Students at La Trobe University in Melbourne are up in arms, fearful of the proposed organisational restructuring of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Last month the University released its Organisational Change Impact Statement (OCIS) which plans to push the Faculty towards a more sustainable future which means cutting approximately 45 jobs and as well as whole programs due to low enrolment and budgetary issues.
The announcement of the proposed cuts came as a shock to Dr Carlos Uxo, lecturer and current coordinator of the Spanish Program, as just three months ago he had discussed with the Faculty the possibility of adding an extra staff member. Now, the Department could face the removal of one staff member from a team of three, one third of the department.
"My view is that you should only cut departments that have losses" says Dr Uxo. The La Trobe Spanish program is extremely popular with student number doubling from five years ago and this year having a predicted surplus of half a million dollars. Dr Uxo believes Spanish is, apart from Chinese, the healthiest language program at La Trobe.
Spanish students were quick to react and speak up in defence of the Department. A Facebook page Save the La Trobe Spanish Department was set up and students were quick to create petitions and started letter writing to the University management.
Current PhD student Anastasia Clendinnen, organised a meeting with the Dean to plead the case for the Department. She has also compiled a portfolio of Spanish students, past and present, detailing their experiences and achievements in Spanish to highlight the quality of the program and positive impact the Spanish staff have as mentors.
She claims that research has shown more students are dropping out of University for social reasons rather than academic ones. When talking to other students she noticed that many were emphasising the strong sense community in the program. La Sociedad, the Spanish society at La Trobe often runs socials events for students in which the staff are regularly involved. "The Spanish staff do a really good job of valuing academic excellence and pushing you towards that, while still being really supportive and having a community focus."
Anastasia highlighted the importance and impact of the current staff structure to the success of the Spanish Program. They have won various awards for excellence in teaching and have diverse research interests from pedagogy to post-colonial literature. Speaking from her own experiences she feels that, "If anything, the University should be trying to hire another Carlos or Ana Maria or Isabel, rather than fire one of them. They are that much of an asset."
However, ultimately the decision of what is targeted in the cut will remain with the University. Management has insisted that the OCIS document is just a proposal with further revision required. They have run a number of student forums and have accepted feedback via email.
Professor Tim Murray, Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, has maintained that changes to the Faculty are necessary. He claims that "the reality is students have been telling us for years that traditional arts degrees are no longer sufficiently enticing and relevant" (The Age, No 'barbarians', just faculty fine-tuning, 17 July 2012).
Regardless of whether the Spanish Department comes under fire when the cuts are implemented, it will still be an unfortunate outcome for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences should any staff or programs disappear, as the University strives to adapt in a changing world.
By Sian Moore
Spanish Australia intern