This article is part one of Woroni’s coverage on the past two weeks of staffing cuts at the School of Culture, History, and Language.
In the week beginning May 9 the Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific (CAP) began informing staff of their removal from the CHL as part of its restructuring. At present, 12 staff have been told to leave, with the substantial cuts causing outrage in staff and affected students, and the process leaving staff uninformed of the reasoning behind their dismissal.
The Removal Process
A deliberative committee of nine individuals, most of whom were CHL staff, was convened by the CAP Dean and given “vague” criteria to select which CHL academics would best fit the restructured School, according to Professor Robert Cribb. They were to be selected on the basis of performance and expected contribution to the restructured CHL.
After the deliberative committee finished selecting the ideal academics, the Dean held one-on-one meetings with each staff member. Those who were to be cut were informed that they would be “transitioned” to positions outside the CHL, according to the recommendations made by the Committee.
Staff who were told to transition away from the CHL were informed that the deliberative committee had decided against their inclusion, with the CAP Dean endorsing this decision. They were then recommended to begin discussions with human resources about post-CHL possibilities.
According to a source within CAP, members of senior administration also strictly reinforced the referral to the cuts as “transitions” to positions outside the new School. These cut staff have nevertheless lost their positions at CHL, effectively losing employment at the School.
They were offered either assistance in moving to positions in other areas of the ANU, or accepting a severance package. According to Professor Cribb, if the staffer did neither they would be formally made redundant.
Little information was given as to why they were being removed, other than that the deliberative committee had made the decision against their inclusion. Staff were not given the opportunity to appeal the decision.
Outrage at the Administration
Many of the academics Woroni spoke to expressed their bewilderment at their firing. Professor C John Powers said, “I’ve published 17 books and more than 90 articles, making me one of the most productive academics in Humanities at ANU. I received $1.3 million in competitive grants in 2015, and so since the cuts are supposedly about money and I’m one of the most successful grant getters in the College, I thought I’d be safe.”
Professor Robert Cribb said, “I have not been given any reason for my job being cut, apart from a vague statement that I don’t fit in the new school.”
Associate Professor Thomas DuBois said of the cuts, “it has been a horrific experience to watch the willful and entirely unnecessary destruction of a well-regarded institute, and with it dozens of careers.”
A source in CAP told Woroni that the Dean of CAP, Professor Veronica Taylor, has expanded her supporting administrative staff from one to five or six. Given that the Dean has said “The changes we are making to return the School to financial health… are necessary in order to sustain Asian and Pacific languages,” many are upset that the Dean has brought in new administrative staff while firing academics.
“The changes we are making to return the School to financial health are not easy, but they are necessary in order to sustain Asian and Pacific languages and the disciplines and fields of expertise that will make up a new School” she said.
Many victims of the cuts are upset about the lack of transparency and inconsistency that some say has marked the reform process, and feel that they are being victimized as a result of a lack of interest from administrators in effectively addressing the School’s financial problems in past years.
Professor Andrew Walker, former acting-Dean of CAP, submitted an alternative financial plan for CHL to the University administration on May 11. In it, he proposed a number of methods for resolving CHL’s financial problems that would “minimise, if not avoid completely, the loss of positions from the School.”
Dr Paul Sidwell had much to say about the administration’s poor handling of the situation. “My view… is that CHL and its predecessor iterations were never managed well… a crunch like the present one was inevitable – yet regrettably as ever, it has been handled in typically ham-fisted and bureaucratic manner, as if nothing has been learned.”
Dr Sidwell believes the cuts will increase pressure on staff who continue to work at the University, and said that “some of the longest faces on campus are among the fortunate souls who have been told that they will remain.”
The cuts are particularly shocking given that the Vice Chancellor, Professor Brian Schmidt, once referred to CHL as “one of the crown jewels of the university,” and that CHL produces approximately 30% more research per capita than the University-wide average, according to the University’s own statistics.