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Senate members reduced and faculties reshuffled under major plans passed by university Senate

Nick Rowbotham and Subeta Vimalarajah report.

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Sydney University has announced major administrative and governance changes, including amalgamations of faculties and a reduction of the size of the Senate – the University’s core decision-making body – from 22 to 15 members. The drastic restructure was passed at the last Senate meeting for the year, on the 14th of December.

The University announced the changes in an internal email seen by Honi Soit from the Chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson, addressed to all staff on Wednesday afternoon, one day before the Christmas and New Year shutdown.

Slated to take effect at the end of 2017, the Senate changes will see the four elected alumni positions abolished, and the number of elected academic staff representatives reduced from four to two.

Under the new model, four of the Senate’s members will be required to be University graduates, but crucially, none of these positions will need to be elected. Only five of 15 Senate members will be elected, the remainder will be ex-officio members, or appointed by the Senate or Education Minister.

“This change in composition reflects contemporary governance practice and allows Senate to have greater access to the range and diversity of skills needed to respond to current and future opportunities and challenges in the sector,” the Chancellor wrote in the email.

The university’s postgraduate representative body, SUPRA, condemned the changes to the Senate structure.

“The reduction of participatory democracy in the Senate’s composition is an appalling move and should be immediately rescinded,” Vice President Tom Greenwell told Honi.

SRC Education Officer Liam Carrigan echoed these concerns: “The EAG (Education Action Group) will be fighting these changes and encourages all students to join in the struggle,” they said.

Offering well-wishes for a “safe and happy festive season”, the Chancellor also announced the Senate’s endorsement of elements of the university restructure voted on in the same meeting, which would see 16 faculties merged into just six.

Under the plans, Arts and Social Sciences would absorb the Education and Social Work Faculty and the Sydney College of the Arts. Health Sciences would include Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy. The only exceptions would be Sydney Law School, the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning, and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, which will remain independent.

These plans were initially proposed in a September discussion paper. Their approval by the Senate was unexpected, prompting an open letter from the Education Action Group decrying the university’s “corporate shift focused on rankings, prestige and profit,” cosigned by a number of student representative bodies, including the National Union of Students.

It is yet unclear what these changes will mean for faculty staff. In an email sent to members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) on Thursday evening, branch president Michael Thomson described the changes as “undemocratic” and a “further move away from the idea that the University Community is central to the day to day activities of the University.”

A university spokesperson refused Honi’s request for further information on which Senate members attended Monday’s meeting, and whether staff and alumni had been consulted in regard to the Senate changes.

The changes have come as a surprise to many, as consultation beyond Senate itself appears to have been limited. The newly appointed chair of the Academic Board, Anthony Masters, who is soon to be an ex-officio member of the Senate, said he had not been party to any of the discussions.

It is worth noting it’s rumoured a change to the meeting’s time meant that several Senate members were unable to attend, allowing the two-thirds vote to pass unobstructed. Honi is yet unable to confirm this.

Honi was unable to obtain a copy of the meeting’s minutes, which are normally published online, as they are yet to be approved by the Chancellor’s office.

Senate members approached for comment were unable to comment due to “confidentiality provisions”.