Stuart McCutcheon : Professor's claims over uni at odds with facts

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Auckland University's focus has been on increased quality, says Stuart McCutcheon. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Auckland University's focus has been on increased quality, says Stuart McCutcheon. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Nigel Haworth's claims (Herald, March 10) of rampant managerialism at the University of Auckland are at odds with the facts and thus rather surprising for a research professor.

The university is governed by a council which includes (in the majority) representatives of the staff, students, alumni and Minister of Education. This council sets the strategic direction for the university.

It also hires and - when necessary - fires the vice-chancellor. All the senior academic managers of the university have had successful careers as scholars before taking up managerial appointments.

All of them had their applications for appointment to management roles considered by committees that included academic and general staff members of the university. This is not a model that would be recognisable in most corporates. While Professor Haworth suggests this alleged managerialism has led to increased workloads, the fact is that since 2005 student numbers at the university have been essentially stable, in contrast to the nearly exponential growth
of the previous 100 years.

Our focus has clearly been on increased quality, not on quantity, and the quality of the students we teach has undoubtedly risen.

Moreover, university management provides resources to faculties so as to ensure that the number of students each staff member teaches is maintained at the level of leading Australian universities. This is done specifically to ensure that workloads do not get out of hand and that the quality of the teaching experience is maintained despite continued reductions in funding.

Professor Haworth, like his colleague Professor Jane Kelsey (The Panel with Jim Mora on Radio New Zealand National last Monday) claims not to understand the basis of my salary offer to staff. This is curious indeed given that I met with senior union members - at my request - on December 22 to explain the reasons for the offer.

I reassured them at the time, and have continued to do so, that it is not my intention to amend significantly the policies that allow staff to apply for research and study leave or to spend up to a day a week working on outside activities. It is important to note that even under the present arrangements, these are not rights. They are benefits that require the approval of a university manager, often on the advice of academic colleagues. In any event, these provisions
remain in the amended employment agreements - it is just the policies related to them that I propose removing.

Given these assurances it is perhaps not surprising that nearly 1100 academic staff who are employed on individual employment agreements have agreed to the offer, apparently willing to accept my assurance that I have no intention of damaging their conditions.

They have probably worked out for themselves that it would be illogical for the vice-chancellor of an international research university to deprive academic staff of opportunities to build productive local and international research relationships. They may be aware that other universities - Otago, Waikato and several leading Australian universities, for example - do not have such policies embedded in their employment agreements either.

They may be aware, too, that Auckland has the highest academic salaries in the sector - perfectly appropriate for the top-ranked university - and that base academic salaries have risen by 36 per cent over the past six years (which they needed to do, given that we compete for staff internationally).

And, given the low risk to their conditions, they have probably also worked out that in the present economic environment, our offer of a 4 per cent salary increase and additional annual leave is a pretty good deal.

- NZ Herald

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