Swapnik Sanagavarapu, President 93rd SRC

Week 13, Semester 1, 2021

Unfortunately, a lot of this week was derailed by the unfortunate fact that I came down with the flu. Nonetheless, I managed to get a fair bit of work done before going on sick leave.

At the end of last week, I attended the May 21st Global Climate Strike, showing solidarity with the students and workers who took the day off for climate action, a just transition and publicly owned renewable energy. Shamefully, the students marching from Sydney University and UTS to Town Hall were brutalised by police. These police pushed these students off the road, injured some of them and stole their banner. This kind of violence was reminiscent of the brutality that we saw last year during the Education protests, and it’s absolutely condemnable.

I also continued working with the INGS students whose degrees had been affected by the poor planning, unfulfilled promises and a lack of communication. These students put together a fantastic report, outlining their concerns and providing a number of recommendations to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. I sent this report off to a number of people in Senior Management and in the Faculty, and I hope that these issues will be resolved soon for these students.

We also submitted a number of funding requests to the University this week for infrastructure upgrades and new projects. Some of these projects include a new disability space on campus, a study space for students at the Conservatorium of Music, a permanent staff member for the FoodHub and funding to revive Radical Sex and Consent Week.

Until next time,

Week 12, Semester 1, 2021

This week was a relatively quiet one, with only one major development that I was involved with.

A recent Honi article revealed that students who were studying Arts/Advanced Studies have been struggling under a raft of unfulfilled promises, and poor degree management. Promises of internships, exchange opportunities and the ability to do honours have been totally ignored and students have been stuck with a degree that they did not bargain for. I’m going to be working with these students in the coming weeks to deliver a just solution. Thanks to all those students who approached me and those who have responded to me so far, we’re going to work until the University provides you with some recourse.

It would also be remiss of me not to congratulate the successful candidates in this year’s USU election – two of whom are or were SRC Office Bearers. While I’m disappointed in the student body’s lack of faith in Joe Fidler, I only hope his campaign to bring decency back to the campus is successful in the long run.

Until next time,

Week 11, Semester 1, 2021

This week has been much quieter than the last, but I’ve been dealing with the fallout of last week’s massive revelations of surveillance of student and staff activists by NSW Police and the University.

To start with, I want to give my most sincere thanks to Rose Jackson, MLC, for her speech in NSW Parliament this week. Her speech responded directly to the SRC’s media release regarding the revelations, and focussed in specifically on the use of undercover police and extensive intelligence networks. Rose was a former SRC President and NUS President, and her continuing support of the SRC and its activism is highly appreciated. Similar thanks must go to Jamie Parker, David Shoebridge and Jenny Leong, all of whom expressed their interest in supporting the SRC in this continuing fight. I’ve also been speaking to media figures – I look forward to their stories coming out in the press in the near future.

Aside from this, I’ve been continuing work on SSAF for the SRC. The University has unfrozen contestable spending for the first time in two years, and the SRC is applying for a number of great projects including a space for students at the Conservatorium to study, a full time assistant at the FoodHub and funding for Radical Sex and Consent Week.

Finally, I attended the annual Nakba Day rally at Town Hall. This is especially relevant in the context of increasing Israeli aggression against Palestinians and the ongoing attempts to displace Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah.

Until next time,

Week 10, Semester 1, 2021

This week has been busy and stressful as usual, with a strange mix of remarkable good news and unbelievably distressing news.

To start with the good news, our long-standing campaign against the proposal for 12-week semesters has culminated in an incredible win for staff and students! Not only did we defeat the proposal at the Academic Board, we smashed it by a huge margin! In 2020, the margin against 12 week semesters was in the single digits. This time, we won 69-10. It’s nice to know that my hard work over the past few months, and my persistent advocacy on this topic finally paid off. I’d also like to thank everyone who was involved in this campaign, from the student activists, to the members of the Academic Board, to the staff members who advocated so strongly against it and finally to all of those who generally raised their voice. The status quo has been locked in for 2022 at least, and likely until 2026. Hopefully this is the last we hear of 12 week sems!

