EXCLUSIVE: Library staff at some of Australia’s major universities fear they may have been placed in grave danger amidst the worsening Coronavirus pandemic with employees expected to turn up for work last week while their well-paid bosses were keeping themselves safe from COVID-19 by working from home. Serkan Ozturk reports.
With Australia’s federal and state governments this week finally moving towards a stringent lockdown of many facets of society to prevent the spread of the dangerous COVID-19 respiratory virus, it can be revealed that staff working inside university libraries in Sydney and Melbourne are fearful they may have been placed in harm’s way after universities last week decided to allow their libraries to remain open despite moving to shut down face-to-face classes.
The decision by the universities to keep their libraries open came as state governments and local councils across NSW and Victoria announced last week that many major public libraries would be closed for the foreseeable future.
With the closure of public libraries, it was feasible and more than likely that other libraries – such as those at universities in central inner-city locations – would receive greater traffic. A likelihood that would place library staff at the universities at greater danger of contracting COVID-19, according to some insiders who contacted True Crime News Weekly.
One concerned source connected to RMIT university in central Melbourne claimed it was a disaster waiting to happen for the library to remain open when it was situated in such a populous part of the city.
“RMIT’s student and staff population in the city campus alone is the equivalent of dozens of primary schools lumped together,” the source said.
“Imagine this gigantic school was also in one of the busiest square kilometres in the nation?
“Even if everything else shuts down, thousands of people gathering at this huge school everyday would make containing the virus extremely difficult.”
RMIT’s Library has 1,000 seats to accommodate users, while on an average day thousands of people would use the facilities.
The source claimed university officials had been slow to act as they were seemingly waiting for the student census date which is the last day students have to withdraw without paying and instead were hiding behind the federal government’s inaction over announcing a widespread societal shutdown until this week.
“Essentially it feels like the university was prioritising their financial bottom line over the health and safety of staff and students,” the source said.
“There was a media article a few weeks ago talking about the massive ‘war chests’ or cash reserves universities have. Melb Uni, for example, has about $4 billion in the bank. Most of the other universities have around $1 billion.
“They could cover their losses this year, but presumably that money is seen as a property development fund rather than to deliver good services to students and academics.”
As late as the afternoon of Friday, March 20, emails were sent from RMIT to staff and students stating the library remained open for access.
La Trobe and Monash universities had also stopped classes last week but decided to also keep their libraries open.
Academics in Sydney contacted by True Crime News Weekly also expressed concern that libraries connected to their universities remained open despite face-to-face classes being cut.
While library staff were quite literally risking their lives, RMIT’s Deputy Vice Chancellor, Belinda Tynan, was safe working from home, according to her own social media posts sent to other staff.
RMIT’s Deputy Vice Chancellor Belinda Tynan safe working from home (Image: Supplied)
“My office are all working from home today and I thought I might share some of my tips. I’d love to hear some of yours. I’m an early riser so I got myself sorted with a to-do list as I work best in the am,” Ms Tynan wrote mid-last week.
She then continued: “I sit in my kitchen. I love being in the middle of the action- even if it’s only me. I am on two computers though which is a bit confusing!”
In response to questions from True Crime News Weekly, a spokesperson for RMIT said the health and safety of the RMIT community was their absolute priority.
“As the COVID-19 situation has evolved, we have continued to take the advice and guidance of government and the relevant health authorities,” the RMIT spokesperson said.
“On Sunday 22 March, the Victorian Government announced it would proceed to implement a shutdown of all non-essential activity across the state to combat the spread of COVID-19.
“At this time, we made the decision to suspend all face-to-face learning and teaching activity across RMIT’s Australian campuses.
“Prior to this decision, and in line with Government guidance, our campuses remained open with social distancing measures, hygiene advice and additional cleaning protocols in place.
“At this time other interim changes were also being quickly implemented, including transitioning to remote support services and digital learning where possible.”
All libraries across Australia have now been ordered to shut down following new measures this week announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to halt the spread of COVID-19.