A Top 100 University without Social Sciences?

Consultation Period ends Tuesday 27th July

 Has the Vice Chancellor been misled again?

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On 20th July, the Vice Chancellor sent a University wide email retracting the 77% figure used in the Head of School’s Social Sciences Proposal for Change.

We thank him for pointing attention to the flawed and misleading data used in the proposal, particularly in relation to the rescinding of the Anthropology and Sociology Discipline.

Regrettably however, the email introduced further errors and misleading statements into the review process.

Inaccurately, he (re)stated that Anthropology and Sociology underperforms. We note that there has been no formal review of the school in the past 7 years to ascertain which, if any, disciplines are underperforming. Data suggests Anthropology and Sociology is performing well in terms of teaching, research and service.

We regret that - despite the abundant evidence demonstrating the misleading assertions in the proposal - the Vice Chancellor, Head of School and other members of senior leadership continue to stand by the proposal.

We encourage you to read the rebuttal of the VC’s email below:

The “Head of School has identified an unintended error in data extraction and subsequent processing concerning the quoted enrolments in the Anthropology and Anthropology & Sociology Majors (including Honours) as measured by completion data.”

  1. This ‘unintended’ error could/should have been easily corrected in the first week of consultation when the university was alerted to it. Instead they let the ‘consultation’ proceed with this misinformation uncorrected. This claim of a 77% decline in enrolments is one of the fundamental flaws in the proposal, whereby the VC has been misled through the incorrect use of interim ‘completions’ data from early December last year. At that point, ALL disciplines in the School would have shown a similar apparent ‘decline’, because not all completions had been entered.

  2. Enrolments in the major, enrolments in the units, and completions data must be considered separately.

  3. Many students enrol in Anthropology and Sociology units as part of other degrees or as options. UWA data shows between 160 and 200 students have taken Anthropology and Sociology units each year for the last 6 years, and a modest rise of 3% over that time. This figure more accurately represents the student numbers. To claim a 77%, or even a 40% decrease, when numbers remain strong is misleading.

  4. Anthropology and Sociology has the third highest numbers of both students in their units and of majors in the School. There are 9 other majors in the School that have fewer students.

  5. The university continues to refuse to provide the relevant data for verification purposes, despite repeated requests by multiple staff.

  6. This all raises important questions as to why Anthropology and Sociology is being targeted? There is no academic basis for this, and there has been no School Review or Course Review. This misrepresentation raises questions regarding conflict of interest on the part of its author/s.

The Email states “This does not alter the basis and need for strategic change.”

This position raises concerns about the Vice Chancellor’s willingness to genuinely listen to the extensive feedback that has been generated during the consultation period.

The Email states “the aggregate drop in completions of these majors between 2016 and 2020, inclusive, was 40%, not 77% as previously reported.”

Completed majors 2015-2020 show an 8.6% drop, and from 2016-2020 the drop is 24%. Numbers in units in 2021 show a 27% increase on the same time last year.

‘Unit set completions’ (not majors) across the whole School averages out at a reduction of 36%. Anthropology and Sociology is in line with other disciplines in this regard. There is therefore no basis for targeting one discipline over another.

The Email states the School should have a “clear focus on the applied social sciences. This would strengthen the focus on providing students with strongly transferable scientific and practical social sciences skills.”

Anthropology and Sociology is the foundation of the social sciences, and teaches a range of applied skills that are in high demand, including social research methods, policy analysis, and heritage and Native Title. The implication that it does not teach applied, scientific and practical skills is inaccurate.

Drastic Changes proposed to School of Social Sciences at the University of Western Australia

 

The Proposal includes: 

  1. Dismissing 16 staff, and reassigning 12 staff from Teaching and Research to Teaching Focused;

  2. Dissolving the Anthropology and Sociology discipline;

  3. Significantly reducing research expertise in Asian Studies, Media and Communications, Urban Planning, Political Science and International Relations.

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UWA Vice Chancellor was interviewed on July 14th on ABC Radio Perth.

Have those advising about this proposal just embarrassed the Vice Chancellor? Listen to the interview and the responses.

