By Lungol Wekina
UNSW Management has finally taken steps to support the students and staff planning to participate in the upcoming climate strike.
On Friday, September 20th, millions will take to the streets to demand that our leaders take action on climate change ahead of the Emergency UN Climate Summit in New York the following week. This global movement has garnered massive support all across the country, with the School Strike for Climate here in Sydney attracting over 30,000 protesters from around NSW on 15th March earlier this year.
UNSW Management has acknowledged that a large contingent of UNSW students and staff are planning to join other protesters around the country on September 20th. As such, they have released two letters, one to students and another to teaching staff, outlining their support for the collective right to strike and the ways in which all parties can comfortably work around the lost teaching time. This is a significant improvement following their response to the School Strike for Climate in March this year, where students were only made aware that they would not face disciplinary action mere hours before the protest actually started.
In the letter to students, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic Professor Merlin Crossley wrote:
We note that many students are intending the join the Climate Change event planned for Friday 20 September. We ask that students planning to participate make arrangements to ensure they do not miss important material or assessments that may compromise their learning outcomes or those of fellow students (group partners etc).
We are asking course convenors to be accommodating in terms of making alternative arrangements if students notify them in good time that they intend to join the event.
Professor Merlin Crossley
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic
UNSW Human Resources Acting Vice-President Deena Amorelli similarly wrote to staff:
You may be aware of Climate Change events planned for Friday 20 September in Sydney and Canberra. We understand many staff are intending to participate. We ask that staff apply for leave through myUNSW and make arrangements to ensure coverage of classes and other work commitments. We also ask supervisors to be as accommodating as possible in terms of approving leave and supporting staff in making alternative arrangements to cover their work commitments.
We are sure that staff support the rights of students to participate and though it may cause some inconvenience, we ask that you be accommodating should students seek alternative arrangements for critical assessments and other learning outcomes.
Vice-President, Human Resources (Acting)
In response to the previous statements, UNSW’s SRC Environment Officer, Alexander Biscu, has provided the following comment:
I am proud that the voices of the students and staff that have been fighting for UNSW to take a proactive stance to support the climate strike have been heard. Institutions like UNSW must work with the growing, global mass movements that are fighting to prevent catastrophic climate change. This university’s statement is a victory to strike organisers which will be beneficial in helping convince more university students to attend the strike.
While the wording of the message leaves it up to individual convenors as to whether or not they will accommodate students walking out of class, I hope that all staff members who recognise the severity of our climate crisis will do so.
However, I believe UNSW Management should not limit student or staff attendance by their ability to convince their convenor or apply for leave but rather provide a blanket guarantee that no student or member of staff will be penalised for leaving university regardless of classes or duties.
This strike will call upon the world leaders to finally acknowledge that our climate situation is, and has been for quite a while, a crisis. Students, activists, and scientists are banding together to hold politicians accountable for their ignorance, complacency, or even blatant antagonism towards issues of our environment and our collective survival. This is especially pertinent following the approval of the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, the current genocidal state-sanctioned violence against sacred Djab Wurrung lands, and the tens of thousands of fires that have been intentionally set in the Amazon rainforest.
Watch this space for additional coverage of the School Strike for Climate.