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Sydney University set to demote peace studies centre


By: Christian Kerr

The University of Sydney has foreshadowed a downgrading of its controversial Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, following a fall in student numbers.

The centre and its director, associate­ professor Jake Lynch, have been embroiled in a string of public squabbles over recent years, attracting claims of anti-Semitism.

The disputes prompted a review last year of the centre and its functions by the university, which urged it “to develop a clearer sense of the difference between its advocacy and other roles — ­especially teaching’’.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon used a speech on Tuesday night to accuse the university of threatening the centre’s future through “bureaucratic barriers”.

“The centre should be supported as an important research centre and an important voice,” she said.

A Sydney University spokesman confirmed yesterday the university was “currently considering the possible transition of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies from a centre into a department­”, citing “a decline in stud­ent enrolments in its programs”.

“The centre has been expensive to maintain because it has had to support its own administration and be housed in a separate building,” he said. “As a department, it would be located within the School of Social and Political Sciences, where it would share more administrative support to compensate for declining enrolments and improve sustainability.”

The spokesman talked of positioning peace and conflict studies as “a mainstream offering in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences”, but said existing staff would remain and the university would continue to support the work of the Sydney Peace Foundation and its annual Sydney Peace Prize.

The university’s continued support for the centre and the foundation came under question from both sides of politics yesterday. Labor’s parliamentary secretary to the Leader of the Opposit­ion Michael Danby said two years ago that he and the curren­t Leader of the NSW Oppositi­on, Luke Foley, had nomin­ated former High Court judge Michael Kirby for the Sydney Peace Prize in recognition of his work on human rights abuses in North Korea.

“We wanted to test, with the most worthy individual, whether there was any authenticity to this faux-peace centre,” Mr Danby said.

“Of course, His Honour, despite his groundbreaking work for hundreds of thousands of North Korean political prisoners, where he led the UN’s Commission of Inquiry and which was praised by the UN Security Council, receive­d no peace prize.

“Luke Foley and I barely receive­d any acknowledgment.”

Mr Danby’s remarks were echoed by Liberal Bass MP Andrew­ Nikolic, who served as a UN military observer in Israel, Syria and South Lebanon during the first Gulf War.

“It is unsurprising to me that Sydney University is acting to protect its reputation and cred­ibility,” he said.

“It has always been my contention that the university should have repudiated the activities of the centre long ago.”

He said Sydney University risked reputational damage from the centre and its activities.

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