Australian Catholic University (ACU) recently announced a plan that involves closing its Dianoia Institute of Philosophy and making 14 of its existing faculty compete through a re-application process for only 4 positions, as well as cutting faculty in history, political science, theology, and religious studies.
Questions about Financial Justification for Cuts
The plan, which has received a significant amount of criticism from academics around the world (see the comments on this post, for example, and this petition) was proposed by ACU Vice-Chancellor and President Zlatko Skribis because “the university is operating in a difficult economic environment” and is facing “limits on financial resources.”
Yet the university has apparently found resources during this time to make new hires and start new initiatives, which suggests the possibility that economic difficulties are not the impetus for the proposed cuts, and that university administrators are not being forthcoming with a full accounting of the reasons for them.
For example, as The Australian reported yesterday, ACU is launching as part of its teacher training program an “Australian Centre for the Advancement of Literacy.” With its launch, the new center has hired “the largest group of working scientists in this area in Australia,” according to the dean of the Faculty of Education and the Arts. The literacy center complements a STEM (science, technology, engineering, medicine) teacher training center that the university established several months ago.
A Catastrophe and a Humiliation
Meanwhile, it is unclear what led an opinion piece in the Australian news publication The Catholic Leader, critical of the planned cuts, to be removed from the paper’s website. The article (a screenshotted and partially incomplete version of which can be seen here), called the cuts “a catastrophe for Catholic education in Australia and a humiliation for those who have supported it over so many decades.”
How, for instance, did [Zlatko SKribis] turn budget surpluses in the last years of former Vice-Chancellor Greg Craven’s tenure into a projected deficit of $30 million this year?
He notes the “cruelty” of the proposal:
Many colleagues were recruited by ACU management within the past ve years, often from overseas. They gave up tenured positions elsewhere to come to ACU. Now they and the families they brought over, face being left destitute.
as well as the lack of faculty input:
Tellingly, ACU management did not consult with any of us or seek alternative ways to reduce budgetary deficits before wielding this bluntest of axes.
He also focuses on how the proposed cuts are at odds with the Catholic identity of the university:
A Catholic university such as ACU ought to invest more and harder in Humanities than secular institutions. Humanities are the heart of the Catholic tradition as St John Henry Newman recognised in his seminal exposition of The Idea of a University. Newman’s ideas have been inuential far beyond the Catholic world. They are a shining example of what Catholics and our Church contribute to modern, liberal, Western societies. For a Catholic University to turn its back on them—indeed to be sacking the very people within its ranks whose scholarship most embodies them—with so little forethought is deeply disturbing.
How did the cuts get to be proposed and taken seriously? Pattenden writes:
Part of what has gone wrong at ACU is undoubtedly a lack of focus and understanding of our core Catholic mission and values. The management team responsible for this “change plan” includes no humanities scholars.
Contacting the Administration