More than three hundred staff and students descended upon Union Court and the Chancelry building today to protest the proposed budget cuts at ANU, and threatened further action if the plans were not abandoned.

The rally unanimously passed a motion demanding that Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Young “withdraw all threats and plans for involuntary redundancies because these can only undermine the quality of education and work life at the ANU.”

National Tertiary Education Union ACT Division Secretary, Stephen Darwin, expressed concerns about Professor Young’s proposal in a statement to Woroni: “His whole plan was less about consultation and more an ultimatum. We don’t believe it was something you could consult around because it was so developed, with such specific expectations, dollar figures, and prescribed standards.”

Mr Darwin condemned the use of tricky financial gimmicks to justify cuts, explaining: “We’re not buying it. Ian Young hasn’t put evidence in front of us that convinces us that the financial situation is nearly as serious as he’s saying.” If current plans for cuts were not abandoned, Mr Darwin said the NTEU would have to “step up and look at broader action”.

Mr Darwin also questioned what he says is Chancelry’s desire to put measures of research output and “crude” numerical assessments about teaching ability at the fore of staffing decisions. He told Woroni: “What we’ve seen at the University of Sydney is that many good teachers who go the extra yard have to sacrifice research. Such crude measures don’t measure the dilemmas academics face.”

ANU Students’ Association President Dallas Proctor urged students at the rally to support the NTEU’s campaign, as job cuts would directly impact the teaching experience, citing factors such as the “variety and quality of courses offered, contact hours and class sizes”. He told Woroni that “As students, we are worried that important decisions are being made out of public view, at the highest levels of administration within ANU Colleges.”

Michael Thomson, the University of Sydney NTEU Branch President, also addressed the rally, telling those present that there were distinct similarities between the proposed cuts at the ANU and the budgetary measures taken by the Vice-Chancellor at Sydney, Dr Michael Spence. Mr Thomson decried the “managerialism” behind the moves to cut staff.

After the motion calling on Professor Young to withdraw his plans was passed, protesters marched on the Chancelry building amidst chants of “They say cut back, we say fight back” and “I don’t know what you’ve been told but Ian Young is mighty cold”. The age difference between the protestors, mostly comprising staff, was evident as old hands repeatedly pleaded with their youthful ANUSA counterparts, who were leading the march, to slow down.

On the steps of the Chancelry, Dr Rick Kuhn, Reader at the School of Politics and International Relations, spoke about the need for students and staff to come together. He argued that University management was hoping opposition to cuts would diminish as protesters became more isolated, and that Professor Young and his “hench-things” were only interested in “putting money in top management”.

With the rally concluding, some sections of the crowd called for protesters to enter the Chancelry building itself. As ANU Security deadlocked the doors of Chancelry, the suggestion was quickly watered down by Mr Darwin, who urged those present to save their fire for the time when Professor Young announces concrete plans.

Mr Darwin said he was pleased with today’s events, telling Woroni that “It was a really good coming together of staff and students, it was a defined spirit. The crowd response to the arguments put was very positive – we have a unanimous motion that was strongly endorsed”.

The motion from ANUSA and NTEU will be presented to Deputy Vice-Chancellor (and Acting Vice-Chancellor) Professor Lawrence Cram.

More pictures from the rally here:

Watch video footage of the rally (courtesy of Adam Spence):

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