Fury of University of Sydney academics over dropped departments

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The FASS is divided into six schools, themselves divided into departments, each with a chair. In 2019, only two of its schools posted a surplus: the economy ($ 41 million) and the School of Languages ​​and Cultures ($ 6 million), according to the proposal.

The losers were the schools of literature, arts and media ($ 91,000), education and social work ($ 532,000), social and political sciences ($ 5 million) and the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry ($ 13 million ).

The proposed changes involve renaming schools and moving subjects within them. A new school of the humanities would take up the subjects of the old school of historical and philosophical inquiry, while adding linguistics and religion but losing gender studies in favor of the social sciences.

All undergraduate units with fewer than 24 students would be phased out.

Departments within schools would be renamed disciplines, to “break out of administrative and financial silos”, increase interaction between similar subjects and reduce internal competition. The director of the department would become responsible for the discipline.

Other universities, such as Melbourne and Monash, have also adopted the “disciplinary” approach. The university defines a department as an organizational unit and a discipline as a sub-domain of knowledge. Departments do not have their own budget.

However, academics fear that this will reduce their ability to deal with their own subject.

The letter from angry FASS academics indicated that the concept of discipline was nebulous and risky, and their views had been ignored. “There is no clear reason or benefit for the proposed change, as no specific issues with the current structure have been identified,” he said.

Professor Clarke said students, alumni and staff strongly identify with the departments. The new structure would lead to “erosion and loss of identity,” she said.

“There is an increasingly centralized control of university life. In the departments we have a good degree of control over what we teach our students, what we do and, in front of the audience, the engagement work we do. We think there is a slow erosion of the structures of a university that we think are really important.

Not everyone agrees. Sociologist Salvatore Babones, who was not a signatory to the letter, said his colleagues were rightly concerned about consolidating small departments into larger ones.

“But renaming departments to disciplines is the epitome of pro forma reform: departments become disciplines, department heads become discipline leaders, and the rest is business as usual,” he said. . “This is yet another missed opportunity for a real review and long overdue modernization of how we educate the next generation. “

A spokeswoman for the university administration said the FASS proposal involved extensive consultation with staff and the latest version involved more minor changes without layoffs or job cuts.

Further consultations were underway. “Like other institutions, we need to look for ways to ensure continued sustainability alongside continuous high quality teaching and research,” she said.

“The proposal to move departments to a disciplinary structure – and to merge a very small number of disciplines – will allow our academic staff to collaborate more easily, reduce administrative duplication, produce a more cohesive and flexible student experience, and help secure the future of our small disciplines.

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