These Uni Students Are Occupying A Building On Campus To Protest Cuts To Arts Education

"Students are making a bold and brave statement of self-determination."

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A group of Sydney University students have occupied an administration building and barricaded themselves inside to protest cuts to the Sydney College of the Arts (SCA).  The snap protest was called after university management failed to meet student demands, including calls to reverse planned cuts to staff and courses in the arts school.

In June the University of Sydney announced that it would shut down SCA and transfer all 550 current students to the University of New South Wales’ Art and Design school. But after opposition from students, Sydney University announced it was terminating the merger agreement. Despite signing off on the agreement to merge, the university’s Vice-Chancellor, Michael Spence, defended the back flip by saying, “The University of Sydney has increasingly come to the view that, despite the best efforts of all involved, our two institutions have a different vision of what a centre of excellence in the visual arts might entail and the extent to which it is important to preserve the SCA’s distinctive tradition.”

However, the university did announce that it would be moving SCA out of its current location in Callan Park, home to the Laneway Festival. Students remain opposed to this change as well as proposals by university management to sack up to 60 percent of SCA staff and cut ceramics, jewellery, and glass making courses. Hundreds of students have protested the closure of the SCA’s Callan Park campus in recent weeks.

At a rally last week student activists threatened to escalate the campaign if university management refused to meet their demands. This morning students decided that management wasn’t taking them seriously enough and made the move to occupy the SCA’s administration wing. About a dozen students are understood to be taking part in the occupation.

SCA rally

SCA students protesting the campus’ closure last week. Photo: Freya Newman.

In a statement the students said “We, in the name of the students of SCA, are now occupying the offices of management. As long as the University of Sydney ignores students’ demands our actions will intensify.” The students are demanding the Dean of SCA be sacked and the university reverse any plans to cut staff and courses.

Eden Faithfull, a psychology student at Sydney University who is taking part in the occupation, told Junkee, “The message that we’re sending here is that students are now the self-elected new Deans of the Sydney College of the Arts, making a bold and brave statement of self-determination.”

According to Faithfull the mood amongst the occupying students is positive. “It’s great actually, people are starting to get pretty chill now, but it started quite seriously – lots of chanting and clapping. There’s a big feeling of satisfaction at the moment that we’ve been able to get so many people to band together and be so dedicated,” she said.

The occupation is expected to last three days (unless security boot everyone out earlier) and the students have packed sleeping bags and food rations, including fruit, chips, bread, sandwiches and, of course, two-minute noodles. Some students have also brought in board games to help pass the time.

A whole bunch of students hanging out together on campus with sleeping bags? Sounds less like an occupation and more like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. If only the Dean of SCA was a bit more like Dumbledore, things might never have gotten this dramatic.

The SCA cuts are just one example of arts funding taking a hit in Australia. In May more than 60 arts organisations had their federal government funding pulled, following budget cuts to the Australia Council for the Arts. Some of the de-funded organisations have responded by merging while others, including the Platform Youth Theatre in Melbourne, have shut down completely.

In addition to the protests and occupation, 60 SCA students have launched a class action case against the university. All up it’s one of the biggest student campaigns in recent years. Hopefully one of the students at today’s action packed a copy of Monopoly. By the time the occupation wraps up in three days they might actually have finished a game.