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High Wired update: Climate of opinion

(From The Australian).

Blood on the floor in the dismal science: La Trobe economics professor Harry Clarke is calling it a “bloodbath”. The university is proposing to cut its economics school from 28 staff to just 10. And now everyone needs to bid for the positions that are left, including four professors battling it out over just one professorial position in the new structure. The news prompted sympathy from RMIT economist Sinclair Davidson who blogged, “There are some fine academic economists at La Trobe and there are tough times ahead for them. This is not a good time to be looking for an economics job. The public service is retrenching across highwired@theaustralian.com.au and sign up for the High Wired newsletter

An opportunity for rivals: The scale of the cuts and the seniority (three professors and three associate professors will be going) suggests La Trobe doesn’t seem to care much about maintaining its economics research profile. La Trobe economics rated a “3” on ERA, with only the Go8 and the excellent UTS recording better results. In Victoria, La Trobe is neck and neck with rival Deakin, which also scored a 3. La Trobe says its changes will ensure the discipline’s long term sustainability, but the danger is that La Trobe will end up with only a token presence and no profile, meaning students wanting the breadth that economics offers, as opposed to the more narrow utility of business and finance, will shun La Trobe as the natural alternative to Melbourne or Monash, and instead go to Deakin. On the positive side HW hears that Deakin, Swinburne and RMIT are all looking to build in economics, which is still the discipline that brings the most street cred to any business school or faculty. HW isn’t sure this is the best way for La Trobe to attract high ATAR students to its business faculty, but then maybe the target is vocationally focused students. Isn’t that Victoria University’s market? And aren’t they doing well. Not. It is the same market the fast moving privates will target come 2016. Gulp.

10 comments to High Wired update: Climate of opinion

  • Uncle Milton

    “And now everyone needs to bid for the positions that are left”

    Spill and fill is unfortunate but it has to be done this way under employment law.

  • hc

    Its not the law driving this because some positions have been allocated in other areas. These are compulsory redundancies so, in effect, the employer chooses. Declaring interest means nothing – even if you don’t you can be assigned a position.

  • Uncle Milton

    As I understand the law, if you’ve got 4 positions and want to cut three, you can’t just choose which person you keep. You have to allow all four incumbents to apply for the one position and have a fair process.

    Of course – and I am not saying Latrobe management is doing this – it is often the case that management knows which one they would prefer to keep.

  • conrad

    Of course, it’s also generally the case that in a cull like this, the last one left that management want to keep is probably going to be the first one to leave whenever possible since they will also be likely to be the first one able to get a new position easily — presumably excluding the possibility that this will now be a teaching vs. research area for La Trobe.

  • Uncle Milton

    In situations like this if you are confident you could get another position you put your hand out for the redundancy package and walk into another job. It’s a risk of course but they key is to negotiate another position while the redundancy process is taking place.

    If it’s true that Swinburne etc are looking to build and you’ve got a good CV then it’s a no brainer. Get yourself a new job, take the Latrobe money, buy yourself an expensive boat and text a photo of yourself on the boat to the VC with caption, “thanks, sucker”.

  • Robert Waschik

    I posted this below – it should have gone here …

    Like Harry, I work in the School of Economics at La Trobe. I have the course enrolment data for Economics and other courses here going back to 1990. There are two non-trivial errors in Andrew Trounson’s Higher Ed. article in The Australian.

    (i) in 1991, enrolment in the BEc was 434, not 930

    (ii) the sentence “La Trobe said the changes at economics were aimed at ensuring the sustainability of the discipline in the face of declining student enrolments” cannot possibly be correct, since economics enrolments have not fallen consistently … Using my enrolment data, if I run a regression of enrolments on time, with dummies and time-interacted dummies to control for the introduction of new courses like the Bachelors of Business and Finance in 1995, you find that enrolments in the BEc increased strongly from 1990 up to 1994. They then fell strongly after introduction of the BBus and BFin from 1995-1999 as these new programs cannibalized demand from the B.Ec. After introduction of the BEc/BAcc double degree program they continued to fall but at less than half the rate over the period 2000-2002. Since 2003, after introduction of the B.International Business, enrolment in the BEc has been roughly constant, increasing by .5 per year.

    This is ONLY the BEc – if you include the double-degree programs, the first of which was introduced in 1996, enrolment in Economics courses has been increasing.

  • Uncle Milton

    Presumably the idea is to keep enough economists around to teach basic and perhaps intermediate micro and macro to business students.

  • conrad

    I hadn’t heard Swinny was after economists (the VC isn’t exactly good at communication) — as far as I can tell, the business department is pretty awful, so good luck if anyone wants to go there.

    I think the problem with getting the redundancy package and taking another for many people would be loss aversion — the thought of being unemployed presumably scares many people who really would have a decent chance of getting a new job and profiting the difference, especially in academia where the jobs are slow to turn over. Thus the safer strategy is to just to forgo the redundancy and move when possible.

  • When a university teaching economics has to resort to this type of action you have to wonder about the top management. Perhaps they should be replaced!!!

  • Michael Harris

    Harry and Rob

    As a former LTU colleague, I’m very sorry to hear this. It sounds appalling. I thought things got ugly at my university a few years back. This sounds like a travesty.

    Best wishes to both of you and to your departmental colleagues.

    Michael

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