The Australian Association for Pacific Studies has written to the Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, Professor Brian Schmidt, to express its concern about the loss of positions in Pacific Studies.
Professor Brian Schmidt
The Australian National University
Canberra ACT 2601
Dear Vice- Chancellor,
Re: Australian Association for Pacific Studies concerns about the loss of Pacific Studies academics located in the School of Culture, History and Language
Research in Pacific Studies has long been a core strength of the Australian National University, and has historically been regarded as central to its role as a national university. The Australian Association for Pacific Studies (AAPS) strongly condemns the recently announced cuts in funding for staff in the field of Pacific Studies at the ANU. The Association remains concerned that these cuts will have prolonged, detrimental effects on the capacity of the Australian National University to engage in research and teaching on the Pacific region.
The Australian Association for Pacific Studies was formed in 2004 with the aim of advocating for the international excellence of Australian research and teaching in Pacific Studies, and of promoting public knowledge of the region and the study of Australia-Pacific relations. Our membership includes scholars from across Australia as well as from across the region—many of whom studied Pacific Studies at ANU—and who engage with diverse fields including anthropology, gender, geography, health, history, law, literature/cultural studies, media studies, linguistics, museums/cultural heritage, the arts, political science, sociology, adult education, sustainable agriculture and community development. The AAPS recognises and asserts both the particular significance of the Pacific region for Australia, and the particular responsibilities that Australia has to its Pacific neighbours. Australia is bound to the Pacific neighbours through rich histories of migration and exchange—including histories that long pre-date ‘Australia’ as a nation-state.
Australia’s relationship with our Pacific neighbours is defined by patterns of cultural exchange and through significant economic relationships, as well as through our geographical proximities and through shared ecological vulnerabilities that will only increase in the face of climate change. These relationships are defined by complex colonial histories, including Australia’s own colonial interventions within the region, which are already underrepresented in this country’s national narratives as well as in its school and university curricula. The recognition of this particular significance of the Pacific region for Australia drove the investment in and expansion of Pacific Studies in the post-WWII period. It is this significance that is now being run roughshod over by this wave of funding cuts, and with it the recognition—felt keenly by the post-war policymakers (Lal 2006)—that a successful, productive, and ethical Australian engagement with the Pacific must be founded in deep understanding of the region.
Nationally, the AAPS is concerned that the recent cuts to Pacific scholars in the School of Culture, History and Language, signal and reflect a withdrawal of sustained investment in scholarly engagement with the Pacific region. This is profoundly short sighted, and it will be damaging to the future of Australia’s relationships—cultural, political, intellectual, and economic—with our Pacific neighbours. Our members remain concerned that the effects of the cuts to the School of Culture, History and Language, will be multiple and severe. They include, but certainly are not limited to:
- The loss to the ANU of high calibre, leading scholars in the field of Pacific Studies. These include Dr Vicki Luker, lecturer and executive editor of The Journal of Pacific History, ARC Future Fellow Stuart Bedford, Associate Professor Paul D’Arcy, and Associate Professor Mark Donohue. Those that have been, or will be lost also include a significant number of early and mid career researchers, and to this extent the cuts represent a profound attack on the next generation of Pacific Studies scholars and on the future of Australian Pacific Studies scholarship.
- A radical reduction in the capacity of the ANU to support the growth of Pacific Studies scholarship by Pacific scholars. This has long been a strength of the ANU, and a key plank of its importance as Australia’s national university.
- Nationally, the gutting of what has long been the heart of Australian Pacific Studies. Indeed, the ANU Pacific Studies Program is the only Pacific Studies Program in Australia. These cuts threaten Australia’s position as a site of international research excellence in the field.
- A marked diminishment of the kinds of scholarship and deep understanding that make possible vibrant people-to-people relationships between Australia and the Pacific Islands, as well as strong and successful political, economic, and security relationships.
- The impoverishment of Australia’s sense of itself, and of its place in the Pacific region and in the world.
- The impoverishment of Australia’s knowledge of its history, and of the kinds of futures it is able to imagine and build for itself.
- The impact on the morale and capacity of our Asian Studies colleagues.
The AAPS calls on the ANU to act immediately to reverse these short sighted and deeply damaging cuts to Pacific Studies. We urge the Vice-Chancellor and the leadership of the ANU to demonstrate strength of vision by recognising the deep significance of the Pacific region for Australia, and to act with courage and integrity to ensure the ongoing centrality of Pacific Studies within the University.
Passed as a resolution of the Executive Committee of the Australian Association for Pacific Studies on the 3 June 2016.