Murdoch Affirms Freedom of Speech
Murdoch University’s acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Taggart has reaffirmed the University’s support for freedom of speech and social justice on campus, saying he will attend a #LetThemStay photo shoot planned for later today.
This comes after a furore last week when an academic was phoned by a University manager and told that a #LetThemStay photograph she tweeted was inconsistent with the “University Brand”. The academic was asked to edit the photo presumably to get rid of Murdoch signage above a group of staff and students holding signs supporting the rights of refugees. She was told it was because the so-called Murdoch Brand was not to be associated with political activity. Rightly, the academic refused to edit or remove the tweet.
Unsurprisingly, an NTEU Facebook post revealing the story was viewed more than 15,000 times within days and provoked the ire of hundreds. Many referred to Murdoch’s "once-proud" record of championing independence, critical thinking and academic freedom, while others expressed alarm at the very concept of protecting the brand. “So what, pray is compatible with Murdoch’s ‘brand’ if not safety and justice,” wrote one.
In something of a welcome response Acting Vice-Chancellor Taggart has spoken to both the academic concerned and NTEU, saying that Murdoch University values and supports both freedom of speech and social justice, adding that the request to edit the photo had not come from senior management.
NTEU Murdoch Branch President Anne Price said, notwithstanding the Acting VC’s response, the incident is yet another consequence of hiring managers who have no idea of the values and characteristics of universities, let alone the importance of University staff acting as the critic and conscience of society.
UWA Students Gate-crash VC’s Sanctuary
Students gate-crashed the offices of University of Western Australia’s Vice-Chancellor Paul Johnson yesterday afternoon in a protest against his decision to axe 300 staff. They had intended to present him with a symbolic cheque for his almost-one-million-dollar salary, something they say has come out of their pockets at the expense of staff.
Professor Johnson failed to emerge from his office, instead, the students were told by security officers to leave the offices because they were on “private property”.
Earlier, students heard that the Vice-Chancellor’s claim that the decision to axe staff because the university is “spending more than it earns” was simply untrue, as was another claim that the University is a very high cost and low revenue per-student-university.
The University’s own annual reports as well as Department of Education and Training statistics show that the University made operational surpluses totalling $419 million over the last 5 years, and that its operating margin or surplus of income over expenditure in 2014 was proportionately the highest among the Group of Eight universities.
Similarly, the University’s revenue per equivalent full-time student load is the third highest in the prestigious Group of Eight universities at just under $50,000 per student according to official data.
Meanwhile, a formal consultation period between University management and staff and NTEU to consider the plan to axe jobs is due to end on 7 March, with a recommendation from the Vice-Chancellor due to go to the University’s Senate for approval on 14 March
NTEU will be staging protest action outside the Senate meeting, starting at 3.30pm on Monday 14 March. Please follow this link for more details.
Rising Tide of Insecure Work at Universities
Figures recently released by the Department of Education and Training show that the concept of secure work for academic and professional staff at Australia’s universities is under threat, with casual staff now making up approximately 40 percent of the workforce and those on fixed-term contracts a further 25 percent. It leave just 35 percent as “on-going” employees.
An analysis of the data reveals that since 2000 what was a rising tide of insecure employment has turned into a tidal wave.
Of the more than 200,000 staff now employed in the University sector, more than 81,000 are casual, almost 46,000 are on fixed-term contracts, leaving 72,600 on an on-going employment basis. The rate of casual employment has grown at 4.1 percent per annum against 2.3 percent for on-going employees.
Compounding the rise in casual numbers is the somewhat alarming statistic that less than 1 percent of all new positions at an Australian University between 2005 and 2014 were “tenured” positions in teaching and research. What have traditionally been described as on-going or tenured teaching and research positions now only account for one in six positions and, given that there has been virtually no growth in this area, it is difficult not to conclude that tenured teaching and research staff are fast becoming an endangered species.
UWA Abandons Role as University?
According to a submission to the State Government’s Economics and Industry Standing Committee, the University of Western Australia is a now a "$1 billion a year innovation business”. Nowhere does the submission refer to the traditional role of universities as places of scholarship, teaching and learning, instead it lapses almost incoherently into banality, describing its role as being to “embed the University at the core of the innovation ecosystem”.
Seemingly forgetting its ties to the broader community, UWA management describe the University as an active member of the State’s peak business organisation, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, its industry engagement strategy to “strengthen its path to impact and allied commercial return on investment (sic)”.
Driving towards their goal of encouraging entrepreneurial behaviour amongst its staff and students, UWA management go on to lament the Federal Government’s orientation towards assessing and rewarding universities predominantly based on academic outputs and coursework biased towards academic pursuits. The result, management opines, is that graduates are not “industry-ready” and not as highly valued by potential employers.
