By Charles Fedor
The agenda for an Extraordinary Meeting of the Academic Board on the 17th of August has been confirmed by sources.
The meeting was called in response to a petition spearheaded by the UWA Academic Staff Association (UWAASA), and brings the Board into extraordinary session. The Academic Board can only provide advice to the Executive and Senate on these matters so it is still up to those bodies to agree to the recommendations. However, it would be unprecedented in the history of the University for the Executive or Senate to disagree with this advice.
If the Board passes these motions, the Senate and Executive will be under more pressure and scrutiny.
The following motions are due to be voted on during the meeting and mark a significant attempt at scrutiny of the proposal:
“That the Chair of Academic Board, on the advice of Academic Board, nominate an elected member of the board as an ex-officio member of the Change Management Board (CMB), with the specific remit to interrogate proposals from academic units for their consistency with these motions and to identify whether they indicate changes requiring discussion as per the broader mandate of Academic Board.”
The preamble seems to note that staff under threat were not communicated with before they found out they were being fired in public.
“The proposers recognise that the EBA [Enterprise ] and, in fact, natural justice require that any proposal for change which seeks to make significant changes to staff duties, up to and including redundancy, must first be communicated to the potentially affected staff prior to any broader dissemination,” the preamble reads.
Translation*: The Academic Board gains representation on the Change Management Board (CMB) which is responsible for drafting and overseeing the university-wide restructure.
This is a significant motion as it finally mandates non-Executive or Heads of School representation within this secretive body.
“That the disestablishment of existing disciplines at UWA be proposed only in cases where a school review in accordance with the Course and School Review Policy has been undertaken since our last TEQSA re-registration, and where that review has provided a robust recommendation that the discipline should be considered for disestablishment.”
This could be considered a subtle reminder to readers that the restructure of Social Sciences did not actually have any formal review with consultation from the Academic Board.
“In this respect, it is very regrettable that the University has not undertaken any school or course reviews since the last round of structural reform. In this context, and in the absence of clear and transparent performance data for majors and disciplines, extreme caution needs to be employed in making decisions that may fundamentally affect the overall mission of the University,” the motion reads.
Translation*: You cannot disestablish existing disciplines without a school review that concurs with it.
Note that a review has not been undertaken. As a result, if this advice is accepted, this will prohibit the dissolution of any disciplines without a formal review.
“That the recission of majors be proposed only in cases where a course review, in accordance with the Course and School Review Policy of the relevant course in which they sit has been undertaken since our last TEQSA re-registration, and where that review has provided a recommendation that the major should be considered for recission. Where a school anticipates a potential need to reduce the number of majors that it teaches the school may ask for a rapid review of all of the majors in its purview. For this purpose, the PVC(Academic) should develop a rapid, but robust, review process for the such situations based on transparent, verifiable, comprehensive, standardised data.”
There are indications that no verifiable or transparent data has been provided.
“While members of the Academic Board recognise that, in the current context, we do have to look carefully at our offerings to ensure that they are fit for purpose and sustainable, we should not make decisions about our offerings in the absence of robust, transparent, and verifiable data,” the motion reads.
There is also an extremely concerning suggestion that the process would perhaps run the risk of contravening federal law is extremely concerning.
“While Schools do have the authority to make units unavailable, to do this systematically across a discipline without a formal rescission decision would contravene our obligations under the Higher Educations Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) Act 2015, which requires us to maintain staffing levels that are “sufficient to meet the educational, academic support, and administrative needs of student cohorts undertaking the course”.
Translation*: You cannot cut majors without a course review and without that review recommending the decision. If it is an urgent matter you can ask for a rapid review by the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Academics. A review has not been undertaken and as a result, if accepted by the Executive and Senate, this will prohibit the dissolution of any majors without a review. In this case Anthropology and Sociology could not be dissolved without a formal school review.
“That, while there may be teaching intensive staff in any discipline, no discipline at UWA be deemed teaching intensive, or comprised entirely of ‘teaching focused’ staff. Thus, the conversion of existing teaching and research positions into teaching intensive, or ‘teaching focused’ positions be negotiated at the individual level, based on the needs of the discipline and the performance history and career aspirations of the individual concerned.”
The motion outlines that the proposal would make disciplines without research irrelevant in a global context and academics may struggle to find future jobs.
