What People Are Saying
I must express my shock and disappointment upon learning of the proposal to close the School of Anthropology at UWA. I enrolled in a PhD at UWA, primarily because the school is recognised nationally and internationally for the integrity of the research undertaken here but also for the contribution the staff and students have made since its inception towards driving meanful improvements in the status and self determination of First Nations people's in Western Australia, since the 1950's. This is the legacy of the Berndt's, who created the School of Anthropology and the Berndt Museum of Anthropology and the Berndt Foundation.
I started my anthropological journey at Curtin University and along the way, as my knowledge of Aboriginal history and culture expanded, I came to realise that I needed to continue my learning and research at UWA. The prestige of a PhD from UWA Anthropology is very alluring and highly motivating.
After working in the field of native title and heritage services as an anthropologist for a period, I knew I needed to expand my theoretical knowledge and engage with the Berndt collection in order to further develop in my chosen field. Through the high quality supervision I received from Professor Katie Glaskin, the three and a half years I devoted to my PhD research project improved my research skills and increased my overarching awareness of the complexity of the First Nations communities I presently work with in the Goldfields.
Two factors have motivated my return to full-time work as an anthropologist before completing my PhD: financial pressures post scholarship; the other is the lack of anthropologists with training in native title available to work in the Goldfields. Literally, there is a dearth of contenders, so I stepped up to the role when the new service provider NTS Goldfields began in 2020. This points to the very real need for well trained anthropology students with sound theoretical and applied ethnographic training in this state. Native Title Representative bodies, service providers, Proscribed Body Corporates, mining proponents, state government, local government and others all need anthropology graduates to provide research and recommendations in order to work within and comply with the Native Title legislation, as well as the various other state and federal Acts that have bearing on First Nations rights and interests. WA is the mining economic powerhouse and anthropologists, particularly those from UWA, have contributed immensely to the development of policy and regulations and more recently the drafting of a new Cultural Heritage Act. Career opportunities in this sector will continue and abound as a matter of course, there is no deadline for these professions. Anthropologists from UWA engage in multidisciplinary teams in these and other community development sectors, to ensure that all stakeholders voices, needs and views are factored into project design and implementation. Many of the professional role models who mentored me, studied at the School of Anthropology at UWA.
For myself, the prospect of the closure of the School of Anthropology throws my future into disarray. Whilst I have deferred my PhD to return to work, my intention has been to complete my research project under the supervision of Professor Glaskin in a year or two. The possibility that I may not be able to achieve my PhD through UWA with Professor Glaskin deeply saddens me. My research focus is Aboriginal architecture in the Pilbara region, I need the benefit of Professor Glaskin’s expertise in order to deliver my thesis. It will be too disruptive for me to shift to another university and/or find another supervisor so late in the project. This may as well be the end of the research road for me, it's truly disheartening.
Finally, I consider that the discipline of Anthropology is on par with Philosophy, it is not easily monetised. As such its value cannot simply be rationalised in terms of economic expenditure as it relates to income generation. Philosophy provides the basis for cultural values, anthropology takes stock of how those cultural values are upheld. Both disciplines provide the foundation for a university, all others can be considered structural or skin. In my view, without these essential foundations, the universities framework and appearance will be dangerously compromised. Indeed it will be unrecognisable to myself and many of my colleagues. I ask that UWA recognises the intrinsic importance of the Discipline of Anthropology, the talent of the staff and the potential of the students. By doing everything in its power to underpin the School, the university can shore up the supply of greatly needed anthropologists in WA.
— Marnie Tonkin, PhD Student UWA
UWA's sociologists and anthropologists are nationally and internationally esteemed. This reputation has been built by decades of outstanding research work.
The thought to dissolve the discipline is a shocking one. And soon something very much like it will have to be restored because a society always needs to understand itself. However it will then take years and years to build up any kind of reputation. Good social science takes a long time.
— A/Prof Yoland Wadsworth, RMIT University
I am appalled and dismayed to hear about the proposed cuts to the UWA Social Sciences department. My name is Jocelle Koh, and I am an alumni of the Media and Communications department at UWA.
While I am one of many, I have reason to believe that my story is somewhat unique. I am the founder of Asian Pop Weekly, one of the most prominent media platforms focusing on bringing Asian music to the overseas world, and founded the platform on Western Australian soil. While I started my journey at UWA as a Human Biology student, I soon realised my true calling was in the realm of media and communications, and that was where I found support, mentorship and new perspectives which have influenced the direction of Asian Pop Weekly and my professional career in ways I could never have imagined.
Being a third culture kid, I had choices. I could have chosen to study a more specific discipline in Asia, but I chose to complete my major in Perth. Why? Because I believed that the social sciences faculty here would be able to instil in me a unique sense of the media landscape, and enable me to contribute to the Asian music and media industry in ways that have never been done before. And I'm happy to say that with their help, this is something I have truly accomplished.
I was surrounded by inspiring and supportive faculty who encouraged me to think outside of the box and taught me about every nook and cranny of the communications and media landscape I desired. From structured classes on everything from media production and photoshop to production of culture theories, I took it all in, and am glad to share that I still use many of these skills to date. In my honours year, I had the pleasure to dive further into my own research, and gained a deeper understanding of what research meant to the lecturers who had inspired me so in my bachelor year.
It meant unbridled creativity combined with a strict discipline of the mind that no other profession or task could put us through. It meant the firing of synapses and flow that enabled new ideas to come to the forefront. In many cases, it also provided solutions for many of the Australian media landscape's most pressing and interesting issues, such as fake news, the development of creative industries, gamification of culture, and democratisation of systems in the digital age.
Through my media and communications degree, I learnt the worth of what I do. Even more importantly, it gave me the skills to continue to have confidence in my worth through the rigorous questioning and academic mindset my time here has instilled in me. I now understand thoroughly not only what I do in every role I've undertaken, but why I do it and how I can continue to foster the creative industry I've chosen.
Hearing about the social sciences department cut therefore felt like a punch in the gut, and I cannot even begin to fathom how this hurts the faculty. Like me, they truly believe in the importance of a humanities approach to how we tackle world issues, and the cuts especially to the important research that is done here will not only reduce the faculty's ability to shape the new generation of young minds, but will also be detrimental to Western Australia's overall ability to interact with an increasingly globalised world that is and will continue to increasingly rely on understandings of culture and the impact of technology to survive.
I truly hope you'll reconsider dealing with the university's funding crisis by removing Anthropology and Sociology departments, and removing research opportunities from the social sciences discipline. In COVID times, more than ever we need to develop empathy and communication skills to deal with challenges that are no longer tangible; and there is no better place to learn that than through the social sciences.
— Jocelle Koh, Founder of Asian Pop Weekly
In light of recent events, I have read various letters of support for Anthropology at UWA. I'd like to add my voice, speaking as a recent sociocultural anthropology PhD graduate who happens to be a kiwi.
Let me focus on two areas: what anthropology gives us, and my experience as a recent graduate.
You might be familiar with distinguished Financial Times journalist, Dr. Gillian Tett. Tett has the distinction of foreseeing and understanding "the 2008 financial crisis, the rise of Donald Trump, the 2020 pandemic, the surge in sustainable investing, and the digital economy", as she writes in her new book, Anthro-Vision.
For some years now, Tett has been arguing that anthropology gives you two key traits in terms of how you look at the world. First, you learn to look at the world through other people’s eyes — not just to try and understand the other, as something that is alien to you, but then to look back at yourself to understand yourself more clearly. Second, the very act of looking back at yourself through someone else’s eyes means that you can take a much more holistic view of your own culture, and other people’s cultures too. In so doing, anthropology makes the strange familiar, and the familiar strange. What anthropology gives is peripheral vision in a world where people are trained to use their tools for tunnel vision. It enables you to look at the social silences — the parts of the world that people do not talk about — and not just the parts of the world that people do talk about.
