By Charles Fedor

 

Who’s Who:

*Asterisk indicates that Professor Ludwig is reading directly from the Decision on the Proposal for Change Document which was projected in the lecture theatre. No staff were provided this document until after the “town hall” had finished.

Meeting Opens at Harold and Margaret Clough Engineering Lecture Theatre at 12:00pm on October 12th. It takes the form of a “Town Hall”, which, according to the University, has “the primary purpose of…to communicate the decision and outcome of the Proposal for Change”.  Staff were told of this important meeting the previous day. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity purposes.

 

Professor Ludwig: Ok we might get started. Hello everyone and thank you for coming today. Before I get started I would like to thank you for your patience and professionalism over the last few weeks. I understand how difficult it is to work under this uncertainty. I am certainly impressed by your commitment to the school by getting your teaching and research done, and your continued commitment to the school. This process has not been easy. At this meeting, I wish to remind you of the priorities that Senate and the Executive have communicated. I also would like to take you through the consultation feedback, about the decision, and what we saw in the consultation feedback. In addition the timeline and next steps. I appreciate this might not be easy so if you are finding you are struggling please access help. When asking a question please be mindful of the other people in the room. So as you know the University is going through a structural reform to address its’ current financial challenges and provide a path to sustainability. In this framework, the Senate has approved monetary goals to eliminate the recurring structural deficit. In addition the Senate has approved three main priorities for the executive. These are financial sustainability, enrolment growth, and student experience.  The SMS Proposal for change put forward our vision to facilitate [and] improve student experience, better retention rates, and improve research performance and sustainable future. So our future vision should be familiar to all. The components have been discussed at school meetings and as described in the proposal for change. We wish to create an environment that will inspire the next generation through the better teaching and training methods and modern technologies. The school wishes to reshape its academic staff composition to better match the allocations of staff resources and also student demand. In doing so, the school it intends to strengthen its teaching and research nexus and focus on making our students are competitive for employment through research direction or through university teaching or any other career in molecular science.

Of course we need to meet this with a sustainable operating model. So the consultation process concluded on the 9th of September and that included a five working day extension. Through the consultation process we received more than 100 pieces of feedback responses. I would like to thank everyone for putting in a response and put the time into thinking how the school could be better and how it could go into the future I really appreciate the feedback. Much of it was insightful, it was constructive so again thank you. Together with the senior deputy vice-chancellor, I purposely viewed, reviewed and considered all the feedback at hand through the consultation. The feedback and its consideration will be shared with you after the town hall today. This proposal has been considered and endorsed by the university’s change management board as well as the Vice-Chancellor who made the final decision. In response to the proposal, feedback submissions were received from staff in the school, staff elsewhere, students, as well as stakeholders outside of the university and the NTEU representatives. The feedback could be broken into seven main themes. Now I can’t go through all the individual responses, so I will walk you through the things that were common.

*So firstly, was the validity for the rationale for change. Here, there were responses that surrounded insufficient information that was to inform the proposal. The SMS proposal is part of the university’s structural reform proposal. The Vice-Chancellor has provided information through all staff emails and “Town Hall” meetings. I showed previously this morning on staff meeting [NB. an all-school staff meeting took place earlier in the morning], the slide with the primaries and the enablers. So this is information that has been out here for a while. The SMS makes it clear there has been multiple dimensions have been considered when we look to restructure the school. That included financial stability, increased student enrolment and retention, student experience and research excellence. Due to the multi-dimensional nature of the restructure a broad range of teaching and research information was provided to staff via the Proposal for Change and the FAQs that were updated through the consultation.

*Another main theme was the insufficiency of the consultation process. Much of that was with regards to inadequate amount of time for consultation and a lack of engagement with staff prior to the release of the proposal for change. Again, I will reiterate that all staff have been informed by the VC for the need for structural changes to the operations of the university. In general, school meetings and committees as well as the planned meetings, the priorities discussed were financial sustainability, enrolment growth and student experience. So a great number of suggestions came out and those will be used when we move forward with the restructure. With regards to the consultation that I have already said, there has been a five working day extension from the original consultation period.

*We also considered the responses that included concerns about the impact on research and the flagship areas. The proposal certainly acknowledged the impact of achieving financial stability and sustainability on the workforce and sought to reduce the breadth of teaching and research across the school. This was to match the available workforce and capacity. This teaching efficiency is integral to the proposal, and the idea that if we can become more efficient at our teaching it will free up time for research and more time spent supervising students. The feedback that fell into this theme, was largely on the research flagships and the proposed direction of the school. The feedback offered the opportunity to re-examine the flagship titles. I have to say I was really surprised the amount of feedback on this. My interpretation of those flagship areas, was they were inclusive and spanned the research across the school. I took the feedback on board and did certainly resonate with me that was not the case. So those flagship titles have been adjusted. These are as follows:

  • Nanotechnology and Chemical Biology
  • Materials Science for Chemistry and Molecular Life Sciences
  • Systems: Biology and Chemistry
  • Synthetic Cells: Biological and Chemical

I hope that all people realise that these flagship areas cover the research activities in the school, and their research falls into one of these flagship areas.

