The Silent Treatment

9 February 2021

As the Southbank campus meekly re-opens its doors this year, already I have already been hearing from students that the lack of communication from our campus leaders has hindered their ability to plan for the year ahead.  The  shutdown of the entire university and the technical and psychological road bumps encountered by our staff must have led to many miscommunications and yet, I can’t help but shake the feeling that students are deliberately being given the silent treatment. 

One of the most effective methods of manufacturing harmony is denying that any problems exist. This seems to have been the modus operandi of Faculty Executives at Southbank for a long time. Last year, when students had the chance to meet virtually with the former Dean of Fine Arts and Music, Barry Conyngham (now admiring his wooden medal in retirement), to hear directly from him the reasons why they would not be receiving a partial refund of their course fees following the transition to online learning, they saw first-hand how obfuscation is one of modern-day academia’s best designed defences. 

In the months that followed, all it took was for the Faculty Executive to avoid addressing that there was any problem at all for the problem to ‘go away’. In some feeble attempts to advertise a cohesive student body at the end of last year, a number of VCA/MCM community meetings were held online where students were graciously granted the opportunity to ask questions from campus leaders. The issue of course fees was never sufficiently addressed. Issues about gaps in students’ learning in their practical arts courses, brushed over. Some students were even puppeted onto a virtual stage in what I can only assume was some political attempt to prove to the world that the degrees we study at Southbank fare well in an online environment. Managers and marketers clapped along with the show. A celebratory Instagram post of a cartoonishly pampered dog followed. 

This year, in an uncoordinated effort, some schools across the campus are staging brief make-up classes and intensive workshops in an attempt to gum over the cracks in this dam wall of a problem. It saddens me to say, however, that until acknowledgement of wrongdoing is made, until Faculty Executives admit that placing the financial burden of paying for courses that weren’t delivered to a high enough standard was wrong, the legacy of 2020 will play out for a very long time in the form of widespread doubt and disunity. Some might say that it is not the responsibility of the Dean or the VCA/MCM Directors to cop the blame for this. Some might say it was out of their control. Well, if I can put anything to bed in my term as a Southbank OB, it will be this nonsensical passing of the buck to other levels of bureaucratic responsibility. In an instance such as this, complicity is enough. Southbank students deserve leaders who can admit when they get things wrong. 

Graduating students who missed out on overseas trips still have outstanding debts on travel costs, second-year students feel hopelessly underprepared, and still ‘all’s quiet on the western front’. My guess is, with a typical disregard for emotional insight, the grinding gears of our neoliberal university will simply wait the two years it takes to spit out these disgruntled students and the manufactured myth of harmony can return. My message to the students of the Southbank campus, then, is this: let’s make those two years count. Let’s end the convenient amnesia of our campus Executives and work together for an environment where students can ask for justice without reprimand. Let’s do what artists do best and make our voices heard. 

*The author is one of UMSU Southbank’s co-coordinators for 2021. 

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