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September 19, 2011 | by  | in News |
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Shit Got Real at a Protest Last Week

Last Wednesday, a peaceful student protest ended in a stand off between students and security, as protestors tried to deliver a letter to Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh.

In a protest organised by union Unite, 150 to 200 students rallied against a number of changes and cuts being made to university programmes—the same ones which, as previously reported in Salient, saw about 300 students and staff protest in August.

Those who addressed the crowd criticised the ongoing cuts to courses and staff, claiming it was adding to the “death of education” at Victoria University. They also said that there had been little consultation or consideration of the academic consequences of the changes—particularly to the International Relations and Politics department.
“We are the University, it only exists because we are here. So why don’t we have a say?” said Amanda Thomas, an organiser and post-grad student.

Another student criticised the University for “systematically cutting courses and schools, while we continue to pay higher fees.”

Green Party Tertiary Education spokesperson, Gareth Hughes, spoke of a consistently underfunded tertiary education sector, leading to “death by a thousand cuts.”
“We’ve got to invest in our education if we want a prosperous economy,” Hughes said.

One lecturer, Megan Mackenzie spoke out saying they “had just as many questions as [students] do.” She also claimed the University’s promises that course pathways could still be continued after the changes were untrue, as staff members are leaving.

Following the demonstration, about 80 students entered the Hunter Building to deliver a letter to Pat Walsh, and a baby’s coffin signifying the death of education at Victoria.
The crowd armed with chants and placards were met with security guards on the stairwell, leading to a standoff between several students as they were physically prevented from entering the upper level.

After about 20 minutes of chanting—including “let us give our letter” and “hands off” in response to the guards’ handling of the protesters, no one from the University addressed the crowd.

Eventually several students pushed past the three guards, leading about 20 students to follow on to the upper level. More chanting proceeded, but soon four police officers arrived and the crowd immediately dispersed. Organisers were questioned, but no charges were laid.

Following the events Thomas claimed “there is a really bad culture of intimidation at Victoria, against students and staff speaking out.” She criticised Pat Walsh for “refusing to engage on our concerns.”

“We refuse to give up, and we will keep being active until our concerns are heard,” she said.

The protest was part of a National Day of Action to raise awareness of education cuts. It saw a group of 60 Auckland University students stage a sit-in at the campus library, resulting in the arrest of two students following smashed windows.

For photos and video of the protest check out facebook.com/salientmagazine or youtube.com/salienttv

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  1. Kassie Hartendorp says:

    Just to clarify, the protest wasn’t organised by Unite Union. It was put together by a newly formed group named We Are The University, which is made up of staff and students, the majority of which have been affected by past and recent cuts to the Humanities and Education faculties.

    Also, students involved in the protest bypassed the security guards, rather than pushing past them.

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