The Australian Catholic University has proposed cuts to humanities disciplines, including the disestablishment of Dianoia Institute of Philosophy and the Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS) program, and job cuts across history, philosophy, political science, religion and theology subjects.
The change plan proposes that the Dianoia Institute of Philosophy should be replaced with four new philosophy positions. The fifteen researchers currently employed by the Institute will be invited to apply for these roles.
Professor Stephen Finlay told Honi that “ACU created the Dianoia Institute in 2019, recruiting us from around the world in many cases from excellent jobs with lifetime tenure, with promises of permanent research-only positions. The institute exceeded all expectations, raising ACU philosophy to a top-3 position in Australasia within just two years. In terms of publications per capita in the most prestigious philosophy journals, Dianoia is #1 worldwide, ahead of Oxford, Princeton, Harvard, etc.”
“Despite this success, ACU now proposes to close the institute and make us redundant, forcing many of us to choose between abandoning our careers or uprooting our families again and starting over in another country.”
The majority of the impacted jobs are at the Melbourne campus, with positions in Queensland and New South Wales also affected.
The disestablishment of the institute will also significantly impact their current PhD students. Professor Gillian Russell, who is part of the Dianoia Institute, told Honi that “They came to ACU because of the growing reputation of the Dianoia Institute, with the expectation that all the hard work they put in here would be repaid with a PhD from an Institute with a great reputation in Philosophy, one that would help them find jobs in a competitive academic market.
“Several of our PhD students moved from overseas to pursue research here, or turned down other offers from good PhD programs. Now their advisors are expecting to be let go and the HDR students are scrambling to apply elsewhere before it is too late. Professors at international universities are writing to us saying that they will no longer be able to recommend ACU to their students if these changes go ahead.”
Professor Megan Cassidy-Welch, director of the MEMS program, told Honi that there was “no rationale given for the axing of the MEMS program”, whilst the “broad rationale behind the job cuts in general is financial.”
“We had no warning that the program was slated for cuts and the director of the program was not consulted or asked to contribute any information about the program, its 7 staff, its plans, its successes, its pivot to teaching already in place, its international presence”.
The NTEU’s open letter states that “the proposed changes are explicitly motivated by the $38 million deficit forecast for ACU in 2023”. This is despite reported surpluses of $31.4 million in 2020 (as per their Annual Report) and $31.4 million in 2021 (as per the audited Financial Statement).
A media release from ACU stated that “It is the second of three plans intended to realign research and teaching across the institution and to address the financial shortfall that the university faces.” The release suggests that the change proposal is intended to “increase institutional resilience through realigning the workforce and focusing on new revenue generation.”
ACU staff have “received almost 1000 signatures on an open letter calling for support and hundreds of emails and messages of support and outrage from across the world,” said Professor Cassidy-Welch. There is also a Change.org petition and a petition specifically aiming to save the MEMS program.
Professor Cassidy-Welch said that “ACU’s national footprint (campuses in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and the ACT) means that such cuts will diminish humanities research and teaching up and down the eastern seaboard. It will mean that ACU loses its reputation as one of the best HDR destination for students in these areas. If the plan goes ahead as proposed, it will do irreversible damage to ACU’s reputation among current and future students.”
The change management proposal is open for consultation until 26 September.