This victory has been coloured by some quite distressing news uncovered by the SRC. In October 2020, the SRC’s Chair of Standing Legal and I placed a request to the University for information under the Government Information (Public Access) Act in relation to student protests on campus. This information was released to us last Wednesday. The revealed documents detail an outrageous pattern of surveillance and repression by the University of Sydney and NSW Police. As I stated in the SRC’s Media Release on the subject last week, the documents “reveal the University’s knowledge of NSW Police’s particularly invasive surveillance of student activists (alluding to plain-clothed operations and ‘extensive intelligence networks’). It also details the University’s needlessly intrusive monitoring of media appearances by Professor Simon Rice following his violent arrest at a protest on October 14 and social media posts regarding on-campus actions posted by NTEU representative and Senior Lecturer David Brophy. The University also surveilled students’ social media activity, as evidenced by an internal email showing itemised numbers of attendees responding ‘going’ or ‘interested’ to Facebook events organising individual contingents to the September 16 protest.” Worryingly, the documents reveal the University’s use of Dataminr, a CIA-funded social media monitoring tool that was used to crack down on Black Lives Matter protests in the United States. I’m going to continue raising the profile of this issue, and I thank the media figures and parliamentarians who responded to our press release.

Aside from this, I’ve been raising the plight of Indian international students who are stuck in utterly horrific situations in India. The SRC condemns the government’s racist travel ban and the continuing vaccine apartheid levelled against India and the Global South. I confirmed with the University that evidentiary requirements for special considerations will continue to be waived, and have asked that they send an email to all students in India informing them of their rights under special consideration and discontinuation of study.

I’m also working on two campaigns this week that I’ll briefly mention. The first is continuing the fight against the cuts to SLAM – join the SRC’s protest in Week 13 to prevent this school from being totally wiped out. The second is the continuing campaign against the destruction of Willow Grove, the heritage site in Parramatta that will be demolished by the NSW government to make way for the new Powerhouse museum.

If you have any questions or issues that you would like the SRC to address, don’t hesitate to contact me at president@src.usyd.edu.au.

Until next time,

Week 9, Semester 1, 2021

The past week has been a busy and tiring one, but marked by the rare occurrence of good news. As usual, I’ve been working hard to defend the rights of students on campus.

This upcoming Tuesday, the 4th of May, the Academic Board will finally vote on the Academic Calendar at the University of Sydney. To put it in more familiar terms, the Academic Board is finally going to vote on whether or not we move to 12 week semesters. I’m sure by now you’ve heard my perspective on the change. It’s a bad proposal that’s going to hurt staff and students. In a recent survey conducted by the SRC, 93% of undergraduate students agreed with my position. A similar proportion of postgraduate students are also opposed to the change. We’ve held rallies, we’ve held speak-outs and we’ve held forums – all of which have demonstrated just how opposed students are to a shorter semester. The onus is now on the Academic Board to vote according to the wishes of students. I urge you all to contact your Academic Board representatives and tell them to vote against 12 week semesters.

We also heard the news this week that the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences has proposed a huge restructuring of the School of Literature, Arts and Media (SLAM). These restructures are going to disband the entire school and wipe the Departments of Studies and Religion, and Theatre and Performing Studies out of existence. Almost 100 jobs are going to be lost, and years of scholarship and institutional knowledge will be tossed in the bin. Management is cutting these departments because they are supposedly unprofitable. We’re gonna organise and stop these cuts, save these jobs and save SLAM. To find out more information, join the Education Action Group on Facebook.

Finally for the good news. The SRC was able to deliver a huge win for the medical science students who were cruelly and arbitrarily excluded from the Medical Foundation Building, and removed from their honours projects. I fought hard over the past fortnight – working with these students and the NTEU, as well as lobbying many decision makers around University. Last Monday, we finally heard that management in the School of Medical Sciences had finally conceded and allowed these students to return to their projects and return to the Medical Foundation Building. Solidarity with these students and their supervisors – I’m so pleased to have been able to help them achieve this result.

