Students from the Education Action Group (EAG) today joined the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) Annamarie Jagose in her ‘Who’s zooming who?’ staff consultation, as more than $3 million in cuts are expected to be announced in the next week.
In keeping with her reputation for shrouding managerialism in pseudo-progressive lingo, Dean Annamarie Jagose repeatedly described the zoom as a “horizontal, collegial space for the sharing of ideas.” Jagose has spent months in drawn out consultations with staff over plans to cut $3.6 million from FASS, in a proposal termed ‘Future FASS’.
The Draft Change Proposal, outlining where the $3.6 million will be cut, is expected to be released in the coming week. The Dean declined to offer a specific date to students. It is also still unknown whether the DCP will involve the abolition of specific departments or Faculty wide curriculum cuts and restructures. In May, Honi reported that the dissolution of the School of Literature, Art and Media and closure of the Departments of Studies in Religion and Theatre and Performance Studies were on the table.
No new information was offered by the Dean in the consultation, who insisted there was “no secret proposal.” In response to students who raised their frustrations at being kept in the dark about potential changes, Jagose responded that:
“This is the nature of the horizontal consultation process … The alternative is we could have done the minimum of what we are required in the enterprise agreement, which would have been to hand down a set of plans, such as you seem to be inviting me to produce… And I’ve seen that done here and at other institutions. You know in some ways it maybe does have the merit, it’s painful for a few, but it’s quick and everybody gets on with it.”
The cuts come at a time when FASS is forecasting a $135 million surplus for this year, leading to questions over the necessity of the cuts. In the meeting, Jagose responded by shifting blame for the cuts on to reduced levels of government funding and the Faculty’s unsustainable levels of international student enrolments.
Nick Reimer, of the USyd NTEU, has said that “The case for urgent faculty cost reductions has not yet been made. With the university sector in a state of flux, future reductions in international fee income remain speculative… Our Faculty should not be singled out as the target of a hasty, pre-emptive response to contingencies that remain uncertain.”
Jagose argued that departments run into problems when “there simply isn’t the student demand to keep a whole program afloat.” A senior staff member from SLAM disputed this characterisation: “We’ve had an 11% increase in student load in last five years, which is a better increase than half of the faculty…There seems to be an implicit bias that if you’re a small department with a deficit that’s somehow more evil than if you’re a large department with a deficit.”
Dean Annamarie Jagose is set to be promoted to Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost in October. EAG activist Simon Upitis questioned her salary package in the meeting:
“In the consultation process you referred to earlier, one staff member brought up the ridiculously high salaries of management at USyd. They wrote ‘The top 12 people in the University were paid a total of 7.7 million dollars in 2019. That averages out at over $640,000 per person.’ Why aren’t the reductions being made there? Why should managers’ salaries be higher than those of teachers and staff?”
To which Jagose responded: “It’s not my sort of say so as to how the salaries get organised… I don’t think your proposal is logical or would lead to a good outcome.”
SRC president Swapnik Sanagavarapu also spoke at the forum:
“The Senior Management Group are happy to sack staff, cut courses and sacrifice the quality of learning and teaching at this University on the basis of this fabricated ‘deficit’ while pursuing a university empire in Western Sydney. Students here stand opposed to this logic of indefinite expansion and stand for the quality of teaching and research at this University, the quality of staff working conditions, the quality of student learning conditions.”
Already, FASS has faced significant cuts in recent times. One NTEU member claimed today that the Department of History has lost five staff members in the last 12 months. Students frequently complain of ghost units, which appear in the yearly handbook, but are impossible to enrol in. In Semester 2 last year, 8% of units were cut across the Faculty.
But according to Jagose, not all cuts are bad. When asked about the bigger cost of cuts on the Australian arts industry by Sydney University Dramatic Society (SUDS) President Alice Stafford, Jagose interpellated that part of cost cutting involves “bringing disciplines together in ways that would be intellectually exciting for staff and students and synergistic of new kinds of energies.”
If you would like to learn more about the FASS cuts and get involved with the campaign, attend the Education Action Group forum on Wednesday 15th September.