The students currently occupying the Sydney College of the Arts have every reason, and also every right, to assert their physical presence there. Art students belong in an art school. The occupation furthers their demand not to be deprived of what they were promised when they enrolled: a genuine, studio-based arts education. It also affirms a principle for which, apparently, neither Sydney University’s main management, nor the Art School, feels the slightest responsibility: the centrality of the arts, and therefore of arts education, to a healthy community.
SCA students should be supported by everyone who thinks that universities must be more than business schools. Nothing in Sydney University’s much touted commitment to ‘leadership’ or ‘community engagement’, it seems, stands in the way of it gutting a major component of NSW’s arts infrastructure. Yet Sydney has just spent $180m on the palatial new Abercrombie Building, described as ‘a key milestone on our journey to becoming one of the world’s leading business schools’.
Why is a world-leading MBA programme a more urgent ambition than a world-leading arts one? Unfortunately, it’s in no way too simplistic to conclude that it’s because the arts don’t appeal much to the finance, fossil-fuel, and gambling executives who control the university’s fortunes (see the section ‘the corporates on Senate’ in the NTEU’s 2015 Counter-Report on Sydney University). This interest group recently tightened its stranglehold over university decisions when democratic representation on the Senate was slashed.