ACU Proposes Closing Dianoia Institute (multiple updates)


[Originally published 9/13/23; moved to the top because of multiple updates.]

Australian Catholic University is apparently considering eliminating its Dianoia Institute of Philosophy (DIP), which it created in 2019 with hopes to “achieve a world-leading position for philosophical research in the analytic tradition.”

Jorna Newberry, “Walpa Jukurrpa” (detail)

The institute currently employs 15 researchers, 11 of whom are currently based in Australia (with attempts having been underway, I’m told, to have the remaining 4 move to Australia).

The institute also has a number of affiliated researchers around the world.

According to a proposal in an “Academic Draft Change Management Plan” from the university,

All professional staff positions in DIP will be disestablished.
• Professional staff will be invited to participate in the placement process in the Operations Change Plan.
• The position of the Director of the DIP will be reviewed and the position will have a changed reporting line.
• The positions for all other academic staff in DIP will be disestablished.

Why? The university says:

The Dianoia Institute for Philosophy (DIP) contains a world-class collection of researchers. However, the institute’s research program doesn’t inform the curriculum taught in the School of Philosophy and the size of the institute is difficult to sustain in the current model and economic climate. 

In its place, there would be four new philosophy positions:

A new philosophy program within IRCI [Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry] will be developed.
• 4 new philosophy positions (level and academic career path to be determined) will be created in the IRCI’s new philosophy program
• DIP’s impacted academic staff will be invited to participate in the placement process for the 4 new positions
• Research active academic staff in the School of Philosophy will be offered affiliate membership of this new program and the IRCI

Current researchers at Dianoia are not guaranteed any of those four positions, which will be filled through a competitive process.

Someone familiar with the goings-on at ACU reports:

although Dianoia is the only institute facing disestablishment, all ACU’s research institutes face cuts to varying degrees. These cuts are almost entirely to humanities programs. The MEMS (Medieval and Early Modern Studies) program with 7 researchers in IRCI is being cut, roughly half the historians at ACU are being cut, and 3 of 5 political scientists.

At the moment, it appears that this proposal is still just that—a proposal:

Staff (and/or their representatives) may put forward comments for improving this draft change management plan or for avoiding or mitigating any potential adverse effects. Following consideration of any input received during the consultation process, the change management plan will be finalised and submitted for the approval by the relevant officer to proceed to implementation. Staff will be advised of any variations to the change proposal which have arisen from the consultation process.

According to the plan, the consultation process ends on September 26th.

You can read the whole plan here.

[This post has been updated slightly since initially published.]

UPDATE 1 (9/13/23): Steven Finlay, director of the Dianoia Institute, discusses in a comment what people can do to help:

As Director of Dianoia, I’m extremely grateful for all the expressions of support we’ve received since news of this broke. It’s been overwhelming and I haven’t been able to respond to individual messages yet. We’re still scrambling to coordinate our response, and will soon be putting out more information about how people might be able to help.

A petition is being created. As Steph (Collins) says, an email to the Senate at [email protected] is an effective way of reaching the university’s leading body. There is also an email address specifically for responses to the Change Plan, at [email protected]. The administrators responsible for the plan are the Vice-Chancellor Zlatko Skrbis ([email protected]), the DVC-Research Abid Khan ([email protected]), and the Acting Provost Chris Lonsdale ([email protected]), so they could be cc-ed on any message.

But it would also be very helpful if people posted messages here on this blog about what they think of this decision. The university does care about its reputation; indeed I received an invitation just yesterday to a webinar on growing ACU’s international reputation (which I declined).

UPDATE 2 (9/15/23): Steven Finlay writes in with some additional information, below.

To add some context and background for the situation:

As some have noted, ACU’s current Vice-Chancellor Zlatko Skrbis took over the position in 2021. The administrators who created and invested in Dianoia (and the other institutes) are not the same administrators who now propose to eliminate it.

Some have questioned the sustainability of Dianoia as a research-only institute. Former DVC-Research Wayne McKenna, under whose leadership the institutes were created, has written to me to say that all institute hiring was performed with long-term budget forecasts, and that the research office budget projection showed an operating surplus for 2026 and 2027 of around $6 million p.a. This assumed no change in the level of institutional support, but there were contingency plans. There was also a planned increase in PhD scholarship expenditure, tripling from 2021 to 2025 onwards. This was planned so that if there was a budget crisis the University could use not only the uncommitted funds but also scale back the number of scholarships. Prof. McKenna writes that this seemed to him a prudent protection against unforeseen problems and a way of ensuring that the academic jobs could be protected.

The institutes’ budgets are not the cause of the university’s current fiscal situation, although they do seem to be the scapegoats. Compared to 2014 levels, growth in university expenditure has been greatest in consultancy and “other”, with non-academic employment next behind that, and academic employment and travel expenses showing the least growth. (This year, we were told that we couldn’t spend all of our contracted research funds on travel expense, which we have been advised is illegal.) Despite the challenging financial climate, the VC has created multiple new programs (including a veterans program and literacy program) in the past two years, which are not facing cuts to my knowledge.

According to my data: ACU is currently 35th out 37 Australian universities in research spending. They spend roughly 8% of the total budget on research, vs. a sector average of 16%. ACU also lags significantly behind the sector in numbers of research-only positions: 4.7% of total FTE vs. a sector average of 13.0%. So it is not plausible that the investments in research institutes by the former administration were reckless or unsustainable, or that Dianoia is an unaffordable vanity project. I remain convinced that it was a very savvy move by the previous administration, to create excellence in disciplines of special significance to ACU despite having virtually zero international name recognition. Despite the low research spend vs. the sector, ACU is the most improved Australian university since 2017 in the THES rankings (going from unranked/outside the top 800, to ranked in the top 300 universities worldwide), so the institute strategy has been remarkably effective and cost-efficient.

UPDATE 3 (9/16/23): Those objecting to the proposed changes at ACU are encouraged to sign a recently launched petition.

UPDATE 4 (9/16/23): The members of the Dianoia Institute of Philosophy have issued the following statement:

Statement by Dianoia Institute of Philosophy on Proposed ACU Change Plan

The Australian Catholic University has recently proposed a change plan that includes the disestablishment of the Dianoia Institute of Philosophy. After the creation of the Dianoia Institute in 2019, ACU’s PhD programme in Philosophy became the second highest ranked amongst Catholic institutions in the English-speaking world (after the University of Notre Dame). With its disestablishment, scholars who were convinced to join ACU in building a centre for world-class philosophy research (often leaving permanent positions at more stable universities and uprooting their families in the process) will be made redundant.

This change plan targets for redundancies 13 philosophers as well as 35 academic positions in history, political science, and theology and religious studies. The rationale offered for these draconian cuts is financial. But spending on academic staff at ACU has remained flat from 2017 to 2023, during most of which the university was enjoying surpluses. It is only in 2022, after a change in administration, that the university began running deficits. The academics in positions marked for redundancy did not cause these budgetary problems, but will bear the brunt of cuts whilst the university administration that turned a streak of surpluses into deficits retain their jobs.

According to ACU’s mission and identity statement, “Within the Catholic intellectual tradition and acting in Truth and Love, Australian Catholic University is committed to the pursuit of knowledge, the dignity of the human person and the common good.” The Catholic Church has repeatedly emphasized – from Aeterni Patris in 1879 through to Fides et Ratio in 1998 – the centrality of philosophy to the Catholic intellectual tradition, and to the mission of Catholic colleges and universities. This change plan would vitiate philosophy and other humanities at ACU, do lasting damage to its reputation, and run counter to the moral ideals the university holds itself to in its commitment to human dignity and the common good.