Allow me to conclude by briefly mentioning my own experience with anthropology graduate study in the U.S.
My experience is that anthropology equips graduates to practice it in a wide variety of careers, extending far beyond academia. For instance, I met anthropologists who are long-time employees of Intel. An Intel employee was instrumental in setting up Epic, which promotes the practice of ethnography to create value in industry. As you no doubt know, Intel is a fairly conservative institution with a strong focus on engineering — yet they hire sociocultural anthropologists because it makes good business sense to do so. Google also hires anthropologists.
Given the challenge Australia faces with climate change, changes in its relationship with global powers, and other existential challenges, it seems to me that Australia requires among its best and brightest the kinds of approaches anthropology gives us.
— Damon Lynch, PhD, Anthropologist
As a passionate educator and a proud alumnus of University of Western Australia, the recent announcements regarding UWA’s decisions on the many changes being done to Social Sciences units have deeply disappointed myself and other professionals in state-wide teaching communities. It is heartbreaking to see that my beloved old university is transitioning from being WA’s most prestigious educational institution to a simple “degree-factory” where students are just some numbers of dollars to be exploited and education is nothing but a piece of paper to prove one’s financial capabilities.
With such blatant disregard of the importance of research, how would one expect our future generation to be world’s leading academics, scholars, and scientists when adequate research is not going to be embedded in the education that they are being provided to become one?
Changes can result in many theories, concepts, and knowledges. Only in the 1990s, many studies claimed that dinosaurs had reptile skin and went extinct due to volcanoes. With adequate research, we now have many other theories to support that some dinosaurs may have had colourful feathers and found evidence for the meteorite that may have killed the dinosaurs. If one believes these discoveries that changed history can be made without countless academics and valuable research done by them, I believe they should not be involved – let alone be allowed to make decisions – in a teaching industry. Furthermore, if a prestigious educational institution such as UWA no longer values research, and teaching within UWA becomes just parroting after one another, how will the future gaps in knowledge be filled?
Throughout my teaching career, I had many opportunities to share my UWA experience with students and various school community members. I had many – and will have many more – bright and promising young individuals who are a little at sea about what lies in their future. With pride, UWA had always been my first recommendation for students. My reasonings were simple and consistent. “UWA provides strong research-based education and provides wide variety of units where you can try out so many things”. Last week, I was proven to be wrong and was left to feel humiliated and ashamed as UWA’s announcement had now made me a liar and a cheat.
With passion for the future of our next generations and love for my old university, I strongly urge you to consider the following points;
UWA is taking advantage of Asian Studies and exploiting the value of it by only considering it as a ‘cheap’ method of scraping in large sums of money in return for poorer quality education without research done by current academics.
This movement of forcing Asian Studies to be teaching only, along with axing anthropology and sociology is not only devaluing the arts and knowledge within the units but also is racist and promotes the culture of discrimination within the university.
Asian studies are not simply language instructions, just like how learning English in school was never purely about the alphabet.
Discounting the value of Asian studies as a contextual, cultural and regional knowledge is offensive and damaging to society’s perception of Asian cultures.
This decision devalues Asia and Asian researchers
This depreciates the Asia and Australia cross-curriculum priority within the Australian Curriculum for high schools.
WA’s top university cutting all Asia research diminishes the key ideas within the Curriculum.
Decreasing the morale of educators linking the cross-curricular points in class - How are teachers meant to explain the significance of Asia-Australia relationships when WA’s top university is cutting all Asia research?
There lies no difference between UWA and TAFE if there were to be no regards to having strong foundation of research embedded in its teaching.
It is not rocket science to know that as a consumer, you have the right to expect to get what you paid for. “Seek wisdom” is the first phrase that welcomes visitors into UWA’s website. It is impactful, and it has been a powerful couple of words that had summarised UWA’s approach in providing quality education – up until last week. However, it is truly a wonder how seeking wisdom can be achieved without the solid research being done by many academics that founds the teaching. Many educators including myself are wondering if this university really is somewhere we should promote to students anymore, when the first thing its official website it tells its viewers is a blatant lie.
— Alyssa Kim, Teacher WA
I am currently undertaking a double major in commerce at UWA, but I made sure every available electiveslot I had went towards maximising my time in the School of Social Sciences. I completed the Japanese Studies program to the highest available language level, and I consider the four units I took the best classes of my degree. I also studied at partner university Kwansei Gakuin for a month, an opportunitymade possible by the close ties maintained up until now by the Japanese Studies staff. My short timeabroad has been the highlight of my university life, and it deeply upsets me that the restructuring of theJapanese Studies program will lead to the diminishing of these opportunities among others forprospective students.
I believe the Asian Studies program as it stands has great value. Teaching the course to students withoutbeing able to conduct research would significantly affect the student experience. While I have not takenan Asian Studies unit myself, I am this year’s president of the Japanese Studies Society of UWA. While Iadmit our conversations as a committee are not always focused on course content, there have beenseveral occasions upon which I have dropped into the committee chat to be greeted with well-informedand respectful discourse regarding the topics covered in the Asian Studies program. These are the kindsof conversations we must continue having. An Asian Studies program stripped back by the proposedrestructuring would be severely diminished in its ability to inspire and facilitate these exchanges amongstudents.
I loved Japanese Studies at UWA and I am so grateful for all the work and time that the staff havepoured into the program. Most of the time, I’m just a regular apathetic university student, widelyunaffected by the changes in policy above my head. This time is different. This restructure and the hugeblow it will deliver to Asian Studies and the wider School of Social Sciences feels personal, and I’m notthe only one who feels this way. I hope you will take this into consideration.
— Claudia Goh, UWA Student
Three semesters into a double major in psychology and psychological sciences, I made the switch to anthropology and sociology. The reason for this being: the major examined social and behavioural phenomena in way that I had never come across in other disciplines. Anthropology and sociology units teach you to study social phenomena at the level of the micro, meso and the macro. The units situate individuals in intricate cultural, institutional and historical contexts. This is thanks to the ethnographic method - a method that was born out of anthropology and sociology, and remains unique to the discipline.
The university purports that the skills and knowledge of anthropology and sociology can be found in other courses offered. The ethnographic method alone shows this argument to be simply untrue. No other major offers specialised units on the ethnographic methodology.
It takes a little research to find out that ethnographic methods are in high demand. For example, Microsoft is the largest employer of anthropologists in the world. Why? They employ anthropologist for their ethnographic skillset, that is used, in this context, to access how people form ideas, beliefs and practices around various technologies. This one example that does not even touch on the copious amount of work in the Western Australian mining industry, that requires this exact skillset. By cutting the Anthropology and Sociology Department, the university is actively robbing future students from attaining competitive and in-demand knowledge and capabilities.
The university is acting in the name of cost cutting and competition, however you, the university, will be degrading your regional and international reputation. This will only blunted your competitive edge.
You are cutting vital research that examines aged populations and educational institutions, for example. Seeing as Australia is an ageing population, and our educational systems are undergoing rapid change, research into these areas is an imperative. You, the university, have decided to slash this research at time when it is most needed.
Having graduated from an honours degree in anthropology and sociology just last year, I know that the degree equips students to think systematically. As our national and global institutions strain under the pandemic, mass migration, ecological breakdown, and inequality, we need graduates who can think systematically to restructure the form and functions of institutions. You, the university, have robbed the state of WA of the ability to produce these future thinkers and leaders.
