National

ANU Asian language budget cuts see top academics placed on fixed-term contracts

Esteemed international language scholar and Sanskrit expert McComas Taylor is considering leaving the Australian National University after being told he and five other senior language academics will be forced onto three-year contracts.

Associate Professor McComas Taylor says, "There has never been worse morale, and people are angry and upset."
Associate Professor McComas Taylor says, "There has never been worse morale, and people are angry and upset."  Photo: Jamila Toderas

The National Tertiary Education Union last week notified ANU management of a formal dispute under the Enterprise Agreement relating to staff and budget cuts within the School of Culture, History and Languages within the College of Asia and the Pacific.

The union said the university had failed to properly apply clauses around job security and management change and had failed to provide staff with the financial modelling used to underpin budget and job cuts despite numerous requests.

The Union's ACT Divison Secretary Rachael Bahl said "We will be opposing the outrageous suggestion that continuing academics be moved to fixed-term contracts.  This proposal is based on the notion that an internal financial transfer counts as outside funding.  It is a breach of the enterprise agreement waiting to happen."

Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific Professor Veronica Taylor countered that there had been "substantial consultation with staff in the lead up to and since the publication of the formal change proposal" and financial information had been presented at a staff forum on December 14, and at Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt's meeting with staff on February 8.  In addition, a briefing has also been organised in response to requests for additional financial information which is scheduled for Thursday April 7 – although the union said that this was "farcical" given the consultation period ends on Tuesday. 

Advertisement

Students and staff will hold a rally at Union Court on Tuesday at 12:30 to protest the changes, while Dr Taylor said he was now considering his future at the ANU.

He has spent over a decade at the ANU and his teaching is recognised as among the best in the university – he has won a swag of awards including the 2012 ANU Commendation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning and the 2011 ANU College of Asia and Pacific Award for a Program that Enhances Student Learning.

Last month the university announced 15 staff would go under a change management plan which would also see six senior academics in the less commonly taught languages of Sanskrit, Hindi, Thai and Vietnamese moved from secure appointments to three-year contracts.

Meanwhile the languages of Javanese and Tibetan have already been axed this year are a cost-cutting measure.

Dr Taylor said this would see an end to excellence in Asian Studies as few students would commit to them if they were not sure they could complete their course under their preferred lecturer.

He warned post-doctoral students would be the most at risk – ending a long record of excellence in research within languages at the ANU and ending the university's original charter to engage with its neighbours.

The ANU's founding legislation, the 1946 National University Act, stipulated the need for research in subjects "of national importance to Australia" including studies of the Pacific and Asia.

"We are the only university in Australia that provides a major in most of these languages. And students have always been attracted to excellence and to the ANU's formerly stellar reputation in Asian Studies. Now some students are already talking about leaving," Dr Taylor said.

Dr Taylor warned languages would be taught by non-specialists with a smattering of knowledge and native speaking PhD students from other disciplines.

"It is written into our foundation charter that we exist so we can speak to our neighbours and we have led the field since 1948. Already the word of what's happening at the ANU has spread beyond our shores, reducing the reputation of the university and Australia more broadly in diplomatic circles."

"There has never been worse morale, and people are angry and upset. One of most hurtful things for us is the continual flow of lofty aspirations from the university while this proposal will undermine and destroy those precise aspirations".

Dr Taylor said he and his colleagues had heeded previous calls for them to bolster student numbers in the school while also maintaining a prodigious research output.

Ten years ago he began his Sanskrit course with six students. This year he has 40 fee-paying students and another 14 students through the audit program.

"Teaching languages, just like teaching music, is an expensive exercise. Frankly, if the ANU wants the prestige of being a national leader and national provider in languages it will need to support them."

4 comments

Comment are now closed