Academic Board restructure on the table following faculty mergers

The Academic board is responsible for overseeing academic policies and procedures.

This semester has marked the beginning of the University of Sydney’s transition to a reduced number of faculties, as part of a broader restructure.

Several faculty mergers and demotions will see the total number of faculties down from 16 to just six by the start of next year, following a decision made by the University Senate in December 2015.

The reduction in faculties will likely involve a significant alteration to the membership of the Academic Board, the body responsible for maintaining and promoting standards of research, teaching and learning. The Board also oversees the development and regular review of academic policies and procedures. In March, the Board voted down a proposal to reduce the length of academic semesters to 12 weeks.

At present, the Board’s extensive membership includes the deans of all faculties as well as one elected student from each faculty. However, following a University Senate resolution that entered into force on 15 December last year, the provisions that specify the Board’s composition “are suspended.”

The resolution does, however, stipulate that current Academic Board members will keep their positions for the rest of the current term, which ends on 8 January 2018. It is unclear what the Board’s makeup will be after January.

A university spokesperson told Honi that documents to “define the composition of the Academic Board” following the transitional period were “still in draft form and are likely to be considered for approval at the [Board’s] next meeting.”

In addition to the impacts on the Board’s makeup, the restructure poses questions for the experiences of students and academics at a University with larger, more integrated faculties. What was until last year the Faculty of Education and Social Work has been demoted to form the sixth school within the University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, equal, for example, to the School of Literature, Art and Media.

USyd student, Selin Ağacayak, who is in her third year of secondary education, believes education and social work form an area of study distinct from that of the arts and social sciences, but acknowledges that “together they work well” and that they do “inform each other.”

“Although I think [the faculties] should be kept separate, I don’t have any pressing issues with [the merger],” Ağacayak said. Ağacayak’s experiences corroborate the University’s insistence that “the changes should have little impact on course delivery” and “day-to-day interaction with the University.”

The University spokesperson clarified that the changes “will not affect courses or units of study, or the way in which they are taught,” adding that “there is no impact to classes, teachers or student administration as a result of the new structure.”

While the spokesperson conceded “the process of integration [of education and social work] is just commencing,” she emphasised that “[a]cademic staff will continue the delivery of all aspects of the education and social work curriculum within the new faculty” and that there would be “significant consultation with staff on all aspects of the integration of administrative processes.”

Although the transition will not affect teaching, transitional provisions will render void all resolutions of faculties which are being subsumed within other faculties, unless they are “ratified or amended by the receiving faculty” before 8 January next year. As a result, pending the ratification by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the former Faculty of Education and Social Work’s resolutions mandating 90 per cent attendance at timetabled lectures, seminars and tutorials will cease to have effect and will be replaced by the minimum 80 per cent attendance expectation which binds Arts students.

Reduced mandatory attendance requirements might, for instance, be significant in education and social work courses handling sensitive issues like child protection, which should require near-total attendance from students. Similar issues may arise as the university attempts to strike a balance between overarching faculty rules and course-specific considerations.

This year’s transition to a reduced number of faculties also involves a considerable enlargement of the Faculty of Science, which has now subsumed the former Faculty of Veterinary Science and the former Faculty of Agriculture and Environment. The restructure also envisages a substantial amalgamation of the Faculties of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, and Nursing and Midwifery.

A University spokesperson confirmed that “preparatory work to implement the new Faculty … is underway and the implementation date will be agreed in the next few months.”

Although the “current structure [of the existing faculties] remains until a date to be advised,” the spokesperson also confirmed that the new faculty, which will be called the Faculty of Medicine and Health, “will not be established before Semester 1 2018.”