The SPIR Rout Continues: World-Leading Scholar & Team Head to the University of Canberra

The fallout continues at the School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR) with Professor John Dryzek, Dr. Simon Niemeyer, Dr. Nicole Curato and Dr. Ryan Walter joining the growing list of academics to leave, bringing the school’s tally of academic departures in the past twelve months to ten.

The departure of Professor Dryzek comes as a massive loss to the school as not only was he personally recognized as one of the world’s preeminent thinkers in the field of Deliberative Democracy, he also was the head of the ANU’s Centre for Deliberative Democracy & Global Governance. The Centre, that had been a part of SPIR since the mid-2000s, was an association of ANU scholars led by Professor Dryzek that received substantial external funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC). According the ANU’s website the Centre housed one of “the world’s largest concentration of deliberative democracy scholars”. The Centre itself will no longer be hosted by the ANU and is currently being re-established in the ANZSOG Institute for Governance at the University of Canberra where the core members of the research team, Dr. Niemeyer, Dr. Nicole Curato and Juliana Rocha, have also joined the eminent scholar.

Professor Dryzek’s status as a world leading political theorist had long been recognised by the ARC who in 2008 awarded him a Federation Fellowship – a funding scheme that was designed to support “world-class researchers and … research leaders”. Speaking to Professor Dryzek’s contributions to academia and the ANU, Professor Robert Goodin (a former member of the ANU’s School of Philosophy) at the University of Essex in London said: “Deliberative Democracy has been the main game in political theory for the past fifteen years or more, and it is no exaggeration to say John Dryzek has been the main player in that game worldwide. It was a privilege having him with us at the ANU all this time.” Of his own departure, Professor Dryzek has stated that the ANZSOG Institute for Governance was an attractive opportunity as it provided a “dynamic and well-resourced research environment” for him and his team.

When asked about the loss of Professor Dryzek to the University of Canberra, the Acting Head of SPIR, Professor Ian McAllister, noted that Professor Dryzek had been only “one of a handful” of Professors at the ANU to be promoted to the position of Distinguished Professor in August last year which was a “fitting recognition of his international reputation”. The Acting Head of School also spoke to the exodus of other SPIR academics, stating that the Chancellery’s 2013 Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme was a significant factor in the large number of departures which came in addition to the expected “turnover in staff personnel” that was natural to a school as large as SPIR.

According to the NTEU’s Division Secretary Stephen Darwin, however, the departures actually highlight a troubled 12-18 months for SPIR where, Mr. Darwin says, there were “a range of issues concerning staff workloads and working conditions that preceded the Vice-Chancellor’s announcement of the Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme.” Mr. Darwin argues that it was as a consequence of these issues concerning working conditions that so many SPIR academics took up Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme offers in “numbers disproportionate to any other school in the College of Arts and Social Sciences.”

The loss of Professor Dryzek and his team also comes at a time when SPIR appears to be to unable, or unwilling, to retain scholars who approach the disciplines of political science and international relations from critical, philosophical and qualitative perspectives. Earlier in the year, Woroni highlighted the fact that, in addition to the departures of scholars with critical approaches to political science and international relations as well as the disestablishment of their courses, all of the new positions being advertised for the school made clear that quantitative methods and approaches would be required for all applicants. Further reinforcing this trend towards the dominance of positivism and rational choice theory in the school, is the fact that Dr. Walter, a recipient of a Discovery Early Career Research Award from the ARC – who specializes in the history of economic thought, political philosophy and the work of Michel Foucault – is also set to depart the school for the University of Queensland.

When asked about the future analytical and research direction of the school for 2014 and beyond, Professor McAllister stated that, “the school will continue to cover the main broad approaches to teaching and research in political science”. In a notable omission, Professor McAllister had no comment to make as to what the future of international relations is to be in the school. The Acting Head did, however, highlight the fact that with five new positions in the process of being filled, that there would be a “suite of new courses for students” in future. It remains to be seen what these new courses will cover, but if the terms of the job advertisements are anything to go by, it would seem that current and future students of political science and international relations at the ANU might be better served by their calculators than their history books.