The School of Language Studies (SLS) will be merged with the School of Cultural Inquiry (SCI), the headline change in a suite of changes to the Research School of the Humanities and the Arts (RSHA). At a forum to release the plans for public consultation last Tuesday, the Director of the RSHA, Dr Howard Morphy, confirmed the details of a restructuring that had been in the pipeline for months. The proposed changes, even before they were made public, have already caused controversy, with the resignation of the well-loved Head of the School of Cultural Inquiry, Dr Jill Matthews, in March, in protest at the changes.
The merger of SLS and SCI will result in the establishment of a new School of Language and Literature, combining such diverse fields as Spanish, ancient history and film studies. This was justified by Dr Morphy as a means of encouraging collaboration between researchers working in different languages but through similar mediums such as literature, film or drama, or between English academics and linguists. It was this change that was vehemently opposed by Dr Matthews, who labelled the changes tantamount to an “abolition” of the School of Cultural Inquiry.
In particular, Dr Matthews may have feared the changes to the Gender, Culture and Sexuality program, which she was instrumental in pioneering at the ANU for decades. The Gender program will be removed from the School of Cultural Inquiry and moved to the School of Sociology within the Research School of Social Sciences, hence entirely divesting it from its connection to the cultural representation of gender.
Other changes include disestablishing the Interdisciplinary Humanities Group, an association of autonomous research centres, and co-locating them with relevant academic departments. Art History will be separated from cultural studies and moved entirely to the School of Art to combine with Art Theory researchers there. Heritage and museum studies will be combined with the School of Archaeology and Anthropology to form the School of Archaeology, Anthropology, Heritage and Museum Studies, which will begin to offer undergraduate courses in Heritage Studies.
Dr Morphy made it clear that the overriding reason for the changes was a significant decline in undergraduate enrolments in humanities disciplines such as English literature, film and cultural studies. He provided data showing precipitous drops in equivalent full time student load, including a one-third drop in undergraduate enrolments between 2010 and 2013 for the School of Cultural Inquiry. Hence, a “co-location” of “integrated clusters” of “cognate disciplines” was necessary to provide the sufficient “critical mass” for the efficient use of scarce research and administrative resources. He stressed that there would be no changes to the student experience, curriculum offerings and no direct loss of staff positions. However, the document did indicate that some staff may be subject to reduced responsibility or classification.
Students and staff raised concerns at the forum that there will be no student representation on the change management steering committee, and that the School of Cultural Inquiry was devoid of representation on the steering committee. In addition, there were concerns that consultations about changes at ANU were run at particularly inconvenient times for students, with only a one-week formal consultation period and little publicity, similar to the student consultation forums about ANU budget cuts during exams last semester. There was, however, a feeling that the College was being relatively transparent and upfront about the changes that were necessary in a challenging funding