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.”
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.]
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.]