Message from AMSI regarding proposed cuts at Victoria University

The new director of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, Geoff Prince, has written an open letter to the Vice Chancellor and President of Victoria University, Elizabeth Harman, regarding the proposed severe cuts in the mathematics and statistics departments (from 8.5 FTE to 4.5 FTE) through targeted. (We posted about these cuts in a previous post.)

Concerted pressure of this type by the mathematical community can make a difference; strong protests over similar actions by the University of Southern Queensland resulted in a significant reduction in the staff cuts, and USQ afterwards hired several maths and stats faculty (including one who had they made redundant!) after they realised that the cuts that they did enact left them unable to fulfill their mathematical teaching obligations.

The letter is provided in full below the fold.  (Reproduced with permission.)

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The mathematics change plan at VU

Alasdair McAndrew crunches through the numbers of the proposed “Mathematics Change Plan” at Victoria University, which plans to cut the number of mathematics staff in half, while reducing mathematics teaching by about ten percent, and finds the numbers do not add up: the actual number of teaching hours put in by the staff (2550 hours/year)  is about 20% larger than is stated in the plan, and with the proposed cuts (from 7.5 FTE to 4.5), it would not be possible to cover all these hours with staff and casuals, given that the university limits casual teaching to 20% of the total.  Also, the current salary costs of the school are less than 75% of the income earned from enrolments in maths and stats subjects, which sits oddly with the claim that the cuts in mathematics are due to enrolment declines (there are indeed declines in the number of CS majors, but this is a rather small fraction of enrolments in mathematics-related classes in all).

These findings are consistent with previous claims about the faulty data behind the change plan.  Hopefully the administration will make some effort to address these claims before proceeding further with the plan.

Claims VU’s maths cut doesn’t add up

In the article “Claims VU’s maths cut doesn’t add up” in yesterday’s Australian by Andrew Trounson, comes the disturbing news that the draft “change plan” at Victoria University (part of its larger plan of voluntary and targeted redundancies to address its budgetary shortfall) will cut mathematics staff in the School of Engineering and Science (which was a recent merger of the engineering, computer science, and mathematics schools) in half from ten to five, while only reducing mathematics teaching by ten percent (and for some majors, such as engineering, the mathematics requirements are in fact going up).  It appears that the administration is hoping to use casuals or faculty from other departments to take on much of the service mathematics teaching.  While it is somewhat positive to see that the nominal amount of mathematics teaching is not being severely cut, the effect of the proposed staff cuts on the quality of that teaching, and on the workloads of the staff, are likely to be negative.

The parallels with the situation at the University of Southern Queensland last year are rather striking in this regard.  It is worth noting that the USQ administration eventually had to advertise several mathematics and statistics positions to cover their teaching, due to the number of staff leaving either voluntarily or involuntarily during their restructuring process.  Hopefully the VU administrative process will not be as short-sighted.

As with USQ, the cuts seem to be disproportionately falling on mathematics;  back in October it announced a plan to eliminate 250 staff campus-wide, including about a quarter of the academic staff.  The cuts seem to be prompted in part by a drop in computer science enrollments (which are aggregated into the mathematics enrollment statistics); a change plan for that department is supposed to appear soon.  (Ironically, the computer science masters program, which has seen one of the larger drops in enrollment, has a negligible mathematics requirement.)

Victoria University is home, among other things, to the Research Group in Mathematical Inequalities and Applications (RGMIA), as one of its specialist Research Centres in the Faculty of Health, Engineering, and Science research, and which publishes the Journal of Inequalities in Pure and Applied Mathematics; in December 2007, it was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Peak Award for Excellence in Research and Research Training.  It is proposed that the RGMIA is to lose a professor and lecturer position, with three full time teaching staff being cut from the rest of the department.

If any readers have any further news to share on this story, or more links and information to supplement the ones in this post, it would be great if they could be posted as a comment here.

[Update, June 17: see also this analysis of the mathematics change plan by Alasdair McAndrew, one of the staff at the VU maths department.  And here is an opinion by a VU student in computer science and maths.]

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