Fifteen academic positions will be axed from the Australian National University's esteemed School of Culture, History and Language, which will also be renamed as part of an overhaul to rein in costs.
Staff were informed of the decision on Thursday afternoon, after months of speculation over potential job losses in the face of a $1.5 million deficit last year.
But the plan will also see six extra positions created in administration to help run the new school.
An external review of the major languages teaching school within the College of Asia and the Pacific was completed in August last year, recommending sweeping changes to governance, courses – including the popular Bachelor of Asian Studies – and the increasing use of online teaching for some languages.
More than 100 staff working in the school were presented with the change management document on Thursday, and they have been given two weeks to take part in consultation before moves to phase out the positions are completed by May.
The document stated that "It is anticipated that there may be up to a maximum of 15 academic staff members who may not be able to be directly appointed into the new departmental structure. It is proposed that these staff members work with ANU HR Division and their representatives to individually negotiate arrangements within the job security provisions."
"Any staff reductions within the school will be managed and achieved through the following principles and in accordance with the ANU Enterprise Agreement: fixed term pre-retirement contracts; voluntary conversion to part time employment, secondment or internal transfer; redeployment; voluntary separations, including voluntary redundancies and natural attrition."
Students who lost their academic supervision under the plan would be advised in person by senior management and "consideration will be given to arranging ongoing associations or affiliations."
Affected staff would be asked if they wanted to continue their supervision arrangements with current or intending higher degree research students and the university would cover any financial costs involved.
The National Tertiary Education Union said it would "work with the university to ensure staff are treated fairly and are redeployed wherever possible – redundancies should be a last resort," according to ACT division secretary Rachael Bahl.
But affected staff described the cuts as a direct attack on excellence in research or teaching in Asian or Pacific Studies, which was acknowledged as the jewel in the ANU's crown.
The cuts would also have a devastating effect on language teaching, they said.
Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific Professor Veronica Taylor told staff: "The journey to this final stage of designing and implementing change has been long and considered, and I recognise that it has been difficult for many colleagues."
"We acknowledge that the proposed structure may result in transition to new roles for some School staff, including departure from the university, and that this will be difficult. I reaffirm my personal commitment to work with each person who may be affected by this proposed change, with care and regard for their individual circumstances and professional reputation."
The proposed structure includes the establishment of a new school, which is still to be named. It will comprise four new departments – Languages, Histories, Cultures and Environments – as proposed within last year's strategic plan.
The school is one of the ANU's strongest research performers, housing four staff with prestigious Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowships – the highest number of such fellowships in any school. It also has seven Future Fellows, two Distinguished Outstanding researchers, a number of Discovery Early Career Researchers and a large group of past and present Discovery Project chief investigators.
Last year's international review panel suggested it was victim of its own success, with the focus on high level research hampering its cost-effectiveness in teaching undergraduates.
Six new administrative roles were announced as part of the overhaul "designed to provide high level support to the academic endeavours and business operations of the new school."
Professor Taylor said "the professional staff team designs builds on requests in (the) Strategic Plan and the recent review of the College Student Centre, to provide the required skills and support for the proposed new academic departments and enhanced higher degree research student services."