Until next time,

Week 8, Semester 1, 2021

Oftentimes, being in this job desensitises you to the ways in which students at this University are treated as commodities, and staff are treated as utterly disposable. This week was a cold reminder of that reality. As ever, the SRC and I were there to advocate for the interests of students and to stand in solidarity with staff.

As was reported in the Honi Soit article entitled “Honours students to be relocated after security incident”, Honours students in the School of Medical Science have been arbitrarily and cruelly excluded from the Medical Foundation Building since the 15th of April. These students have been intimidated and forced to abandon their research projects and have been forced to find new supervisors. The ostensible justification for this decision has been to protect students from a “toxic workplace culture” in the School. In many cases, management have told students that their supervisors are directly responsible for this culture. Since this initial exclusion, the NTEU has been able to establish that these claims of a toxic workplace culture have been unfounded, or at the very least based on a scant number of testimonies. School management has attempted to use these WHS protocols to prosecute their agenda against dissenting members of staff. I’ve been working with a group of brave students affected by this issue over the past week. The SRC has repeatedly attempted to convey the wishes of students to stay in their building and continue their research, but these have been repeatedly ignored. These students have been disrespected, condescended to, and treated as pawns of disgruntled staff members. I’m going to continue standing in solidarity with them and organising to achieve a just resolution to this issue.

This week, we also held our Staff and Students Forum for 12 Week Semesters at the Royal. Our panel, consisting of yours truly, Grant Wheeler of the CPSU, Sinem Kirk of SULS, Bella Anderssen of SUEUA, Minran Liu of SUPRA and moderated by the SRC’s Education Officers.

I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about 12 week sems at this point, but the proposal does not appear to be going away. The newest iteration of this proposal has been a change from the current 13 week semester to a “12+1 model” which will cut teaching in Week 13 and allow assessments to be due halfway through STUVAC (as opposed to not having any assessments). Our forum discussed both the original 12 week proposal and the new 12+1 model, concluding that the status quo is ultimately preferable. Many thanks to everyone who attended and to all the panelists.

As always, you can contact me about any pressing issues via my email or through the SRC Facebook page.

Until next time,

Week 7, Semester 1, 2021

Coming back to the SRC after a few days of leave, I was back into the fray immediately.

On Tuesday, I attended a meeting of the Academic Standards and Policy Committee. At the meeting, I continued providing feedback on the University’s proposal to change the policy regarding Student Appeals. I argued that the University’s first priority should be improving the timeliness of the appeals process, and that the student experience should always be front and centre in any reform process. I also argued that the current process creates a huge power imbalance between the students and the people responsible for determining the appeals, and proposed increased transparency throughout the whole process. I’ll be meeting with the Chair of the Academic Board later on to discuss these issues in further detail.

The fight against 12 week semesters has also continued this week – I’ve been meeting with stakeholders on campus to discuss why this proposal is going to harm staff and students. I’ve also locked in some more excellent speakers for our staff and student forum on the 22nd of April (this coming Thursday) – you can find all the details on our Facebook page. I really hope to see some of you in attendance at that Forum, it’s a great chance to voice some of your concerns about the degradation of your learning experiences at University.

Finally, in some good news, we’re going to be recruiting volunteer Paralegals and providing Practical Legal Training through our SRC Legal Service! Those announcements will be going out this week, so if you’re a law student looking for some practical experience in a community-oriented legal practice, this is a great opportunity for you!

Until next time,

Week 6, Semester 1, 2021

Hey everyone, hope you’ve had a restful mid-semester break and a happy Easter. I certainly have, which is why I don’t have a whole heap to report this week. Aside from the Easter break, I was also on leave for a portion of last week.

