Students attending an undergraduate forum with College of Asia and the Pacific (CAP) Dean Veronica Taylor expressed overwhelming discontent with the CHL Change Document, with Vice Chancellor Schmidt stating that he was “not very pleased” that his recommendations were not included in the document.
The document, released on Thursday 25th February, outlines the proposed changes to the School of Culture, History, and Language, with a projected completion date of August 2016. The CHL will be restructured into the School of Languages, Histories, Cultures, and Environments, with proposed cuts of up to 15 academic staff.
Fixed-term and externally funded staff will not be affected. In addition, the School’s number of professional staff would be increased to ten.
As part of this restructuring, the School will be divided into the departments of Languages, Histories, Cultures, and Environments, with each department holding only seven full-time equivalent (FTE) academics. Additionally, the document also marked six FTE continuing positions to be allocated to strategic areas, and placed all fixed-term FTE positions into an unspecified category.
However, key proposals of the document appear to disregard the recommendations of an external review conducted in 2015, as Woroni has previously covered.
Despite the review specifically cautioning against restructuring as a potentially destabilising action, CAP Administration will be dividing the School onto four new departments and establishing a new structure for continuing academic staff.
Furthermore, the possible culling of 15 academic staff, amounting to a 27% decrease from the current 56 continuing academics, could jeopardise the School’s pre-eminence in strategic fields such as Asia-Pacific studies and linguistics, as per the 2015 review.
In terms of the School’s financial problems, the Change Document does not contain any financial figures or data to substantiate its claims to resolving the CHL’s problems. Given the lack of data, it is not certain to staff and students if the Change Document’s proposals will resolve these financial issues.
Speaking in his capacity as National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) delegate, Dr Mark Donohue said “if the figures are correct and the School runs at a $1.5 million deficit – this university is a multi-billion dollar industry, why not allocate $2 million extra [for CHL]?”, especially if the CHL academically outperforms many other areas of the University.
He also pointed out numerical discrepancies in the document. It proposes that the new structure will be four departments with seven continuing academics each, with six strategic FTE positions to be allocated in addition.
This would bring the number of continuing FTE staff to 34, which indicates a 39% drop in staffing – higher than proposed by Taylor, and the largest cut of academic staff in an Australian university, according to Donohue and the NTEU.
“The first reaction that most academics had was widespread disbelief… since then you’ve had a lot of people going silent, as though they were in shock,” he said. Moreover, disenchanted by the process and its duration, staff have been unwilling to engage with the CAP Dean and many are still considering relocating to other institutions.
VC’s Proposals Absent from Change Document
On Tuesday 8th March, Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt held a roundtable discussion with higher-degree research (HDR) students at the CHL. CAP Associate Dean for HDRs, Chris Ballard, was in attendance. According to Schmidt, the session was intended to gather opinions for how the ANU administration could handle the situation better.
Ballard and Schmidt spoke against the movement of HDR administrative staff from the School to CAP-level, and Schmidt expressed surprise at the disproportionately large amount of HDR students that only a handful of professional staff were to administer.
Regarding the difficulties of the review process, Schmidt told the attendees that he intended to rebuild trust between CHL staff and the Administration. He assured the students and staff that there was “no maliciousness” in his actions, but expressed regret that he had inherited a troublesome review process that should have been dealt with years ago.
Furthermore, he was “not very pleased” that his proposals for the CHL changes were not included in the recent Change Document. This was particularly the case for the 15 proposed cuts, exceeding the “handful” of staffing cuts he had anticipated.
While he did intend to provide the best experience to HDR students possible, he acknowledged that “a few students will be severely disadvantaged” by the change process.
Student Outrage at Undergraduate Panel
At a panel for CHL undergraduate students on Wednesday 9th March, CAP Dean Veronica Taylor attempted to explain the Change Document’s proposals and answered audience questions, although many attendees were critical of the cuts.
Taylor prefaced her talk with the argument that there will be “little, if any affect on undergraduates” and that “languages remain a strategic priority” in the CHL. She also noted that Administration would work with Honours students whose supervisors are affected by the changes.
However, Dr McComas Taylor of the CHL highlighted that there were around 1000 students studying Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indonesian at the CHL at present, with 19 teaching staff. After the proposed changes, this number of FTE language teachers would drop to seven, thus putting even greater strain on an already understaffed area of the university.
Taylor responded by reiterating her commitment to language as a priority, and hoped to use other School academics with language skills to assist in teaching. Yet, according to the Change Document, even if all of the six strategically-appointed academics were allocated to the Languages department, the number of teachers would only reach 13.
However, it is not certain if Taylor’s proposed changes will benefit the language program. Students present, as well as Dr Donohue, stressed that staff with language skills did not necessarily have the educational tools to teach this language, thus hampering the efficacy of the School’s language programs.
Donohue told Woroni that under the changes, he would be made to teach Indonesian despite his lack of training in language teaching. He was doubtful that this teaching scheme would satisfy the ANU’s commitments to high-quality language teaching.
Also, the Change Document states: “Instructional positions in less-commonly taught languages that are additional to the commonly-taught languages and linguistics academic positions in the Languages Department will therefore be filled on 2 or 3 year fixed-term basis.” It identified Burmese, Hindi, Thai, Vietnamese, and Sanskrit as languages to be affected.
Consequently, continuing academics teaching these languages would be commuted down to fixed-term contracts.
Many students also questioned the logic of trimming a School that was already understaffed, and were critical of Taylor’s intentions to stimulate growth in the School. While Taylor did underline her desire to maintain the quality of teaching, she did not elaborate on how decreased staffing would benefit this.
She did not provide a detailed response when a student asked her why the CAP would defund an already under-resourced School. She answered that the point was “good feedback, and that it [would be] taken on board”.
No clarification was given as to how the School would be able to attract high-quality academics in the future, given the uncertainty of its structure and staffing profile.
At the conclusion of the forum, Taylor announced that there would be routine feedback sessions with ANUSA to discuss the effects of the Change n article ocument’ngposals.
Read a discussion of the changes by former Associate Dean (Education), Deputy Dean and Acting Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific, Professor Andrew Walker, here.