We ask you to oppose this change plan by signing the petition to Save the Humanities at ACU and the National Tertiary Education Union’s petition; and by emailing Vice-Chancellor Zlatko Skrbis ([email protected]), the DVC-Research Abid Khan ([email protected]), Acting Provost Chris Lonsdale ([email protected]), the email address set up for consultation on the change plan ([email protected]), and members of the University Senate ([email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]). 

UPDATE 5 (9/17/23): Readers may be interested in contacting the Australian Education Minister, Jason Clare at [email protected], and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Andrew Giles at [email protected], to note their objections to ACU’s plan (or cc them on your emails to university officials).

UPDATE 6 (9/18/23): Stephen Finlay has asked that if you’ve written a letter in support of the Dianoia Institute that you send him a copy, so he can show it to others as part of his advocacy efforts. You can email him at [email protected]. He also says: “the university has started saying that they will ignore any messages not sent to [email protected],” so that address should be cc’d in any messages sent in.

UPDATE 7 (10/2/23): “The ACU cuts show that no job is safe.” Jacobin publishes an article about the cuts by Danny Wardle, a PhD candidate at the Australian Catholic University.

 


[Disclosure: ACU is an advertiser at Daily Nous. The Dianoia Institute itself was not involved in the decision to place the current advertisement. UPDATE: ACU has pulled the Dianoia ad.]

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SCM
SCM
8 months ago

So ACU set up an institute of philosophy, get a whole bunch of really excellent people from around the world to leave their jobs and move to Australia on the basis of ACU’s commitment to establishing the institute as a leading place for philosophical research, and then decide to shut it down four years later because it turns out it costs money?

Quill
8 months ago

This is so incompetent that it is hard to wrap my head around it. I am just appalled on behalf of everyone who uprooted their lives to take these positions, pretty much all of whom had other excellent options.

Erica Shumener
Erica Shumener
8 months ago

Does anyone know whether there is some way that outsiders can offer support (say, by signing a petition, writing a letter to an administrator, etc.)?

Stephanie Collins
Stephanie Collins
Reply to  Erica Shumener
8 months ago

Those who want to help can email [email protected] to say that this move would damage ACU’s reputation and hinder the university’s commitment to support the common good (a core part of the university’s Catholic mission).

There is also a petition started by the relevant workers’ union:

https://act.newmode.net/action/nteu/acu-senate-dont-make-staff-pay-acus-overspending

Steve Finlay
Steve Finlay
Reply to  Erica Shumener
8 months ago

As Director of Dianoia, I’m extremely grateful for all the expressions of support we’ve received since news of this broke. It’s been overwhelming and I haven’t been able to respond to individual messages yet. We’re still scrambling to coordinate our response, and will soon be putting out more information about how people might be able to help. A petition is being created. As Steph (Collins) says, an email to the Senate at [email protected] is an effective way of reaching the university’s leading body. There is also an email address specifically for responses to the Change Plan, at [email protected]. The administrators responsible for the plan are the Vice-Chancellor Zlatko Skrbis ([email protected]), the DVC-Research Abid Khan ([email protected]), and the Acting Provost Chris Lonsdale ([email protected]), so they could be cc-ed on any message. But it would also be very helpful if people posted messages here on this blog about what they think of this decision. The university does care about its reputation; indeed I received an invitation just yesterday to a webinar on growing ACU’s international reputation (which I declined).

Steve Finlay
Steve Finlay
Reply to  Erica Shumener
8 months ago

People can also sign the NTEU union’s letter protesting the broader Change Plan (they explicitly invite support from outside ACU) here: https://qrco.de/beLWt2

Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith
Reply to  Erica Shumener
8 months ago

Maybe offer them a job?

Stephanie Collins
Stephanie Collins
8 months ago

Those who want to help can email [email protected] to say that this move would damage ACU’s reputation and hinder the university’s commitment to support the common good (a core part of the university’s Catholic mission).

There is also a petition started by the relevant workers’ union:

https://act.newmode.net/action/nteu/acu-senate-dont-make-staff-pay-acus-overspending

Anne Newstead
Anne Newstead
8 months ago

It’s unfathomable that ACU would build a philosophy research institute without a plan for its long term sustainable funding. Philosophy, like the classics, has always flourished when linked to teaching and the common good. It is time to stop devaluing teaching as a core mission of the university, and time to stop severing the link between teaching in the humanities and research. It is time to stop pretending that the humanities can use the same funding model as STEM fields.

curious
Reply to  Anne Newstead
8 months ago

But isn’t this exactly part of what seems to be going on, namely that ACU set up a research-only (read: no teaching, except for PhD supervision) institute, and now it turns out they can’t or don’t want to afford that. What is not clear here is: is there any ongoing negotiation to include some (BA, MA) teaching as part of the duties of the staff? That might be a reasonable compromise, even though I expect resistance from some of the people who – apparently – were promised a lifetime, no-teaching, research job.

Counterpoint
Counterpoint
Reply to  curious
8 months ago

I would say “don’t want” as opposed to “can’t” (just going on information about the budget that I’ve seen, some of which I shared with Anne) and stress that “don’t want” is “don’t want to honour the commitment to continued employment”. An offer of continued employment carries with it expectations that this commitment will continue even if the VC happens to dislike philosophy or medieval studies. The enterprise agreement that governs these situations says that steps would be taken to find ways to avoid job cuts, but there was never any plan proposed that would protect jobs and find savings elsewhere. Unfortunately, lawyers have said that these protections can essentially be waived by the VC for any reason or no reason. The remedy when the agreement is breached appears to be a small financial fine that the university would happily pay if people fought for their jobs.

“Is there any ongoing negotiation to include some (BA, MA) teaching as part of the duties of the staff? That might be a reasonable compromise, even though I expect resistance from some of the people who – apparently – were promised a lifetime, no-teaching, research job.”

Great questions. Of course not. People had volunteered to help with undergraduate teaching and received no response (though offers were sometimes taken up). People in the institutes wanted to help create an MA and a PPE programme to try to find ways to bring in additional money. Crickets was the response. The people brought in to oversee research and enterprise had no interest in discussions, ideas, or meetings.

As a matter of principle, I don’t think people should be expected to choose between keeping their jobs or doing work that wasn’t part of the contract signed to entice them to leave permanent positions elsewhere (I mean, that’s fraudulent or exploitive, right?), but people in the institute had helped with teaching when needed, were eager to help with existing teaching, and proposed ways to create new opportunities for teaching. (I should note that some of our junior people created a pro-seminar for the benefit of postgraduates who were enrolled in a research only degree just because they thought it would benefit these students. For their efforts, they received no recognition.) The authors of the thematic review that preceded the call for change noted none of this as they never bothered to investigate this and the administration’s plan for change was made by people who knew about these offers and never showed any interest in using people in one part of the university to help cover teaching. It’s actually quite bizarre, when you think about it. With the case of political science, everyone was marked for redundancy regardless of whether employed in an institute or a teaching position and then suggested they could fight for two teaching positions. In philosophy, only people in the institutes were put in peril. Nobody asked what we could teach, what our credentials were, or what we would be willing to teach. Once the people who created the institute left, the new administration just blanked us from the start and showed no interest in any of the initiatives (of which there were many) to bring in money and students.

Counterpoint
Counterpoint
Reply to  Anne Newstead
8 months ago

There is quite a lot in this comment that I don’t understand and I think it perpetuates a questionable narrative that I would like to address.

