Over 200 students marched The University of Sydney’s Eastern Avenue last Tuesday, in a bid to overturn the Faculty of Art’s proposal to amalgamate the Political Economy with Government and International Relations.
Demonstrators voiced their anger over the University’s failure to consult students about changes to their education. They called for a stop to the ongoing retrenchment of the Department of Political Economy’s staff and units of study, and demanded that measures be taken to improve the existing conditions of learning and teaching.
A ‘strategic review’ is being conducted by the School of Social and Political Sciences that would dictate the future of Political Economy. Led by the Political Economy Students Society (ECOPSoc), 95% of the Department’s student body opposed the proposals set out in the review. Of the four possible outcomes, two would cause Political Economy to be “subsumed into a Politics stream” and “only two [would] preserve the Political Economy Department”, according to ‘Save ECOPSoc’ campaigners on Facebook.
The incumbent ECOPSoc President Kieran Latty contested the review for its undue emphasis on commercial performance. The emphasis could endanger the existence of Political Economy subjects, which means reduced subject choices for students as well as cuts to staff levels.
The demonstration highlighted the University’s disrespect for student input as it instigated changes to their education. Allegedly little effort was made to factor in student desires to ‘save’
the independence of Political Economy. In an article posted on Facebook, former ECOPSoc president, Emma Bacon, reported that flippant comments were made against two ECOPSoc representatives by the review panel. They were dismissed as “paranoid” and were accused of possessing a “1970s mindset”.
Members of ECOPSoc resented the lack of reasoning that would justify the Faculty’s proposals and the threats made to their Department’s independence. Since its establishment in 2008, the Department of Political Economy has earned international repute and high levels of student enrolment. Bacon and Latty remarked that its achievements are being overlooked in the ‘strategic review’ in place of the University’s adherence to a new financial model that stresses commercial performance like profitability, over the learning experience of students.
To date, campaigners have organised several events to call for the independent academic and administrative independence of the Department of Political Economy. A public meeting to ‘save’ the Department was held on 11th October at the Front Lawns of the University Quadrangle. According to Bacon, the participants discussed strategies “to keep the Political Economy department strong and independent”.
28th October 2011 (I know, old news…)