Seeing how you - the various actors driving this restructure - have made short-sighted, poorly evidenced, and illogical decisions regarding this institutional restructuring, I suggested you reinstate the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, and then effectively immediately, enrol in the degree yourselves. You might just learn something.
— Nathan Robert, UWA Alumni
I am writing to you as a high school teacher of Chinese at a nearby school in the Western Suburbs; most of our students attend UWA after graduation.
When I was a student, like many students in the Social Sciences, I never intended to be a graduate of the Social Sciences. It was while completing a Graduate Diploma in Chinese that I was required to take a unit in Asian studies with the incomparable A/Prof Elfving-Hwang. From then, I knew that I had found my niche in Asian Studies. I completed my Honours in Asian Studies under Dr Fraschini. The level of attention and guidance I received from my supervisor while completing my research was second to none. The resulting data collected resulted in Dr Fraschini writing two peer-reviewed articles, and my thesis results has been shared across Australia.
When my own students in Years 10-12 ask for advice on which university to attend, I have always recommended UWA to them due to my own experiences with the Asian Studies team. If UWA continues with the planned cuts to Asian Studies, in future when students ask me to recommend a university, I will no longer be able to recommend UWA to them due to the lack of research in the Asian Studies department.
I hope that you will scrap the proposal to cut the research capability of the Asian Studies department so I can continue to recommend UWA to my students.
I am writing in response to the proposed restructuring of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Western Australia. My understanding is the restructuring includes the dismantling and closure of the disciplines of anthropology and sociology.
While I can appreciate that universities face revenue and cost challenges, they are not, nor have they ever been, businesses. Universities are places of higher education, of research, of learning. The scope of that research and the value of that learning should never be decided by the financial challenges facing an institution.
Social science is science, and of the most important kind. In an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, social scientists are integral to understanding the challenges that shape our global community. For example: the pandemic is as much a social issue as a biological one, and understanding the climate crisis requires insights into how people adapt and modify behaviour in response to climate challenges and new technologies.
Understanding human behaviour, knowledge integration, issues of social cohesion and politics, as well as research into the ways in which humans interact with each other, is more important than it’s ever been. We should not be discussing the dismantling of social science and humanities programs. We should be invested in maintaining them no matter the cost, because social science is essential in helping to understand and create solutions that address the most pressing issues of our time.
I implore you to consider alternatives that do not include the dismantling of research and education programs that are essential. As wonderful as the breakthroughs in technology and the natural sciences are, they do not exist outside of their application and impacts. It’s social science that tells us what we get right, what we don’t, and why.
— Dr. Kelly Linton, Dept. of Anthropology, The University of Western Ontario
As a social anthropologist who has worked across academic and private sectors, and as someone who has been involved in hiring anthropology graduates, I can categorically state that this proposal will have far reaching consequences for the discipline in Western Australia, and beyond, and will severely impact future skills supply across multiple sectors – not least of all the extractive industries which are central to the Western Australian economy.
Anthropological thinking and methods are proven to be transformative in any work environment. The contemporary world and workplace need knowledgeable people with the ability to adapt and apply their knowledge to novel situations. In a world of accelerating diversity and complexity, anthropology plays a critical role in fostering personal awareness and flexibility, global perspectives and holistic knowledge, and the desire to solve society’s most pressing challenges in a culturally sensitive way.
If UWA really wants to produce graduates that are ready to tackle the biggest issues facing society, then this can only be understood as a self-defeating move. I urge the Vice-Chancellor to reconsider the proposal and take a longer-term view on this situation.
— A/Prof Nick Bainton, University of Queensland
I am a recently graduated Honours student who majored in Asian Studies and Economics at UWA. I wanted to write this email to express my disappointment at the University’s proposal to gut the social sciences and phase out the Anthropology and Sociology degree at UWA. While I was studying my undergraduate degree, the Asian Studies units I completed were some of the most rewarding in my entire time studying. My completion of an Economics degree alongside Asian Studies reinforced this. While the economics units I completed were very process-oriented and focused on what to think, Asian Studies provided me with the important skill of learning how to think and critically engage with the world around me. The lecturers from Asian Studies displayed a genuine care for me and my fellow students, and each lecture, tutorial, and seminar brought with it interesting discussions and novel viewpoints on important global issues. I felt challenged, rewarded, and excited about learning in an intellectually stimulating environment. To be honest I am completely baffled as to how a University that claims to be world-class could knowingly deprive itself of such a fantastic program.
Just a few months ago I completed my first-class Honours thesis, which explored young Australians’ relationships with Asia and argued that young Australians need to be provided with more opportunities to engage with Asia, not less. Gutting the social sciences at UWA deprives the state of WA and Australia as a whole of opportunities to better understand their respective places in the world and chart a path forward in an increasingly uncertain international climate. I was recently made aware of UWA’s new ‘grand challenges’ initiative, and while reading through the dedicated website (which, by the way, features researchers from the social sciences prominently) it was impossible to find any ‘challenge’ that could not be tackled through greater collaboration between Australia and Japan, India, South Korea, Indonesia, or any other of the country’s Asian neighbours. Dismantling the social sciences at UWA, stifling student outcomes, and removing research positions risks turning Australia into a hermit kingdom full of insular-minded university graduates with no knowledge of the world outside of scientific formulas and starting salaries. I know UWA can be more than this because my own experience proves as much. I understand that University-wide cuts may be necessary in the short-term, but in the long-term a university without social sciences is a loss for all.
I wanted to finish this letter by providing an example of how these proposed cuts will lead to brain drain out of Western Australia, to the detriment of the entire state. I was recently awarded a scholarship to study a PhD at UWA’s Korea Research Centre, during which I was planning to analyse the potential for greater collaboration between Australia and South Korea in clean energy, and how this could transform the bilateral relationship. The severity and hastiness of these announced cuts now has me deeply concerned that UWA will not be able to support me through this program in the way that a different university could, and I am now also looking at options in the Eastern States. For someone who was enthusiastic about the prospects of studying a PhD at a university with solid Asian Studies and Korean Studies programs, these announcements have been wholly disappointing.
I hope the university is able to see the long-term necessity of Asian Studies and the social sciences for Australia’s future and act accordingly.
— Theo Mendez, UWA Alumni
I wish to strongly condemn the proposal to discontinue Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Western Australia . The department of Sociology and Anthropology at UWA has an exceptional international reputation for ground breaking research excellence . On a personal level staff such as Katie Glaskin and Loretta Baldassar have had a major influence on my thinking and in the development of research projects.
The loss of the research and teaching capacity especially in the areas of development studies, migration and Indigenous studies will be astoundingly counter-productive to maintaining Australia's and Western Australia’s ability to respond effectively to local and global challenges and crises. There are obvious systemic links in the form of an irresponsible disregard for social and cultural contexts of knowledge and value between the deliberate and short-sighted destruction last year by mining giant Rio Tinto of a 47,000 year old Aboriginal site in the Pilbara and the planned destruction now of the 60 year old Anthropology Department at UWA. It really does seem that the barbarians do in fact run Western Australia. There will be enormous reputational damage to the UWA and to those that remain working there in the ruins of what was once a fine institution. This outcome can be avoided by reversing the proposed changes and by maintaining Sociology and Anthropology as vitally important programs of teaching and research at UWA.
