Dear Professor French,
Closure of Anthropology and Sociology at UWA
I am writing to you in my role as President of the British Sociological Association. As the professional body that represents Sociology and sociologists in the UK, we have strong connections with allied groups around the world and have been deeply concerned to learn of the proposal to discontinue Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Western Australia. We are aware of the campaigns led by Australian academics and their professional associations, and we write to express our solidarity with those campaigns. We have read with care the letter sent to you by TASA and CHASS (dated 12th July) and simply draw your attention again to the systematic and powerful case that is made there for the continuation of Anthropology and Sociology at UWA.
Widening out, from an international perspective, it appears extraordinary to us that a university with the standing and ambition of the UWA would choose to take this step. We will confine our specific comments to Sociology here – as is our remit – but are certain that many of the same arguments apply to Anthropology.
Now, more than ever, there is an emerging consensus amongst governments, business and the community sector that the perspectives, skills and capacity provided by Sociology are an essential part of the joined-up thinking that is required to drive effective responses to global challenges, from rising inequality and social unrest to digital transformation and climate change. Without sociological research and education, we will not have the substantive knowledge, critical thinking or applied skills necessary to rise to these challenges. In the UK, and I believe in Australia too, this is explicitly recognised by the research funding councils. Not only those that support the Arts and Social Sciences but also those in the Engineering Sciences, Life Sciences and Sciences who understand that technology, medicine and science research raise profoundly social questions and require sociological insights to drive inclusive, sustainable and prosperous futures. Increasing numbers of prospective students also understand this, with increased uptake at pre-University level and rising applications to Sociology programmes. In response, in the UK Russell Group universities have now invested in Sociology – for the first time ever – including University College, Kings College and Queen Mary’s College, significantly expanding Sociology research and teaching at the University of London.
I understand that all Universities are facing challenging times and must make strategic decisions to secure their futures. However, it is hard to fathom the decision to close a discipline group that has been ranked ‘above world standing’, at a time when other global Universities are investing in this capacity and both government and industry are calling for more skills in sociological and interdisciplinary research and education. In this context, we applaud UWA plans to develop a ‘social sciences skills passport’ but fail to see how this can be successful without the research and teaching expertise of the Sociology and Anthropology Discipline Group.
We call on you to reconsider your decision.
Professor Susan Halford
President of the British Sociological Association
Letter sent via email to:
Professor Robert French, Chancellor, University of Western Australia
Professor Amit Chakra, Vice Chancellor, University of Western Australia
University Senate Members c/o University Senate Secretariat