Austerity and academia

Austerity is hitting lots of people, across pretty much all social classes, except for the top 1 per cent, who are rapidly recouping their losses in the GFC and will soon be pulling even further away from the 99. Just at the moment, academics seem to be in the crosshairs, from Washington to Sydney and beyond. Here’s a post on the subject from my friend and former colleague Rohan Pitchford. To forestall a possible line of criticism, let me observe now that, while academics have it better than plenty of others under attack from austerity policies, anyone who plays on this kind of division is a tool of the 1 per cent, and will be treated as such by me.

Sackings Hit Economics School Hard (Guest post from Rohan Pitchford)

I was surprised and dismayed to hear that that several of my former colleagues at the School of Economics at the University of Sydney have been told to leave their jobs by July. A remarkable aspect is that the sackings happened by edict, several layers of administration above the School level. How is it possible for such a removed group to know the details of people’s work life, their roles and the reasons behind their roles without any form of consultation? (ANU also faces budget cuts, but is taking the enlightened bottom-up approach.)

I know all of those concerned personally, and the group includes both talented researchers, teachers and administrators. They were apparently selected using retrospective publication criteria. We all know that most people experience a ‘bare patch’ in their publications during the life course, whether it be because of a new child, a death in the family, illness (admin duties!) etc. Knowing the people involved, the criteria seem to me unfair and random.

Perhaps the most astounding fact in all of this is that Sydney Economics has been perennially understaffed– as a Professor there, I estimated that they were some 10 academics short of what is required to deliver requisite courses: The average class size is 110, I conjecture larger than any other department. There are not enough staff to cover all the classes taught, let alone to reduce class sizes to educationally appropriate levels. Sydney typically has had to hire part-timers to fill the gap. The department generates some 20 million dollars per year in revenue from its teaching program. I cannot imagine that this will do anything but hurt this important revenue base.

A big question is this: Are the sackings due to productivity, or are they in response to an administration that has grossly over-spent on buildings? I have heard rumours of expenditure of 100m on a new medical centre, and 360m on a new obesity centre preceded these sackings.

Solutions? I discuss a possible way forward for Australia here:

179 thoughts on “Austerity and academia

  1. @Ernestine Gross

    Wow such snark. Not sure what you are trying to prove by plucking news articles at random. If you’d like a comprehensive look at what neoclassical Econ (that originated and is taught in unis) has gone on to inform, I suggest you read/reread the profs book. Fantastic that you have a phd in economics, but many who don’t make it that far learn garbage and then go into the real world making decisions based on that garbage. Though I suspect your axiomatic math-econ approach which you constantly elude to (we get it, you are very good at maths!) simply means you have blinders on.

    Maybe have a look at Kirman’s “Whom or What Does The Representative Individual Represent” from Journal of Economic Perspectives, for an example of some of the questions that need to be asked of mainstream econ. There’s no shortage – also Solows similar critique in the same journal about the state of macro is pretty scathing. Remember these are models used by central banks! There are alternatives, the best that I’ve come across and engaged with so far are prof Keen’s monetary circuit model that is still a work in progress I believe.

    I’m not trying to justify academic staff cuts in the economics dept, I know the staff cuts probably have nothing to do with this criticism – so I guess this is probably a discussion for the sandpit (I can see tho how some people may find it almost poetic).

  2. @Adit

    In fact, (like all sciences) all mathematical economics is bounded by assumptions and never seems to have any units. They also mix logarithms and linear variables in wild abandon.

    Maths creates blinkers when a GFC finally emerges. Steve Keen’s “mathematics”, which attempts to represent instability, is a real mess.

  3. @Adit

    There is only 1 item in your post I consider worth while responding to. It concerns the ‘representative agent’. This construct is used in macro-economic models which claim to have a micro-economic foundation. It has been the subject of much critique for a long time (at least 30 years). There are some problems where this approach may be considered adequate but this approach is definitely not adequate when the subject of investigation concerns problems where ‘incomplete markets’ is a crucial factor (eg negative externalities such as CO2 emissions).

    As you can see, I don’t pick the new items at random. Like many people, I am interested in finding the sources of neoliberalism applied and, so far, I found many places other than academics in economics departments locally.

    Hope your masters thesis is ‘comprehensively’ free of garbage, as defined by you.

    Glad to hear you don’t claim your posts are relevant to the topic.

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