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USyd begins implementing controversial Future FASS Plan

The University has indicated that there will be no departmental closures or staff redundancies, although it has not made any commitments to reducing its reliance on casual staff.

The University of Sydney’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) has begun implementing the Future FASS plan, which attracted significant controversy last year due to early proposals to dissolve departments, cut low-enrolment units, and put staff jobs at risk.

In a faculty-wide email this afternoon, FASS Dean Professor Lisa Adkins warned students to look out for changes in University systems ahead of Semester Two, including School and Discipline name changes in Sydney Student, Sydney Courses and Special Considerations.

As part of the plan, the School of Literature, Art and Media (SLAM) will be renamed to the School of Art, Communication and English, while the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry (SOPHI) will become the School of Humanities.

Linguistics and Studies in Religion will become disciplines under the School of Humanities after leaving the soon-to-be renamed SLAM. Meanwhile, Film Studies will become a distinct discipline under the new School of Art, Communication and English.

Several departments will be amalgamated into new disciplines, including:

  • Asian Studies, consisting of the Department of Asian Studies and the Department of Indian Subcontinental Studies and Culture
  • English, consisting of the Department of English and the Department of Writing Studies
  • Sociology and Criminology, consisting of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies and the Department of Sociology and Social Policy

In a press release earlier this year, USyd explained that the shift from a departmental to a disciplinary structure would “reduce” administrative overheads, provide safeguards for smaller disciplines, and “improve” consistency in education quality across the faculty.

At this stage, it is unclear how these changes will affect students. The University suggests it will eventually lead to a “simplified degree pathway and stronger learning experience” by building stronger cohorts and enabling greater collaboration between disciplines to deliver interdisciplinary shared units across FASS majors.

Students are likely to be apprehensive given the poor reception of FASS1000 and FASS3999.

Future FASS came under fire last year while it was a draft change proposal, leading to multiple successful campaigns to preserve SLAM, as well as the Departments of Gender and Cultural Studies (GCS), Studies in Religion, and Theatre and Performance Studies. 

Staff and student activists also rallied against the axing of undergraduate units that attracted fewer than 24 enrolments. Under the final change plan, approximately one dozen units will be cut, while no existing courses will be rested.

The University has indicated that there will be no redundancies or reductions in full-time equivalent positions, averting one of the major concerns surrounding Future FASS. However, Future FASS was approved during a year in which USyd shed more than 230 academic positions, according to its 2021 Annual Report. 

The Final Change Report also made no commitment to convert casual contracts to full or part-time ones, despite acknowledging the increasing reliance on a casualised workforce to deliver FASS units.

There will also be fewer Higher Degree by Research (HDR) places offered in order to lower operating costs, according to documents seen by Honi

These changes come amidst a backdrop of a $1.04 billion operating surplus, increasing student-to-staff ratios, and a total endowment climbing to $3.3 billion.