The university was very recently in danger of losing its accreditation (for lack of quality research) and so it instituted a research intensification strategy to address this. There is no evidence that the research intensification strategy was financially unsustainable. There is also no plan in place for the university to continue to produce a sufficient amount of quality research once the planned redundancies have been pushed through. The new workload agreements will give people working in the humanities almost no time to do meaningful research and the union was already rightly complaining about unsustainable workloads. It was just this mix of overworked academics and a need for research that led to the proposal of the research intensification strategy originally. ACU didn’t want to be seen as a vocational school. (The cynic in me thinks that it’s possible that the current administration is not worried about the mid- to long-term standing of the university as they can balance the books on the backs of those who remain and let the next lot worry about how they’ll keep the university’s accreditation when they’ve moved off to hollow out the next unfortunate university to employ them.)

My understanding is that Dianoia’s budget each year comes in at around 2 million AUD. (That seems like a lot, right, because it’s twice the VC’s salary!) Let’s put this in context using publicly available information.

Expenditure on faculty (including those in research institutes) has been flat during a long period during which the university was running surpluses. There was recently a change in administration and ACU started to run deficits. Bear the long history of running surpluses in mind when the current administration starts pleading poverty as part of their case for making mass redundancies (again–they just shed over 100 members of staff about six months ago). Expenditure on consultants is an area to consider. There was recently a local scandal when it was discovered that Melbourne was spending 37 million or about 1% of its entire 2.8 billion operating expenditure on consultancy. ACU, by comparison, spent over 11 million on consultancy in 2022, roughly 2% of the entire operating expenditure. Additionally, the NTEU has identified five areas of overspend (advertising, computer software, offshore administration, scholarships, and travel and entertainment (definitely follow the VC’s social media account–it’s wild!)) that come to just over 14 million. Just to be cheeky, I’d point out that the VC earns over 1 million per year and he seems the most salient difference maker between the good years and the lean years.
Let me add some information that’s not extractable from cost breakdowns. The previous administration wanted to retain its accreditation (naturally) and build world-class research centres to boost the international reputation of a university that was only started in the 90s and created relatively inexpensive research centres to attract top PhD students. It was never the aim that these centres would be self-funded. The aim was to take unusual but positive steps to improve the university’s international standing. The new administration has never shown any interest in helping the research centres integrate with the teaching side of things. They’ve shown no interest in things like a taught MA programme that would bring in income and no interest in attracting people here that would bring large grants. They seem to not care that there were plans to partner with other universities to create an ARC centre for excellence which would also attract grant money. They did not care that we put plans in place to make the PhD programme more attractive to bring in government funding. They simply do not value the areas that seem central to the identity of a Catholic university and do not honour the commitments that previous administrations made to the academics who uprooted their lives and entrusted this university with their careers. They are disruptors. They know that they can tear up contracts with impunity, violating the norms that most of us assume should be preserved. They could easily reign in costs without shedding staff, but they’d rather not. Why cut back on travel and entertainment when medieval scholars and philosophers can be locked out of their offices? Although they have promised a transparent process and owe staff a consideration of job-saving measures to cut costs, they have explored none of these ideas. Instead, they produced a factually flawed thematic review (and we are more than happy to share this along with analysis) as a pretext to eliminate positions in areas they care nothing about. The obvious motive is to advance their careers at the expense of the university.

Media Bandit
Media Bandit
8 months ago

For maximum impact, I would recommend writing letters to the following people.

  1. The University is, first and foremost, concerned about its reputation with Government. Its largest source of funding is the Federal Government (even though the government is not involved with the appointment of the University Senate or operations of the University). Pressuring the Education Minister is a sure-fire way of putting pressure on the University, especially when the decision can be seen to effect Australia’s international standing in higher education. The Minister for Education is Jason Clare, his email is here: [email protected]. Also email the members (especially the Chair) of the Senate Higher Education Committee, their details are here: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Education_and_Employment/Legislation_Committee_Membership
  2. Email University Senators directly. The information they receive in meetings is usually neutered and sugar-coated by hapless bureaucrats. Emailing them directly will enable them to ask informed, probing questions as to why their management is e.g. trashing their international standing. Their details are here: https://www.acu.edu.au/about-acu/leadership-and-governance/governance/senate. Simply emailing the University Senate generic email address will not lead very far, I highly recommend finding the email addresses of individual Senators, especially ones who are not direct employees of the University (hopefully someone can find them and post below).
  3. Email the following journalists. Focus on your position, your concerns, and in particular, the impact this will have on the international reputation of Australian higher education (the latter being the most newsworthy element for many news outlets). At the Sydney Morning Herald: Lucy Carrol ([email protected]) Daniella White, ([email protected]), Christopher Harris ([email protected]); at The Australian: Tim Dodd (https://twitter.com/TimDoddEDU); ABC: Conor Duffy ([email protected]).
  4. Finally: to the staff affected – Brief a quality lawyer. Don’t rely on the NTEU, who are well-intentioned but of sometimes questionable quality (the quality of representation is very variable state-by-state).

Best of luck!

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Media Bandit
8 months ago

For my fellow Americans: The University Senate looks more like what American universities call the Board of Trustees, the businesspeople etc. who take the final vote on everything affecting the university, as opposed to a faculty senate, the faculty body that manages various internal affairs and plays an “advisory” role on big issues like this (which is to say they take a vote which the administration ignores).

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Media Bandit
8 months ago

According to the reply email I just received from Jason Clare’s office, the email address to contact him on matters related to the Ministry of Education is [email protected]; the jason.clare.mp address is for his direct constituents.

Caspar Jacobs
Caspar Jacobs
8 months ago

This is a shameful decision by ACU. Dianoia had a stellar reputation as a philosophy research institute, having attracted many talented people from abroad. This decision has severely harmed the reputation of ACU in my eyes; I would certainly think twice before applying for a job there now. I can only hope that ACU will see the error of their ways and reverse this decision, and moreover offer those who work at Dianoia some guarantees that the same will not happen again in a few years’ time.

In addition, the harm to those affected must be immense. Many of those people have moved their entire life to a different country or even continent, settled there with their families or were currently in the process of doing so, based on the promise of a secure long-term career. ACU’s callous decision to ‘disestablish’ their positions is plainly unethical. In my mind, this makes ACU an untrustworthy institution that I would recommend in no way as a place of study or employment to students, colleagues and friends.

Catharine Diehl
Catharine Diehl
8 months ago

Over the past four years, I’ve watched Dianoia grow into an exciting world-class research centre. Many of the best analytic metaphysicians have joined, and–from all reports–it’s a thriving intellectual community. In my view, it is set up to serve as a hub for much excellent work in metaphysics and dismantling it would be a serious blow to research in this field.

In addition, and perhaps more importantly from ACU’s perspective, it would also be a fatal blow to ACU’s reputation in philosophy. I had never heard of ACU before Dianoia was created; last week I advised a promising student in theoretical philosophy to look at their doctoral program. I am always on the lookout for their Zoom events. If Dianoia is disestablished, I–and, I think, many other philosophers–will no longer regard ACU as a credible research institution.

Beyond that, I would also view it as an unethical institution. As many have pointed out, faculty have been recruited over the past four years with the assurance that ACU was committed to Dianoia longterm. To induce faculty to leave their posts, uproot their families, and move around the globe under false pretences is deceitful conduct, unworthy of an institution of higher learning.

Erik Angner
8 months ago

I do hope ACU leadership understands the reputational damage this kind of action will inflict. While I can only speak for myself, I can’t see that will ever think of the ACU as a serious institution of higher learning again after all this. I certainly wouldn’t dream of applying for a job there.

joao
joao
Reply to  Erik Angner
8 months ago

I think the thought might well be that the damage is rather minimal – the institute had little to do with teaching at the university, it is rather new (and so one shouldn’t call it well-established) and though with some well-known people, these are really well-known only among philosophers and some other academics in related fields maybe. ACU was not some world-renown university to begin with either… so as it came, so it goes. Of course, this was (as it is now obvious) all really irresponsible and stupid to do.