— Michael Wood
I think the Save the Social Sciences rebuttal is very well done. Its careful detailing of actual EFTSL numbers is especially important, as it underscores the sizeable numbers of students currently undertaking study in various discipline groups. The Proposal jeopardizes these student numbers, as students are drawn to academic areas with lecturers who are both good teachers and also established researchers in those areas. Why else do universities emphasize their research profiles and rankings in its advertising for overseas undergrads? Clearly, if whole parts of the School are relegated to being “teaching focused” those areas will almost certainly lose student numbers from the ranks of undergraduates, but also from postgraduates who require supervisors who are both pedagogically sound and also significant researchers. Indeed, our postgraduates often assume their research interests from undergraduate and honours units, and then turn to their lecturers to serve as supervisors for their advanced research, which often echoes elements of their lecturers’ own research. As academics at UWA are appointed as “teacher researchers” this ex post facto transformation of their academic responsibilities to being “teaching focused” flies in the face of the job description they signed on to fulfil. I can think of no highly ranked North American or British university where whole areas of academic divisions are “teaching focused.” The likely consequence, I believe, will be that UWA’s lecturers with good research records and strong CVs will abandon UWA for institutions with well-rounded areas of study and research that look for individuals who combine pedagogical with research excellence. The best students will follow them there. The result: the Proposal is a formula for disaster and third-class institutional oblivion, not salvation. I cannot imagine it will allow the university to be seriously considered in the world top 50, as is UWA’s quest across the next generation.
The Save Social Sciences rebuttal also makes the important point that the Proposal focuses on WA geography and archaeology to the exclusion of the “global society.” Clearly, the Proposal is built around two very narrow, parochial foci, which will have little appeal to international students, and will certainly undercut the attempts by UWA to portray itself as a comprehensive “top 50” world class institution. In so doing, the Proposal is a formula for narrow, exclusionist academics that depends for its finance on those in “teaching focused” areas to reap EFSTL funds and effectively turn them over to a few researchers in two areas. As a Group of Eight university, and the flagship institution in Western Australia, its historic marrying of world class research with teaching would become reserved for only a select few areas. The Harvards, Stanfords and Cambridges of this world wouldn’t countenance this formalization of first and second class academic areas; nor will the academic rankings, and certainly not the students who are guided by those reputations. The result: the EFTSLs of “teaching focused” areas will wither on the vine and take with them the finances necessary to sustain the university’s balance sheet.
If UWA seeks to boost the fusion of first class pedagogy with research, then it should trim existing dead wood and hire young, dedicated academics committed to careers built on sustaining these two responsibilities across the various academic areas. To pursue the Proposal’s relegation of whole academic disciplines to the dust bin of a tertiary finishing school is to assure the relegation of UWA to that same bin.
Dear Leadership of the University of Western Australia,
I have recently come across the School of Social Sciences Proposal for Change Consultation Paper, and write to voice in the strongest terms my considered opposition to its proposals. I do so not only as an alumnus of UWA, but as a scholar who has had the privilege to subsequently earn degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, and Columbia, to conduct further studies at Harvard, Peking, and Bologna, and to gain employment at Oxford, Heidelberg, and now Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, 12th in the 2022 QS World University Rankings. I speak, in other words, as a scholar with extensive personal experience both of UWA and of premier research universities throughout the world, and I highlight this experience only so as to add weight to my unmitigated criticism of your proposal.
Over all the years I have spent in universities worldwide, I have watched from afar, aghast as Australia’s universities steadily mutated from seats of learning to corporations for profit. I have watched as the number of senior administrators such as yourselves ballooned, as your salaries surged to obscene amounts, and as in spite of this you have again and again enacted unconscionable cuts in the name of fiscal responsibility. Now, I see you deliberately cherry-pick questionable ‘data’ to justify a series of proposals that can best be described as a gross dereliction of your duty to safeguard the standing of the institution you are paid to uphold.
How do you expect to recruit and retain talented scholars from around the world if you cannot be relied upon to honour the contracts you sign with them? How do you expect your staff to teach effectively if they cannot conduct the research they need to inform that teaching? How do you expect to appeal to students - especially international students - if your staff are not at the forefront of their fields? How do you expect the university to maintain its reputation hobbled of its Social Sciences, one of the pillars of scholarship in the twenty-first century? And how, perhaps most far-reachingly of all, do you expect to remain relevant to society without social scientists? (Or for that matter humanists: I can only assume that, on top of the cutbacks to the School of Humanities you have already enacted over recent years, more are planned…).
In short, your proposals are short-sighted and narrow-minded, apt only to sow distrust in and further erode the reputation of the University of Western Australia. I therefore call on you to renege on them completely and unconditionally. It is not only the right thing to do, but the only way that UWA can meaningfully make good on its own mandate: “The University’s mission is to provide world-class education, research and community engagement for the advancement of the prosperity and welfare of our communities. Our vision is to create the next generation of global leaders through experience-rich education and world- leading, trustworthy research."
— Rafal K. Stepien, Assistant Professor in Comparative Religion
I write to you today to voice my strong concern over your plans to close the Anthropology & Sociology group at the University of Western Australia. Given the importance of social science research on the pressing problems facing humanity, and the world, today, I find your plans incomprehensible and seriously out of step with the direction that academic inquiry must traverse in order to ensure our long term survival of humanity and our planet.
I urge you to reconsider this move and not restructure the School of Social Sciences in such a way that impinges negatively on the Anthropology & Sociology group.
— A/Prof Jerry Jacka, Department Chair of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder
UWA Social Science shines on the world stage. Dismantling or diminishing the School of Social Sciences, as the proposed ‘restructuring’ would do, would be an international embarassment, and would do lasting damage the university’s reputation. It would also undermine its existing ability to generate scientific and humanistic research advancements and provide a rounded education for students in Western Australia.
Moreover, it would be an insult to Australia’s Indigenous peoples, whose cultural achievements and contributions have been the focus of so much groundbreaking research and education by Anthropology & Sociology researchers and instructors.
Although I am a faculty member at a Canadian university, because of the influence of UWA’s discipline group of Anthropology and Sociology, I am keenly aware of the UWA on the other side of the world.
UWA anthropologists continue making outstanding contributions to human knowledge. This takes the form of influential publications on bookshelves and library databases around the world. It takes the form of UWA social science faculty presenting their research at conferences. Since I was a student at the University of Wisconsin (USA) in the 1980s, I began hearing about some of this work in my courses, and I have continued to engage with it and cite it to this day.
UWA Anthropology & Sociology has hosted the Australian Anthropology Society conference on campus. This was an important enough event that I journeyed there to participate.
UWA Anthropology and Sociology’s world class journal, Anthropological Forum, has been attracting my readership and contributions over two decades. I am now on the editorial board.
Without a healthy Anthropology & Sociology and School of Social Sciences, I, and many other scientists and scholars, would have never heard of, much less visited UWA.
The university’s ability to attract and retain quality faculty would be severely injured if the university shows it is willing to unilaterally close programs and fire or strip the research duties of its faculty hired in good faith. The university’s ability and potential to attract students and build expertise in social science in Western Australia would be destroyed.
UWA’s local and international reputation is now threated by the proposed gutting of the School of Social Sciences. It would be a callous and wasteful abandonment of the institutions and people that depend on and benefit from the work of Anthropology & Sociology personnel. UWA's Berndt Museum of Anthropology, and the prestigious journal Anthropological Forum would be strange and poignant orphans should UWA reneg on its commitment to its faculty, its divisions, and its students.
WA students would lose the ability to receive research training and degrees in basic fields of knowledge at their university. Human behavior and variation must be understood and taken into account to achieve any scientific, political, ecological, and business goals.
A university that purposely amputates the fields of study most directly concerned with the study of humankind undermines its own purpose and powers. It shows itself to be in decline. These are profound costs that greatly outweigh any short-term savings this restructuring proposal is meant to provide.
