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Who is The Fox?

Welcome to the third issue of The Fox, a new fortnightly newsletter written by and for casualised, unemployed, and precarious workers from the university sector and beyond! The Fox is a tool for a more connected, informed and powerful coalition of workers, ready to bite back when provoked. Please forward this newsletter to those who need to read it.

Do you have something to contribute or something you’d like us to talk about? Write to The Fox’s editorial team at


Origins of The Fox's Fox

In June, reports started to emerge of a fox on the UNSW campus.

Shadowy photos were shared: a blurred presence, the hint of a tail, the Fox’s eyes glowing strangely in a pool of artificial light. The Fox looked resolute, out of its element. So cute! some fawned. Do not pat the Fox, advised University management, it might bite you.

The appearance of the Fox coincided with the early meetings of what would become CUPUW. Coincidence or not, many of us immediately felt affinity with this stalking, not-belonging creature who came from nowhere and who no one quite knew how to relate to. We too know how to haunt a University campus – liminal, ubiquitous, faintly threatening; we too have been treated as something extraneous, almost accidental, an anomaly to be cleaned up and removed from sight. We, too, are ready to bite. The legend of Comrade Fox was born. 

The Fox, of course, appears in many folk stories, such as those recorded by the Grimm Brothers. In one such tale, ‘The Wedding of Mrs Fox,’ a nine-tailed Mr Fox is cast out in his old age and the younger suitors of Mrs Fox are given a chance to prove themselves worthy of her affections. There is a lesson here about the relationship between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’. The vixen endures while her suitors seek to distinguish themselves from the old, but the shenanigans of the wily old fox makes something else clear: beware of those things that pretend to be what they are not. This is a lesson for education, that is, wherein lies the real ‘event’ of learning? Importantly, at the end of the tale “everyone danced and celebrated, and if they have not stopped, then they are dancing still,” perhaps in the very place where old Mr Fox once lived.

Make Big Publishing Redundant, Not Librarians!

In 2019 Australian academic libraries spent over $371m on digital resources. Only $342m was spent on library staff, yet they're first on the chopping block for cost savings. Many universities spend more on Elsevier subscriptions alone, than what they plan to save by firing library staff. At Monash over 80 library staff are set to go in 2020. About 70 may be lost at RMIT.

But why do we give so much money to publishers when we do all the work? Publishers rely on free academic labour for research, peer review and editorial work. They then sell that research back in "big deal" bundles that cost universities tens of millions of dollars. However the growing open access movement means that more research is openly available online. There are also cheaper means of gaining access to research that isn't, such as inter-library loans and purchasing individual journals.

Universities across the world are cancelling their deals with publishers in protest, and we should do the same here in Australia. We can campaign for universities to reduce their spending on big publishers, and to reallocate that money to staff. If we're feeling brave we can even refuse to submit and review papers for free. It's time to make Elsevier redundant, not staff.

"Companies profiting from restricting access to information created in institutions of higher learning while those same institutions go underfunded and instructors underpaid and overburdened is likely the most predatory act of all.” (Lehner & Ziegler, 2019)

Grappling with Tehen’s Reforms

With the Federal Government’s bill to change university course funding passed by Parliament the future of higher education seems bleaker than it would be if we just had COVID and neolliberal executives to worry about. The substance of Minister for Education’s, Dan Tehan, reforms do not need to be rehashed here, except to say that it will steer students away from humanities and remove government funding from students who fail too many courses. Notably, the fee hikes will leave Indigenous students, who typically do arts and humanities degrees, with higher debt burdens, or discourage them from enrolling at all. 

While Tehan’s proposal has received strong criticism from a wide range of players in the sector (students, prodigious professors of all stripes, VCs, and the NTEU), much of the initial resistance seems to be petering out—at least in the upper echelon of the industry. Universities Australia seems content with $1.5 billion allotted to research in the Government’s 2020-2021 budget. The ‘Government has heard the alarm bells’ declared the peak body’s chair Professor Deborah Terry. Knowingly or not, Terry is confusing hearing with listening. The Group of 8, once supposedly in 'utter revolt' against the reforms, is now placated by the shot in the arm that the Government has promised to give university research.

Of course, this money won’t even come close to stemming the hemorrhage of jobs in the industry. But, having lobbied and received something for their troubles, presumably university executives can now turn their undivided attention to the task of using the pandemic as an excuse to find ‘savings’ through massive layoffs, centralisation, rationalisation and outsourcing student services and even education itself. Naturally, their ‘comms’ teams will remain intensely active, significantly adding to the overall suffering of the university workforce who will have to at least read the subject heading of emails from management before trashing them.

How will Tehan’s reforms affect precarious university workers? If the reforms work as the Government intends, the number of humanities courses offered by universities will be reduced, resulting in loss of work for precarious staff in those disciplines. Conversely, as UNSW's VC Ian Jacobs (or more likely his PR team) observed a few months ago, Tehan’s reforms actually provide executives like him with a ‘perverse incentive’ to enrol more high-fee paying humanities students. So, it is possible that STEM will receive less funding and staff and students in those disciplines will suffer. Either way, the reforms will likely lead to further restructures and reductions course offerings; affecting a range of employed academic and professional staff, many of whom are insecurely employed and exploited.

