By Charles Fedor

 

I do not envy the Senate right now, it must be hard to do the mental gymnastics required to even consider this proposal. But by God they are going to consider it, and Pelican will be there to break it down. Before we begin, make sure that you attend the Senate Protest on Monday at 2:30p.m., it is clear that negotiations have broken down and it is important that students show up tomorrow.

The proposal has been billed as amending the original proposal, however it should be considered an entirely new proposal. The fundamental issues are still there, however, there are concessions in response to the whopping 380 critical submissions on the proposal, glaring media coverage, political criticism, and the rising power of the staff and students.  Though this should be a small victory by critics of the proposal it should not be considered a pause for celebration. This could be designed to give the impression of fulfilling the legal requirements of ‘substantive consultation’ that it could be argue at the Fair Work Commission. It is concerning that university management has adopted the stance of ‘take it or leave it’, refusing to consider further consultation or feedback to be given as far as we can tell.

In this article, we reveal the new proposal as communicated in emails from the Vice-Chancellor and leave you with the question: “Why did you call a hasty meeting a mere one business day before the Senate meeting?”

 

A ‘Disastrous’ Meeting

With less than 24 hours’ notice, Head of School Professor Amanda Davies called a ‘town hall’ style meeting of academics and staff to discuss the latest, management-approved proposal for change. The meeting was billed as very important to attend, yet it did not occur to the Head of School to give proper notice to academics. This seems to continue management’s arbitrary and capricious stance taken with regards to staff and students in its care and trust. Regardless, academics did turn up. In this case academics were evenly split between in person attendance and online via Microsoft Teams. The purpose of this meeting was not disclosed to academics. Further, data or even the proposal itself was not provided to academics until after the meeting had concluded. Members of the National Teaching and Educations Union (NTEU) were present at this meeting and emotions were running high throughout the meeting. The university’s management was represented by Professor Amanda Davies and Senior Deputy-Vice Chancellor Simon Biggs.

Professor Davies attempted to walk out of the meeting within 25 minutes of the meeting. This was in response to a question from a staff member who asked why a UWA spokesperson mischaracterised data by saying “the proposal to discontinue anthropology and sociology as a major was a result of continuing low enrolment”. In this case Amanda took offence at the implication that this spokesperson was herself.

In response to multiple questions from staff, Professor Davies gave one-line answers that continued to inflame the emotions of furious staff. In this case, Professor Biggs told academics to calm down otherwise this meeting will be closed. Multiple sources noted that Professor Biggs and Professor Davies attempted to spin that ‘teaching only’ positions could still technically do research. Infuriating members who were aghast at the suggestion that there were enough hours in the day to complete both. On a question of why the ‘final’ proposal was labelled as ‘provisional’, the Professor Biggs noted that it is still going through processes specified via the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement. In a particularly heated moment, Professor Davies closed her laptop, temporarily locking out half of the school from engaging in the meeting. Connection was re-established by staff.

 

A Half-Hearted Counter

“Establishes the Department of Anthropology, Geography and Archaeology to ensure visibility of anthropology in the school.”

Analysis:

It seems UWA has taken the King Solomon’s approach of cutting a baby in half quite literally. There will be no sociology in the entire school. It seems that UWA is banking on not currently getting Anthropology and Sociology cut, but instead aim to cut Sociology entirely. Also ‘visibility’ means very little without adequate support from management. This could be considered a tokenistic gesture with Anthropology losing half of its major and then being at the mercy of a Head of School that attempted to obliterate the major in its entirety. Do not breathe a sigh of relief, this may very well be an attempt by the university to kill Anthropology, just more slowly.

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New Major?

“Collaborate with archaeology and geography to develop a new major in anthropology in the next 12 months. This will focus on Australian Aboriginal Social and Cultural Anthropology.”

Analysis:

Yes you did read that right, no you are not having a stroke but I am sure every single anthropologist is. In what way do Archaeology and Geography have any right to determine an Anthropology course structure? That is like asking an English Literature teacher to determine the curriculum for Philosophy – these knowledge bases should not to be conflated. Further to this, it is bold thinking to focus on Australian Aboriginal anthropology without mandating at least consultation with the school relevant to this area (the School of Indigenous Studies)Even if all of that was somehow ‘fine’ there are still more issues. Firstly, UWA is an international university. While an “Australian Aboriginal” focus is important for an Australian university, the deliberate shutting out of international understandings of anthropology will potentially degrade graduate performance and transferability. In this case a university that promises to be outward-looking seems to instead shut its eyes to the global study of anthropology. Anthropology graduates will not be able to adequately engage outside of Western Australia on their area of study.