 
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We stand with La Trobe University

We would like to express our solidarity for colleagues at La Trobe University in Melbourne regarding the redundancy programme they are now facing. These cuts are having a major impact on Australia’s knowledge infrastructure at a time when the country is facing multiple social, cultural and economic upheaval. Universities educate the next generation. They need to be protected from short-sighted, bottom line thinking. Sign the petition.

 
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What People Are Saying

I write to express my serious consternation at the news of the short-sighted proposal to eliminate the anthropology and sociology program at the University of Western Australia. These fields of the social sciences offer vital and essential perspectives on the complexity of the contemporary world.

It is hard to imagine a world-class university that does not include both research and teaching in these fields. I was very lucky to have been invited to give a public lecture to the department at UWA last year, in 2020. Over a hundred faculty and students attended the event, in which I presented a synopsis of my recent book, A Possible Anthropology: Methods for Uneasy Times. The discussion that followed the talk was extraordinarily rich and sophisticated, accentuating the high level of creative thinking and critical analysis inculcated by the department.

I urge you to reconsider this hasty proposal, and to find ways instead to buttress and support this crucial academic program.

— Professor Anand Pandian, John Hopkins University

The proposals to cut Social Sciences and Anthropology and to gut Asian Languages and Studies is not only poorly thought out, it shows a complete and utter lack of understanding for the position of Australia in Asia.

UWA boasts a number of amazing scholars producing groundbreaking and important research - to reduce them to teaching only language teachers is not only an insult to them as researchers but a gaffe of immeasurable proportion. UWA is uniquely placed in Australia with its proximity to East Asia and South East Asia. Rather than cutting Asian Studies and Asian Languages such as Japanese and Korean, UWA should be investing in these areas.

— Dr Emerald L. King, University of Tasmania

 

As an anthropologist active within Asian Studies in Australia, as well as a former board member of the Japanese Studies Association and current board-member of the Society for Queer Asian Studies (although I write today as a concerned private citizen), I find the university's decision to reduce research capacity in Social Sciences not only alarming, but short-sighted.

At a time when the domestic and international business community is calling on more graduates to be trained in the critical thinking that only a degree in HASS can provide, seeing widespread cuts to the School of Social Sciences reveals that UWA management has misunderstood the current employment context facing young Australians. Further, proposals to limit research in Asian Studies is particularly alarming given the centrality of Asia to not only Australia's international business, but also to the significant communities of Asian-Australians who live within this country and have faced considerable pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is particularly disappointing that a Vice-Chancellor who is from the Asian region - and who champions education in the region through his charitable work - would turn his back on an important area of growth for Australian academia. The proposal that these spaces be transformed into teaching only will contribute to a significant brain-drain as academics and students depart WA for the East. The reputational damage to UWA will also be immense.

Economic rationalization is important during uncertain times, but transforming a vibrant research department into a teaching only space will not lead to long-term economic growth and will directly limit the grant potential of other research specializations at the institution. The university executive must reverse this decision as soon as possible, or engage in good faith consultation with relevant professionals and unions rather than splurging money unnecessarily on corporate consultants.

— Dr Tom Baudinette

At a time of global pandemic, when we are facing some of the most urgent challenges of our time, it is difficult to comprehend how any university could propose cuts to the disciplines of Anthropology and Sociology.

The analyses of cross-cultural and social phenomena that these disciplines afford, could not be more relevant and necessary for understanding attitudes to vaccination and behaviour change, fake news and the politics of science, the vulnerability of our elderly in care, roles and responsibilities of the state and the citizen, and so many more issues, which we see in the news and that demand social science expertise.

It's one thing to invest in science for creating new vaccines, but how do you then address the social and behavioural change required for sanitation, vaccine uptake, mask-wearing, etc; how do you translate that science into good policy? It's one thing to invest in climate science, but then how do you communicate this to policy-makers and raise awareness in the general public about climate mitigating behaviours? It is social science expert analysis and translation, in particular, Sociology and Anthropology that provide the disciplinary training for this expertise. I urge you to reconsider this ill-informed decision to dissolve the Anthropology and Sociology discipline at UWA.