I hope and trust that the University of Western Australia will shake off this threat that has landed on its back, for its own sake and for the sake of academic institutions everywhere.
— Roger Lohmann, A/Prof of Anthropology, Trent University
I would like to provide some feedback on the UWA School of Social Sciences Proposal for Change Consultation Paper. As a sociologist in the Asia Pacific region, I was dismayed to read the proposal to cut Anthropology and Sociology entirely from the School of Social Sciences. I have worked with a number of scholars from Anthropology and Sociology at UWA, and have consistently been impressed with the quality of their work, and the innovative, relevant and international nature of their research. I have participated in a symposium within the department, which brought together key academics in a growing and quickly developing field of research - this was well-reflected in the thoughtful work done by scholars in Sociology and Anthropology in the department.
Both Anthropology and Sociology are integral to any School of Social Sciences, and UWA’s impact in research and student appeal will no doubt be negatively affected by not including these disciplines. Given UWA’s commitment to indigenous knowledge and perspectives, it is unthinkable that this can be adequately integrated without a strong sociological focus and teaching capacity. Sociology and Anthropology are only growing in relevance in the face of the changing global climate, and removing these research streams and study options for students would be a mistake. These disciplines teach students crucial skills in terms of problem-solving and critical and creative thinking, and graduates go on to make vital contributions across all sectors in society.
I sincerely hope that this proposal will be reconsidered, as I feel strongly that it will be very detrimental for UWA’s standing in the international academic community.
I completed a major in Anthropology and Sociology at UWA in the 1970s and was privileged to study under Ronald and Catherine Berndt amongst other highly regarded teachers and researchers.
These great scholars had a profound impact on the understanding of indigenous peoples and established an international reputation of high regard for UWA. It is incomprehensible that the discipline is to be discarded by the University.
On a personal level I credit my study of the discipline with developing a high level of critical and analytical thinking which has greatly assisted my professional career and personal growth.
Almost 50 years on I continue to read in the area and find my anthropological training of great benefit in understanding and responding to current issues of both domestic and global significance. For this reason I was delighted when my own children studied Anthropology as broadening units. It is a sorry day for society when the social sciences are so easily dismissed.
— Claire Lawson, UWA Alumni
I am writing to you in concern at the plans to shut your Anthropology and Sociology department and discontinue teaching students at your University these subject areas. I am a Professor of Sociology at the University of Southampton, UK, and I have had scholarly collaboration with members of the UWA’s Anthropology and Sociology department in the past.
It is stunning that a University is planning to damage its reputation for high quality scholarship and education through implementing plans to no longer provide an understanding of structures, cultures and processes in society. This is not good for students across the University, to have no sense that the University considers these areas of life, which shape their own so fundamentally, as worthy of study. Sociology and Anthropology educate and provide undergraduate and doctoral students within the department and across the School in which the department is located, with core skills to think about and see different angles on their own and others’ lives, identify and solve complex social and cultural challenges, and the value of individual and collective initiative and creativity. These are life and employment skills that are needed ever more by upcoming generations in a fast-moving and complex global world.
You have excellent academics attached to the department, as demonstrated by the high quality research that is undertaken in areas that address contemporary dilemmas in a diverse and interconnected world, not least migration, multiculturalism, and an ageing society. These are problematic issues that Australia and societies across the world are grappling with. It is perplexing that the University does not value the contributions to knowledge and action in these fields that its academics and students have and can make.
The subject areas of Anthropology and Sociology should be integral to your plans for a 21st century University, and the undoubted value of the academic teaching and learning in this area should be supported. Please reconsider your plans to close down research and study in these two vital disciplines, retain your excellent Anthropologist and Sociologist academic staff, and meet your educational and social obligations to under and post graduate students.
— Professor Rosalind Edwards, Professor of Sociology
I am a Year 11 student. I'm writing because I heard that UWA is planning to make major changes to the School of Social Sciences, which include cutting Anthropology and Sociology, reducing staff in Japanese Studies, and also making it impossible for staff to do research in Asian Studies.
This is very worrying to me. UWA is supposed to be the best university in the state, with teachers who are experts in their field, but this plan will destroy their ability to do research.
I don't think this plan makes sense, given that we need to know about culture and politics, as well as language skills. I want to go to a university that values critical thinking, with lecturers who know about Japanese culture as well as language, who will teach me how to deal with social issues in the Asia Pacific region. I thought UWA would think deeper about changing big things and the impact on everyone with putting these changes in place.
This proposal is not going to benefit WA students like me. Please show your support by stopping this plan from going ahead.
— Amelia Gott, local High School Student
The proposal to abolish anthropology and sociology as well as diminish research capacity in Asian languages and studies must not proceed. Quite simply, the very proposing of such a poorly thought out 'solution' to a financial shortfall is ill conceived.
The research and teaching in these disciplines is integral to the social sciences and the education of students well beyond the school and faculty. Students of anthropology and sociology learn to think critically and reflexively about the world around them, exactly what we need more of these days. The financial justifications and arguments made by the administration do not seem to stack up and do not point to the axing of these vital disciplines in a Go8 university. Of course, budgetary shortfalls and the impact of the pandemic on student income overall are worrisome, but the solution can not be to cut important areas of expertise and training.
Indeed, one of the key rationales of the proposal document is to build capacity for applied social science to respond to a range of 'complex problems'. The author(s) of the proposal document seem to conflate applied social sciences with archaeology and human geography for unknown reasons, when a look at the impressive staff in anthroplogy and sociology would have demonstrated the ample applied work being done in both training/teaching and research. Thus, the proposal document does not make its case and must be rejected in its entirety. The university must enter full consultation with all staff about any vision and realignment they or the HoS proposes in good faith.
The reactions by industry, the academy and the broader public to these ill thought out proposals is testament to the good standing and hard work of the staff in the disciplines proposed to be cut. Reverse the proposal now.
— Gerhard Hoffstaedter
As UWA undergraduate students, we are devastated that an institution like this is unable to see the importance of the social sciences to the life we enjoy in Western Australia, and to our ability to exist in this world with others.
This proposal sends a clear message about the direction that UWA is choosing for its future: it has prioritised generating profit over delivering a high-quality education, and it is the social sciences that will bear the brunt of this decision.
We understand that for a number of reasons, including the changes to university funding introduced by the Federal government, UWA can no longer offer the education that it used to. However, it should not be the case that the effects of these changes are entirely borne by social sciences including Anthropology & Sociology.
There are other options.
So far, UWA has responded to the concerns that we have raised by suggesting that the Anthropology & Sociology major is synonymous with Indigenous Studies. This shows that you do not understand what anthropologists and sociologists do, despite the impressive role that they have played in our society to date. One of our lecturers (who did not wish to be named) explained as part of an interview with ABC Mornings Perth:
I find the overlapping between the social science of Anthropology and the School of Indigenous Studies damaging to both. Because it construes Anthropology as the study of others, when Anthropology is the study of human groups in general, including us. And while doing this it also misconstrues Indigenous Studies as the ‘others’ to be studied; as otherness.
I do not want to live in a world where we are only able to see our peers as ‘others’ or objects of study. I do want to live in a world where people are inspired and open- minded, able to appreciate their own social and cultural positioning, while simultaneously being willing to learn about how the world is seen through different eyes.
Anthropology and Sociology are unique. They are not able to be replaced with alternative majors. Anthropologists and sociologists develop knowledge about why humans are the way we are and they have the ability to see and explore cultural and social difference in a way that is inclusive and considered.