Julien Murzi
Julien Murzi
8 months ago

This is terrible. FWIW, I’ve signed the petitions and written to the Senate and to the people involved. All best wishes to all the philosophers concerned. They’re outstanding and they don’t deserve this – no-one does.

David Sobel
8 months ago

If ACU goes ahead with this plan, I would never take a job at ACU if I had other options that offered job security. And I would advise any students, friends, or advisees to be highly skeptical of any claim to job security that ACU offers you. Others, in and out of philosophy, will surely do the same. I foresee this resulting, in short order, in ACU having great difficulty recruiting anyone who has the ordinary level of job security associated with having a tenure-track or tenured job anywhere else. If that were to come to pass, I should think it pretty plain what impact that would have on the reputation of ACU.

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
8 months ago

What I think of this decision (as Prof. Finlay requested): This is absolutely horrifying. It is already harming ACU’s reputation, both on scholarly grounds and because this is a disgusting way to toy with people’s lives. Going through with this decision would make ACU a reviled institution on the level of the worst abuses we’ve seen in American universities.

The harm to the scholarly quality of ACU’s faculty would of course be immense. But beyond that, it seems like an egregious violation of the Common Good principles ACU professes. According to this learning module from the ACU website, the common good “presupposes respect for all persons and for each person.” Luring a scholar to move (often very far) to your university with the promise of a permanent job top-notch institute, only to dismiss them after four years, is the very opposite of treating them with respect. It is exploiting them as a means to your own ends.

Last edited 8 months ago by Matt Weiner
Daniel Rubio
Daniel Rubio
8 months ago

There goes ACU’s shot at international faculty recruitment if they go through with this. No way anyway will trust this school with their career.

Michael Lynch
8 months ago

The Orwellian “dis-establishment” of Dianoia will be a direct and decisive blow to the academic reputation of ACU. The institute had, almost overnight, become a central focus for philosophical research into the common good, the nature of ultimate reality and what it means to be human. In our current age, we need more, not less, philosophers working on these issues. With these moves–including its strikes against history and political science–ACU is clearly signaling that it has lost its commitment to human values and has cast aside aspirations to be a serious research institution. Those of us who sit on boards and scientific advisory committees will doubtless take notice.

John Protevi
John Protevi
8 months ago

As a graduate of a Catholic institution (PhD, Loyola Chicago 1990), I am appalled at the callousness of the proposed change. Just floating this proposal has damaged the reputation of the university by showing its untrustworthiness, given the explicit and implicit promises made to its members, many of whom undertook very important life decisions to move to ACU. Going through with the proposal would make that damage to its reputation irreparable.

Jessica Pohlmann
Jessica Pohlmann
8 months ago

I am a PhD student at the ACU, supervised within the Dianoia and this is devastating for the graduate students. I feel that there is a serious injustice here in that we were admitted to the program on the belief that we would have access to these incredible people, mentors and teachers as resources for our learning and for starting our careers. Now the ACU proposes to take that away from us. We may lose our supervisors and the work we do with the entire faculty–which is what we came here for.

Nicholas Hughes
8 months ago

This is shocking and immoral. It will also be absolutely terrible for ACU’s reputation within the philosophy community and well beyond.

Douglas W. Portmore
8 months ago

Going ahead with this plan is morally unacceptable. This is no way to treat anyone let alone such distinguished scholars. Going ahead with the plan will irreparably damage ACU’s reputation.

Ray Briggs
Ray Briggs
8 months ago

This decision by the ACU is appalling. Not only is it foolish to fire this kind of world-class talent once the university has gone to all the trouble of recruiting them; it’s also extremely unfair to faculty who have left tenured positions for what they thought was a secure job, and to students who are relying on them for mentorship.

Matthew Benton
8 months ago

This would be a disastrous move on ACU’s part, and I hope it does not happen. The Dianoia Institute already has some of the very best philosophers in the world, especially in epistemology, working there, and in philosophy and adjacent disciplines this Institute’s founding and its hiring of those folks put it on the map internationally. Summarily closing it like this is a horrible thing to do to those brilliant scholars whom they worked hard to hire and who then moved to Australia for it; it also will damage ACU’s reputation beyond repair. (Indeed, it is already looking very bad given this news.)

Niels Martens
8 months ago

Absolutely atrocious. It’s hard to understate my shock at hearing about this proposal. I can’t imagine anyone in the field still wanting to have anything to do with ACU if they indeed go ahead and decide to treat human beings this way.

Niels Martens
Reply to  Niels Martens
8 months ago

Ahum…. obviously I meant “overstate”

Ralph Wedgwood
8 months ago

This is devastating news for the whole worldwide philosophical community. The way in which the ACU has treated this astonishingly impressive group of philosophers is just utterly disgraceful. If the ACU goes ahead with disestablishing the Dianoia Institute in this way, they deserve to be shunned like the plague forever after. No one should be happy having any dealings with a university that acts in this way.

Alexander Franklin
Alexander Franklin
8 months ago

This is shocking and disgraceful – many excellent philosophers have moved across the world to join Dianoia. The absolute disregard for commitments made so recently does indeed make it very difficult to imagine anyone in the academic community having sufficient faith in ACU’s employment practices to be enthusiastic about applying to any job at all that they advertise.

Amy Seymour
Amy Seymour
8 months ago

This decision is horrifying and immoral. Not only does it betray the world-class faculty actively recruited to Dianoia and irreparably, permanently damage ACU’s professional reputation — it betrays the fundamental mission and values of a so-called Catholic university. Last time I checked, it was a clear-cut sin to bear false witness against one’s neighbor. And for those inclined toward Dante’s view, the worst circles of hell are reserved for the fraudulent and the treacherous.

To all who work at Dianoia: I’m so sorry. While it would in no way make up for the seismic damage to your lives, I hope is that ACU is rightfully sued to Kingdom Come.

Jan Dowell
Jan Dowell
8 months ago

If they haven’t already, I recommend someone from Dianoia request that the Board of the Australian Philosophical Association issue a statement of support. (The American Philosophical Association sometimes issues statements in support of departments threatened with closure. I would imagine the Australian Association’s Board would be willing to do so as well.)

Dirk Baltzly
Dirk Baltzly
Reply to  Jan Dowell
8 months ago

The AAP is aware and will weigh in shortly. So too with the Australian Academy of Humanities (i.e. the Australian counterpart to the British Academy).

Jeanette Kennett
Jeanette Kennett
Reply to  Jan Dowell
8 months ago

Jan, the AAP is writing to ACU and will issue a statement. International support is also very welcome.

academic migrant
academic migrant
8 months ago

Quite sad. Just saw this ad calling for MA and PhD applications a few days ago. The ACU leadership is acting in a very un-Australian way.

https://www.acu.edu.au/research-and-enterprise/our-research-institutes/dianoia-institute-of-philosophy/study-with-us

Markos Valaris
Markos Valaris
Reply to  academic migrant
8 months ago

Unfortunately, while this is an especially egregious example, the sort of short-termism on display here is pretty standard in how universities are run in Australia (and probably not only here). The incentives for VCs and other top managers are the same as CEOs elsewhere — come in with a grand vision, make a splash, and then after your term ends move on to the next job. Who cares about the damage to people’s lives, or the functionality of the institution you leave behind.

Joao
Joao
Reply to  Markos Valaris
8 months ago

And they are winning, of course, in some sense of that word. After all, it’s not like people can generally afford to actually shun a place – most people are happy to have any offer of employment, they cannot afford to be choosers. And their source of revenue is not Dianoia institute nor do they need it to attract it.