*Concerns were made about the proposed workforce profile. Not many suggestions were actually made on what a sustainable school workplace profile would look like. The proposed workforce profile was developed with consideration of a sustainable operating model. The proposal also highlighted the need for improving teaching efficiency and the quality of teaching methods and pedagogy and focus on research in the school. Along the lines consideration was given suggesting a call for voluntary redundancies of level E academics. While expressions of interests could be submitted, it does not mean they will be accepted. A balance, fair and equitable workload will remain a focus of this school. Staff will continue to have opportunities for career development and progression.

Silence

*Another concern was the reputational impact. Here we had feedback responses that the reputational impact from inside and outside the university. The University has a firm continued commitment to STEM. The Proposal for Change details its vision to support the government initiative with a focus on attracting and retaining students in core STEM disciplines of the molecular sciences and equipping students with the knowledge and hands on skills for employment in industry, teaching and/or research.

*Consideration was given to the potential impact on students and the student experience. Increases in teaching efficiencies using modern methods and pedagogy with a focus on discipline core concepts and hands-on skills are an integral part of the Proposal for Change. The expectation is that such changes and initiatives will allow a refocus of teaching practices that result in increases in student learning, experience and engagement. The vision to refocus research activities to align with the above research flagship areas aims to enable growth into emerging areas. The proposed changes would increase visibility of the School and UWA in the community and internationally, which in turn would attract the best and brightest students to our majors and research programs. The University and School remain committed to enabling current under- and postgraduate coursework, honours, and higher degree by research students to complete their course of study. This guarantee has been the consistent message to students from the School and the Vice-Chancellor.

*We had a few suggestions that dealt with teaching delivery, allocation and course structure as well as research enablers was received and all will be further considered during change transition planning phases. The suggestion to open the expression of interest for voluntary redundancy to all continuing teaching and research academic staff across the School was also considered. We genuinely considered the matters that were raised during the consultation period and acted within budgetary constraints. The university will proceed with the changes as presented to staff on the 19th of August, with the following variations:

  • Variation 1: All continuing teaching and research academic staff across the School will have the ability to submit an expression of interest for voluntary redundancy for the University to consider. The University will retain the right to reject an application for voluntary redundancy where the staff member holds skills or expertise that have been demonstrated and/or are required in the new structure.
  • Variation 2: Titles of the flagship research area have been refined to convey current and future inclusivity and cross-discipline activities:
    • Nanotechnology and Chemical Biology
    • Synthetic Cells: Biological and Chemical
    • Materials Science for Chemistry and Molecular Life Sciences
    • Systems: Biology and Chemistry
  • In addition to the above variations, as part of transition planning, the University commits to the following:
    • Consideration of where the activities of teaching-focused academic appointments are best allocated in the School.
    • Review of unit and major content and delivery, taking into account student demand, enrolment, and workforce capacity. Those of you know that we are doing this now, we will continue doing it. We need to do this to take into account student demand, enrolment and financial sustainability.
    • Consideration of enablers for high-quality research activities.

*To ensure that the School can deliver its teaching program within a sustainable budget, enable sufficient resourcing to be invested into the continual improvement of courses and enhancement of the student experience, and position itself for enrolment growth, it is confirmed that:

  • a single Chemistry Major in the BSc, which includes core concepts of synthetic, physical and analytical chemistry will be reintroduced;
  • sustainability of the Chemistry Extended Major will be re-examined;
  • teaching activities relating to Computational Chemistry will be discontinued; and
  • teaching across the School will become more efficient and focused on delivering core concepts and employability skills using current best practices.

*To ensure the School can deliver a world-class research program, the School will concentrate its research into the flagship areas of:

  • Nanotechnology and Chemical Biology
  • Synthetic Cells: Biological and Chemical
  • Materials Science for Chemistry and Molecular Life Sciences
  • Systems: Biology and Chemistry

Professor Ludwig: See this as an opportunity to increase the cross-discipline collaboration. Some of this has been happening already, fantastic. Let’s have more of it.