Consequently, anthropologists and sociologists are critical to navigating challenges like climate change and the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are fundamental to facilitating international and cross-cultural collaboration. If the Proposal is accepted, it will be detrimental to the global reputation of education in Western Australia.
Without investing in and promoting the social sciences, UWA will be unable to compete with institutions who fully appreciate the role that society and culture plays in innovation.
The University has not consulted with staff or students before presenting the Proposal. The Proposal was made available during school and university holidays and staff have only been given until 20 July 2021 to respond. This is clearly insufficient time for both staff and students to meaningfully consider the proposal.
As an Anthropology & Sociology student at UWA, I ask that:
the proposal be rescinded;
as important stakeholders, students and staff be meaningfully consulted in any future decision making process;
and that the major and broadening units of Anthropology and Sociology be properly promoted to current and prospective students.
— Abbey Mardon, UWA Undergraduate Student
The social sciences are essential to training our students to be critical thinkers who know how to approach social problems with well informed perspectives.
Social science research is essential to understanding the nature of, and solutions to, our most pressing problems--from structural inequality to climate change.
This is born out by the fact that the natural sciences are increasingly turning to the social sciences to ensure innovations in STEM fields have meaningful impacts in the real world.
To erode--never mind eliminate--the social sciences now is to undermine the potential of all university-based learning and innovation and to deny a generation of students the essential opportunity to learn about the world they live in and the effects they can have in it.
— A/Prof Zoë Wool, Dept. Anthropology, University of Toronto
The SCHOOL OF SOCIAL SCIENCES PROPOSAL FOR CHANGE CONSULTATION PAPER, tabled 6 July, presents an alarmingly discriminatory ‘business case' against the raison d’être of Anthropology & Sociology, culminating in the highly political conclusion that these two disciplines be best abolished at UWA. However,
to cite a less than positive student experience is either an admission of underfunding of these disciplines or an accusation of professional incompetence on the part of teaching staff;
to call out a seemingly low level of research funding successes is to either blame particular colleagues (who will have completed their AP&Ds), or to pin the social, cultural, intellectual and indeed economic relevancy of whole fields of enquiry onto this single indicator, and hence misjudge the reality of scholarship in social context;
to suggest that low enrolment numbers of Indigenous students was a reason to discontinue Anthropology & Sociology is an assertion that Indigenous people are the arbiters of these disciplines' relevancy or, conversely, an accusation that the disciplines are without importance to Indigenous people — when both assumptions are non-factual;
to portend that the injection of Indigenous perspectives into all teaching and research at UWA was an alternative to Anthropology & Sociology is scholarly untenable and politically divisive.
Equally alarming are components of the proposed restructuration:
to offer as a more viable trajectory the division of academic staff into ‘star’ researchers and teaching ‘foot soldiers’ is discriminatory, morally flawed, damaging to any discipline, populist, short sighted and misguided;
to commit to commercially driven research only is a dangerous transformation of a public university from a place of independent and critical enquiry into a marketplace; the constitutive role of the Australian academy for the national benefit of safeguarding democracy is thereby severely diminished.
Like the rapidly shrinking biodiversity that will never again appear on this earth, vanishing human languages and destroyed archaeological sites are widely acknowledged as major threats to planetary wellbeing. The destruction of unique forms of scholarly knowledge built over generations is, in its own way, also cause for global alarm, and anything but a step towards building a ‘world class’ academic institution.
— Ute Eickelkamp, PhD, Ordinary Director Australian Anthropological Society
I write on behalf of my colleagues in Religious Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
We were appalled to read the Proposal for Change Consultation Paper for the School of Social Sciences currently being considered at the University of Western Australia. The proposal to entirely eliminate the teaching of Anthropology and Sociology at UWA was, frankly, shocking.
It is profoundly concerning to us that a government-supported university which aspires to provide excellent education to a diverse student body would consider the kind of excessive cuts currently being proposed.
If Anthropology and Sociology are eliminated as fields for teaching and research at UWA it will place the University far outside of international norms. UWA will become the only member of the Group of Eight and the only member of the Matariki Network to not teach these subjects, clearly putting UWA at odds with its closest international partners.
The loss of Anthropology and Sociology at UWA will have a profound effect on students at the University. It is an influential, globally-significant centre for the critical study of society and culture. Talented and productive academics have, over many years, ensured a remarkable – indeed enviable – global reputation for excellence and innovation that has been sustained for decades. The discipline is universally recognised as a leading light in Australasia and beyond.
The damage this proposal has done to the global reputation of UWA as a leading research university is already significant. We nevertheless urge prompt reconsideration of the proposal. If carried out as currently indicated the proposal runs the risk of causing irreparable damage to UWA’s goal of ‘setting the standard’ for Australian universities.
We urge you, instead, to strengthen UWA’s support for the School of Social Sciences. Its continued flourishing contributes substantially to sustaining the reputation your University has enjoyed for many years.
— Dr Philip Fountain, A/Prof Geoff Troughton, Dr Sara Rahmani, Victoria University of Wellington
I heard a story about a family trying to make ends meet during the Great Recession. Money was very tight, so they decided to sell their home's copper plumbing to stave off at least one month's mortgage payment. The home became, as you would guess, unlivable.
I understand that the Anthropology and Sociology section has been slated for demise. If this is correct, then you might be following in the footsteps of that ill-fated family. Western Australia faces many of the countries of South and Southeast Asia, and as such is probably the best location for creating international and intercultural engagements, whether they focus on business, diplomacy, or education. The University of Western Australia is crucial to such efforts, and the disciplines of Anthropology, Sociology, not to mention Asian Studies, are pivotal sites of research and outreach. It baffles me how you expect local Australian undergraduates to work in the rapidly diversifying future they are entering without opportunities to study--in depth--these culture-worlds. How are they to interact with the thousands of international students attending your university with knowledge, respect, and efficacy?
Intercultural awareness does not happen via osmosis or happenstance or good wishes. It comes from careful research and education. I hope you will seriously re-think your decision to end the Anthropology/Sociology and Asian Studies sections. Please consider the future and don't jettison these important disciplinary degrees.
— Andrew Causey, Professor of Anthropology Columbia College Chicago
I am deeply concerned about the proposed cuts and organisational changes to the School of Social Sciences at the University of Western Australia. As a historian of Japan, I am most familiar with the Asian Studies discipline, where UWA staff have a proven track record of producing award-winning, internationally-recognised research outputs. UWA is emerging as an international leader in this discipline at a moment when its relevance is greater than ever.
Undermining research undertaken in Asian Studies at UWA would be a terrible loss to my field. That it is being considered makes me doubt that this proposal has been formulated with the true interests of the university and community in mind. I would strongly urge the university to reconsider this plan.
— Adam Bronson, A/Prof of Japanese History, Durham University
The Korean Cultural Club is an organisation aimed at promoting Korean culture through any means available. Hearing about the recent proposals regarding restructure of UWA's social sciences and the removal of culturally rich content with regard to South Korea's culture and history baffles us. It is absolutely devastating to see our core principle defiled through these means, and we hope our words can reach those who are responsible in faith that anyone who respects cultural sensitivity is listening and will veto this motion.
We have noted that this proposal essentially bars culture based research whilst only sparing language studies. Learning pure language is not enough. The subtleties and nuances of the Korean language and varieties of contexts that can affect the meanings of these words will not survive in the presence of pure vocabulary and grammar. It is highly disrespectful to the centuries of Korean history to even consider that a "Korean Studies" course solely teaching language will suffice. Even down to the private tutor level, Korean culture based research is never omitted, so why should it be in a University level degree? How can we as a Korean culture-based organisation be proud of an action that lowers the standard of the studies which pertain to the one keynote of our entire club? Amassing over 1,500 members this year, there is clearly no lack of interest in Korean culture, nor will there ever be for the foreseeable future.
The fact that not only Korean studies are being affected - but all Asian studies degrees are, is appalling and telling of how much Asian culture means to the University of Western Australia. Before actioning this proposal, think of the consequences, and think of better alternatives for problems that Asian studies degrees do not deserve the burden for.
Do the right thing.
— Korean Cultural Club, Perth
It would be plainly obvious to listeners at the ABC radio clip on the funding cuts that VC Amit Chakma as a trained chemical engineer has little understanding or indeed empathy for the social sciences, which are seen by him as something of a “soft target” for university financial cuts.
It was anthropologists and social activists working in Bangladesh who have enabled a global awareness of the Chakma people’s plight, the need for greater equality and cultural acceptance. Maybe VC Chakma doesn’t really care much now, but his ignorance of what it is that anthropologists actually do, and in the importance of the discipline is unfortunate, if it were not so ominous.
UWA has a notable history of indigenous anthropology, recognised worldwide, and in recent decades more broadly in its interdisciplinary contributions to ensuring best practice across various practice sectors.
— Dr Jim Taylor, A/Prof of Anthropology and Development Studies, University of Adelaide
WHY DOES WA CONTINUE TO TURN OUR BACK ON ASIA?
Over the last few years we have watched as the teaching of Indonesian language has been virtually wiped-out from our tertiary sector. Even more disturbing, we have seen our state’s minister for Asian Engagement sacked, and trade offices in India, Indonesia, and Korea downgraded, followed by Murdoch University where we have seen the destruction of the once highly respected Asia Research Centre.
Now it’s the turn of UWA that will now restructure; its School of Social Sciences, proposing to:
Dismiss 16 staff, and reassign 12 staff from teaching and research to teaching focused;
Dissolve the Anthropology and Sociology discipline;
Significantly reduce research expertise in Asian studies, media and communications, urban planning, political science and international relations. This is insane.
What is happening to us as a community? At a time when we should be ADVANCING our relations with, and understanding of, Asia and the broader international community, we are doing the absolute reverse.
West Australians have always been great lovers of Asia, with an outgoing and embracing mindset towards our full engagement in the region. Yet in the past few years, and now exacerbated by Covid-19, we are fast becoming self-absorbed, narrow and inwardly focussed. What on earth are we doing?
Our universities do not seem to care about international relations, including Asia or how important it is; our trade department, called JTSI, is now a dumping-ground for totally incompetent and inexperienced public servants, whilst many extremely smart, well educated, bilingual young people sit outside of government and the university sector watching in dismay at where we are heading.
It’s time we got our collective heads away from our navels; and to once again look outwardly, with passion and a vision for our place in the region. And a good starting place would be for the UWA to retract its narrow and short-sighted plan to destroy social sciences including our Asian engagement.
— President of Indonesian Institute Incorporated
As a student who is majoring in Japanese studies and marketing at the University of WesternAustralia, the proposed cuts to Asian studies at the university have me concerned for not onlymyself, but staff, current and future students, and the impacts this will have on Australia's future.
'Asia literacy' is vital for Australia to thrive economically and maintain positive relations with ourAsian neighbouring countries. As we have seen over the past decades, Asian cultures havemade a significant impact on Australia's society, economy, and politics. We as a nation needpoliticians, businessmen and businesswomen, marketers, and people who work in countlessother private and public sectors to understand the Asia-Pacific region and learn about itsincredibly diverse cultures and languages not only to make decisions that benefit Australia atboth international and societal levels, as millions of Australians come from Asian backgroundsand speak Asian languages at home.
If students who are studying social sciences, especially Asian languages, are not taught aboutthe Asia-Pacific region as a whole, their studies and student experience at UWA will not be asimmersive and beneficial to their future employment. Employers are looking for workers whocan speak Asian languages and have 'Asia literacy'. Asian languages and cultures also gotogether, as in my experience, studying Japanese and undertaking Asian studies units haveallowed me to better understand Japanese society and culture as both being influenced by andinfluencing cultures and histories of other Asian nations.
Furthermore, as an Australian who is not of Asian descent, Asian studies has taught me aboutcultural diversity and broadened my horizons and knowledge of Asian backgrounds. I have hadthe privilege of meeting so many students from Asian backgrounds during my time at theuniversity, and learning about Asia in my studies has let me understand and appreciate howgifted we are to live in such a multicultural country. I believe that cuts to Asian studies goagainst Australian values of upholding and celebrating diversity in our society.
If these cuts in social sciences, especially towards Asian studies, continue I fear that Asianlanguages will be next. Asian languages are necessary for Australians to learn. I have readnews articles that report how across the country, universities are cutting Asian languages (mostnotably Indonesian, a language and culture Australia will need to have an understanding of asIndonesia grows as a strategic partner of Australia and a global power). If cuts on Asian languages were to occur, UWA's integrity and quality of education would be dramatically decreased.
I have also noticed how it seems as if the university is treating European and Asian language and cultural studies differently. For example, Spanish studies 1 and German beginners 1 can be taken in either semester one or two this year, whereas none of the Asian language units have this flexibility. It seems as if European languages and European studies units, which will not benefit Australia as much as Asian languages and studies will in the near future, are given more funding. I do not believe this is fair.
Asian studies are important for Australia's future in a vast number of aspects from local to international. I also believe that the university should allocate its resources into areas of study more fairly, and in this case, an area of study that will pay back high dividends to Australia's economy and society.
— Cameron Penney, UWA Student
The French Association of Ethnology and Anthropology is dismayed by this news and expresses its solidarity. The attacks on the social sciences are not limited to Australia. In the spring, in France, our Minister of Research accused, without foundation, some social scientists of being "islmo-leftists", asking for an investigation of our professional practices.
However, all we do is science : to analyze political actions (and discourses), to explain the social relations they engage and to reinscribe them in the long time of national and international socio-history.
— Association française d'ethnologie et d'anthropologie
The proposal is ill founded. I have experience in academic management, and I'm dismayed that retaining staffing has not been placed before other options for cost containment.
The same thing happened at Melbourne. Alternatives generally involve looking for part time arrangements, and also, simply borrowing money to last out the next two to three years when COVID-19 will continue to have major impacts.
In addition, some of the people being let go have huge international profiles and have plenty of teaching, cannot possibly be a financial burden. What is really going on here? Going after critical scholarship?
I am a recently retired Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the ANU with nearly 50 years of field and archival research experience among Pacific Island societies. Also, for 26 years of my career I have held anthropology HOD appointments at Hartwick College (USA, 6 years) and Auckland University (NZ, 8 years) as well as at the ANU (12 years).
Thus I have considerable administrative experience at school and departmental levels which involved numerous episodes of administratively declared restructurings initiated under banners of urgent cost-cutting. In every instance, contrary to expectations, those actions have turned out be largely catastrophic for the staff, students, disciplines and even the best interests of the universities involved – hence my deep concern with the analogous actions being contemplated for social sciences at UWA.
My chief concern is that in the Proposal Paper and in the VCs remarks in the recent ABC interview, there is no apparent intention in UWAs cost-cutting plans to seek or even contemplate, before the cutting of academic programmes is undertaken, any restructuring or redundancies among administrative staff.
In short, while difficulties in Anthropology and Sociology or other research and teaching programmes at UWA may currently exist, UWA cannot conscionably undertake any restructuring in academic areas until they have transparently demonstrated that they have first pursued all avenues of responsibly streamlining the university’s bureaucratic structures.
