THE Newcastle Herald recently revealed that the University of Newcastle is attempting to force redundancies across the disciplines of Economics, Politics, International Business and Tourism.
Management's proposal, or 'consultation paper', strongly resembles that used in September 2017 to make redundant another group of highly regarded academics, effectively closing Philosophy and decimating Classics.
It is the fifth proposal of significant changes affecting jobs to be launched in recent months, including changes to the Academic Division, IT services, PVC Unit Engineering and a review of the university's Port Macquarie campus.
While the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) is prepared to acknowledge that some of these changes have had some more positive aspects, we remain concerned that the increasing number of change proposals represents a return to the restructuring mania that has been part and parcel of the university over recent years.
This ongoing restructuring has created growing levels of job insecurity and concern among the university community and has not been to the advantage of staff, students and wider university stakeholders.
The university is in strong financial health, as shown by its financial statements in recent years.
Looking ahead, plans for expansive construction work abound. The university is budgeting $200 million for one new building alone at Callaghan.
Further construction is slated for the city also.
Against that backdrop, management's proposal for the university's Newcastle Business School seeks instead to paint a picture of dire financial problems as a rationale for the proposed job cuts.
We have heard management crying poor before.
The alleged financial problem is based on a series of assumptions of a sudden drop in demand for certain business programs.
These assumptions are open to dispute and not evidenced in the proposal.
Management can do better.
Even entertaining management's financial assumptions, there is no reason to conclude that redundancies are the answer.
Nevertheless the proposal, which arrived with no warning, and which allows only three weeks for staff consultation, proposes cuts carrying significant long-term ramifications. Staff work creatively and with commitment, over long periods, to grow scholarly communities that benefit students through their education, and wider society through research.
We remain concerned that the increasing number of change proposals represents a return to the restructuring mania that has been part and parcel of the university over recent years.
Researchers' and lecturers' expertise and commitment is a large part of what makes the University of Newcastle distinctive - and this is recognised in our community, nationally, and in international league tables.
Newcastle is a top-flight institution, and our record and reputation is anchored by the work of our excellent staff.
And it's worth noting the increasing pressures staff have faced in recent years.
Staff in the affected disciplines have experienced increases in teaching load of at least one third over the past decade.
High rates of casual and fixed-term employment among academic, teaching and professional staff across university has also contributed to growing workload demands, as well as increasing pressures for staff in both their professional and personal lives.
Putting in bluntly: for some time now, staff have been doing a great deal of unwaged work due to high workloads.
Cutting staff would only exacerbate workload for those who remain.
Budgets are always expressions of values.
Through budgets we allocate dollars to things we value, and we withhold dollars from things we don't value.
Change proposals that result in cuts to secure jobs and the intensification of workloads offer important insights into management's priorities and thinking.
It also invites reflection on what serves as the core of a university.
If there is a financial crisis, then perhaps it is time to think about priorities.
Prescriptions for a reduction in teaching and research capacity do not benefit the university, its students, or our wider community.
We encourage management to instead turn its attention to proposals that align with an inspiring vision for all that a university can be.