The Resurrection of Student Activism


How executive decisions revived Macquarie’s radical history

Words | Katelyn Free

It’s no secret that Grapeshot has had a longstanding grudge against Macquarie’s pesky student population for its lack of engagement with university politics and management decisions. SRC meetings? No dice. University mismanagement? Couldn’t care less! But finally, this year, the tide turned. The once extinct student activism scene at Macquarie was given a second life. When course cuts and fee hikes barrelled down towards the student population, Macquarie students inhabited the spirit of students long past to stand up and protest against what was and is happening to the university.

Macquarie’s radical history is well documented and stretches back to the 1960s’, having its heyday in the early 70s’. There was the Round Table protest in 1969 where amongst rising student discontent at university management and the growing organisation of the political left on campus, 70 students forced their way into a ‘Round Table’ discussion between university representatives, academic staff and some selected students. 

What perhaps really formed the bedrock of Macquarie’s radical protest scene was the infamous Tent City of 1969. In protest to the university refusing to provide adequate student housing, students in need of housing set up a make-shift slum of tents, wood, tin and fibro on the front lawn in front of the former student union. On the first night, Tent City had 30 residents, which quickly became 80 permanent residents, with up to 200 students being present at any time. Despite torrential rain that the University Council hoped would displace the students, Tent City lived on. Eventually, the University agreed to provide housing if Tent City was taken down.

When the Vietnam War rolled around, Macquarie was primed for serious political protest. The Moratorium protests against the Vietnam War were the first political events on campus to gain serious traction and paved the way for greater student activism on campus. Grapeshot’s predecessor, Arena, ran extensive coverage on the anti-Vietnam war campaign and stirred students into action. However, the Vice Chancellor refused to allow Moratorium materials to be printed at the university. Despite this, Moratorium marches took place on 8 May 1970, 8 September 1970 and 30 June 1971. In the wake of the Moratoriums, Macquarie well and truly radicalised. This was further demonstrated through the protests in the wake of Jeremy Fischer’s expulsion from Robert Menzies College in 1973.

Until now, Macquarie’s radical legacy has lived on only in memory. The University remained one of the most politically disengaged campuses, compared to that of USyd, UNSW and UTS. But all that changed at the end of last year, when in October 2019 significant staffing anf funding cuts were announced, including the disbanding of the Faculty of Human Sciences. In response, students organised and created Macquarie Students Against Cuts (MSAC). The group organised protests on campus against the cuts, starting in November last year. It seemed like change was in the air at Macquarie, although no one could anticipate how much change the next year would bring and how this grassroots protest group would come to define the student political scene at Macquarie.

When fee hikes to particular university degrees were announced across the sector (mainly arts and humanities degrees), MSAC mobilised again to join with other university groups in protesting the fee increases. But things really gained momentum when in August, the University announced significant cuts to course and unit offerings. Rallies and protests started up in September and gained momentum in October, as students stormed the Chancellery and demanded a response from the University executive. Joining forces with other universities, protests were happening at least once a week as students became increasingly incensed at University decision making. 

While it remains to be seen what the ultimate outcome of this student resistance will be, Grapeshot has learnt that cuts (in particular those to the Arts Faculty) were not as severe as predicted by the University, when they were finally revealed to staff after the protests. Whether the University continues to listen to student voices and be held accountable to engaging with the student body when making decisions about their education, still remains to be seen. Grapeshot has learnt from sources within the Arts Faculty that there potentially will be cuts to PACE units and offerings, however this has not been confirmed or announced by the University as of yet.

Even if the cuts do go ahead and Macquarie’s corporate structure runs wild with power and disregard for students, there is one silver lining to this whole debacle. Grapeshot’s gripe with Macquarie’s student body has finally been settled. Macquarie students have risen up and become engaged. We have protested and demanded and made the University Executive listen to us. We have disrupted the peaceful ambivalence executives counted on to push these cuts through. We are finally listening in, standing up and holding our University to account. We are tuning into the radical legacy of our University. While we haven’t gone as far as building a tent city yet, I wouldn’t put it past us. 

So, dear MQ, rage on, get radical, protest and bring hellfire to the Macquarie University Executive.