It seems of little wonder then that the Vice-Chancellor appears to have replaced the emphasis on the University’s 100 year old motto of “Seek Wisdom” in favour of the lamentable “Pursue Impossible”.
Growth Team Recruiter on Board
NTEU’s WA staff numbers have been swelled with the appointment of Glenda Bourne as a recruiter until late in 2016, her role to increase NTEU membership in the Sate through direct recruitment.
Glenda has worked at UnionsWA as part of the Save Our Services campaign, assisted unions during the Canning by-election last year and completed a UnionsWA work traineeship in 2015. The traineeship included working with unions and performing electorate duties with a local Member of Parliament.
Glenda will be meeting and recruiting potential members at each of the NTEU branches for approximately three days each week on a rotational basis; our request to members is that if you see Glenda in your work area please make her welcome and point her in the direction of any potential members she can recruit.
NTEU Calls for Consultation over Legislative Changes
Legislation to amend the five WA University Acts should be open to public scrutiny and Committee debate in Parliament according to NTEU WA State Secretary Gabe Gooding. Until now, the proposed changes have been kept close to the chests of Vice-Chancellors and their Senates or Councils who have been sworn to secrecy over the detail of the legislation.
NTEU officials are currently meeting with Members of Parliament from the Green and Labor parties to discuss the impact of the proposed legislation. Meetings have also been requested with National MPs after the Minister for Education confirmed to NTEU officials that the Bill will not be open for public consultation or scrutiny, nor is it his intention that it go to Committee stage in Parliament.
While the legislation is yet to be tabled in the House, Ministry officials have confirmed that it contains provisions to cut the size of senates and councils, replace elected staff and student representatives with appointed ones and eliminate elected Alumni and Convocation representation completely. The legislation will also propose that University management be able to cut funding to student guilds currently used to provide services and amenities.
Ms Gooding says that changing governance structures is a significant move and one that has the potential to impact on the way Universities operate. “Traditionally, governing Senates and Councils have comprised members of the public at large and communities that Universities represent, but increasingly there has been a narrowing of focus and that broad representation has diminished.
“The proposed changes will narrow that focus even further, and it is inevitable that appointed staff will be those who management hand pick. For that reason, it is vitally important that the public have an opportunity to comment on the Bill so there is rigorous debate on the contentious issues,” MS Gooding concluded.
Pictured are Green MP Lynn MacLaren and NTEU WA State Secretary Gabe Gooding.
Protest Continues Against Anti-Protest Bill
NTEU members were among hundreds who turned out on the steps of Parliament last week to protest against what has been dubbed Colin Barnett’s Anti-Protest Bill. The Bill passed through the Upper House early last week, but is yet to pass through the Lower House.
The legislation is squarely aimed at curbing what was once considered lawful protest action by making it illegal to “prevent a lawful activity” or having a “thing” Police believe could be used to prevent a lawful activity.
The legislation intends to make it possible for peaceful protesters to be jailed for up to two years or fined up to $24,000 for engaging in pickets and other action where work is disrupted. Worse, the law will reverse the onus of proof, meaning that accused people will be required to prove their innocence as supposed to current standards whereby the burden of proof is on the prosecution.
NTEU WA State Secretary Gabe Gooding called on NTEU members to support any further protests against this Bill, saying that it was an affront to the civil rights of citizens. She added that peaceful but disruptive protest had been an integral element of social change both in Australia and internationally, including efforts to achieve an 8-hour working day, universal suffrage, abolishing apartheid and defending the rights of refugees.
Premier Barnett appears intent on passing the Bill, ignoring a Federal Senate motion calling on his Government to drop the anti-protest Bill, describing it as divisive and unnecessary, and the United Nations labelling it as “chilling”.
Important O-Day Message to Students
Enrol to vote and then to actually vote in the Federal Election later this year was the message from NTEU and UnionsWA to enrolling students during O-Week at UWA and Curtin University last week. A similar message will be given to students at Murdoch University’s Market Day today.
Students were also given information on the importance of weekend pay rates and advice about the potential for tuition fee deregulation under the Liberal Government.
The message from NTEU and UnionsWA supports a “Welcome to Work” campaign by United Voice and SDA, the unions for retail and hospitality workers, setting out work rights for international students. Their message is that everyone who works in Australia is protected against unfair treatment and is entitled to minimum pay and working conditions. That message is reinforced by the advice that international students are entitled to work to support their study, and that there are unions to support and advise them.
Six Lies About Women and Work
Six Lies About Women and Work is the topic of the UnionsWA International Women’s Day function and presentation, set to be held at 5.30pm on Wednesday 16 March.
The speaker, Dr Rae Cooper, Associate Professor in Work and Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney, is a researcher on flexible working arrangements.
International Women’s Day is celebrated annually in Australia, having first emerged from the activities of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe. Since then, International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.
Drinks and light refreshments will be provided at the UnionsWA event, but registration is essential.
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