- Plans to cut faculties and positions voted on while some senate members were on leave
- Union, senior teach staff say important changes forced through
- University denies “secretive” tag, says changes passed by large margin
The Tertiary Education Union, alumni, and some senior teaching staff said the changes at the university, which is one of the wealthiest in the country, were forced through in a covert fashion.
The changes were voted on in the last meeting of the year for the University of Sydney senate, when many students had left for the break and others were engrossed in exams.
Even some of the senate’s members, known as fellows, had gone on leave, and one had recently passed away.
Several major changes were passed, among them, an extensive restructure of the faculties and changes to the senate itself.
Michael Thomson, president of the University of Sydney branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), said the chancellor sent out a message to all staff at 11:55pm during the Christmas break.
“[He] announced that the senate had decided it was going with some of the changes to radically reduce the number of faculties and also, even more alarming, radically reduce the number of elected fellows on the senate, the governing body of the university,” Mr Thomson said.
The changes to the number of faculties had been flagged all year, but it was also reported that the number of undergraduate degrees offered at the university could be reduced from 122 to as few as 20.
Double degrees were expected to be reduced under the proposal, while expensive four-year undergraduate degrees would become more common.
The particulars of the restructure have not been announced, but Mr Thomson compared it to the so-called Melbourne model, which led to job cuts at Melbourne University.
“Clearly, the university management think by doing this that they will be able to reduce staff, particularly administrative staff,” Mr Thomson said.
“At the moment, we’re all overworked, academics’ workloads are enormous.
“Many of us in administration got back, we don’t have space to do our jobs properly.”
Sydney University course quality at risk: academic
Mr Thomson said he was also worried about the effect the changes would have on course quality.
“One of the faculties with lots of students and lots of enrolments, education and social work, is being dumped into arts and social science,” he said.
“Education and social work has a distinct academic project and it’s just all been flatlined, if you like.”
The second major change, which was not widely discussed ahead of the meeting, was the decision to abolish the majority of the elected positions on the senate, including all alumni-voted places and two staff-voted positions.
It was this move which Mr Thomson labelled undemocratic.
“It’s not only democratic control, it’s also community input. Both are very, very concerning to us,” he said.
Michael Copeman, who had been an elected alumni fellow for 14 years, said it was part of a much bigger trend of corporatising the management of the university.
“We have to be realistic and say the university is a public institution and it needs to have a broad governance body rather than a body that includes mainly people who’ve served on company boards or in company executive positions,” Dr Copeman said.
Professor Christopher Murphy, a current fellow of the University of Sydney senate and the head of the school of medical sciences, said he did not see why these changes needed to be done in secret.
“I don’t understand why that sort of thing, which involves disenfranchising a group of people, should be done in secret,” he said.
The minutes of that meeting, which were initially published online, are now missing.
University denies meeting was held in secret
In a statement issued to the ABC, the University of Sydney denied the changes were in any way secretive.
“Contrary to suggestions otherwise, there was no surprise that the matter of the senate’s composition would be considered at its scheduled December meeting,” the statement said.
“The decision was passed by a large margin of 16 to three.
“It is simply nonsensical that a December meeting of senate ought not to make decisions because the university shuts down for a fortnight over the Christmas period beginning December 17 — especially given the topic had been under consideration throughout 2015.
“With regards to the minutes of the meeting, an incorrect version of the senate meeting minutes from December 14 was placed online and then updated.
“As is usual senate practice, the minutes are available online after they have been approved by the following meeting of the senate.”
The changes to course structure are not expected to come into effect until 2017.