ACU Finalizes Plan to Close Dianoia Institute of Philosophy


Australian Catholic University has finalized its “Academic Change Management Plan” and the closure of the Dianoia Institute of Philosophy, proposed in the earlier version of the plan, is still part of it, along with the elimination of many of its faculty.

[print by Simryn Gill]

Despite significant opposition to the proposal, voiced through multiple statements and petitions from various parties (see the updates on this post and the comments on it, for examples), it appears that very little in it has changed.

The final version of the plan still says that “the Dianoia Institute of Philosophy (DIP) will be closed with retained staff moved to IRCI [Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry].”

It says, further:

• 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.
• 2 Teaching and Research level D/E philosophy positions will be created in the IRCI’s new philosophy program
• 3 Teaching and Research level B/C philosophy positions will be created in the IRCI’s new philosophy program
• DIP’s impacted academic staff will be invited to participate in the EOI placement process for these new positions

The only change appears to be that six, rather than five positions will be created in the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry. One of these is the new position for the (soon-to-be-former) director of the Dianoia Institute, Stephen Finlay. The remaining five positions are ones to which the other philosophers at Dianoia are invited to apply. The result is nine philosophers dismissed by ACU, rather than ten.

The report notes that “after the change, ACU will continue to have substantially more philosophers than the sector average.” However, it does not acknowledge the serious problem of ACU’s having induced over a dozen philosophers to leave established positions and move to Australia with the promise of permanent positions, only to fire most of them four (or fewer) years later and have them compete against each other for less desirable versions of their previous jobs.

The “summary of change feedback” section of the plan understates the actual criticisms leveled at ACU for it. For example, this section mentions

concerns that the proposed changes could have a detrimental effect on ACU’s international reputation, particularly in the fields of Arts and Humanities, and rankings more broadly. Respondents suggested that the disestablishment of programs (especially the Dianoia Institute of Philosophy and the Medieval and Early Modern Research Program IRCI) and the loss of researchers could hinder the university’s ability to compete globally and attract top-tier talent. 

The university’s response admits that “reputation in these areas is likely to be affected and will need to be rebuilt,” but mainly talks about hits to its position in the Times Higher Ed rankings and gestures vaguely at how to improve them.

You can read the final version of the plan here.

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Naturalised Australian
Naturalised Australian
7 months ago

I don’t know…feels that it would be a bit immoral for others to apply for these positions. But I admit I don’t have a good argument spelled out. Just feels like it’s be adding to and benefiting from the injustice others suffered from.

Ozzer
Reply to  Naturalised Australian
7 months ago

“feels that it would be a bit immoral for others to apply for these positions”

I’m not sure what you mean, but I can flesh out the legal situation a bit and you can say what you think about this. In a spill and fill process where, say, 10 people are spilled and there are 3 positions to fill, external candidates cannot be considered for these 3 positions. The spilled have legal rights that exclude this. The spilled have a redeployment right so they compete against those who were spilled for the spots to fill. It might be wrong for external candidates to apply, but my understanding is that they cannot.*

It’s a Hunger Games situation, so I think the following is probably fair to say:
It is clear that some need these jobs more than others do because of personal circumstance, so it might be immoral for someone who doesn’t need the position to remain employed to fight for a job when, say, that person cannot relocate. My hope is that that won’t happen. Some people might think that it would be wrong to try to remain with an employer who mistreats their staff like this. I have some sympathy for this line, but I will apply for one of the positions unless it’s clear that I’d potentially rob a colleague of a position they need more. If I run up against (1), I’ll either leave my new home or change jobs and potentially leave the profession.
* Right, so the asterisk. ACU is recruiting people for new positions in different areas. They’re too poor to pay the philosophers, but they seem to have plans to hire in law and business (hints of this are buried in the thematic review). How can they afford this? Well, they seem to have freed up some funds. I think it’s probably wrong to some degree to apply for those jobs. And I definitely think the academic world should boycott ACU until Zlatko Skrbis and co. are gone. So much of academia runs on good will. Show ACU none of it. Treat them like a pariah and send a note every once in a while to explain why you’re doing that.

Matt L
7 months ago

3 Teaching and Research level B/C …

If the levels are similar to other places I’ve worked in Australia, these are “lecturer/senior lecturer” positions. These don’t exactly line up w/ US academic ranks, but “lecturer” is basically similar to an assistant professor, and “senior lecturer” is somewhat like a relatively junior associate professor. (The D/E positions are likely Associate Professor and Professor, but “Professor”, while not as rare as such ranks used to be in the UK, is less common than in the US, or so it seems to me.) So, those three positions are fairly junior rank ones, one that would almost certainly entail a pay and status cut for most, probably all, of the people at the Dianoia Institute, at least if the ranks are being used in the way I’m familiar with from other Australian institutions.

Jessica Wolfendale
Reply to  Matt L
7 months ago

That’s exactly right – I was a Level B as a Postdoc at the University of Melbourne, so Level B is basically entry-level Assistant Professor and C is more like advanced Assistant Professor.

