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Curtin University
Vice-Chancellor
Note to staff

21 March 2014

 
 

Academic Reshaping

As you may be aware, the Curtin Student Guild has recently expressed concern over the University’s reshaping initiative.

It is disappointing the Guild has chosen to raise its concerns publicly rather than discussing the details of any specific issues that have arisen directly with the University.  As you are aware, Curtin is reshaping its academic workforce to ensure schools have the positions, structure and staff needed to meet strategic objectives for excellence in both research and teaching in a rapidly changing environment. 

It will provide for new academic career paths in teaching focussed and research academic roles. This will enable us to move towards providing our current teaching and research staff with greater access to research time, at the same time as enhancing the quality of our teaching programs through the appointment of academic staff with a focus on teaching and teaching innovation. 

I am aware that there have been some issues with classes as semester started but understand they have been resolved.  Students have been asked to advise the Academic Registrar of any specific concerns as soon as possible so that they can be addressed quickly.  Throughout this process it has been a priority to ensure that the needs of students are met. 

If you have any concerns, please do not hesitate to raise them directly with the Provost & Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Colin Stirling, or myself.  We are very keen to ensure that we are aware of any specific problems and issues that arise as a consequence of the changes.

I take this opportunity to thank you all for your hard work and commitment during this period of significant change for the University.  I understand that it has been a challenging period, particularly given the demands associated with the beginning of the semester.  

2014 John Curtin Medal nominations

Nominations are open for this year’s John Curtin Medal. The John Curtin Medal is the University’s highest non-academic award and is presented to outstanding members of the external community who demonstrate John Curtin’s attributes of vision, leadership and community service.  I encourage you to consider nominating someone from the external community who you believe meets the criteria for this award. 

The nomination form and further details can be found at http://johncurtin.curtin.edu.au/ or please contact Julia Nicol, Director, Public and Community Relations on extension 7711. Nominations must be received prior to 5pm on Thursday 5 June 2014.

Please note that nominations should be kept strictly confidential. Candidates should not be contacted for information regarding their nomination.

Harmony Week

This week is Harmony Week (17-23 March) and I encourage you to celebrate the diversity that unites us as Western Australians and reflect on the issues that still require action.

You may wish to participate in the Taste of Harmony initiative which recognises and celebrates the rich cultural diversity that exists in Australian workplaces through food. The vision is for work colleagues to share a meal with each other, celebrating the joy of food, and learning something about the different cultural backgrounds at work.  For more information visit: http://www.tasteofharmony.org.au/

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Curtin acknowledges the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination annually on 21 March.

It marks the day in 1960, in Sharpeville, South Africa, when police opened fire on a peaceful protest against the apartheid regime’s ‘pass laws’, killing 69 people.

Curtin is committed to the application of ethical principles and social justice throughout all aspects of the University. This commitment ensures the development of a University community characterised by codes of personal and collective behaviour which acknowledge and promote the University’s Guiding Ethical Principles.

Our Reconciliation Action Plan espouses Curtin’s vision and process for reconciliation: that the University be a place of learning that respects Indigenous culture and diversity and a place where Indigenous and non-Indigenous people come together to learn their chosen discipline contextualised within Indigenous culture and history. 

Curtin’s Equal Employment Opportunity Management Plan is designed to enable the University to build on and improve its performance in establishing and maintaining a diverse and broadly representative workforce and has been acknowledged by the Office of EEO (WA) as best practice.  

Curtin’s policies, information and resources related to diversity can be accessed at http://eesj.curtin.edu.au/policies_plans/index.cfm

 
 
  1. Keith Gregg March 21, 2014 10:08am

    The concerns of the Student Guild are important and, as a staff member, I welcome their view of the changes that are planned and occurring.
    One aspect of the plans we staff are hearing about, which relates directly to student concerns, is the serious uncertainty that we face, concerning our future – if we have one – as Curtin employees and our ability to deliver quality teaching under revised (i.e. increased) teaching loads.
    This has, in my own case and probably others, distracted my thoughts to the extent that my teaching quality is suffering. If I’m aware of this, you can bet your boots that the students see it very clearly.