A further obvious instance of UWAs flawed approach along these lines – regrettably also at other Australian universities - is the bureaucratic expectation and/or requirement that every academic unit and staff member must be able generate the income necessary to sustain itself independently of the fortunes of the rest of the university community. There was a time before universities were commoditized to the current extent when they were able, through cross-subsidisation, to avoid the kinds of trauma now being proposed for UWA social sciences.
In my experience, Australian universities including UWA have accordingly retreated to policies where every unit - school, department, even the single staff member – is cynically pressured to demonstrate their individual self-sustainability. One cannot help but suspect that such initiates couched in terms of financial probity have been motived chiefly by administrators’ desires for central control through intimidation at the expense of academic integrity. All this to me is evidence of a basic lack of leadership that, in effect, undermines rather than enhances the health of the institution at large. UWAs planned cuts to social sciences are thus symptomatic of a cavalier disregard for staff morale and academic integrity.
Regarding the proposed cuts also, Anthropology is the one social science discipline which, from its founding, has been dedicated to the systematic study of the full range of human cultural and social variation in time and space. The UWA Anthropology programme has a long and distinguished history of producing knowledge and graduates of immense value to Western Australia and the nation in general. That enviable record is particularly evident in Aboriginal and Pacific Island studies – areas of vast strategic importance. I note particularly that, as noted in the Proposal Paper, Anthropology earned an ERA rating of 4 (‘performance above world standard’) where programmes scoring below that level are apparently not under threat of elimination. Eradicating the distinct perspective which anthropology alone offers surrenders the school, its students and teachers to intellectual approaches that are historically imbued with Eurocentric presuppositions – presuppositions which arguably over the past several centuries have been the root cause of many of the most serious problems humankind and our planet are currently facing.
Related to this, the stated aim in the ‘Proposed Future Vision’ to develop and prioritise ‘transferable applied social science skills’ appears to be at the expense of the very fields which generate the knowledge aimed for application. Such illogical economizing efforts in Australia and overseas aimed at applying scientific knowledge at the expense of cultivating the basic understanding underpinning those applications have been shown to be fraught with undesired, unanticipated outcomes due to insufficient basic comprehension of the phenomena at issue. This is certainly not in the interest of developing a substantial sector of Western Australia’s population well-informed of cross-cultural sensibilities or of fashioning Australia’s future given the every-changing economic, political and cultural complexities within and beyond its borders. Any curtailment of Australia’s ability to instill high levels of anthropological knowledge throughout its population is simply short- sighted and not in its or Western Australia’s interest.
— Professor Emeritus of Anthropology Mark Mosko, ANU
I wrote my first postgraduate thesis at UWA and can honestly say that I would not have gone on to a PhD, let alone an academic career, if it had not been for the mentorship and encouragement of faculty in the Department of Asian Studies.
I could not have asked for more supportive and inspiring instructors and colleagues. The success of the programme lay specifically in the distinctive culture and intellectual vibrancy of the Department: in its being a Department, not an amorphous blob in some other department or programme.
That UWA management today doesn't get this is evident in its change management proposal, which pretty much reduces the study of Asia to the learning of languages, communication and media. While the continued instruction of Asian languages at Australian universities is essential, the study of Asia entails much more than competency in a language. Indeed, to be literate in Indonesian or Chinese or Japanese is not yet to be literate in "Asia".
It is all the additional competencies, the methods of comparison peculiar to area studies, the special insights that come from reading and thinking in proximity with others working on the region that a department of Asian Studies brings. And it is all these that will be lost if the proposal goes through in the name of "measurable improvements in relevant rankings and performance indicators".
No to this managerial twaddle! No to scientism! Yes to social science! Yes to Asian Studies at UWA!
— Dr. Nick Cheesman, ANU
I was a PhD candidate in the department of Anthropology & Sociology, under the supervision of Associate Professor Martin Forsey and Professor Lyn Parker. After thesis submission in 2011, I returned to Singapore and worked in various roles in the education sector, including teaching, research, career guidance, project and policy planning in various Institutions of Higher Learning.
Looking back, my time at UWA - Anthropology and Sociology has been extremely valuable in both my personal and professional development. I have gained so much in my interactions with staff members who are not only incredibly professional, have sound reputation both locally and internationally, but more importantly, who care for the well-being of every student.
These qualities are well-documented, and will no doubt be highlighted by other students, past and present. I am incredibly grateful for my time in the Department, and tried to give back by offering my time to support UWA alumni activities organised by the Development and Alumni Relations Office and volunteering for UWA Open Days in Singapore for prospective students. Like many alumni, I am deeply saddened by the decision and view it as a major step backwards for UWA. As a concerned alumnus who is working overseas and in a University context, I put forward that this decision is short-sighted, especially in a time when many Universities are realising the value that Social Sciences and Humanities bring to society, and are adapting in anticipation of imminent economy recovery. In this correspondence, sharing from the personal perspective of a concerned alumnus with overseas working experience in the University sector, I spotlight three areas where the proposed cuts could have severe ramifications.
Competitiveness of Future Graduates: The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many industries and the world of work. Graduates will be entering an employment landscape that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. (VUCA). Hence, Anthropology & Sociology with its emphasis on critical thinking, grasping complex concepts/ideas, and developing a nuanced understanding of society and culture are extremely valuable for anyone seeking to enter the workforce. These skillsets and awareness are highly sought after by employers from sectors where industry demands and conditions are constantly shifting. A simple internet search will reveal transferable skills are valued highly and will continue to be in demand. Depriving students with opportunities to develop these skillsets deeply is doing them a disservice.
Emerging Trends: Sharing from the Singapore context, Universities are now committing more resources to Social Sciences and leveraging its strengths in innovative ways. Part of the strategy is for IHLs to move towards an interdisciplinary model with the aim of nurturing the next generation of graduates with core skills and knowledge, while remaining versatile and adaptable to future conditions. Examples include the recently established Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), which draws together different fields of study such as Social research methods, law, and social work for the purpose of Community Development. This is also apparent in a traditional comprehensive University like the National University of Singapore (NUS). They recently established the College of Humanities and Sciences (https://chs.nus.edu.sg/) where students are encouraged to be self-directed and explore beyond their disciplines. Subjects such as Asian Studies and Sociology are offered STEM students. Singapore Management University (SMU) students are also encouraged to explore a wide range of courses and disciplines offered by the Office of Core Curriculum. Such trends are also noticed in other established universities such as UBC and University of Manchester.
Hence, scaling down social sciences will put UWA at a distinct disadvantage in global competitiveness as other Universities are adapting to meet new demands from industry and discerning students.
UWA’s reputation as a Comprehensive University
UWA enjoys a sound reputation in Singapore. As a member of the Singapore Alumni Network, I have been invited to share at networking sessions, and volunteered for events for prospective students. Judging from the attendance and conversations with prospective students and their parents at these events, it is clear UWA is viewed as an ideal choice for both undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Many cited the diverse range of courses they could pursue. Dissolving departments and scaling down research expertise will tarnish this reputation, making UWA a less desirable University of choice for future students. Moreover, international students are unlikely to pursue courses such as Australian Archaeology due to their lack of transferability to the Asian context.
In conclusion, while the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about challenges that are immense and unprecedented. It also presents unique opportunities to examine old ways of working and discover new ways through innovation. Cutting funds, reducing manpower, and dissolving departments may provide short-term relief, but it is detrimental to the long-term future of the University. Without a strong social sciences programme, UWA is likely to have a much narrower foothold to reposition to meet future needs. I strongly urge the University to reconsider this decision and keep in view the longer-term negative implications of these drastic cuts.