Hopes Australian National University will re-think cuts
There is growing anger in academic circles at cuts being made to Pacific Studies at the Australiann National University.
Petitions are circulating around the world seeking to save Pacific studies at the Australian National University in Canberra.
Faced with an operating shortfall the ANU management has cut heavily into the School of Culture, History and Language, with Pacific history suffering significantly.
It comes on the back of earlier cuts to the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia program.
Recently retired Dr Brij Lal, who spent 25 years at the ANU, told Don Wiseman it is vital one of the strengths of the university is not destroyed.
BRIJ LAL: The School of Culture, History and Language where most of Pacific studies is done has had to shed 15 positions in the areas of Asia and Pacific Studies, but the particularly significant impact of that has been on Pacific history. Now the discipline of Pacific History was founded at the ANU in the 1950s. And it is the world's premier centre for historical Pacific research. There is no other university in the world which matches the ANU in the breadth and quality of its research in this field. So I think the future of Pacific History and Pacific studies generally at ANU are in grave danger.
DON WISEMAN: Why has it been done?
BL: This is a mystery. There was a financial crisis facing the School of Culture, History and Language, but the nature of the financial difficulties were never really, properly explained to the faculty. I don't think the faculty was taken into confidence in dealing with this issue, so what the university decided was to save money, they would have to shed 15 positions across the board, without really understanding the significance of some areas and the importance of certain positions in certain disciplines, particularly in the field of Pacific History and Pacific Studies.
DW: Effectively the university management no longer values this whole area of Pacific academia.
BL: What they don't fully appreciate is that many people who have devoted their entire lives to Pacific Studies at the ANU are concerned. We are as concerned to protect the reputation of the university and the integrity of the programmes that it offers as the management, so I think an 'us versus them' mentality is hugely counterproductive. Pacific researchers are concerned to find a way forward that does not destroy the foundations of one of the strengths of the ANU. I mean the ANU's distinctive strength is in the area of Asia Pacific Studies. It is the only university in Australia which has such cohort of researchers and graduate students. That is its flagship. And I don't think that is officially appreciated by the ANU management.
DW: Do you think there is any way back from this? I know there are a number of petitions circulating, and as you say there these issues in other associated areas, like the State, Society and Governance. What will happen as a result of those petitions do you think?
BL: Well I think the first thing is the university has to realise the petition has been signed by people right across the board and people of great distinction in the field. There is concern, widespread across Australia and indeed the world about what is happening at ANU. And I just hope that instead of adopting this 'us versus them' mentality that the university would listen to the voices of people who are concerned about Pacific studies, who are concerned about ANU's reputation in this field and wish ANU all the best, but in a way that the management should work cooperatively with the sector, to identify areas that can be shed but not the critical part of the ANU's Asia Pacific offering, and that is Pacific studies and Pacific history, more specifically.
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