Most notably this week, we’re announcing the first Student General Meeting of the SRC in over 10 years! This is a historic meeting, bringing together over 200 undergraduate students to vote on a motion relating to the Climate Strike on May 21st, and asking the University not to penalise any student who goes on strike. The SGM will be happening on the 28th of April at 4pm. Keep your eyes peeled for more details.
We’ll also be having a historic staff-student forum to discuss 12 week semesters and their detrimental impacts. It will feature a panel discussion with myself, other student reps and staff reps, along with lots of opportunity for discussion, free food and free drinks. The forum will be on April 22nd (Thursday) at 5pm, with the location TBA. Looking forward to seeing you at both of these events.

During the past week I also spent some time working with housing activists, community groups and academics to try and look into the abysmal state of student housing and housing unaffordability generally. I attended a housing forum at the Gaelic Club in Surry Hills, where I spoke to some interested stakeholders about putting together a survey and report about housing conditions for students.

Finally, we had our April meeting of the SRC Council this week which I chaired as always. You can find minutes and reports from previous meetings of the Council on the SRC’s website.

If you have any questions or pressing issues, I’m always contactable via email or via the SRC’s Facebook page, and I’m happy to present any concerns you may have to the University or to answer any questions you have.

Until next time,

Week 5, Semester 1, 2021

This week, my attention has been focused on opposing various degradations of the student experience.

The largest share of my time has been dedicated to continuing the fight against 12 week semesters at the University. On Monday, I was a part of the first meeting of the “Semester Advisory Group” convened by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education). Alongside me at the meeting were representatives from SUPRA, the NTEU, the CPSU & staff representatives generally. There was an overwhelming consensus from the staff and student reps at this meeting that a 12-week semester would adversely affect staff and students. On Tuesday, I attended a meeting of the Academic Standards and Policy Committee (a subcommittee of the Academic Board), where staff representatives and I strongly made the same case about the dangers of 12 week sems. Finally, we concluded the SRC survey into 12 week sems this week. Out of 374 respondents, 350 were not in favour of the change. The students have spoken – it’s up to the University whether they listen.

Alongside 12 week sems, I also spent some time looking into changes to University systems that may have a detrimental effect on students. Firstly, the SRC has heard some rumblings about changes to Student Services that may involve significant restructure and job-cuts. While we welcome any attempts to improve the abysmal state of Student Services, cutting jobs and centralising roles will not offer any improvements to student services. Instead, it is likely to exacerbate current issues and create a whole suite of new issues. Secondly, at the meeting of the Academic Standards and Policy Committee, I offered some critical suggestions about changes to the Academic Appeals process.

Finally, for some fun stuff! I spoke at a protest on Wednesday organised by the Education Action Group in response to the continual cuts to Education over the past year. I spoke about 12 week sems (surprise, surprise) and the continual underpayment of casual staff at the University. An anonymous email circulated to staff alleged that the University had been registering record high financial surpluses. If this is the case, any attempts at cost-cutting and job-cutting must surely be opposed. Aside from the protest, I’ve been organising a staff-student forum to discuss educational issues and 12 week sems. This will be on the 22nd of April, so keep an eye out for more details.

Until next time,

Week 4, Semester 1, 2021

This week, the SRC has been working hard to defend the interests of students and staff in light of significant proposals for change from the University and the Government.

The first issue that we’ve been dealing with has been the University’s recent proposal for a move from 13-week to 12-week semesters from 2022 onwards. This is a proposal that has been previously rejected by the Academic Board, in 2017 and again in 2020. The University has previously used many justifications, this time they claim that 12 week sems will allow greater offerings of summer and winter courses. Be that as it may, the SRC’s initial consultation with staff and students found that the proposal would be greatly disadvantageous. We found that the removal of the first week of introductory and guidance material from courses would reduce the amount of time students had for study, causing extra stress and worse outcomes for students with work or other commitments. We also found that students would lose the quality of their learning, as courses would be condensed from 12 weeks to 13 weeks, content would be rushed and assessments would be less satisfactory and staff would have to work more hours on average. We’re now soliciting broader feedback from students about the proposal – make your thoughts heard on our survey at surveymonkey.com/r/PRD328D.

