Des Freedman reports on students and staff rallying at Goldsmiths against cuts and how it links up with the UCU strike beginning this week
Hundreds of staff and students at Goldsmiths, University of London, turned out at a lively protest on Friday in opposition to a devastating programme of cuts and centralisation called ‘Evolving Goldsmiths’ being proposed by management. The rally heard from the secretary of the UCU coordinating committee at the University of the Arts, the former institution of the new Goldsmiths warden Frances Corner, and marched to the administration block in a fantastic show of strength.
‘Evolving Goldsmiths’, now popularly known as ‘Dissolving Goldsmiths’, involves a voluntary severance scheme, the expansion of the senior management team and the centralisation of budgets that removes autonomy from individual departments. It has also been accompanied by the decision to close, Club Pulse, the campus gym, a popular resource amongst students and the local community. Neither ‘Evolving Goldsmiths’ nor the closure of the gym was based on consultation with staff, students or users but simply presented as a done deal in the last few weeks.
The justification provided by management is that urgent measures are needed to address a substantial projected deficit that is based on poor enrolment in 2019/20. This is the consequence of the disastrous competition between universities whereby elite institutions have been freed up to recruit students as part of the Tories’ market reforms in higher education.
This has led to a situation in which, despite the existence of a sector surplus of more than £1 billion, some 25% of universities are in deficit. It also means that Sunderland University has decided to close its history, politics and modern language programmes to focus on subjects that ‘align with a particular employment sector’ and that SOAS has unilaterally revoked research leave for staff next year and drastically cut its casualised staff.
Goldsmiths has few debts but also lacks the property portfolio of wealthy institutions. Instead of building up its reserves from years of surpluses and embarking on a sustainable expansion, the university has responded to some potentially serious short-term pressures by talking of the need for 15% cuts in the next two years and making staff pay the price through voluntary severance.
Staff and students have responded by demanding that instead of ‘Evolving Goldsmiths’, senior management should be ‘Involving Goldsmiths’ in discussions of its future. Some 600 staff signed a statement demanding that the cuts package be halted and criticising management for using the language of ‘social justice’ at the same time as embarking on an austerity programme. Meanwhile more than half of all the College’s professors added their names to a letter opposing the proposals and arguing that they would change the entire culture of the University.
The single positive outcome of the ‘Evolving Goldsmiths’ proposals is that they have united staff and students in opposition. This comes just before members of the UCU embark on a further 14 days of strike action against pay inequalities, casualisation, increased workloads and attacks on our pension. The forthcoming teach-outs and picket lines discussions will no doubt focus on how best to resist the proposals and to devise a plan for the university which reflects the interests of all staff and students on campus.
Market fundamentalism is ripping apart our public services and wreaking havoc on our universities. When some of the students on Friday’s protest unveiled their mosaic – ‘In loving memory of art education 2020’ – they were perhaps being too fatalistic. National campaigns on pay, pensions and equalities together with local anti-cuts campaigns on campuses can help to revitalise the movement for free, public higher education and reveal the power of staff and student solidarity.
Sign the petition to stop the closure of Club Pulse.
Des Freedman is Professor of Media and Communications in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of 'The Contradictions of Media Power' (Bloomsbury 2014), co-editor of 'The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance' (Pluto 2011), Vice-President of Goldsmiths UCU and former Chair of the Media Reform Coalition.
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