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Petitioning ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt

Act to preserve studies of culture, history and language of the Asia Pacific Region at ANU

In the week beginning the  9th of May, 2016 academics from the School of Culture, History and Language at the College of Asia and the Pacific (CAP), at the Australian National University (ANU), were summoned to one-on-one meetings in which they were told whether they had retained their employment in the School. This tense and heartbreaking week was the culmination of a two-year review that has financially, structurally and emotionally destabilised one the finest Schools in this country. The calibre of this School was attested to by an internationally renowned External Review Panel in 2015, who in their report to the University forcefully recommended that no structural changes be made to the school. Ignoring these recommendations, and repeatedly citing a financial deficit, though the figure of this deficit differed at every iteration, the University went ahead with their proposal to cut up to 15 staff positions in the school. All academics with ongoing contracts contracts, aside from those chosen to preside over the selection process, faced an uncertain wait. Likewise, Academics on fixed term contracts were largely excluded from this process by management who claimed they would not be affected by this Review, despite the fact that many had initially been promised ongoing appointment at the conclusion of their ‘fixed terms’. Additionally, throughout the long and extended review process that one union official described as “tree-shaking” a number of academics towards the end of their careers accepted retirement packages. From a dynamic school in mid 2015 of 95 staff, 65 of whom were on continuing contracts, a new school of less than 40 staff with continuing contracts has been created. Vital areas of study such as History (both of Asia and the Pacific), South-East Asian Studies, Linguistics, Buddhist and Tibetan studies and the Japanese Language Program have all been endangered, many to the point of imminent extinction. While the University continues to claim that those not ‘given’ a place in the ‘new school’ were to be in the first instance ‘transitioned’ to other areas of the university, this has not been the experience of these staff members many of whom have been notified of their ‘redundancies’.

There are number of petitions already circulating advocating for particular staff members whose positions have been cut, this petition seeks to redress for all staff affected by these changes, highlighting the plight and consequences of these decisions for the school, its staff, students, colleagues both in Australia and Internationally, and the broader Australian public. We do this in the hope that Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt will intervene to secure the excellent, diverse, and desperately needed expertise of this school, where training in languages, cultures and histories combines to ensure the deep, intelligent engagement with the Asia Pacific Region so vital to ANU’s charter and International reputation. We the undersigned ask the VC to intervene to:

  • Reduce the severity of these cuts, that have gone far too deep and rendered many important areas of study non-viable.
  • Actively ensure that vital areas of study such as History (both of Asia and the Pacific), South-East Asian Studies, Linguistics, Buddhist and Tibetan studies and the Japanese Language Program are not affected by these cuts, through ensuring the continued employment of staff members in this area.
  • Directly engage with academic staff not given a place in the new school to ensure meaningful transitions to other parts of the University.
  • Keep all Professional Staff (who have yet to hear their fates) at the ‘School’ level and fill currently unfilled positions at this level to provide CHL with the necessary professional staff to support and grow the school.  
  • Conduct a thorough transparent investigation into the governance and financial management of the College of Asia Pacific, interrogating financial records dating back to its foundation.
  • Review and re-draft the ANU policy on school reviews (ANUP_012008) in light of experiences in CHL, in particular to clarify the role of the External Review Panel in this process.
  • Until such a review is complete, suspend all school level Review process currently being undertaken throughout the University until financial and managerial capacities are developed to a level at which they university is able to transparently and professionally manage these Review processes. In particular, we suggest that until the full cost of the CHL review is known and made public, Schools cannot be reasonably be expected to undertake this process.
This petition was delivered to:
  • ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt


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