Martin Lenz
8 months ago

If the ACU goes ahead with this plan, they should be shunned accordingly.

Markos Valaris
Markos Valaris
8 months ago

This is a disappointing plan that threatens to do lasting damage both to ACU’s reputation as an academic institution, and to the individuals caught up in the workplace change — including the affected staff, but also PhD students who will bew left without supervisors.

Dianoia and the other institutes were opened with great fanfare just four years ago, and were touted as being integral to ACU’s vision for its own future. Just this past July, ACU hosted the annial conference of the Austrasian Association for Philosophy — a massive affair and showcase for the discipline. As an outsider to the universiaty, all I can say is that if this plan goes ahead ACU will become known as a place to avoid for anyone aiming to have an academic career.

Kate Manne
Kate Manne
8 months ago

An absolute disgrace and a horrifying instance of institutional betrayal

Troy
Troy
8 months ago

One avenue for pushback that has not been mentioned: prospective students who are (or were) interested in studying at Dianoia should email the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, Phil Parker ([email protected]), and copy Dianoia’s director ([email protected]), to say something along the lines of: “I had planned to apply to study philosophy at Dianoia to start in 2024, and had hoped to work with X, Y, and Z. I have seen news online [insert links here] that Dianoia is being disestablished and many of the philosophers losing their jobs. Can you clarify what is happening, and whether I will be able to study in Dianoia and work with X, Y, and Z?”

One strategic goal outlined in the change plan is to increase graduate students. That cutting Dianoia will achieve this is ridiculous; in the last round of applications Dianoia received more applications than all other graduate programs in the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy combined. If the graduate research office receives dozens of emails from interested students asking what’s going on, and Steve has a record of those emails, that will help in undermining the administration’s narrative.

The above is especially important for potential Australian students, as enrolling domestic students comes with government funding attached.

Humanist
Humanist
8 months ago

One point worth emphasizing here is the extent to which this change plan threatens the humanities at ACU generally, and not just philosophy. In recent years ACU’s investment in humanities research has established it not only as a world leader in philosophy, but also in history, medieval studies, religion, and biblical studies. I think it may be the top program for biblical studies in the world. Under this change plan, 48 humanities staff would be made redundant. 19 new positions would be created that some of these staff would be eligible to apply for, for a net reduction of 29 positions in the humanities: 9 in philosophy, 13 in history (including the entirety of the medieval and early modern studies staff in the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry), 3 in political science, and 4 (others) in biblical studies/religion/theology.

This is a gutting of ACU’s distinctive research strengths, and one that runs entirely counter to the Catholic mission of the university not only in destroying research into philosophy — a core discipline in the Catholic intellectual tradition — but also into 1000 years of church history.

Dirk Baltzly
Dirk Baltzly
Reply to  Humanist
8 months ago

It is baffling, isn’t it? Suicide remains a sin in the Catholic church, and yet here you have a university leadership team contemplating institutional, reputational suicide.

Arturs Logins
Arturs Logins
8 months ago

ACU had a chance to add their name to handbooks on the history of philosophy in the 21st century as a place that generated top level philosophy in our time. Instead they appear to have chosen disgrace and obliviation. Their reputation is in shambles. I still hope they reconsider.

Jewins
Jewins
8 months ago

I was actually making plans to apply to the program they advertised

Dmitri Gallow
Reply to  Jewins
8 months ago

I’m so sorry about that, Jewins. I understand how much time and effort it takes to deal with ACU’s Kafkaesque bureaucracy. We were not involved in the decision to advertise HDR positions on the blogs. After we got wind of these plans, the HDR recruitment committee at Dianoia cancelled our internal advertisements.

Jeanette Kennett
Jeanette Kennett
Reply to  Jewins
8 months ago

See the suggestion above from Troy and write to Pro Vice Chancellor. The more emails they receive from disappointed prospective students the better.

Neil Dewar
Neil Dewar
8 months ago

This is an appalling way to behave, and seems to show little to no regard for those who were induced to make major life changes on the basis of ACU’s promises. Also seems extraordinarily short-sighted: not only has ACU given up one of its strongest assets, but it’s very hard to imagine that the fiscal gains could be worth the long-term damage to their ability to recruit and retain staff.

Danny Wardle
8 months ago

I started my PhD at the Dianoia Institute of Philosophy in the middle of 2021. I came there to work with and learn from the incredible group of philosophers at Dianoia. Some of the other graduate students have only recently started their PhDs at Dianoia and are being put in this precarious situation at the beginning of their candidature. ACU has emailed us with half-hearted assurances that the impact this will have on our studies will be minimised, but the fact that management only informed us of their decision days after the fact was very revealing. The reality is that ACU will not be able to find suitable replacement supervisors for many of us and we are already wondering whether it would be in our best interests to find another university to finish our studies. ACU management claims that they want more HDR students – sacking our supervisors and destroying our research institutes is a baffling way to go about that.

Baptiste Le Bihan
8 months ago

This is a shocking crisis not only for the people involved, but also for an institution that will never recover from the damage done to its image. We are currently having active scientific collaboration between Switzerland and the ACU, and they are now under threat. The decision has been brutal even for us in Europe, jeopardising many scientific collaborations. If the ACU goes ahead with its decision, it will stop being considered a serious academic partner. The institution will never be trustworthy again.

Billy
8 months ago

From the ACU website:

“Professor Zlatko Skrbis became the fourth Vice-Chancellor and President of Australian Catholic University in January 2021. He previously held senior leadership positions at Australian Catholic University, Monash University, and The University of Queensland.

He holds a PhD in sociology from Flinders University and undergraduate degrees in sociology and philosophy from the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.

As Vice-Chancellor and President of ACU, Professor Skrbis is leading an ambitious program of transformational change across the university, while displaying an unwavering commitment to ACU’s traditions, values, and Catholic mission.

It is his ambition to ensure that ACU is globally recognised as an institution that adheres to its strong Catholic principles and makes a tangible improvement to the lives of others through excellence in education, research and engagement.”

I am Catholic, and I am certain that Catholicism entails that breaking agreements with people neither displays an unwavering commitment to a university’s Catholic mission nor adheres to strong Catholic principles. It doesn’t matter whether this certainty arises from natural reason or divine law. Either way, it’s there. Professor Skrbis has this same certainty. It’s up to him to do what he knows is right and do everything he can to stop the proposal in its tracks. Look, we all do wrong things, sometimes due to ignorance of what is right and sometimes due to weakness of will. But knowing what is right is not the obstacle here, since this case is too obvious for ignorance of what is right. Show some strength of will. Don’t lay people off — which seriously damages lives and the lives of connected spouses, children, and students — to save some money for the school as a whole. It’s low and weak. Frankly, it’s also utilitarian looking in that it’s a case of screwing a few over to benefit the majority. We aren’t supposed to act like that as Catholics. We’re supposed to be deontologists who reject doing evil (i.e., breaking the Judeo-Xn moral law) in order that good might come of it. (To be clear, I am not saying that utilitarianism, properly understood, would be okay with the layoffs happening. I don’t think it would. What I am saying is that some kind of bad utilitarian calculus seems to be motivating the proposal to do the layoffs.)

Carina Prunkl
Carina Prunkl
8 months ago

This is both appaling and disappointing. Should this go through, ACU will have trouble recruiting people in the future. Who would willingly work for an employer that (a) doesn’t seem to value high-quality research, (b) clearly doesn’t seem to value their employees, who, in some cases, dropped everything and moved contintents to work at ACU, (c) doesn’t seem to be interested in dialogue or finding solutions that would avoid putting people out onto the street (people who were promised a permanent position and made their life choices accordingly). The whole thing is just mindblowing.