“Designating a discipline as teaching intensive may have significant impacts on our international reputation, in turn inhibiting our ability to develop, attract, and retain the highest quality academic staff. Finally, for current staff, having their discipline so designated, and their teaching and research position transformed into ‘teaching focused’, is significantly career limiting,” it reads.
Translation*: This would prohibit, under all circumstances, a discipline becoming teaching only and thus lacking research. It would require negotiation on the individual level.
“That the UWA Executive provides a clear and transparent process for genuine stakeholder consultation during the development of all structural reform proposals in line with the best practice expectations of the Public Sector Commission.”
This motion reflects the broad and acute frustrations students and staff have felt about the lack of formal consultation or ability to engage.
“[UWA] is expected to maintain the standards advised by the Public Sector Commission. The Public Sector Commission guidelines for structural reform state that stakeholders (up to and including the public) should be ‘identified, appropriately consulted, and informed’, including the ‘opportunity to express their views and contribute their own ideas’. As a schedule 1 agency under the Act, it behoves us to follow these guidelines particularly as they relate to students, including HDR students, and to our broader (extensive) stakeholder community, including industry,” it reads.
Translation*: This tells the Executive to set up a clear and transparent process for consultation aligning with the Public Sector Commission. This would mandate substantive discussions and prevent ‘surprise’ restructures like the one under consideration.
“That the SDVC immediately provide the Academic Board with the specific formula being used to calculate the ‘gross margins’ on Schools, and disciplines, and provide the rationale for the differential quanta of financial cuts that have been applied among Schools.”
Basically, it is important for the Academic Board to actually be provided with information and explanations on what the Executive are attempting to do.
“(B)ut in order to be able to fulfil its mandate to advise Senate on matters of importance such as those raised above, it is necessary for Academic Board to at least be provided with and understand the financial rationale on which proposed changes are to be made, both at the general level (e.g. the publicly acknowledged 10% budget cut in Academic units), but also at the more specific level (e.g. the variation and rationale for cuts to different schools)”.
Translation*: This instructs the Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor to turn over formula, data and rationale to the Academic Board about why the financial cuts seemed to hit each discipline differently. For example, why Geography is proposed to only lose one staff member, while Anthropology and Sociology are proposed to be axed.
“That the Academic Board recommend to the Executive, via the Senate, that to achieve a significant quantum of the academic salary savings required to meet the structural deficit, a general call for voluntary redundancies for academic staff is made.”
There is actually a lot here, I have noted these via dot points:
- “Heads of Schools have been tasked with achieving a financial target in the absence of robust, comprehensive and reliable data”. So, Heads of School have just been cutting without any reliable data?
- “In the absence of a thorough, transparent, and interrogable financial rationale for the differential savings targets, and in the absence of a determinable set of financial incentives for Schools”.
- Heads of Schools are “also, generally speaking, not recruited to undertake this task, and have been provided with no professional development opportunities to assist them in this task”. Wait…heads of schools have not been provided training on how to restructure their schools?
- A call for voluntary redundancies “is a strategy that most Universities in Australia have used as their initial response to financial constraints, and for good reason. In providing this advice, it is important to recognise that the University is not obliged to grant any application for voluntary redundancy”. Wait…UWA has not done this is?
Translation: This is very interesting. The concern for staff is that redundancies would be denied by the university in favour of transferring academics into teaching roles, thus avoiding redundancy requirements. This seeks to guarantee in ironclad terms, the University should offer voluntary redundancy to academics. Due to the complete collapse of morale within corners of the school and the feeling of indignation over their treatment this will likely be accessed by some academics.
The significance of these motions could not be overstated and they show a glimmer of hope for students and staff currently facing an uncertain future. It seems staff are not just standing in ‘solidarity’ but actively fighting on behalf of their co-workers and students that have been affected. If adopted and accepted by the Executive and Senate this would save majors and disciplines currently facing cuts, at least for now, as well as provide them with added layers of protections through Academic Board scrutiny. This is the crucial first step to rejecting the restructure. I would urge every student to email the Board and our student representatives immediately to state your opinion on these motions. I have reposted three separate links that, when emailed, would cover the full board.
Student representatives have not responded for requests for their voting position on the motions.
This piece can only be provided to you through the hard work and courage of a number of sources across the university and community. If you have information that you think needs to be shared, please contact me via phone at 0437 496 648. Your anonymity is guaranteed.
*if advice is accepted by the Executive and Senate