The second issue we dealt with is one from last week – the Government’s changes to the ACNC Governance standards which govern registered charities (such as the SRC). The government is seeking to change the law so that charities can be deregistered if they sponsor protests where summary offences are committed, even if the offences are not committed by employees or members of the SRC. This is a significant cause of concern for the SRC, given our proud legacy of sponsoring student activism on a wide variety of issues.

Stay tuned for more information, and as always you can find information on our Facebook page or our website.

Until next time,

Week 3, Semester 1, 2021

Yes, it’s me again, back with more updates on what the SRC has been up to this week!

As usual, it’s been a busy one, with lots of initiatives and work going on to benefit students. The first thing we did this week was launch our free textbook initiative! By popular demand, it’s back again for another week between the 14th and 18th of March, from 10:30 am to 2:30pm, so head on over to the University Copy Centre (just off from the Boardwalk and near the Aquatic Centre) to pick up your free books. The full list can be found on our Facebook page. We’ve heard lots of positive feedback from students in relation to the free textbooks, and it’s nice to see some students not have to worry about the costs of textbooks for at least one semester. Many thanks to SUSF, the University Copy Centre, Fuji, SUPRA, Hikari So and Lydia Dutcher for their efforts in putting this together!

Last week, an article appeared in Honi describing the awful conditions at the Peter Nicol Russel building. There were reports of doors not working properly, urine leaking out of the bathrooms and into the study area, asbestos being improperly removed and disability inaccessibility. This week, I raised the issue with the University and sought permanent solutions for what appear to be long-term problems. I’ll be following up on it with the University throughout the coming weeks.

I’ve also been working hard in the policy space this week – with two policy projects in particular occupying my time. The first has been the preparation of a submission to the University in relation to their proposal for 12 week semesters. To reiterate, the SRC is strongly opposed to reductions in semester length due to issues around student workloads, staff workloads and the quality of learning. You can find a greater statement of the SRC’s position in last week’s Honi article titled “Third time lucky? University tries for twelve week semesters again”. The second has been a submission in relation to a proposed bill that would deregister charities engaged in activism under highly dubious circumstances. As a charitable organisation engaged in advocacy and activism, it’s likely to impact our operations significantly. More details can also be found in last week’s copy of Honi (“Changes to not-for-profit laws may silence activists and advocacy groups”).

As always, you find more information on our Facebook page and website, and you can email me at president@src.usyd.edu.au.

Until next time,

Week 2, Semester 1, 2021

Congratulations to all of you on finishing your first week of the semester! For those of you who are returning to campus, it must be a sight for sore eyes to see students out and about again, going about their business and hanging out. For any first years who are reading this, I hope your first week at uni lived up to your expectations or even exceeded them.

The SRC (and by extension myself) has been inordinately busy this week. We had an extremely successful presence at Welcome Fest, handing out our branded tote bags, branded masks, branded pens, stickers and wall planners. It was a rewarding sight to see so many students on campus walking around with their SRC bags, and we had many students actively seeking us out to get our wall planners and bags. If you missed out on a bag and would like one, we have a limited number remaining, so please email me at president@src.usyd.edu.au and we can arrange pickup! Beyond our marketing efforts, it was refreshing to see how many students were interested in the advocacy of the SRC and its collectives and the services that we can provide to students. We had over 500 students sign-up to the SRC email list and join our Facebook group, both of which you can find via the QR code below. I’m sure you’ll be seeing much more of the SRC across campus this year, so keep an eye out for us. Thank you to all the volunteers who helped us distribute the bags down at the SRC stall!