Ant Eagle
8 months ago

I have so many thoughts about this sad and shocking situation that it is difficult to know where to start. I have very dear friends who are losing their positions and who face inconceivable choices between uprooting their lives or abandoning their vocation. Several of my former MPhil students have commenced PhDs at ACU, and they face the same choice. I’ve been absolutely grateful to the willingness of colleagues at the ACU to help out the profession by serving with distinction on the editorial team of the AJP. The loss of Dianoia and all the philosophical activity that surrounds it is a huge blow to philosophy in Australia.

What’s truly sad is that it is all so pointless. Obviously a pure research institution in philosophy is never going to be a revenue source. But the fact that ACU, a non-entity university prior to the establishment of Dianoia and the parallel history institute, could within a couple of years become a clearly top 3 department says something about the effectiveness of this intervention in increasing research quality and intensity, which has all sorts of flow on effects in terms of international rankings (and recruitment of lucrative international students), recruitment of graduate students (and resulting increases in federal government research block grant funding), national competive grant funding (those of us who assess ARC applications will have a very hard time giving high scores for ‘feasibility’ to any project housed at ACU – they don’t get a lot of ARC money anyway, but this should mark the absolute cessation of ARC support for ACU research – who could advise the government to direct research funding to these bozos in good conscience?), and in meeting regulatory requirements (TEQSA, the regulator, requires a miniumum threshold of achievement that ACU will surely be in danger of falling below when it loses 20% of its research-intensive staff in a moment). Moreover, the simple expedient of gradually transitioning researchers to mixed teaching/research contracts would solve the supposed budgetary problem (philosophy undergraduates are perversely lucrative to universities in Australia under current government funding rules—and as anyone who knows them will attest, many of the Dianoia researchers are absolutely superb and experienced teachers). [I acknowledge of course that most Australian universities will face significant political headwinds in directing any teaching-derived surplus to humanities rather than STEM or to initiatives to support disadvantaged or struggling students.]

Unfortunately none of these observations will, I suspect, sway ACU senior management. This smacks of vindictiveness, score settling, and an attempt by a weak new VC to put a stamp on the institution before moving on to greener pastures. Many in this thread are commenting on ACU’s lose of reputation and future inability to hire; these are simply not issues, I suspect, that the VC and team care about. The job market being what it is, I doubt ACU will actually struggle to recruit staff – and we cannot blame staff who might choose to take up such a position for doing so, I think. (Remember too: if everyone boycotts the place the real victims are future students, most of whom, given ACU’s catchment, will have absolutely no clue that any of this has gone on.) And the federal government will be of no help either, since they see universities primarily as tools for social mobility and would in all likelihood see a research institute in philosophy as a distraction from that mission.

I fear too that this will harm philosophy elsewhere in Australia. We don’t have tenure in the US sense, but – wholescale redundancies like this aside – we have pretty good individual-level protections against being sacked enshrined in our working arrangements. But now all that anyone considering a move here will think is that they too might be fired after a sham consultation process. This is dreadful for all universities in Australia, who should in my view be seeking to distance themselves as much as possible from the strategies of ACU’s management. Their idiocy is going to screw things up for all of us. What a sad waste.

Lu Chen
Lu Chen
Reply to  Ant Eagle
8 months ago

Thanks for this. I agree with the assessment about the senior management. Maybe I am overthinking and being sentimental, but I wonder if this is not special to ACU, and if it is indicative of how philosophical research is being regarded elsewhere. I recall our acting VP said proudly that they do not plan to eliminate our department, as if it were something to consider.

Annina Loets
Annina Loets
8 months ago

Alex Roberts and I visited the Dianoia Institute from February to April 2023 and found it to be a truly remarkable research environment. Dianoia is a place where it is difficult to find a pair of colleagues who don’t collaborate on a research project, where researchers and visitors meet several times a week to discuss new research, and where advisors spent several hours a week with their graduate students. In the short time we were there, the institute hosted several prominent visitors from around the globe. Were it given the chance, it could well become one of the most prestigious philosophy departments in the world.

We’re shocked and saddened to learn about ACU’s plans, and sincerely hope the administration will reconsider their decision. Apart from the severe damage in reputation this decision has already caused, ACU misses out on the opportunity of being a world class institution for research in philosophy and having a significant hand in training the next generation of philosophers.

Jeff Russell
8 months ago

I agree with the many folks who have already spoken. Dianoia brought together an incredible group of people and became stand-out global center for philosophy. Destroying it is a shameful decision—both in the sense that it is morally condemnable, and in the sense that it brings public shame to ACU.

Jenn Wang
Jenn Wang
8 months ago

This proposal is shockingly terrible on many levels and should be rejected immediately. Were it to proceed, I would certainly discourage our philosophy MA students from applying to its programs, and would recommend against anyone considering a position there.

Fresh on the market
Fresh on the market
8 months ago

I share everyone’s frustration. There are obvious differences between this case and the routine temporary appointments many of us go through, which often also involve moving long distances for the promise and excitement that comes with new pathways in one’s academic career. Rugs are also pulled out from under many of us, though in much less stark ways. But I hope this situation might restart or reinvigorate conversations about what the gatekeepers and administrators collectively put many junior faculty through in less prestigious and attention-grabbing situations.

Just another academic nobody
Just another academic nobody
8 months ago

As much as I sympathize with the Dianoia academics who now face an uncertain future, and as shocked as I am at the unethical breaking of contracts, I do wish I had witnessed this much palpable outrage at the drawn out experience of precarity that is apparently acceptable for all casual and adjunct level faculty. Don’t forget, the Dianoia faculty are ‘star’ researchers who will have very good chances of being snapped up by any department who (wisely) reaches out to them. I do not mean to understate the unfairness of all of this, and the difficulties they face. Just wish I’d seen the same level of solidarity and support for some of our truly struggling and unfairly treated colleagues. Just sayin.

Steve Finlay
Steve Finlay
Reply to  Just another academic nobody
8 months ago

Hi (not) nobody, I agree that the precariousness of existence faced by many academics who are far less fortunate than my colleagues and myself have been, deserves more solidarity and outrage than it receives. I believe the outrage at ACU’s actions is prompted not by the fact that this is befalling well-known academics, but primarily by the behavior of inducing people to leave excellent secure jobs and move their families halfway around the world, just to break promises and cut them loose. Also, people are dismayed for the whole profession (rather than us personally) that even terrifically successful philosophy programs are not safe from arbitrary closure. Finally, I’ll note that although you are right that it probably won’t be hard for my colleagues to receive job offers, a number of people have family situations (e.g. spouses’ careers) that now tie them to Melbourne. Some of us are facing the choice between having to leave the profession, or live apart from our families. (Of course, many academics are forced to face that choice. Just saying that the human damage won’t necessarily be less severe just because we’re well-established).

Mark Alfano
8 months ago

Unfortunately, ACU have already damaged their reputation simply by proposing this restructuring. No one with any outside option would consider taking a job at ACU, especially if it involves overseas relocation. If they go through with the restructuring, it will take a generation before they’re taken seriously in the research sphere again. I feel for my former colleagues at ACU, and I’m sad to say this doesn’t surprise me too much. I was there for several years last decade, and the arbitrariness of the administration was evident then as well.

BRYAN FRANCES
8 months ago

I know it’s premature to say this, but if I were some very rich person and member of a Board of Trustees at some university, I might be lobbying to hire the whole Dianoia faculty, or at least as many as possible. You could make an incredible publicity splash as well as wildly improve your university in research prowess. It would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Michel
Reply to  BRYAN FRANCES
8 months ago

As I recall, this is what happened with the Middlesex faculty, who were hired at King’s around 2009 or so.

