The UNSW Casuals Network rejects the rationale offered to us by the university for its proposed restructures and job cuts. Instead of supporting students and workers in our struggle against government defunding, UNSW leadership are choosing once again to impose the costs of uncertainty on those who are least able to bear it. We speak here particularly of those students and workers — academic, professional, or otherwise — whose limited options in this moment are the product of decades worth of ‘economic rationalism’ and centuries worth of slavery and colonisation. These measures are not necessary. They are a function of power and domination.

The university leadership’s appeal to a mission of ‘social impact’ is designed to whitewash its callous profit-seeking behaviour, which discards and demoralises in order to enrich a small group of senior leaders, with our millionaire VC at the top. Their actions do not support communities of students and workers but instead create an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. The recent actions of the university’s senior leadership make it clear that their supposed ‘social commitment’ is little more than a self-interested performance. Students and workers — many of whom have struggled hard against genocide, borders, poverty, and sexism — mean nothing to them if we cannot generate profit.

The university has made no effort to demonstrate that it is acting in good-faith. Surveys were administered to solicit feedback from staff — but, as no plan for recovery from COVID-19 was provided, staff were rightly confused about what they were being asked to provide feedback on. All communications with students and staff have either been one-way or via meaningless and highly stage-managed Q&A sessions. Our union has been stonewalled, and staff and students have no independent access to the university’s financial data. Decisions about how financial reserves are being used have been shrouded in a smokescreen of obfuscation. School managers are already being asked to identify areas where cuts ought to be made, making a mockery of our VC’s supposed commitment to transparency and further demonstrating that the university has no real interest in public and deliberative decision making. In short, we are being pushed through a fake consultation process that we have been given no agency over other than to comply or resign.

The university’s ‘consultation’ process has been a masterclass in managerialism. The Taskforce 20/21+ analysis of areas in which teaching and research can be ‘optimised’ is remarkably thin, suggesting a weak academic and pedagogical rationale behind the proposed faculty mergers. Yet, these studies apparently inform one of the most substantial restructures in the university’s history, which will result in the removal of 493 FTE positions. The loss of these staff, coupled with the abandonment of casualised and fixed term workers whose contracts have not been renewed, will have extensive negative effects on teaching and research in both the short and long term.

The cuts to professional staff that come with centralisation will be felt most keenly. Their dismissal will exacerbate an already poor work and study experience (UNSW was ranked last in Australia in the 2019 Student Experience Survey). Remaining staff will be forced to take on even greater workload, and pressure will increase to ignore the poor treatment and unpaid hours experienced by casualised workers. The emphasis on ‘flexibility’ is simply a euphemism for more insecure employment and the further transfer of power and control towards university management.

The UNSW Casuals Network refuses the cynical, exclusionary, and exploitative terms upon which this miserable restructure rests. We are committed to working with students and workers across and beyond our university to call our management into a process that is accountable to the people whom the university cannot function without. We are prepared to demonstrate forms of social and ethical commitment that the university’s management can only pretend to value. We will work as hard as we can to connect and coordinate across faculties, industries, and borders to change the terms of this discussion in favour of those with the most at stake in the running of this institution. If you would like to be a part of this process, please get in touch.

UNSW Casuals Network