Concern For Advocacy Work As University Of Sydney Moots Changes To Centre For Peace And Conflict Studies

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The head of the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) has hit back at reports of falling student interest after the University confirmed it was considering changes to the Centre. Max Chalmers reports.

Associate Professor Jake Lynch – who has had a tense relationship with the University’s management in the past thanks to his activism and support for the Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions movement – told New Matilda that statements made by the University justifying planned changes were “both wrong and misleading”.

In publicly explaining the decision to investigate transitioning the Centre into a Department, described by The Australian as a “downgrade”, the University has claimed the Centre must “share more administrative support to compensate for declining enrolments and improve sustainability”.

But Lynch said the Centre had been working to balance its books and that there was strong continuing demand for the courses if offers, as well as its degree programs. University figures show commencing student numbers for CPACS degrees varying since 2011 are relatively stable, starting at 47, falling to 27, increasing to 42 in 2013 before dropping to 33 in 2014 and increasing again to 36 in 2015.

A spokesperson for the University’s Humanities and Social Sciences division did not directly answer questions about these figures, including whether they were really indicative of a long-term decline in the Centre’s enrolment numbers. They reiterated the claim changes had been recommended in an external review of the Centre’s viability, itself premised on a decline in enrolments.

Lynch said the changes outlined in the review had been premised on good faith conversations.

“What’s being canvassed now didn’t come out of the review, it’s not being properly considered,” he said. “It’s just a unilateral idea someone is trying to impose.”

In 2015 Lynch kept his job after being investigated by the University following a protest in a lecture delivered by the ardently pro-Israeli retired British Colonel Richard Kemp.

Jewish groups accused him of anti-Semitism but the University’s inquiry did not find evidence to satisfy the claim.

Lynch had previously infuriated some higher-ups at the University after refusing to assist Israeli professor Dan Avnon secure a fellowship, in line with his support for the BDS movement. A case launched against Lynch on discrimination grounds fell apart in 2014.

Asked if the mooted changes to CPACS could be considered disciplinary, Lynch initially said he didn’t believe so but then said “yes and no”.

Aside from regular teaching, the Centre also runs peace-based advocacy on issues such as the Israel/Palestine conflict, the rights of West Papuans, and refugees in Australia. It’s these activities, which Lynch says do not draw from the Centre’s budget, that he worries will be at risk if it is folded into a Department in the School of Social and Political Sciences.

Earlier in the year Lynch appealed for funding support from the outside community.

The Humanities and Social Sciences division spokesperson said the Sydney Peace Foundation – which awards the Sydney Peace Prize – would still have its work supported by the University, and that the two continuing staff at the CPACS would keep their positions.

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Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.

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