    There is a very common view among staff that changes are being attempted in an absurdly short time-frame, with some staff redundancies making the practical implementation of those changes still more difficult.
    The implementation of change processes during the major teaching periods appears ill-considered and overly hurried, with little specific information available to the staff affected. At a recent meeting requested by the NTEU, the only senior staff present were unable to answer questions that related to academic matters. If there is concern about the student’s worries, just consider how worried many of the academic staff are and how angry many are at receiving no answers to their questions.

    • Colin Stirling March 26, 2014 1:32pm

      Dear Keith,
      Thank you for your comments. I too welcome the sincerely expressed views of the Guild and of our students more broadly.
      I understand the concerns that you express regarding uncertainty. It was largely for this reason that we decided to publish the change proposals when they were ready rather than extending the period of uncertainty. I accept your point that staff leaving mid-semester is not ideal and I know that in some cases there have been requests made for staff to continue until the end of the teaching period.
      This is not a cost-cutting exercise. We are creating more than 150 new Teaching Focussed positions and over new 100 Research positions. Many of these will be filled by existing staff but others will be filled externally.
      I acknowledge the distractions faced by staff but would like to thank the very many of you who have stepped in to ensure our students’ studies do not suffer during the transition. This is a difficult year but we will fill all of the new positions as soon as possible and the reshaped workforce will provide at least as much teaching capacity as every before. In particular the Teaching Focussed staff will be able to devote more time to teaching and curriculum innovation than has been possible in the traditional academic role. This investment in teaching is good for our teaching standards and good for students.
      On information provided, we have followed precisely the process that was agreed with the NTEU in mid 2013 and this follows our enterprise agreement. I know that some prefer verbal information and I plan to visit all schools in the coming weeks to hear first hand about issues and problems but also, I trust, of recent successes.
      The NTEU invited me to the meeting that you speak of but did so at very short notice. I advised them that I would be overseas and asked for it to be rescheduled but they chose to proceed.
      Best wishes,
      Colin

  2. Adolph De Sousa March 21, 2014 10:49am

    I am unsure what the Student Guild’s particular concerns are, but as I talk to students one of the concerns being expressed is the so called teaching innovation called ‘flipped mode’. Under this mode students are supposed to watch the eLectures before coming class and they are also supposed to do all the readings required. The weekly class is being termed Active Learning Seminar and these seminars (unlike previous seminars) are indeed designed to get students engaged and work in teams. They learn a lot of skills in class. I think this is an exciting development.

    However, we appear to have introduced this as a cost saving exercise by reducing class contact from 3 to 2 hrs per week – and students are sensitive to this. I hear some students say they have chosen to attend on-campus precisely because they know they learn better by attending lectures than listening through some electronic medium. These students may be in the minority, but they hold strong views indicating that the University’s move to flipped mode does not suit their particular learning styles. Are we in a transition here or do we really have an issue?

  3. Anthony Snow March 21, 2014 11:51am

    As the Curtin NTEU President I have unfortunately been intimately involved in dealing with the fallout of the reshaping process across the University. In this process to date we have lost a great many academics, through redundancy, who would have been consider outstanding performers in their schools at their 2012/2013 WPPR meetings. An interesting observation that I have noticed in this process is that very few T&R people are applying for the TF roles with any real enthusiasm. I think most academics feel that that the teaching and teaching leadership requirements are just too onerous and unsustainable for these Teaching Focussed roles.
    The result of this is that for the 12 schools that have completed or are in the process of carrying out the reshaping changes very few TF positions have actually been filled. In fact a lot of T&R people who are being made redundant are not electing to be even considered for redeployment to vacant TF positions. Hence these Schools have been battling to provide teaching staff to meet their teaching commitments. The fact that the University has done so to a large extent so far this semester is not due to good management but due to the herculean effort that has been made by all our staff, both those remaining or shortly to be made redundant.
    Our students, in the corporate world we now live in, are actually considered customers paying large amounts of their own money through HECS fees. I would say they have every right to be angry at a university management that fails to acknowledge the rights of our students to a quality education by providing adequate staffing resources to meet these expectations.

  4. Elaine Miller March 21, 2014 1:18pm

    I concur with Anthony – We have also lost an incredible teacher because he did not want to take a teaching only position.

    Another issue raised by an international PhD student to me recently is that many will have to reapply for a visa because, (after the ridiculous redundancies which I am still flabbergasted about), no supervisor can be provided within the same department. In their shoes, I too would be extremely annoyed at having to fork out extra money for something that was not expected and over which they had no control or say.

