Auckland students for a new university

The proposed closure of the specialist libraries at the University of Auckland has become an important and much discussed matter. High school students are informing their teachers about how the University of Auckland isn’t putting enough money towards its libraries, something it appears the university’s Vice Chancellor, Stuart McCutchen hasn’t grasped yet. Students, staff and those outside the university have come together. Already there has been a large rally that saw around a thousand students and staff march to the Clock tower to present a consultation document. There has been a speak-in and conversations at some of the libraries with representatives from institutions such as the New Zealand Institute of Architects affirming the importance of these specialist collections not just to students but entire professions in New Zealand. These proposed closures therefore have a relevance beyond the boundaries of the university campus and the academic study of today’s students.

So it was then that another rally was held under the banner of ‘a new university’. A movement that aims to broaden the scope of the discussion beyond the closure of the libraries, the loss of specialist librarians and restructuring that has been proposed. The movement for ‘a new university’ has the following set of demands:

  1. The democratic control, by staff and students, over conditions, funding and resources.
  2. A halt to the library closures and all associated restructures.
  3. The immediate resignation of Vice Chancellor Stuart McCutchen.
  4. That the Labour government scrap its commitment to the budget responsibility rules and fund education, housing and welfare.

With these demands and loud chants hundreds students took to the streets on Thursday the 17th of May. Setting up a blockade at the main intersection along Symonds Street at the heart of the University. Just as had been done six years prior. There they remained for over three hours shutting down one of the main traffic arteries through the CBD.

It is a significant achievement after years of low student struggle. These demands in this struggle are important. But we need to take them further. Whereas the previous rally had been far larger and included significant numbers of staff this rally was almost entirely composed of current and former students. The previous actions had been organised and endorsed by the Auckland University Students Association, the Creative Arts and Industries Students Association and the Save Our Libraries campaign this action did not have that official support. This is in part due to the use of the blockade tactic. The reception of the blockade itself was mixed. While there was many students participating and many on the sidelines some started arguing with the participants that the blockade was the wrong thing to do. Overall the reception was mixed. In some ways this is not just a separate campaign but one that leaves out those who had been leading the struggle against the restructuring up until this point. It could be seen in the speakers with only a handful from Fine Arts but almost no representation from Architecture, Planning, or Music who have been quite active in the campaign so far. In some ways it was more reflective of the student radical crowd than a broader movement of the university body.

This is something that needs to be addressed. Yesterday’s rally was important – it sent a message on Budget Day that education matters, and that the kind of education we need is different to the neoliberal model McCutcheon and others want to strengthen at the universities. But it is essential also that this campaign be broad in scope to challenge the corporatisation of the university and the neoliberal view of education. However, this cannot come at the expense of a broad campaign that is able to mobilise and draw upon the support not only of students, but also of staff, those in the industries such as architects and planners, and the wider community. All of which have a stake in the preservation of the library collections. As was said at the conversations at the Architecture and Planning Library, these are not commodities and services to be cut and restructured. These are Whare Taonga, Whare Tipuna. Not only for the students of today but for all of Aotearoa now and in the future.