lot of the campaign draws attention to him due to his previous behaviour.
Earlier last year, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Dowton purchased his exuberant Sydney CBD property using an $875,000 loan drawn from the university in 2014. The article further identifies that Dowton has been charging the university between $43,000 and $48,000 annually to use the property, with the payments totalling $222,000 for the use of his home between 2014 and 2018. Dowton also earns one of the highest Vice Chancellor salaries in Australia coming in at $1.1 million a year. This is huge. I wonder whether Bruce will follow in the footsteps of other Vice-Chancellors such as Michael Spence and takes a reduction in his salary. I hope he does. The livelihood of staff and the quality of education depend on it.
On top of all of this, future students face massive financial disadvantges when looking to study the Arts, Humanities or Law. Dan Tehan, the Minister of Education has proposed an increase of $14,500 annually to Humanities, Arts and Law degrees. As the ABC reported on the 20th of June 2020 this is an increase of 113%. These degrees already cost an arm and a leg, so why the increase? The justification for this increase is to incite study in other areas such as Nursing and education. Dan Tehan plans to completely rehaul the university sector but remain budget neutral by increasing the student fees and lowering government contribution. However, this drastic type of decision might only work to further widen the wealth gap in education allowing only wealthier students to be able to pursue their dreams in the Arts, Humanities and Law. So yeah, I would say the Macquarie Students Against Uni Cuts have a lot to be concerned about. In fact, I would say a lot of staff and students should be concerned.
I attended the rally along with some of my peers. The energy was high, and it was liberating to hear a group of voices speak to reason. After some riveting speeches as a group of 30 or so protestors we marched through the university grounds until we reached the Chancery where Bruce Dowton is rumoured to spend his days. It felt as though our voices were being heard as we raised some noise throughout campus. A popular chant on the day was, “No Cuts! No Fees! No Corporate Universities!”. The student reaction to the rally was really good. People yelled out “shame!” in response to news of the cuts and desolate statistics but cheered when speakers spoke of a fight back or the importance of the right to education. A petition against the cuts was passed around and has almost reached its goal of 500 signatures.
If you are reading this and are disturbed by the measures of the university, the staff cuts and the deterioration of the right to education then join the campaign! Because trust me, there will be more activism on campus. As we stood as a collective in the foyer of the Chancery our voices rumbled throughout the executive wing. As students we all have political power to shake the foundations.
The university was contacted for comment on this article and provided the following response:
The University’s governing Council, with input from the Nominations and Remuneration Committee of the Council, approves the salary for the Vice-Chancellor based on a number of considerations and in line with national benchmarking and international standards. Macquarie University Chancellor, Dr Martin Parkinson AC PSM, on behalf of the Council, advised the University on 26 August 2020 that the remuneration of the Vice-Chancellor and Executive Group members was frozen from the beginning of 2020 at the request of the University’s leadership team.
Unlike a number of other Australian universities, Macquarie University does not provide an official residence for the Vice-Chancellor (a practice Macquarie discontinued more than 10 years ago). Instead the University provided a loan to Professor S Bruce Dowton to assist with securing a Sydney residence suitable for hosting official University functions. Professor Dowton services the interest payments as per the loan agreement. Separate to the loan agreement is a licence fee agreement covering the fee paid by the University to the Vice-Chancellor for the use of the residence for official University functions. In 2019, this payment was $25,000.