Concerned students have started a Change.org petition to keep Ikeda-Sensei at the CHL

Concerned students have started a Change.org petition to keep Ikeda-Sensei at the CHL

This article is part two of Woroni’s coverage on the past two weeks of staffing cuts at the School of Culture, History, and Language.

Almost two years ago, the University began a review of the CHL, which falls under the College of Asia and the Pacific (CAP). Starting on May 9, the CHL review’s deliberative committee and the Dean of CAP, Professor Veronica Taylor, began meeting with staff. To date at least 12 academic staff have been told that positions would not be available for them next semester, with widespread discontent in the staff and student body.

Japanese, Linguistics, Religious Studies, History, Southeast Asian Studies, and Anthropology are expected to be particularly affected by the review.

Japanese Cut

Mr Shun Ikeda, a senior lecturer in Japanese, is among those being pushed out of the University. Mr Ikeda, who is known to his students as Ikeda-sensei, has taught at the ANU for 33 years. He is a key liaison between the University and the Japanese community, Director of the ANU Za Kabuki club,  established exchange programs with 24 universities in Japan. Ikeda-sensei was also the first Japanese national to graduate as an undergraduate from ANU.

A petition has been started by students urging the University to retain Ikeda-sensei as an academic staff at the ANU. The petition currently has over 1200 signatures.

According to Dr Mark Gibeau, a lecturer in Japanese, the standard amount of courses taught by members of the ANU’s Japan Centre is three per year, yet Ikeda-sensei has been teaching five courses per year. Dr Gibeau said, “in removing him, CAP is putting a much bigger hole in the curriculum than any other staff member would have created.”

The removal of Ikeda-sensei from the Japan Centre would leave only one Japanese native speaker in the Centre.

Dr Gibeau’s comments were echoed by many signatories of the petition. Patrick Kongmalavong, a former student of Ikeda-sensei now studying at the University of Tokyo as a postgraduate student, wrote, “I simply cannot imagine an ANU without Ikeda-sensei. If this does eventuate, we lose a great mind and an irreplaceable figure of the ANU Japan program.”

Speaking to Woroni, Ikeda-sensei expressed his desire to continue teaching at ANU. “I haven’t thought about [the future] because I didn’t think it would happen this way at all. . . . I thought that if I retired voluntarily, I’d remain as part time staff . . . but I’m not too sure whether I can do that or not,” he said. Ikeda-sensei added that he would only feel comfortable retiring if the College guarantees that new staff will replace him and continue teaching advanced Japanese courses.

Dr Peter Hendricks, a lecturer in Japanese who was once a student of Ikeda-sensei, will also be leaving the CHL to move to the Chancellery as Dean of Students. The loss of both Mr Ikeda and Dr Hendricks from CHL reduces the number of core Japanese teaching staff to four.

The Dean’s comment that “Nothing in the CHL change plan impacts students’ majors, in either CAP or CASS” are at odds with those of some students.

Liam Walsh, a first year International Business student majoring in Japanese, told Woroni, “only a few months into my degree the ANU is making cuts to the CHL which mean that I won’t even be able to minor in Japanese,” and expressed his disgust at the poor treatment of students and staff members like Ikeda-sensei. Mr Walsh also stated that he is not alone in “seriously considering leaving the ANU as a result.”

Cuts to Linguistics, History, Southeast Asian Studies

CHL linguistics will also be particularly damaged by the cuts. Dr Mark Donohue and Dr Paul Sidwell, both distinguished linguists working on Asia, have been told they will be discarded by the University.

Donohue and Sidwell have taught many important courses in linguistics, including phonetics, phonology, field methods, and forensic linguistics. Dr Donohue expressed his concern that for each of the above courses, all those who have recently taught them are either being fired, have already left, or are not currently teaching.

The Head of the School of Language, Literature and Linguistics at ANU, Professor Catherine Travis, told Woroni, “We are committed to education in linguistics, and ANU will continue to run not only a successful major and minor in Linguistics, but also Honours, MA and postgraduate programs,” and, “we have a commitment to offer the courses that are core to the major, as well as to modify our non-core offerings in accordance with staff expertise.”

Bonnie McLean, a third year PhB linguistics student interested in Asia and Asian languages, said in response to the cuts, “I have lost basically all of my linguistic contacts for this region,” while praising the work of Donohue and Sidwell in bringing together undergraduates, postgraduates, and researchers through the ANU phonetics group.

Linguistics students speaking to Woroni said they believe the cuts will result in a shift away from Asian linguistics and towards European linguistics. Many expressed the opinion that this could compromise the quality of phonology education at ANU.

Donohue said the cuts to CHL linguistics will cripple linguistics for College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) students as well, as many of the core courses are taught by CHL staff.

According to Professor Robert Cribb, a specialist in Indonesian History and Politics who is among those being forced out by the cuts, “History and Southeast Asian Studies have both been gutted, and it will be difficult to offer a strong program in either area.”

Fallout Spreads Beyond Staff

Academics were particularly concerned about the damage done to students, with  Professor C. John Powers, a specialist in Religious Studies and History who is being fired, saying, “Students will be the losers.”

Dozens of PhD students will be significantly affected by the loss of their supervisor or panel members. Professor Powers has supervised ten successful PhD students.  Donohue is currently supervising four PhDs, and is on the panel for an additional four.

Naijing Liu, a PhD student supervised by Dr Donohue, said, “I was told that ANU has a strong emphasis on theoretical linguistics, but now all the theoretical linguistics has been cut. I’m not sure if I can find another supervisor. It’s the second year of the project I’m working on.”

The Dean has told Woroni that affected PhD students will be meeting with the Associate Dean (HDR) to make new arrangements in light of the changes.

Language Diversity, a student group that has been active in opposing the CHL cuts, expressed its severe disappointment at the recent developments: “The loss of these staff robs students of what the ANU promised to provide: a deep understanding of the Asia Pacific region. . . . We are disturbed that staff have been targeted in a way that does not correlate with their outstanding in achievements, or the way their loss will damage degrees.”

None of the academics who talked to Woroni about being discarded by the University were sure about their future, or exactly why they were finding themselves in such positions. Yet they were all in agreement that the changes will damage the study of culture, history and language at ANU.