Brian
Brian
Reply to  Jessica Wolfendale
7 months ago

Woah, just a minute. Senior Lecturer (level C) is not a junior position. Many accomplished academics in Australia and the UK have retired at Senior Lecturer/level C. So Matt L and Jessica are wrong. Part of the problem in Australian universities is that we have three systems of classification: the British system (Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader, Professor); the alphabet system (A – E); and now the three-fold American classification. I don’t see any need to ape the Americans, the alphabet system is not very illuminating, so best just to stick to the British system, in deference to our colonial origins.

Matt L
Reply to  Brian
7 months ago

Note that I didn’t say “Senior lectuerer” was an “entry level” position – I said it was like a relatively junior associate professor in the US. (I was hired as a senior lecturer when I moved to Australia.) My impression, from looking at a lot of job adds here, is that the “alphabet” designations are used, primarily, as salary scales, and lecturer/senior lecturer/associate professor/professor are used as titles. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone classified as a “reader” here – certainly not in law, but also don’t think I’ve ever met an Australian philosopher w/ the title. No one in philosophy has it at, say, U Melbourne, Sydney, ANU, or Monash. It’s not common, in any case.) But my point is that it’s certain that being offered a job at the “B” level, and almost certain that being offered a job at the “C” level, would involve a significant pay cut and a demotion for anyone at the Dianoia Institute, so it seems to me to be misleading to count those jobs as being “saved”. If your job is only “saved” if you take a significant pay cut and a demotion, it’s not obvious that it’s “saved” at all.

Brian
Brian
Reply to  Matt L
7 months ago

I repeat: it is not like a “relatively junior associate prof” position. And the term Reader was used only a few years ago in Aussie universities, but I agree you don’t hear it so much now.

Jeanette kennett
Jeanette kennett
Reply to  Matt L
7 months ago

Further, the conditions of these jobs is an issue. Academics at ACU do not have an as of right research fraction. They don’t get the standard 40/40/20. They have to apply (beg) for a research loading regularly and this is, of course, made into a very time consuming task. Teaching loads are much higher than are standard in Australia and all Australian academics have to do truckloads of pointless admin, loaded onto us by management who need to justify their existence by inventing tasks for us to perform.

Rachael
Rachael
Reply to  Jeanette kennett
7 months ago

Yes this^^^ The positions being offered here involve a significant change in conditions from research intensive roles to ones which are likely to be almost entirely teaching focused, so not just involve a drop in pay/Academic status. This is significant for many reasons but particularly because the offer of research intensive roles was why many of those at Dianoia left other very good jobs elsewhere.

Steve Finlay
Steve Finlay
Reply to  Matt L
7 months ago

To avoid spread of misinformation, it is not currently my sense that the levels/ranks of the new positions will be disadvantageous to most who seek to remain. My colleagues eligible for redeployment range from Level C to Level E, and I’ve heard it said that no-one will be expected to take a drop in rank. However, the conditions of these jobs are certainly worse than those on our existing contracts. We are likely to lose our guaranteed individual research funds, those with salary loadings (above base salary) might also face losing those. Although ACU recently raised the requirements for being “research-only” to be effectively unattainable for humanities scholars, these new positions are explicitly teaching positions, so being research-only (which was how we were all recruited to ACU) is off the table.

Matt L
Reply to  Steve Finlay
7 months ago

Thanks, Steve. Looking at the staff list, the “senior fellows” now might well want to apply for the C level, but no one above that level would, and, given that there are, according to the above, there are only two spots above that level, those people would only have two spots, not five, to apply for. That was one of my points, though perhaps made less than clearly.

Steve Finlay
Steve Finlay
Reply to  Matt L
7 months ago

Thanks Matt, yes you’re right, I was too quick to rule out the (quite strong) possibility that there may not be enough positions at D/E to accommodate all my colleagues at those ranks that choose to apply to the EOI.

LCF
LCF
Reply to  Matt L
7 months ago

It’s not my business, but as someone who has been following this and a little emotionally invested, I am confused: aren’t the research fellows B level and senior research fellows C level at the institute? Why would (almost) everyone be taking a demotion?

Matt L
Reply to  LCF
7 months ago

LCF – there are 6 people (other than SF) at the Associate Professor or Professor level at the Dianoia Ist., but only 2 positions at that level. The post talks about their being “five jobs”, but only 2 of those jobs are open to those 6 people unless they applied at a lower level. (Of couse, there are 7 people at the B/C level, who might hope for those three spots at that level, too.)

Ora Gelley
Ora Gelley
Reply to  Steve Finlay
6 months ago

While I’m very sympathetic to your position and what you are saying, the implication that it is “normal” to have a research only position in the humanities is a bit absurd. I don’t know of _any_ places in the US that have 20 “research only” positions. What ACU is doing is reprehensible. However, I also feel they probably should not have, in the first place, created the institute. It seems to me (not understanding the situation, except from afar) that promising 20 philosophers lifetime permanent research only positions at a time when almost all universities (in the US, Western Europe, Australia, the UK) are drastically cutting even positions that have a small research component seems very irresponsible to me. Is ACU known for doing this kind of thing,historically?