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Open Letter To Save The Humanities And Social Sciences At Massey University

An open letter to oppose the proposed cuts to 30% of academic staff in the Humanities and Social Science Schools at Massey University.

Update 19 December: The preliminary decision was released yesterday and the number of job cuts have actually increased to 54 permanent jobs from the initial restructuring proposal. The feedback from concerned staff, students and others was largely ignored. Hence there is still an urgent need for people to sign this letter.

We are seeking your support to save the humanities and social sciences at Massey University, and to urge that Massey senior leadership call a halt to the drastic redundancies they are currently proposing, and consider alternatives to cutting jobs. The damage will be irreparable.

Possibly the largest cuts to a university in Aotearoa New Zealand history
 

These proposed cuts are part of a wider restructure of Massey University. Across the university, over 280 permanent jobs have either been cut (including voluntary redundancies), or are currently proposed to be cut, in 2023. These proposed job losses are possibly the biggest of any university in Aotearoa New Zealand's history. They will lead to a brain drain of talented academics and students, curtail essential research and teaching, further erode the critic and conscience role of universities, and affect local communities (especially Palmerston North).

Massey is a public institution, not a business
 

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Massey University is a public institution. It is part of the state sector like public schools and hospitals, and is mainly taxpayer funded. It should not be managed as a profit-seeking business. It is tasked with all sorts of crucially important roles that differ fundamentally from those performed by businesses. Among other things, we educate people to make sense of things: themselves; others; the societies they come from and in which they live; and the connections between past, present, and future. We help people to think for themselves, question authority, and realise their potential. Equipping students with vocational skills is only one aspect of the educational process.

The extent of the cuts to the humanities and social sciences
 

In the impacted humanities and social science schools, Massey senior management are proposing to cut about 50 permanent academic positions, or nearly 30% of all academic staff in these schools, including voluntary redundancies. A further 26 fixed-term academics have been informed their contracts probably will not be renewed over the next year or two. The disciplines that are most impacted are crucial fields, including those focussed on the highly complex social, political, and cultural issues facing society today, yet some of these programmes are facing proposed cuts of up to 50% of staff. This will mean we face a vast loss of research and teaching expertise and deepening levels of precarity and inequality inside Massey as ongoing positions become casualised to cover the workload. If the cuts go ahead, the humanities and social sciences at Massey will likely never recover from them.

The role of the humanities and social sciences at Massey
 

What makes our universities particularly important – for staff, students, and the public – is the vast range of what is researched and taught. The humanities and social sciences also play a crucial role at Massey University, and in broader Aotearoa New Zealand society, as according to Section 268 of the Education and Training Act 2020, New Zealand universities are tasked with being the critic and conscience of society. We are an innovative and important College which offers students a diverse range of crucial subjects, including English, history, languages, theatre, sociology, and geography. Everyone we teach – from the members of the armed forces to migrants who are learning English and the many distance students who are not able to move and study on campuses in main centres – will be impacted. We teach students invaluable skills including critical thinking, the value of active citizenship, communication and writing skills, and the ability to comprehend various cultures. We research little-known but important subjects in-depth, as well as addressing big challenges including climate change, conflict, poverty, and inequalities of all kinds. We are proud to count among our staff many award-winning academics and students who have excelled in their research and teaching. This research does not occur anywhere other than universities.

Teaching and research impacts of the proposed cuts
 

These proposed cuts will have a significant impact on teaching. Employers often favour humanities and social science graduates over others for their flexibility, problem solving, ability to read widely, capability to think critically and construct arguments step by step, and ability to think cross-culturally. Our ability to provide this important education will be at risk with this proposal. These proposed cuts are so severe they will mean some programmes will not be viable going forward, and may be cut altogether in the future, or sharply reduced in size, leaving current students in precarious positions, and limiting options for future students.

Proposed cuts not only put our teaching programmes at risk. Our standing as a research institution is also under threat. Staff whose jobs are at risk of disestablishment and who may be forced into competitive re-applications include many working on significant research projects with obligations to government, iwi, business, community organisations, and other stakeholders here and internationally. This includes those with or who have secured prestigious current Marsden and other research funding to produce major research outputs, or have had recent major funding. Our research is vital to many groups – not just students, but also the business sector, government bodies, community groups, different ethnicities, and so on. As a statutory critic and conscience of society and a “repository of knowledge and expertise” we provide media commentary around international events like the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, and the general election. The proposed cuts will be to the detriment of the Te Tiriti aspirations of the university. If they proceed, many researchers working with iwi and hapū may be made redundant, as would be many teachers working hard to revise courses to reflect Māori perspectives and knowledge.

Let's call for a halt to these cuts and consideration of alternatives
 

Humanities and social sciences at Massey have often punched above weight globally. We have contributed to academic and public knowledge in history, sociology, languages, philosophy, media studies, geography, anthropology, planning, politics, and many other fields. We research not only Aotearoa New Zealand, but also the broader Pacific and beyond, and teach a wide cohort of local and international students. This proposal cuts to the heart of those contributions.

In summary, we call for your support for Massey senior leadership to stop their proposed cuts, and reconsider other options to grow Massey instead. Cuts will lead to a cycle of decline. If they proceed, there will be a crippling loss of research and teaching capability and diversity. Students and staff will leave, and local communities will be impacted economically and culturally. We need to grow Massey, not cut it back.
 

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