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SLAM faces axe; two departments likely to be cut with job losses expected

The Departments of Studies in Religion and Theatre and Performance Studies are likely to be closed entirely.

In a meeting this afternoon, about 90 staff in the School of Literature, Art and Media (SLAM) were informed that their School could be abolished under a scheme codenamed ‘Operation Bluestar.’

SLAM faces extinction despite posting a surplus last year.

‘Operation Bluestar’ involves the complete disbanding of SLAM, reducing the number of FASS schools from six to five, while the Departments of Studies in Religion and Theatre and Performance Studies are likely to be closed entirely.

The Media and Communications Department, which has maintained high undergraduate enrolment and profitability, is likely to be moved into another existing school. The Writing Studies Department may also be amalgamated into the Department of English under the scheme. Linguistics staff have also expressed concern that they may be impacted by the restructure.

A University spokesperson acknowledged “the possibility of restructuring the current six schools as five, and closing a number of departments and programs. Studies in Religion and Theatre and Performance Studies are among the departments considered as options for closure…The Faculty is committed to reducing its costs, but how that will be achieved is not yet known.”

The staff meeting was called after rumours of an impending restructure began to gain strength among staff. 

Neither FASS nor University administration have spoken to SLAM staff about the secretive operation. According to a statement from the USyd Casuals Network, FASS Dean Annamarie Jagose recently spoke of departments with an “axe” hanging over their heads. 

A member of the Arts Faculty Board told Honi that, at a recent meeting, Jagose said that small schools were at risk, before “playing a game” with attendees to guess which FASS school was smallest. 

A University spokesperson told Honi that Jagose had been “speaking frankly with colleagues…..about the particular challenges FASS faces.”

One MECO staff member, whose department will survive the restructure, told the meeting that “it is time that some of these people [senior management] came into these classrooms, or came into these staff meetings, and [saw] people crying, [saw] people retire early…it’s absolutely horrific for staff well-being.”

“We’re in a rich institution and I’m just sick of people being treated like absolute crap.”

At least nine permanent staff and several casuals may face redundancies from the two departments, and if SLAM is axed its administration staff may also lose their jobs.

NTEU USyd Branch President Kurt Iveson told Honi that the proposed restructure “will be severely disruptive to the working lives and job security of academics and professional staff…At the very least, staff deserve a guarantee that no jobs will be lost in any restructure…It seems there is not a single problem that our managers think a top-down restructure won’t fix.”

One staff member told Honi that Studies in Religion is one of the only departments left in the country which engages critically with religion, which is “important in the time of Mark Latham and Safe Schools,” with most universities offering only theology.

The Department of Theatre and Performance Studies is the oldest in the country, and staff fear that if these departments are merged their specific knowledge of cultural practice will be devalued.

These slashes are situated in a broader context of attacks on the arts, with the passing of the Job-Ready Graduates Package last year and the denial of JobKeeper to universities.

Staff and students have vowed to organise a fight back.

Students’ Representative Council President Swapnik Sanagavarapu told Honi that “The SRC is strongly in opposition to the proposed cuts and restructures in the School of Literature, Art and Media. What’s worse is that there has been little to no consultation with students or staff in relation to this proposal.”

“Jobs and livelihoods will be permanently lost, and decades of academic and institutional knowledge will disappear. Students will lose the invaluable experience of studying in these departments, simply because they are ‘unprofitable.’ This University is not a profit-making institution and should not be run on that criteria, and the SRC will organise to save these departments and save these jobs.”

This article was updated at 10:46 pm, 30 April.