    • Colin Stirling March 26, 2014 1:45pm

      Dear Elaine,
      If you know of specific cases that have not yet been resolved then please let me know so that I can have them looked into.
      Regards,
      Colin

  5. Deborah Terry March 24, 2014 11:10am

    Dear colleagues

    Thank you for taking the time to send through these comments. I appreciate the comments and understand the concerns that are being expressed. I am also very aware of the fact that a change process of this scale impacts on everyone’s workload and I am very thankful for the extra work that has been put in by many people across the University over the past few months.

    We are working closely with each of the Pro Vice-Chancellors in order to manage the timing of the change processes as effectively as possible and to ensure that there are no adverse impacts on PhD students. Colin Stirling and I also met recently with the Heads of School and will continue to do so in an effort both to understand the issues that are being experienced in the Schools and to provide Heads with as much support as possible. Furthermore, my colleagues, Jill Downie and Jim Mitchell, are working hard to respond to any specific student concerns.

    In terms of the new teaching-focused staff, we hope that we will fill all of these new positions, but understand that it may take us some time to to do so, given that they are new positions. The introduction of the new cohort of staff was agreed to through the recent Enterprise Bargaining process, and we are committed to supporting staff in these new positions in order to ensure their success. In this respect, we are currently considering the specific details of support programs that will be available to teaching-focussed academics, the details of which will be announced as soon as possible.

    As we adjust to the impact of technology-enabled teaching, classes are increasingly being moved to ‘flipped classroom’ or ‘active learning’ formats. This is not a cost saving strategy. The strategy is based on clear evidence that students learn best when they have the opportunity to be highly engaged in their learning activities. Although some lecture components of units have been reduced, this is occurring as a consequence of thorough reviews of the curriculum and in response to the goal of introducing more active learning opportunities for students. Most students are responding well to the new learning opportunities. However, Jill Downie and her colleagues will be carefully assessing this impact, as they seek to ensure that we are providing students with the teaching and learning environment best suited to their learning styles and most likely to yield positive student outcomes.

    Thank you once again for the comments received in response to my Note to Staff. I will be speaking on the University’s change agenda at the VC Forum on 2 April, and look forward to receiving more feedback from staff then.

    with best wishes

    Debbie

  6. Nikolai Dokuchaev March 25, 2014 8:24am

    On a side note: a reform of AWMS was supposed to accompany the reshaping. However, it appears that since 2013 and up to date, i.e., at the end of March 2014, individual and department academic reports are not even available for staff memebers.

  7. Bobbie Oliver March 25, 2014 12:29pm

    Vice Chancellor,

    There is a good reason why the students would go public. They are no doubt aware that any concerns discussed ‘with the University’ would be treated with the same disdain that staff concerns have been treated. In the re-shaping of our School, none of the concerns that I or my colleagues raised were addressed; they were simply dismissed out of hand.
    I have argued and will continue to argue, re-shaping is bringing nothing but chaos, stress, and a bad reputation for the University. It will not achieve aims of research and teaching excellence.
    Let me give just one instance. My colleague, an excellent teacher with a strong research background was made ‘redundant’ – a misnomer as her work still remains – and her request to remain until mid year was refused by the PVC Humanities. Remaining until June would have enabled her to complete the work of coordinating a unit with 230 enrolments and permitted a smooth transition for next year. Instead, she was forced to explain to first year students why she wouldn’t be in class next week (because of the appalling timing of the ‘redundancies’). What an introduction to Curtin for them! The work fell to me to coordinate the unit and to find 3 tutors to replace her in a very short space of time.
    None of the available tutors were currently employed at Curtin so this meant further delays going through the employment process. This whole matter has been handled unethically, inefficiently and unjustly. No wonder staff and student morale is low, and no wonder that members of the Curtin community would seek some external forum in which to express their grievances!

    • Colin Stirling March 26, 2014 1:55pm

      Dear Bobbie,
      Thank you for raising your concerns. Thank you also for your commitment to our students and for standing in under these circumstances. This transition period has not been without its difficulties but our colleagues around the University have done a great job in responding to these issues. Once re-shaping is complete then I believe the benefits to Curtin, for both staff and students alike, will be manifest.
      Regards,
      Colin

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