The Australian National University is continuing to hunt for savings beyond its post-COVID Recovery Plan, announcing the abrupt closure of the Art and Music Library and proposing a restructure of its fundraising arm, with more measures expected in 2024.
The news, just before Christmas, is dispiriting for students and staff, some of whom have been with the ANU for many years and are now facing redundancy.
A posting on the ANU’s On Campus last week said the library would be closing from 8 December for hail repairs to the building, but it would not be reopening, with services moving to the Chifley Library.
When the building reopens, the library will become a study space. Its two staff members were being redeployed elsewhere in the library system.
ANU Advancement, which raises and manages funds from donors, alums and philanthropists, faces a net loss of 42 positions to meet a $3 million budget shortfall.
According to the National Tertiary Education Union ACT Division Secretary, Dr Lachlan Clohesy, the ANU said it was streamlining the area in the wake of a critical study from the More Partnership, which found the university would not be ready to mount a major fundraising and engagement campaign for at least two to three years.
Dr Clohesy said the ANU wanted to concentrate positions in senior management, cutting much of the lower-level staffing.
He said the proposed changes now out for consultation are a blow to staff just before Christmas.
“They’re incredibly stressed going into the holiday period wondering if they’re going to have a job next year,” Dr Clohesy said.
“A lot of these people have been at ANU in varying capacities for a very long time; some have left other positions to go and work at ANU Advancement and are now looking down the barrel of redundancy.”
Dr Clohesy said there would be limited opportunities for redeployment.
ANU also plans to close Alumni House, with staff relocated to 28 Balmain Crescent. This is expected to save more than $40,000.
Dr Clohesy said the union hoped forced redundancies would be a last resort.
“We’ll be helping long-time members to redeploy,” he said.
“We also want to make sure that ANU is exhausting every possible option to avoid redundancies, that means looking at redeployment, natural attrition, and flexible work arrangements like job sharing.”
But Dr Clohesy did not expect the ANU to give much ground, considering the experience with the Recovery Plan.
The union had also caught wind of more cost-cutting, particularly at the ANU libraries.
“We’re worried that the Art and Music Library is the canary in the coal mine and there are going to be broader changes to ANU libraries,” Dr Clohesy said.
“Staff are being told by their managers that libraries have to find significant cost savings.”
Dr Clohesy said the arts community would generally feel the loss of the Art and Music Library, a meeting house for members across Canberra and the region.
A university spokesperson stressed that the ANU Advancement restructuring was just a proposal at this point, and no decisions had been made yet.
“The university will consider all feedback as part of any process and in line with the ANU Enterprise Agreement,” the spokesperson said.
“Any staff who do not have positions in a new structure will be supported to identify redeployment opportunities in Advancement or elsewhere at ANU.”
The spokesperson said the Art and Music Library would be transformed into a creative study space for students and academics, who had been consulted about what spaces they needed most.
Students would be invited to participate in co-designing the area to deliver a range of services and spaces that enable group and individual work and make the most effective use of the great collections in the music and art schools.
“The relocation of the collection will be carefully coordinated and discussions have been held with staff about the move,” the spokesperson said.
“Students will be provided better services and staff will continue to work with the library. The move will not cause any additional workload for staff across other ANU libraries.”
The ANU did not say why it had decided to close the library, or whether its other libraries would have to make savings.