Discipline-specific Honours units endangered by new proposal

The Faculty of Arts and Social Studies Honours units would be replaced by ‘interdisciplinary’ alternatives, operated by the Faculty’s various ‘schools’.

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) has proposed a suite of changes to Honours coursework programs which would see discipline-specific seminar units replaced by interdisciplinary units.

The changes have been approved by the Undergraduate Studies Committee, clearing the way for them to be voted on by the Academic Board. This means the amendments may be implemented in time for the 2024 academic year.

The current proposals will affect Ancient Greek, Ancient History, Anthropology, Art History, English, Latin, Linguistics, Political Economy, and Visual Arts.

Ancient Greek subject ‘Research Skills in Greek Poetry’ would be replaced by ‘SOFH4001: Breakthroughs in the Humanities’. The Latin ‘Research skills in Latin prose’ and Linguistics ‘Language in Context’ subjects would be replaced by that same unit, despite the distinct skills required by each of those disciplines. Honi understands that an Ancient History coursework subject will also be replaced by this new subject.

The more general School of Social and Political Sciences (SSPS) subject ‘Philosophy of Social Science Research’ would replace the Political Economy specific ‘Designing Political Economy Research’ if the proposal is implemented.

Art History’s ‘Vision and Frames Art Encounters’ will be replaced by ‘Theory and Method’, a subject controlled by the School of Art, Communication and English.

‘Theory and Method’ would also be made available for students doing Honours in English. At this stage, it appears that there is no current proposal to cut English-specific seminar classes.

For Anthropology students, both current seminar units will be cut. A new Anthropology specific subject as well as ‘Conceptualising Society’, run by the SSPS, will be offered as a replacement.

As part of the changes, the International and Global Studies (INGS) program will be changed to permit INGS students who also study Law to do Honours.

The changes are a part of the Faculty’s ‘Future FASS’ program, which has been heavily criticised by staff and students since its inception. They are justified by the Faculty as being “prompted by curriculum sustainability goals associated with Future FASS.”

The proposed changes were first flagged in 2021. Then-SRC President Swapnik Sangavarapu told Honi at the time “dedicated coursework is very much essential to the rigour of an Honours program — students will lose so much of the value of undertaking honours if they are unable to learn about higher order research methodology within their specific discipline.”

“Not only is this worse for their education, it’s also worse for their skills, career prospects and prospects for further study.”

This view was echoed by 2023 SRC President Lia Perkins, who told Honi “Our university education has been degraded for years.

“These cuts to honours programs are a direct result of Future FASS so we stand opposed. The University needs to stop reducing our course options, and instead make the education system more accessible and oriented towards learning, not profit.”

Students who would take these more interdisciplinary subjects would have already taken the interdisciplinary FASS1000 in first year as well as Interdisciplinary Impact and the Industry and Community Project Unit (ICPU) in 3rd year. ICPU’s have been criticised by students for, among other things, being unethical. Interdisciplinary Impact has equally been widely criticised by students. It is unclear how these new subjects will be of additional value to students than existing interdisciplinary subjects.

The University of Sydney said in a statement, “By delivering one common unit in each school, students in programs with low enrolments can form a cohort and build interdisciplinary connections. 

“These units have been carefully designed by academics across FASS based on principles to prioritise high-quality student learning experiences. Specialist honours units remain at a disciplinary level in all cases.”