La Trobe University’s “Future Ready” restructuring commenced over the last 2 days. My School of Economics was dished out its medicine today.
The current School will become part of a Department of Finance and Economics (the lack of alphabetical ordering in the 2 components is significant). Proposed staff cuts in economics are from 28 to 10 faculty. Is that a bloodbath or a restructuring?
The current four professors in the School will be reduced to 1, the 5 Associate Professors will be cut to 2 with smaller cuts as academic level decreases – the only faculty member guaranteed a position in the new structure is an “Associate Lecturer”. Everyone else must lodge a request for a position in the diminished structure.
This will certainly save money for La Trobe because cuts are concentrated among the more expensive top positions. Of course this also means discarding the strongest CVs and those with most teaching and research experience. I cannot understand however how a cohesive academic program can be developed with so few positions. In my view the minimum viable number would be 18 faculty but as staff are already fully employed in terms of the university’s own workload model the optimal figure is above that. How can a business area in Australia function effectively without a strong economics presence? In addition, in my view, the economics area should be a separate department. As there are still opportunities to revisit the structural changes proposed these changes to the proposed plans should be a target.
I am unsure how to respond myself. I currently supervise 2 PhDs and am supposed to teach two courses next semester as well as help with a third. The decisions today were a bombshell for me because my sense of the value of an economics qualification is strong and I see these moves as undermining that.
The Australian makes some brief general comments. I’ll add more if I see them.
Here is a more recent article on the devastating cuts to economics at La Trobe. One question to reasonably ask is where the evidence is for a switch away from economics at other Australian universities? This is now an explicitly stated rationale for the cuts. There is a difference between a collapse in demand and a shift toward a service role for economics. This shift occurred at La Trobe 10 years ago. It is also difficult to understand how moves that have taken away core units from the economics curriculum after 2011, that have occurred at La Trobe, have anything at all to do with a collapse in demand. Finally, one can ask whether students at non-G8 universities are to be denied access to professional training in economics.