— Dr Rochelle Spencer, Co-Director, Centre for Responsible Citizenship and Sustainability, Murdoch University

 

It's with great concern that I, as so many other people in and outside academic circles in Australia and beyond, receive news about this Proposal for Change at the School of Social Sciences at your Institution (UWA). If this Proposal were to materialise, its negative consequences would be dreadful, and long-lasting, for an Institution like UWA, and would undoubtedly translate into an abysmal loss for the people of Western Australia (and for the country as a whole).

The role of anthropology, sociology and other social sciences and humanities in the formation of a creative, productive and problem-solving civic community is irreplaceable, in Australia as anywhere else. It is really hard to believe that university management at a flagship institution like UWA is willing to consider, even in provisional terms, a Proposal that, if accepted, would institutionally weaken these key area of education so drastically. The lack of vision for the University sector and for society at large that this proposal projects is blatant. When leading academic Institutions and most varied governments are moving to support more dialogue between the social and other sciences to set solid foundations for the challenges that our societies are facing and will face in the future, in one of the most important educational Institutions in Australia there seems to be a move to effectively dismantle the pillars of one of those knowledge-producing interlocutors (i.e. the institutional base of anthropology and other social sciences).

With the utmost respect and understanding of the complicated situations they [Head of School, relevant authorities and decision-makers] have to navigate as leaders of a large institution like UWA, I urge them to reconsider the contents of the current Proposal, and to open a dialogue with members of the School of Social Sciences at UWA in search of an alternative solution that, contributing to meet goals of financial sustainability for the Institution, maintains the indispensable contributions that anthropology, sociology and other disciplines offer to this country through your educational institution.

— Dr Luis Angosto-Ferrández, University of Sydney

To lose someone who has such rich expertise in your particular area of research would be so detrimental, not only to the quality of the research we produce but also to student wellbeing.

There are a lot of concern from PhD students about what is going to happen to us. For many it would mean not being able to finish our PhD’s or being seriously delayed while they scramble to give us new supervisors who aren’t even specialised in what we are researching.

— Juliana La Pegna, PhD Candidate at UWA

 

As a graduate of UWA and a former Convocation Councillor, I wish to express my extreme opposition to the outrageous propositions being floated in the 'School of Social Sciences Proposal for Change Consultation Paper’.

In particular, the proposals to discontinue;

  • the anthropology and sociology major and associated units

  • the Master of Urban and Regional Planning, nested courses and associated units

represent acts of high order social and intellectual vandalism.

Just taking the last year and a half alone, a global pandemic has had profound social, economic, and political consequences that require deep sociological and anthropological study. That UWA would respond to this situation by discontinuing majors in both subjects would be a dereliction of duty for a university.

Similarly, at a time when climate change raises profound questions about the design of urban spaces generally, UWA discontinuing the Masters in Urban and Regional verges on the utterly irresponsible.

If the Head of School wants to address 'social sciences at the crossroads’, this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. This ‘proposal for change' should be junked and the process restarted.

— Tim Dymond, PhD

 

I am an archaeologist, forensic anthropologist, and interdisciplinary scholar of the illicit antiquities trade and threats to cultural heritage. These disciplines are firmly within the social sciences and capture exactly why the qualitative and quantitative approaches to understanding how and why human society functions as it does are so vital.

Especially in these days of a global pandemic, threats to cultural and linguistic diversity, the merging of on and off-line life, etc. To truly be a global society and have a place in the world, Australia needs the knowledge that anthropology, sociology and all social science (and humanities) fields can provide.

Personally, I (an American) had my first exposure to the Australian university system and Australian living as an exchange student in 2002. Taking classes in anthropology and archaeology especially convinced me to return to Australia, eventually migrating permanently.

It would be an especially poignant tragedy if the very disciplines and School at UWA that convinced me to become Australian was destroyed through short-sighted choices and ill-conceived solutions to a problem that none of the affected staff caused.

— Damien Huffer

Media Support

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