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
8 months ago

Just in case you’re writing a letter to the addresses below: Both “[email protected]” and “[email protected]bounced for me. I couldn’t find a valid address for the latter. But for Timothy McKenry the email “[email protected]” seems to work.

Here hoping that ACU will reverse its course and not push forward with this outrageous plan.

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  Sergio Tenenbaum
8 months ago

“couldn’t find a valid address for the former” of course!

Preston Stovall
8 months ago

It is only in 2022, after a change in administration, that the university began running deficits. The academics in positions marked for redundancy did not cause these budgetary problems, but will bear the brunt of cuts whilst the university administration that turned a streak of surpluses into deficits retain their jobs.

This is appalling. In the broader scheme of things, academics need to organize to keep our work free of this kind of mangerial-cum-business influence. Administrative bloat is eroding our institutions.

Luara Ferracioli
Luara Ferracioli
8 months ago

This is really devastating for the entire philosophical community in Australia. The Dianoia Institute has been such an important part of the philosophical scene here. Most recently, the folks at the institute did a brilliant job of hosting the AAP. What a mess and what a shame for our country!

Steve Finlay
Steve Finlay
8 months ago

The public response to ACU’s plan has been mindblowing. But there has been some misinformation circulating, and there has been some insinuations within ACU that I or my colleagues have been spreading falsehoods. To correct some misleading statements I’ve seen here and elsewhere:

Dianoia philosophers do not have to compete with others for the four new positions for philosophy in IRCI. It’s a closed EOI, restricted to Dianoia staff.

ACU is not closing its philosophy department, as stated in an ABC article. The School of Philosophy and the Dianoia Institute are different units. The plan proposes “disestablishing” all Dianoia positions, but does not touch the positions of philosophers in the School. (Indeed, the School just hired three additional philosophers this year, who are not slated for redundancy).

However, my understanding is that more researchers (across the university) are losing their jobs than is revealed in the Change Plan. It doesn’t include researchers who have signed contracts but not yet started their positions (which takes net Dianoia losses to 10), and I believe it excludes a number who were on renewable fixed contracts who are not being renewed.

It’s true that ACU just finished construction on a major new building (I’m reading the figure $224M, I don’t know if that is correct). Whatever questions people may raise about ACU’s priorities in building things like rooftop basketball courts, it is important to note that work on the building commenced during the previous administration, and at a time of healthy budget surpluses.

Finally, on ACU’s reputation: having sacrificed my research for 4 years to build ACU’s reputation (especially but not exclusively in philosophy), it is very sad to me to see it burning down in a space of days. I am hopeful once this is over, if Dianoia survives, the long term damage will not be severe. Although we often anthropomorphize universities as if they were people, I understand this plan to be the design of a group of perhaps only four individuals, and that most of the university Executive were as blindsided as we were when the plan was released. There are a lot of wonderful people at ACU who are every bit as horrified at the plan as those around the world who have so generously spoken up in our support.

Troy
Troy
8 months ago

Something I don’t think has been mentioned: Richard Colledge (https://webpublic.acu.edu.au/staffdirectory/?richard-colledge=) is a philosopher on ACU’s Senate (from the School of Philosophy), and so some appeals on the effects of this plan on philosophy could be made to him specifically. His email is [email protected] (for some reason not included on the list of Senators in the Dianoia statement; I think the list was inadvertently incomplete).

Sea
Sea
Reply to  Troy
8 months ago

We also hope that Richard Colledge will defend the positions being targeted for redundancy. Has he made any statements yet in support of his colleagues? I haven’t seen anything online. He might be able to shed some light on the surprising fact that the plan targets all and only the philosophers working in Dianoia when in history and political science, the positions targeted for redundancy are spread across the faculty and institutes. He might be able to shed some light on this, too.

Cathy Legg
Cathy Legg
8 months ago

The cavalier ‘whiplash’ treatment of our colleagues at Dianoia – who were offered so much, only to have the institutional rug pulled out from under them, is appalling. It must be devastating for the whole team.

Whilst the outpouring of support on this thread is heartening, I feel compelled to amplify the few voices who have ‘piped up’ to note that one might wish some of the same sympathy could be extended to the many Australian philosophers who have an equal amount to offer, but whose research careers have been crushed in more slow-motion, quiet ways. Here I would particularly mention our early-career philosophers, so many of whom are currently toiling in sessional or fixed-term roles where these kinds of career depredations can happen on a semester-by-semester basis.

I hate to broach this, but I wonder whether it’s finally time for us to initiate some difficult conversations about the prestige structure as it currently exists in Australian philosophy, and how it promotes debates of a level of insularity that those who now hold the purse strings in higher ed can struggle to see the value of. Yes we may score highly in ‘University ranking exercises’, but given that these measures can be, and are, gamed, what else can we say about the value we’re providing for taxpayers’ money?

In my view, Frodeman and Briggle’s book “Socrates Tenured” offers some important provocations about these matters in its final chapter, where the authors challenge “intrinsic value accounts of the humanities” as “simultaneously pompous and muddled”, and also politically unsustainable for publically funded institutions. Happy to discuss further.

Ozzer
Reply to  Cathy Legg
8 months ago

Hi Cathy,
We should have those conversations. Nobody here is in favor of maintaining the structures you describe. They are exploitative. (My first five years were spent in a contingent position supplemented with adjunct work in an adjacent city and it was awful. I was very lucky to have escaped that.) Let’s have a conversation about ways to change Australian higher-ed. Recent events show that there’s a surprising kind of rot in Australian higher-ed, one that many of us found surprising. I think part of the reaction to the current situation is due both to the apparent novelty of it (since the administration hasn’t made a financial case for the necessity of these redundancies and hinted at creating new research institutes, are these redundancies just on a whim?) and the thought that quick action might save jobs. This is a familiar sort of thing. People get trapped in a cave and the world pays attention and tries to help in difficult and expensive ways. People routinely get killed in mining accidents the number of which could have been reduced with careful regulation and you can’t get anyone excited about this. My view is that regulation is more important than sexy rescue operations and the same goes changing the structures of higher-ed to reduce exploitive labor practices. I don’t know an easy fix to these problems, but I’ve joined the union hoping they can help people in these exploitive conditions even though I have zero confidence that they can help protect my job. (My impression, and I hope that I’m wrong, is that they don’t feel much pressure to protect my job because they kind of think jobs like mine shouldn’t exist. Maybe they’ll surprise us with action in the remaining few days we have to stop the administration from firing my lovely colleagues who just started families or built their first homes and probably don’t have much to survive on since when they are early career.)

I hope we agree that university administrations should have to have very good reasons for getting rid of people on continuing contracts (reasons that this administration has never provided (and shame on people for uncritically accepting their narrative about sustainability, ignoring the many years of surplus they enjoyed before the previous VC retired and was replaced by someone who cannot seem to do anything about widespread overspends)) and that we all need to prioritise people working in sessional or fixed-term roles for too little pay. All these issues are important and that an important step towards remedying them is attacking this idea that universities should be run by administrators who come from outside of education and don’t seem to act with the interests of staff or students when instead they can advance their own careers by exploiting labor and failing to honor the commitments of the people they just replaced. One thing that I’d note is that the administration seems to be pitching their ‘change plan’ as one that will more equitably distribute research time without showing how they have reduced the workload of any academic (indeed, they’ve provided no workload model in apparent violation of the agreement with the union). How does firing me and my colleagues in the institute give my friends working in the faculty more time for writing? How does firing our administrator help address the administrative needs of a university that seems to get absolutely pilloried online for failing to address student concerns. (Read the google reviews, by the way, written by students complaining about the operations of the university–they are WILD!) The union has been complaining for quite some time that staff are already overworked. This change plan reduces the capacity to do the work that management demands and that’s not a recipe for freeing time up for philosophers or historians to write. These efforts harm those of us marked for redundancy in obvious ways without helping the people who have kept their jobs this time. It’s easy to spin this as a battle between people with different job descriptions, but it’s a battle between academics and management.

