On Monday, 150 Flinders University students, staff and supporters protested outside the university’s Victoria Square campus against the administration’s proposed discontinuation of the Bachelor of Creative Arts (Drama) degree and scrapping of the Drama Centre.
Set up by radical staff and students in the 1970s as an inclusive and progressive performing arts space, the Drama Centre is a cherished institution. It is an example of an intensive conservatory-style performing arts education, the only one that exists in South Australia. Its alumni include award-winning actors and directors like Benedict Andrews, Nescha Jelk and James Smith. But decades of neoliberalism have transformed universities into degree factories, treating students as customers and turning staff into highly casualised and overburdened workers. Once home to one of Australia’s most radical student movements, Flinders University is now firmly entrenched in the neoliberal economic model; with a significant proportion of research funding used for military research.
Despite this transformation, Flinders maintains a socially progressive veneer. On its website, the university boasts that, “Flinders as an institution has never been content with the status quo; we have always looked for ways to make the world a better place by making a positive difference”.
But there is nothing progressive about these latest cuts. They are being pushed by an administration— led by Vice Chancellor Colin Stirling who ranks eighth out of the ten highest paid university vice chancellors with an annual salary of more than $1 million—determined to wind back the democratic gains of students and staff in the 1970s. The intention is to replace the Drama Centre with a generic, media-driven course, teaching students to make YouTube and TikTok videos—a farcical shadow of the existing program.
More than 30 students are occupying the Drama Centre indefinitely in protest against the cuts, and a further 6,000 have signed an online petition opposing them.