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Anthropology and Sociology dissolved at UWA as nationwide job losses continue

Staff say they are spending every waking hour opposing the "dangerous" proposal.

The Anthropology and Sociology discipline group is set to be axed at the University of Western Australia (UWA) in a major cost-saving restructure.

UWA’s proposal to make sixteen academic jobs in the School of Social Sciences redundant while changing 12 positions to become teaching-focused is only the beginning of the job cuts forecasted over the coming months.

Dr Sanna Peden, the UWA NTEU Branch President, told Honi that staff are shocked and furious at the “misguided” proposal which they say was developed without consultation.

“The new structure would gut some of the areas of the University with the highest student satisfaction ratings, a frankly bizarre move for a University that claims to value student experience.”

“We estimate the University is seeking to make between 300 and 400 people redundant over the course of its ‘Structural Reform Program.’”

In the School of Social Sciences, staff numbers will be reduced in Political Sciences and International Relations, Geography, Asian Studies, and Archaeology, while Anthropology and Sociology will be dissolved.

The proposal will leave Asian Studies without any research positions, which staff fear will damage important research-led teaching and diminish Asia literacy in WA.

Dr Peden said that the Social Sciences proposal “pre-empts decisions by Academic Board and the University Senate, and rests on misleading information that seriously calls into question university management’s commitment to genuine consultation.”

All eight positions in the Anthropology and Sociology discipline group will be cut, meaning that the ability to study this area in Western Australia will be greatly impoverished.

A University spokesperson cited “continuing low enrolments” and an expansion into other society and culture majors as justification for discontinuing the major.

A source within Anthropology and Sociology who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Honi of concerns about “the loss of trained, consultant anthropologists to the mining, environmental and Native Title ‘industries’ within WA,” where they are already in severe shortage.

“Staff were absolutely blindsided by the drastic measure of abolishing the anthropology and sociology major, with its 60+ year history, and discontinuing all disciplinary staff.”

“The very public way this devastating information was delivered has caused significant emotional and psychological stress for those impacted.”

A University spokesperson told Honi the Indigenous Studies major “covers much of the space that our more traditional Anthropology major used to occupy,” but staff say units on Indigenous Australia constitute only one eighth of the offerings in Anthropology.

It is feared expertise will be lost in a diverse range of studies including migration, the environment, education, media, diversity engagement, ageing, the institutions of Australian society and intercultural research focused on the legacies of colonialism.

Anthropology and Sociology staff are attempting to “respond constructively” to the proposal which they believe casts their discipline group in a bad light.

PhD students enrolled in the school have reported feeling “extremely distressed” not knowing if there will be any staff left to supervise them to completion. It is estimated that up to 65% of PhDs will be impacted.

UWA is further proposing changes to the University Library where eight jobs will be cut, and its Brand, Marketing & Recruitment (BMR) team where 34 positions are proposed to go.

The proposal has been met with outrage, with members of the academic community tracing the nationwide demise of humanities departments to the Federal Government’s refusal to adequately fund public universities.

“These proposals are reflective of a decline in the value our increasingly corporatized universities place on free thinking, prioritising profits over people,” Dr Cathy Moore, WA Division Secretary of the NTEU told Honi.

Research students in Social Sciences have put together a petition in support of staff which has gathered over 4300 signatures at the time of writing.