A row over mooted changes to the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) has escalated, with the NSW Greens writing to the University warning the move is “at risk of giving rise to an inference in the wider community that this plan may be a politically motivated attack”.
In a letter sent to Sydney’s Acting Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Barbara Caine, Greens MP Jamie Parker expressed concern about a plan to transition the Centre from a standalone operation into a department.
The CPACS is headed by Associate Professor Jake Lynch and has engaged in advocacy beyond the classroom, with the Centre’s current structure enabling Lynch to spend time coordinating campaigns on issues including refugee rights, West Papuan independence, and the Israel/Palestine conflict.
In the letter to Caine, signed by seven of the Greens’ eight state MPs, Parker asked for assurances the Centre would be able to continue to operate in its current form, and called the proposed changes “potentially damaging”.
“We understand that the University has given, as a reason for this proposed change, an argument that CPACS does not meet the requirements of a Centre to promote multi-disciplinary research, teaching and community outreach. Yet CPACS has an excellent reputation for doing just that,” the letter said.
“The renowned Sydney Peace Foundation, which awards Australia’s only annual international prize for peace, is a CPACS initiative. Through its advocacy and public profile, CPACS has been instrumental in bringing to the public agenda many vital and controversial issues which do not make headlines in the mainstream media.
“Some of those issues include the rights and freedoms of Palestinians; the aspirations for peace with justice of the people of West Papua; the militarisation of Australia; and the need for accountability for alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. The University is at risk of giving rise to an inference in the wider community that this plan may be a politically motivated attack on CPACS, aimed at silencing its important voice.
Lynch has been a vocal supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, and drew attention after declining to assist Israeli academic Dan Avnon in an application for a fellowship at the University of Sydney. In response, Israeli law centre Shurat HaDin sued Lynch on the grounds of discrimination, but the case fell apart in July 2014.
The University has argued that falling student numbers at the CPACS are behind the proposed changes, and said that turning it into a department within the School of Social and Political Sciences would allow costs to be cut, and the administrative burden to be shared.
But Lynch has rejected that justification, pointing to figures contradicting the falling enrolment claim, and saying the Centre’s advocacy would inevitably be harmed if the transition were to go ahead. He told New Matilda he had contacted management for details in early March after the plan was first reported in The Australian, but was yet to receive a reply.
A spokesperson for the University of Sydney said they did not have further comment to make.
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