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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