Though it is not yet entirely clear how Tehan’s reforms will affect precarious staff in universities, casualised teaching staff are already experiencing one of the ramifications: distress among students. Naturally students (especially those in the humanities who have been told—erroneously but repeatedly—that they are far less likely to be gainfully employed) want to discuss the reforms with their lecturers and tutors. Personally, I am happy to tell my students what I think of Tehan’s reforms (‘it is utter shit’). Perhaps my students don’t want or expect me to provide a message of hope, but I feel obliged anyway. Unfortunately, I have usually found myself at a loss for words during these kinds of conversations. These are the things that I wish I could keep clear in my head:
  1. We don't need to make a case for the humanities. Over and over again, the case has been made. The benefits of learning how to think, empathise, imagine, and (most importantly) care is self-evident. You can learn these things in STEM subjects, but the arts and humanities are purpose-built to explore and instil these values and intellectual/social habits. 

  2. Imminent recession notwithstanding, the problem is not whether or not your STEM or arts degree is going to get you a job. It is whether you will ever get a secure job. Casualisation is blight on the modern workforce and few, if any, industries are free from it. Added to casualisation is the challenge of automation—a realm of technological development that seems poised to make nonsense of any notion of ‘job readiness.’

  3. It is ok to despair; but don’t do it privately or quietly. Join well organised, socially distanced student and staff protests. Write any emails to everybody: Tehan, your local MP, your VC, your head of school, your liberal-voting family members (if you should have the misfortune of having any) and anyone else you can think of.

AUWU Spokesperson to Join This Week's CUPUW Meeting

Kristin O’Connell from the Australian Unemployed Workers Union will be joining this Thursday’s CUPUW meeting to talk about the critical work AUWU is doing during this crisis and ideas for possible collaboration. All are invited to attend this public discussion, join via the link below. For information on future meetings and events follow CUPUW on facebook or twitter.

Next Meeting
Oct 15, 2020 05:00 PM Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney
Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android:
Or iPhone one-tap :
  US: +12532158782,,84870595140# or +13017158592,,84870595140# 
Or Telephone:
  Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
    US: +1 253 215 8782 or +1 301 715 8592 or +1 312 626 6799 or +1 346 248 7799 or +1 646 558 8656 or +1 669 900 6833 
  Meeting ID: 848 7059 5140
  International numbers available:

Lean in While You Suffer: Wellbeing Tips From Management

2020 is a year like no other, and it sure has been a rocky one for our sector. At times like these—when you fear for your mortality each time you leave house, carrying with you the guilt-laden risk of inadvertently endangering your housemates by miscalculating the optimal angle of your three-layer face mask and consequently allowing diseased droplets to find their way in—into your mouth, respiratory tract, lungs—then out again, multiplying for the purposes of infecting everything and everyone you love—yes, at times like these, it’s important to look after your wellbeing.

This is especially important for the #precarious workers among us (by ‘us’ I mean the people who work for me, not me). The word ‘precarious’ derives from the Latin ‘precarius’, which means ‘obtained by asking or paying.’ By the mid-1600s, ‘precarious’ was a legal term meaning ‘dependent on the will of another’, kind of like how a newborn kitten relies on its mother for the protection and sustenance it needs to grow, without which it will die.

Adorable kittens aside, I can’t imagine how precarious university workers must be feeling at the moment (really, I can’t—Gough paid for my degree and I had tenure by the time you were born). You are working very hard, even as contract by contract expires, course by course is discontinued; even as you watch the Coalition claw billions upon billions from  the crumbling ruins of our democracy your sector; even as you read sexist advice from your Most Un-Woke employers on how to care for your children while working from home and watching both of your futures disintegrate into pandemic, recession, depression, climate apocalypse (vale </3). A year like no other, to be sure. 

We here at the University of HopeTM offer no such sexist advice. In keeping with your motto, ‘mundus est, vampire’, we instead offer some gender-neutral, socially distanced wellbeing tips. 

For existential dread, you might find the following exercises helpful:
  1. Screaming into the void.

  2. Running into the void. 

  3. Dancing in the void, to the nostalgic sounds of whatever you cried to as a teenager. 

For financial destitution, we recommend:

  1. Job and growth. 

  2. Earning or learning. 

  3. Working harder 

  4. Yoga

Cops descending on your campus when you try to fight impending financial destitution and the slow erosion of the demos? We recommend:

  1. An alibi. 

  2. A lawyer. 

  3. A written statement explicating that your actions do not reflect those of your employer (this employer/employee relationship being on a strictly time/task-limited contractual basis, subject to the whims and whimsical/convenient ‘crisis’ of said employer), The University of HopeTM, preferable signed in blood. 


And remember (occasional) colleagues, we’re all in this together!

Artwork by morgan finn
CUPUW organises on stolen Indigenous lands across the continent. We acknowledge and pay our respects to Indigenous elders, past and present. We also acknowledge that these lands have always been places of learning, teaching and research. Sovereignty was never ceded.

Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.
Come to a meeting! Get in touch!


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Casualised, Unemployed, and Precarious University Workers · 120 Clarendon Street · South Melbourne, VIC 3205 · Australia

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