Students have entered occupation in the Nodus building at University of Surrey in protest to University management and the cutting of courses at Guildford School of Acting (GSA).
By Felice Southwell
The students entered the offices of GSA management at 2pm on 22nd May and immediately published their list of demands on Twitter @OccupyGSA.
The occupation follows staffing and funding cuts to the BA Theatre and Performance and Dance programmes, as well as recent votes of no confidence by the Students’ Union and the University and Colleges Union towards the governing bodies.
Their demands include a call for more transparency and clarification of a ‘suspension’ or ‘closure’, to rule out compulsory redundancies and to ensure that optional modules for current students are safe.
Sources report that the mental health of students and staff have been affected by the announcements and that offers to prospective students whose places had previously been confirmed were revoked.
Rebekah Kerley, a final year Theatre and Performance student, said: “Since the announcement was made, we’ve been lied to, we’ve been given misinformation, we’ve been treated badly. We’ve asked for the bare minimum in terms of information and transparency and we’ve just been met with truly appalling behaviour. It’s not professional or fair or kind at all.”
“We’ve gone through every other means possible to talk to them and they just won’t listen; they don’t want to, because they see us as a problem rather than as students that have paid to be here and are dedicated to the University and the course.”
Cathryn Fenton, a final year Theatre and Performance student, described the “constant erasure, lack of resources and a generally hostile environment” on the course since it merged with GSA four years ago, which used to be part of the Faculty of Arts before restructuring.
Other students have also entered occupation to show solidarity with GSA students, in protest to the misinformation and lack of transparency from management.
On Friday 17th May, it was announced that in recent referendums on campus, 84% of students and 96% of staff voted that they did not have confidence in the University’s management and leadership bodies.
No representatives from GSA management were available to comment at the time of publication.
Security are present and the occupation is now officially ‘closed’, meaning students cannot join the occupation.
By Cathryn Fenton, Rebekah Kerley and Peter Ferguson
On the 22nd May the Surrey Protect Our Arts Collective occupied the Nodus Centre on both floors in response to the cuts and possibilities of course closures to the Theatre and Performance course at GSA. The Collective consists of a mix of Theatre and Performance students, Surrey Labour Students, Cut the Rent, People and Planet as well as other student activists.
Their demands have been placed around campus on posters and on social media as well as a banner in front of the Nodus Centre reading Protect Our Arts Collective.
On Wednesday 1st May it was announced to Theatre and Performance Students from Sean McNamara, Head of Guildford School of Acting, that the decision has been taken to withdraw the BA Dance and BA Theatre and Performance programmes. Four members of staff are leaving at the end of the academic year through EVS, the University’s Enhance Voluntary Severance initiative. The positions of remaining staff members on the programmes remain uncertain as their departments are set to close.
Since it was announced there has been a series of mis-management from the University of Surrey and GSA. Prospective students for the programmes were offered, and have confirmed, places on the courses only for them to be revoked via email; they have been offered no support or reason form the University. PhD students within the department discovered the closure from social media and rumour, many are losing their supervisors as a result of the closure. Students on their Professional Training Year and temporary withdrawal were not contacted by the school concerning the closure until management were prompted to let them know. Current students have received no reassurance of the way in which the rest of their degree is to be delivered with the reduced numbers of staff and the lack of incoming students (which is vital for modules in which students collaborate).
The students in occupation are demanding GSA management to commit to an official schedule and announcement detailing exactly what is planned for the courses’ future.
The demands the students are making are:
To provide a transparent statement concerning the terms of closure, addressing the misinformation of ‘suspension’ vs ‘closure’. Otherwise, commit to reinstate the course and liaise with current students about the process.
To confirm that there will be no further redundancies or compulsory redundancies of all staff.
To confirm that the jobs of the Theatre and Performance team are secure.
To support our course giving it the time and resources that it has been starved off.
To confirm that optional modules will always be available to students currently enrolled.
To ensure that this year’s graduating cohort is represented at graduation with a relevant guest speaker, with assurances that the University of Surrey is clearly written on their certificates.
Student anger has been fuelled by the way in which GSA management have treating the BA Theatre and Performance course in the past. Previous to the announcement of closure, in April the final year students sent the Head of GSA, Sean McNamara, a letter detailing their concern at the erasure of the programme. They are yet to receive a response. Until 2016, BA Theatre and Performance and BA Dance found their home at the University of Surrey under the School of Arts. During the Operational Review both programmes were merged into GSA and since the merge, students have reported a distinct lack engagement from the school. GSA have been hostile to their presence and have constantly stripped back resources for the course. Over the past four years, GSA management have consistently used language that has erases the existence of the Theatre and Performance programme. Until students called out this erasure attempt, only 0.2% of GSA tweets mentioned BA Theatre and Performance. GSA have also deleted the only post of Theatre and Performance on their Instagram and have not marketed the Theatre and Performance applicant days.
For students, it is clear that GSA management did not want to host to the programmes, and with this in mind it seems the reasons for the closure stem from a power imbalance and ideological differences between the traditional training conservatoire and the academic programmes. We find the actions and attitude from management figures in this situation underwhelming and disrespectful to the students and staff involved.
Within three hours of the occupation Sean McNamara and Lucy Evans, the Chief Students Officer, came to discuss the reasons for the occupation and hear the demands of the students. Both Sean McNamara and Lucy Evans were asked to comment but declined to comment on the situation at the present time.
Students within the occupation were thankful for Lucy Evans coming to talk to them but found the responses from both unsatisfactory and inaccurate, in particular from Sean McNamara.
These actions follow 84% of students and 96% of staff voting that they don’t have confidence in the management of the university’s top bodies.