*The changes outlined above will result in several continuing academic positions no longer being required. The following positions will no longer be required: Chemistry six level C/D teaching and research positions. Biochemistry/Molecular Biology/Genetics two level C/D teaching and research positions  will no longer be required. Overall, the changes of the staff position are shown in this diagram. It will be included in the documents you will see this afternoon. I wish to note that Externally-funded, fixed term and casual positions, together with positions that remain in the new structure unaltered, will not be affected by the proposed change. So here is what I’m liking, as I’ve already said the proposal for change was introduced August 19th, and it finished on September 9th. We spent the last 4 weeks considering the feedback that was given to create a final decision. In practical terms, staff who hold the positions which are to be reduced in number will be considered at risk of redundancy because of the proposed changes. The following options will be made available to potentially affected staff at risk of redundancy:

  1. All continuing teaching and research academic staff across the School will have the ability to submit an expression of interest for voluntary redundancy for the University to consider. The University will retain the right to reject an application for voluntary redundancy where the staff member holds skills or expertise that have been demonstrated and/or are required in the new structure. Should the required reduction not be achieved, an independent panel process that will determine the remaining redundancies.
  2. Staff will present their academic achievements to a University panel to be considered for the remaining academic positions. These positions would reflect the specialisms required to meet the new refined teaching and research program for the School of Molecular Sciences.

*If a staff member is unsuccessful in obtaining a position in the new structure, and they have not applied for a voluntary redundancy, the University will explore any other redeployment options that may be available more broadly in the University. If there are no suitable redeployment options available, the redundancy process in The University of Western Australia Academic Employees Agreement 2017 will be followed. I will send you individual emails with the final decision document and the next steps in the implementation phase. There will also be FAQs and details related to individual positions. I would like to thank you again for your professionalism and commitment to the school and I ask you take care of yourselves and your fellow colleagues. I would like to also remind you that Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides confidential support and I can confirm that EAP staff will be available at [REDACTED] until 4:00pm this afternoon should you wish to use their services.

 

Staff 1: Should a level E academic apply for voluntary redundancy and the university accepts the application how will that affect the level of C/Ds to be made redundant?

 

Professor Ludwig: It would be reduced. Within that discipline it will be reduced, it will be an offset.

 

Staff 1: 1:1?

 

Prof. Ludwig: We would have to think about workforce capacity.

 

Staff 2: Has the university followed the enterprise bargaining procedure?

 

Professor Ludwig: They have stuck to it and they have conformed to it.

 

Staff 2: Last time we talked. Computational Chemistry, on reviewing the document I didn’t see any justification for its removal?

 

Professor Ludwig: As I said, the decision for change is multi-dimensional. Financial sustainability, student enrolment growth and retention. Other factors were involved.

 

Staff 2: Sorry I don’t understand, what you’re saying?

 

Professor Ludwig: Student growth and retention. Student experience.

 

Staff 2: You are saying computational chemistry does not meet these requirements?

 

Professor Ludwig: Relative to other aspects of Chemistry.

 

Staff 2: Regards with academic excellence in research performance. I didn’t hear anything about computational chemistry. Was it accepted that the citations in the discipline were the highest in the school?

 

Professor Ludwig: All of the feedback was considered and acknowledged.

 

Staff 2: I am asking specifically…

 

Professor Ludwig: All of the feedback was considered and acknowledged.

 

Staff 2: You are not answering the question.

 

Professor Ludwig: I said at the start I will not talk about individual items of feedback. All of the feedback was considered and acknowledged. Any other questions?

 

Staff 3: When being made redundant will it fall in this year or in 2022?

 

Professor Ludwig: The time of redundancy will be negotiable.

 

Staff 4: I am concerned about the November timeline as it will be as exams are being marked?

 

Professor Ludwig: There is never a good time. I realise.

 

Staff 4: Do you not think that will put pressure on people?

 

Staff 5: What will happen to the PHD students?

 

Professor Ludwig: The Vice-Chancellor has said numerous times that students will be able to continue their studies

 

Staff 6: Obviously there has been a concern for chemistry going into the future with these changes being so close to the locking down of units etc. What’s the plan?

 

Professor Ludwig:  We have to respect the process as it is now. I have been in contact with David Sadler. The single chemistry major will be for 2022. We still need to get the students already enrolled in other majors.

 

Staff 7: Next year could be a very tough year where staff have more classes than now.

 

Professor Ludwig: That is going to be needed to examined.

 

Staff 8: A single major with specialisations in it?

 

Professor Ludwig: That’s the idea.

 

[A number of questions were asked and responses noted however these were not of great enough quality to be accurate]

 

Staff 9: If everyone applied for voluntary redundancy and you get to decide who to accept. Would that not be easier than presenting to a panel our achievements? This is the strategy…Why don’t we just hand the decision over? It is potentially suicidal but if we believe that our expertise is required then we should expect a rejection of our voluntary redundancy. That is a gamble we can take if we wish to organise.

 

Staff 10: If you are rejected for voluntary redundancy, that means your skill is required?

 

Professor Ludwig: You will be directly transferred into the new structure.

 

Staff 11: The new areas are sufficiently broad that anyone can make a case for fitting into any of them.

 

Professor Ludwig: It’s not the only criteria. If you think of any questions, let me know. Take care of yourselves and take of each other.

 

Staff 11: Are you alright?

 

Staff 12: No I’m not. I’m not alright.

 

 

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.

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