Arts faculty staff at The University of Melbourne are up in arms this morning after the man blamed for implementing a controversial cost-cutting regime was re-appointed for a five-year term as Dean.

Professor Mark Considine, who was involved in a bitter four-way selection stoush with Professor Joy Damousi, Professor Katharine Darian-Smith and Professor Mitchell Dean for the position, was confirmed in his current role last night amid a battle over the faculty’s funding model, which had led to massive staff and subject cuts.

Professor Considine has been a strong proponent of the controversial Melbourne Model, and has backed parallel plans to downsize the History and Philosophy Departments and axe “unpopular” subjects. His attempts last year to drive home a wide-ranging restructure had led to outrage from senior academics.

“It was fair to say there was a lot of dissent and disaffection over the future of humanities and Mark’s approach”, one academic told Crikey this morning. “The other candidates had certainly presented a strong alternative to what was being put about by Davis and Considine.”

“The place is riven with controversy and there’s almost total demoralisation”, said another, who also did not want to be named.

At a fiery “meet the candidates” presentation in late September, Professors Damousi and Darian-Smith backed a restoration in funding from the central administration. Both candidates were keen to restore a level playing field after the university revised its funding model in 2007 to favour certain departments.

Concern has also been expressed at the use of expensive consultants to revise staffing structures in the languages department.

In an email to staff late yesterday, Vice Chancellor Davis defended the decision to re-appoint Professor Considine, claiming “a clear majority of Faculty of Arts staff who expressed a view in the consultation process, by interview or in writing, supported appointment [sic].”

“The selection process has attracted keen interest and some strongly held views.”

Crikey understands that the eventual decision to pick Professor Considine came amid an internal fight between faculty representatives and external appointees on the selection committee, which took six days to reach a decision following interviews conducted last Friday.

Professor Considine was appointed to an interim two year term in 2007 following the shock departure of Belinda Probert, who left to care for her mother after confronting widespread dissent within the faculty. Professor Probert, like Professor Considine, was regarded as too close to senior management.

He has been the chief architect of the Graduate School of Arts, set to be introduced next year, however sources have told Crikey that the enrolments to date have been disappointing.

Under unpopular new funding guidelines introduced by Davis, the subsidisation of Arts by richer faculties has been subsumed by a focus on balancing budgets. Critics say Professor Considine’s academic research interests in “knowledge transfer” dovetailed with attempts to “commercialise” the Arts Faculty’s operations.

Former Arts deans, including Professor Stuart Macintyre, have publicly criticised Professor Considine for failing to challenge the Vice Chancellor over funding. His re-appointment follows the news that Ms Elizabeth Baré, who had assisted Professor Considine with the Arts restructure, announced she would resign at the end of the year.

The controversy also comes amid mounting evidence the Melbourne Model has failed to attract students. Data released by the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre yesterday revealed the institution received 1399 fewer first preferences this year, a decline of 14 per cent. Rival Monash University, which has persisted with its traditional undergraduate model, posted a 12 per cent jump.

Yesterday, the university announced that it will accept 51 additional voluntary redundancies after its human resources department was inundated with applications, as foreshadowed by Crikey. The latest cuts come on top of the loss of 220 positions announced in July.

Professor Considine was in a meeting this morning and could not be contacted.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey