Student Alex Hullah (left) said the ongoing situation has “affected student and staff mental health”. (ABC News: Monte Bovill)
Major concerns around lack of teaching support and transparency have been raised by students following months of unrest at the University of Tasmania’s School of Creative Arts (SOCA) campus in Hobart.
For an entire 13-week semester, two arts teachers were absent from class without explanation.
The pair were under investigation but were not replaced during the course of the semester.
Adding to the problems, the conditions under which the technical staff are employed in the arts department has been placed in doubt.
Students affected by the unrest launched a petition calling on the university to resolve, “ongoing disruptions to learning and study”.
It has so far gained more than 220 signatures.
The petition highlights an “unexplained absence” of the two teachers as well as “uncertainty” around employment for technical staff, leading to an “atmosphere of anxiety and distrust” arising at the campus.
Fine Arts honours student Alex Hullah has been involved in the creation of the petition and said there have been major issues with the sculpture course.
“Many of us have actually had to withdraw, defer, take a leave of absence and really consider whether we are going to return to study next semester,” she told ABC Radio Hobart.
“This situation has affected student and staff mental health.”
James Edward, the last remaining full-time honours student in the sculpture department, said “there has been a lot of unrest, upset and distrust of the university amongst the students”.
The online petition states “many students and staff have experienced on-going disruptions to learning and study”.
Concerns included the “unexplained absence of essential teaching staff”, changes to technician roles, “lack of stability in leadership positions” at the SOCA campus, “uncertainty over the future of the school”, a “lack of transparency and inadequate communication from UTAS management”, “lack of investment from UTAS in facilities and services” and “negative and political culture in staffing body at SOCA that has been detrimental to learning and teaching”.
Many of the concerns “have been on-going and relate to poor management and leadership in The University”, the petition wording reads, adding students “demand action” to “address student concerns and to improve the reputation, quality and experience of arts courses”.
Reason for investigation kept from students
Ms Hullah said the sculpture course went without supervision and teaching support for a significant period of time in semester 2 following the removal of the teachers.
“Some students didn’t have teachers at classes and just didn’t know what to do,” she said.
“These are courses that we obviously have large HECS debts [for].”
The petition was launched after 17 students submitted formal complaints to the university, but following an extended investigation by the University’s Academic Senate, no action was taken even though the complaints were “substantiated”.
The petition has gained support from both students and staff as well as members from the general art community.
“We just want UTAS to come together and treat us as stakeholders and consult with us about what art students need and how we can access high-quality education,” Ms Hullah said.
The students said there had been three heads of the arts campus in just a year, with the revolving door in leadership leading to a lack of stability in the resolution process.
The petition has been delivered to various members of senior UTAS management, including Vice-Chancellor Professor Rufus Black.
UTAS has been approached for comment.