Further, there is a perverse incentive for the majors who now share the discipline budget to castrate the course financially and educationally. Geography and Archaeology have been put in the position of competing with Anthropology through this proposal. This will allow Geography and Archaeology to write a course that is cheap, educationally inferior and absolutely filled with units from their own majors (to boost their relatively lower enrolment numbers). It is clear that these majors could not win on data, so instead they will poach students to their majors. You may take comfort that the Head of School and Deputy Head of School will surely prevent that kind of organisational cannibalism. Well, the School Executive is made up of only Geographers and Archaeologists. 

Our emphasis of this isn’t calling into question the Geography and Archaeology disciplines as a whole. It is instead asking a question over how the Head of School and Deputy Head of School shaped this proposal.

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General Variations in Staffing and Resources

  • One extra Teaching and Research position in Anthropology
    • I assume this is to cover up the fact that they just cut half of a major. So, this will ostensibly take over one of the sociologists’ positions within the major. Given that the division of staff is unclear, the university will still cut 7x from the discipline. This should not be interpreted as an increase in staffing levels.
  • A fixed term role in Anthropology to support continuity of learning and establish a new major
    • This just gives one person the temporary job of covering every single HDR student who has lost their supervisor and cannot find a suitable alternate from existing and demoralised staff. Then you have given them the job of working with Geography and Archaeology to create an entire new major that is supposedly educationally valuable and anthropological in substance? An entire discipline run by 2x people is not realistic or conducive of quality education. This seems…realistic.
  • Greater clarity of the alignment of the teaching and research position in international development
    • Unclear what this actually means other than being filler text. I assume UWA is just defining the teaching and research position in international development further. This could look like restricting research topics among other things.
  • The provision of teaching support sufficient to meeting learning outcomes for students currently enrolled in anthropology and sociology who choose not to or are unable to transfer to a new major
    • This seems to suggest that HDR students can keep their supervisors et cetera, however this is certainly not the case. It means that cuts will still happen and HDR students may have to find a new supervisor who does not have the pre-requisite specialist knowledge to assist. The University has consistently floated ‘teach out’ plans as sufficient educational support.
  • Fixed term role for Urban and Regional planning to allow students to finish
    • This is prolonging the inevitable but is good. This guarantees master students will not be given teach out plans in this major only.
  • Retain Asian Studies Teaching and Research
    • Great! They followed the Academic Board’s advice about not making a whole major teaching with zero consultation and violating federal law. Instead the university exploited the wording and will still disestablish Asian Languages from Asian studies and then make those academics teaching only. In effect, leaving one token researcher to engage with all of Asia.
  • Retention of an additional Teaching and Research position in International Relations
    • This is a bauble being provided to the Politics and International Relations discipline. There is still a loss of effectively three positions in the most popular major in the entire Bachelor of Arts with zero justification.
    • This will also cut the leader of Public Policy from the university, leaving graduates without expertise on how to apply their political knowledge in government.
  • Greater clarity of the alignment of two-level D-E Teaching and Research position in Politics and International Relations
    • Again, unclear what this actually means other than filler text. I assume UWA is just defining the teaching and research position in international relations further. This could look like restricting research topics among other things.

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Research program

  • Expand research program to include land-use planning and transport through collaboration with the Planning and Transport Research Centre (PATREC) and Centre for Regional Development
    • That’s great, so they have expanded the already extremely narrow research areas of social sciences to include the Planning and Transport Research Centre (PATREC) which just happens to have the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Research Professor Andrew Page as its board member. This person also just happens to sit on the Academic Board and supported your proposal in the meeting. Further, the Centre for Regional Development also just happens to count Amanda Davies as a researcher. Both research centres are heavily aligned with Geography. I will leave readers to draw their own conclusions on that.

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An Eye-Catching Statement

“There are no further proposals (beyond the proposal to merge two majors in Molecular Sciences) to discontinue existing majors in undergraduate degrees across any other School in the University, as part of our current restructuring plan.”

Analysis:

I will make this extremely quick; you can still hollow out a major to the point of irrelevance without cutting a major officially. Anthropology is going through that now. The Executive need to come up with 400 names for staff cuts, this will mean academics will disappear. When the academics disappear, you lose units. You will wait longer for your assignments; you will get recorded lectures from years ago. When you complain then they may cut the major citing complaints on quality that they caused. Note that the email says current restructure plan, so that promise is only good at the time of sending that email. Don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet.

 

Once again, the university executive is still uninterested in negotiations and are aiming to achieve this restructure through sheer attrition and lack of transparency. The university community has managed to gain small concessions, however there is still a lot more left. Therefore, it is a matter of the highest urgency for students, staff and community members to attend the Senate Protest on August 23rd. It is possible that the Senate will vote on ratifying this ‘updated’ proposal at this meeting, so make your voices heard.

By Pelican Magazine

Pelican is one of the oldest student publications in Australia and the only independent paper at UWA. If you enjoy writing, then Pelican is the place for you! We print six themed issues a year, and run a stream of online content.

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