Chemistry, genetics and molecular biology under fire in latest wave of UWA job cuts


The University of Western Australia is set to lay off several members of the School of Molecular Sciences research and teaching staff, according to an internal document sent to some staff on Thursday.

In the University’s continuing attempt to address so-called structural deficits, the cuts weren’t the only savings measures announced this week. A note, sent to all UWA staff on Friday, also noted amendments to a proposed restructuring of the School of Social Sciences. The original proposal, released on July 6, called for ending sociology and anthropology, and laying off 16 teachers and researchers.

The developments come after students unleashed a torrent of opprobrium against the UWA leadership team, led by Vice Chancellor Amit Chakma.

Amendments to the original proposal of “rushed” and “very different” social sciences

With the subject line “Structural Reform Update”, UWA staff were notified of changes to the original measures in an email from the Vice Chancellor on Friday.

Under the changes, the major in Anthropology will be merged with Geography and 2 staff will be retained. A researcher position will also be kept in Asian studies, initially proposed to become a purely educational discipline.

Nicole McEwen, anthropology student and coordinator of the UWA Educational Action Network, said Honi Either she was not satisfied with the amendments, which were “vastly different” from the original proposal.

“These are not just amendments: they drafted a whole new proposal and abandoned the old one. They should be open to another consultation period for comments, ”she said. “The UWA leadership is rushing things without any real consultation, and everyone has been kept in a culture of silence.”

The School of Molecular Sciences will be reduced by 25% as part of a new “alarming” proposal to allow it to focus on “key areas”

In addition to the restructuring of UWA’s social sciences, new cuts were announced to the School of Molecular Sciences, as well as to the Office of Research and Finance.

An internal document obtained by Honi reveals that the university plans to graduate 6 of 14 senior lecturers and associate professors in chemistry, and 2 out of 10 majors in genetics and biochemistry and molecular biology.

“It is proposed that the structure, teaching program and research program of the School be reduced and refined […] to support the University’s priorities in terms of growth and improvement of the student experience, ”reads the document.

The cuts will leave the School of Molecular Sciences 25% smaller while increasing its student-staff ratio from 16: 1 to between 22: 1 and 24: 1. Each year, more than 1,000 students enroll in first-year chemistry units, and the University has not specified how it would seek to “improve the student experience” while limiting teaching capacity.

According to the document, UWA also plans to “reinvigorate the discipline of chemistry” by consolidating the majors of synthetic chemistry and physical and analytical chemistry under a single major in chemistry.

Computational chemistry will also be abandoned to concentrate “research in the key areas of: systems biology, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, materials science”.

This decision is reminiscent of the proposal made to the social sciences, which also rationalized the cuts to refocus on “key areas”. In response to falling incomes, other Australian universities, including the University of Melbourne, have also cut back on specialist courses for their perceived “difficulty”.

Sean Li, a PhD student in chemistry at UWA, said Honi a confidential meeting between Dr Martha Ludwig, Head of Molecular Sciences, and HDR students during which changes were announced. (Staff were not allowed to participate.)

“The students were shocked, outraged and scared for their livelihoods,” he said. “The school principal was bombarded with various questions from the students, most of which referred to the e-mail feedback system. “

In explaining the cuts, Dr. Ludwig allegedly suggested that the students “only Google the areas of growth in chemistry”.

Li said Honi the consultation process with the staff was “suspect” and that “anyone whose research does not match these trendy new areas will probably get the ax … it’s disgusting,” Li said.

Li’s doctoral research, supported by a Forrest Foundation scholarship, involves aspects of computational chemistry, which was chosen as an area to be cut under the proposal. “If my supervisor leaves, it is likely that there will be no other academic in WA who has similar expertise,” he said. “I suspect that the university will try to force me to change my plan […] in this case, I will simply refuse and do whatever I can to combat it.

A senior member of the chemistry department said Honi that the cuts were “alarming”.

The staff member noted the high standards of research results produced by their colleagues and students. “Something is clearly wrong when those who do well by academic standards are targeted to leave a Group of Eight university,” they said. “I am tired of the current situation at UWA. My sanity is at a very low point.

Vice Chancellor Chakma said “there are no other proposals to remove existing majors from undergraduate degrees at any other school in the university.” However, the NTEU estimates that up to 400 staff will be made redundant to meet UWA’s $ 40 million savings targets. UWA leadership has refused requests from the University’s Academic Council and campus newspaper Pelican Magazine to share the data used to calculate its goals.


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