In closing, I should also note that many of my colleagues have volunteered to help with teaching, a step that does reduce the demand on our colleagues in the faculty. The administration had often discouraged this (because we were meant to focus on something else) but now that we’ve had a new boss step in, management has decided that a good reason to fire us is that we’re not connected to the teaching we’d been offering to help with. We had taken steps that would have reduced the workload of our colleagues in the faculty, but it’s going to be hard to continue to do that while unemployed. (Anonymous because I fear the current administration might target us or I might offend the people I’ll need to impress while I compete with my friends for a handful of positions that we might be redeployed into.)

Catherine Legg
Catherine Legg
Reply to  Ozzer
7 months ago

Yes please let’s have these conversations, and more. I really hope you’re doing ok.
However I would disagree that the privileges enjoyed by ‘prestige’ philosophers bear no economic connection to the exploitative conditions endured by others, within Universities with finite budgets inevitably forced to ‘satisfice’ a range of incommensurable goals. I suspect the ‘elephant in the room’ is the disappearance (for now) of the ERA.

Just another academic nobody
Just another academic nobody
Reply to  Cathy Legg
8 months ago

Thank you Cathy, yes, it is time to question the prestige structure of the academy as a whole – and certainly not just in Australia. It is hard to do so (and certainly not with the degree of indignation and moral outrage we see here) when it serves some people well. It encourages the closed circle around the tenure track/tenured echelon where, let’s face it, nepotism is rife. I would counter that the prestige structure has actually led to this unfortunate situation at ACU. A system based on prestige as the goal is inherently highly and aggressively competitive. This doesn’t seem to be an optimal system to base humanities scholarship on (or perhaps even the sciences). However, given that it is the system we have, we shouldn’t actually be surprised about the Dianoia decision (much less horrified and appalled). We have let the academy become run by market forces, and yet when things don’t go our way, we expect to be exempt from those forces, and to instead be treated with ordinary human morality and respect? So, yes, let’s have that discussion: we need to rethink what we expect from the academy, and what kind of institution it should be in today’s world (and to save it from the administrators if we can!).

Ozzer
Reply to  Just another academic nobody
8 months ago

Just to add one thing… The lawyers made something v clear. The reason we’re unlikely to have a strong legal basis to make a suit is that the administration is essentially free to decide that they just don’t want to have N people doing some kind of job and decide that some smaller number of people will be retained. Things like seniority would not be a protected category, so they can basically just decide after people are promoted that they’d like to make them compete for entry level positions. Please don’t think for a moment that this was aimed exclusively at people in cushy positions: they decided to make 5 people working in political science redundant (including both people with research contracts and teaching contracts) and will let them fight it out for 2 positions with level/seniority TBD. I’m not sure why you’d use the word ‘tenure’ in discussing the Australian system if a university can, on a whim, decide that they’d just like to demote the political scientists and invite them to join in a tournament to retain employment. What we have it ‘at will’ employment with some meaningless language in contracts and enterprise agreements that suggest otherwise.

Alastair Wilson
Alastair Wilson
8 months ago

This is an egregious and wholly unnecessary breach of trust by ACU. I hope the administration come to their senses and find some more consensual route to whatever savings are needed. Upheaval like this so soon after launching a major initiative risks undermining the international credibility of Australian Humanities research as a whole.

Peter Millican
8 months ago

This decision seems to be not only a massive breach of faith, but also extremely foolish. It makes one wonder whether those responsible are motivated by some irrational urge to destroy what their predecessors created, or else are completely blind to how this will be seen externally. Even if they considered the initial creation of Dianoia to have been a mistake – perhaps because of its cost – the idea that it can be destroyed so summarily without serious consequences is obviously ridiculous.

Until last year, half a world away in Oxford, I had hardly heard of ACU. Then last year I attended an excellent talk from an unfamiliar young philosopher at Dianoia, looked up the website, and was amazed at the quality of the faculty, including quite a number of people whom I already knew from elsewhere or from their publications. No doubt many other colleagues will have had a similar experience, catapulting ACU up the hierarchy of institutions that they would recommend to ambitious students or postdocs. It’s not easy to build up a faculty of such quality, but having done so, a university can take advantage of the immediate reputational benefit in many ways.

Moreover the cost of all this is relatively modest, because academic staff in Philosophy – though a highly respected discipline – are so much cheaper than most others (notably those requiring labs and/or large teams). Several other universities have made big waves in this way, with indeed two of the top three Philosophy faculties in the world (NYU and Rutgers) scoring well above the ranking of their host universities. And this modest cost could presumably be reduced if the luxury of a non-teaching research institute seemed unsustainable in the long term, by taking advantage of its strong reputation to attract students at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

But instead of building on this hard-acquired opportunity, ACU seems intent on achieving the exact opposite, by nosediving to the bottom of the reputational hierarchy, far lower than if Dianoia had never existed. It seems unlikely that anyone with a reasonable alternative will choose a job at ACU while the current management is in charge.

This appalling decision is not only evil for all the reasons rehearsed in the other posts here (breach of faith, catastrophic impact on relocated families etc.). It also seems – to me at least – to be utterly stupid evil!

Chris Letheby
Chris Letheby
8 months ago

I just emailed a letter to Professor Skrbis and his ACU colleagues on behalf of many concerned philosophers, and a couple of concerned physicists, here at The University of Western Australia. The letter expressed the same basic opinions that many other have in this comment thread: that the proposed changes would be not only morally and intellectually disastrous, but also deeply contrary to ACU’s own interests and those of the broader University sector in Australia. The ACU administration should clearly reconsider this unjustified and poorly conceived plan.

Charles Pigden
Reply to  Chris Letheby
7 months ago

My email to the various authorities

To whom it may concern
I write to protest against the proposed abolition of the remarkably successful Dianoia Institute in Philosophy at the Australian Catholic University (and also against the cuts elsewhere). 
  
1) To tempt people from around the world with the promise of permanent employment before sacking them en masse is an act of vicious treachery, wholly at odds with the ACU’s supposed value of respect for persons..
2) If the ACU follows through with their plan, its name will be mud with aspiring scholars worldwide. Nobody who can get a job anywhere else will want to work for an institution that treats its employees this way. Accordingly the only people willing work at the ACU will be people who can’t get a job anywhere else. These tend not to be the top talents.
3) But the proposed cuts will also do drastic damage to the ACU’s academic reputation. The Dianoia Institute enormously boosted the research reputation of the ACU at relatively little cost. (Philosophers are cheaper than, say, physicists.) Cutting Dianoia and the other departments will reduce that reputation to nearly nothing. This will have knock-on financial consequences. Student choice, at least on the part of international students, is largely driven by the academic rankings, and the abolition of Dianoia will wreck the ACU ’s academic reputation sending it tumbling down to the bottom of the lists. This is likely to reduce student intake (at least as regards international students) and thus to reduce income.
 
The proposal is simply immoral by any reasonable standard and will do enormous damage to the ACU’s reputation not only amongst academics but also in the wider world. If you want an institution condemned to third-rate academic recruits and shunned by discerning students (especially international students) this is the way to go. It is the ‘agile’ and nimble route to academic disaster.
 
As Talleyrand said of Napoleon’s execution of the Duc D’Enghien , it is worse than a crime – it is a mistake.