Alongside Welcome Week, I worked on other initiatives that occupied the rest of time. I continued sitting on a number of University governance committees including the University Executive Education Committee and the Academic Board. I raised numerous issues in relation to the new Job Ready Graduates bill including the issue of higher fees for students who were transferring courses as well as proposing solutions to the Government’s punitive policy of removing Commonwealth Support for students failing 50% of their subjects. The University has also proposed a permanent move to 12 week semesters from 2022 onwards. I have previously criticised the proposal and will continue to do so. Keep your eyes peeled for a student survey in relation to the proposal. Aside from committees, I chaired our second SRC council meeting for the year. I also signed an open letter from the NSW Tenants Union calling for an extension of the moratorium on evictions, and I’m also going to be working to help students from Myanmar affected by the recent coup.

As always, you can find us at srcusyd.net.au or on our Facebook page. Enjoy your week!

Week 1, Semester 1, 2021

This time of year is always one of the busiest for the SRC – it is the culmination of our efforts over the summer and often determines how engaged students are with us over the year. The past week was less busy than the last, but was by no means uneventful. This report outlines just some of the things I’ve been up to.
The major thing in the past week has been the SRC’s preparations for the USU’s Welcome Fest, occurring from the 1st – 4th of the March. I spent much of the time taking stock of the various goodies that we’ve ordered for students: SRC branded tote bags, SRC branded reusable masks, SRC pens, stickers and our renowned wall planners. Having ordered over a thousand of each item, our dedicated contingent of volunteers has been working tirelessly to assemble the bags that we’ll give to you this week. Many thanks to everyone who volunteered to help out. Our collectives have also been hard at work, preparing their materials for Welcome Week and planning their activities for the year. You can find us on the far side of the Fisher Lawns, close to the Quadrangle. Looking forward to seeing you there!
The past week has also been one in which we were able to showcase our services to students. Our Legal Service successfully held an information session on Wednesday. The Principal Solicitor, Jahan Kalantar, explained to a contingent of students their rights under Australian law and how best to navigate the legal system. Our Caseworkers have also been keeping themselves busy. We recently said goodbye to our longstanding Casework and Policy Manager James Campbell. Enjoy retirement James! I also wish best of luck to his replacement Mel De Silva, who I’m sure will be more than capable of steering the ship.
I also spent some time this week working with SUSF, SUPRA and the University to set up a free textbook distribution service for students. Thanks again to the many volunteers who gave up their time to help sort through all of the textbooks. Watch this space for more details about this initiative.
As always, you can find more information about what we’re doing over at our Facebook page (facebook.com/usydsrc) and you can get in touch with me personally via email at president@src.usyd.edu.au.

Welcome Week, Semester 1, 2021

Hello, and welcome (or welcome back to) to the University of Sydney. I’m Swapnik, and I’m the 2021 President of the SRC. I’m a 4th year student studying Arts/Law, and the SRC has been a pivotal part of my time at University. For many of you, University will be a magnificent experience, full of new people, new ideas and new insights about yourself. But for many others, University can be difficult. University fees are rising, staff are underpaid and overworked and COVID19 has cast a long shadow over student life on campus.

This is where the SRC steps in. The SRC is the undergraduate student union at USyd and we exist to best represent your interests within the University, but also within wider civil society. Our office-bearers and collectives run campaigns on a wide variety of issues that affect students, from increasing fees, to sexual assault on campus, to forcing the University to divest from fossil fuels. I also sit on a number of University governance committees, where I bring your concerns to the University’s senior management. Alongside our representative work, we also provide a range of free services to students including a free casework service, free legal service and a FoodHub.

I’m motivated by a belief that every student shares a common interest in seeing their education fully funded, accessible and of a high quality. I’m going to work tirelessly towards realising this goal, and I hope anyone reading this finds this to also be a noble vision of what University should look like.

To find out more about what the SRC is doing, head over to our website at srcusyd.net.au, or like our Facebook page at facebook.com/usydsrc. I look forward to seeing many of you around the campus this year.