Just six months since taking on the million dollar role of Vice-Chancellor at the University of Adelaide, Peter Høj is pushing for a major restructure—merging the University’s five faculties down to three, cutting 200 staff, and slashing courses deemed unprofitable.
Høj’s justifications for the cuts are the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated drop in international student enrolments and revenue from the absurdly high fees they are charged. But these are just excuses. The University has wanted to implement a restructure like this since well before the pandemic. In 2016 management tried to push through the exact same mergers and cuts being proposed now. And the University’s own projections show it is far from running out of money—by 2023 total revenue is set to be higher than in 2018.
Fortunately, management has met resistance from the No Adelaide University Cuts campaign, which was initiated by members of Socialist Alternative. When Høj hosted an online student forum to “tick the box” of consultation, we were there. Even the tightly controlled Zoom format couldn’t stop activists from bombarding the chat with condemnations of faculty mergers, cuts to specialist courses, and wage theft, as well as promoting a planned protest.
The campaign has also triggered a flood of testimony from staff and students, revealing the sorry state of education in the “degree factory” that the University was already on the road to becoming. A first year student from the Faculty of the Professions said, “I wanted to come here and study and learn face to face but my original 3 hours weekly tutorial was cancelled and changed with a 1 hour Zoom session”. One casual academic affirmed, “Our education is already at breaking point, we can’t afford more cuts”.
On 11 August over 100 students gathered to protest outside the Mitchell Building, a castle of management from which Høj rarely emerges. We launched an impromptu march and sit-down in the Hub, the busiest spot on campus, disrupting its usual atmosphere of corporate sterility. A sufficient ruckus was made that supportive staff reported having heard our chanting—and calls to cut the VC’s bloated salary—from their offices and classrooms.
Students are going to continue the fight. Høj is attempting to rush through the restructures at the University Council meeting on 23 August. Protesters will be there making our voices heard. The Council is stacked with right-wing politicians like Amanda Vanstone, along with military and fossil fuel executives. Clearly no one will fight for the interests of students and staff except students and staff ourselves. If we don’t fight back defiantly now, management will be confident to keep on cutting more year after year.