Management review needed at university | Opinion

Staff at the University of Newcastle were left reeling this week, after learning that the university’s senior leadership has been secretly planning a university-wide restructure that will likely lead to massive job losses for professional staff.

This restructure follows a constant stream of no less than 15 major, formal, reviews and restructures of organisational units across the uiniversity over the past three years.

Did all of these costly previous reviews and restructures get it wrong? One starts to wonder whether the university’s current leaders know what they’re doing.

The rationale provided for cutting jobs bears little scrutiny. Management argues that the university has too many professional staff compared to academic staff, claiming that for every member of academic staff there are 1.3 professional staff, compared to the national average of 1.2.

But this difference of 0.1(!) is explained at least in part by many research assistants involved in academic work being counted as professional staff, by virtue of their employment contract.

Meanwhile, other professional staff cite intensified workloads and pressures following incessant restructures, and growing disillusionment with senior leadership and its hollow slogans about ‘agile solutions’ and ‘greater flexibility’. The claim that the university has too many professional staff doesn’t stack up.

In the face of this latest proposal, many staff are saying their faith in the university’s senior leadership is, frankly, at a profound low.

The annual ‘Your Voice’ survey of staff would, we suspect, confirm this, but to date, this year senior management has refused to release the results of the survey to those it surveyed. This is unprecedented, and reflects very poorly indeed on management.

There is no evidence of a need to slash jobs. The available evidence, in fact, suggests that the university’s senior leadership may be in crisis.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) is leaving at the end of this month, and despite significant notice, interim arrangements to cover this role were announced just this week.

The Faculty of Science and IT last had an ongoing leader back in 2014. Since then, no fewer than three acting or interim leaders have been drafted to hold the fort.

The leader of the Faculty of Business and Law is due to leave next year, and again it appears likely that instead of a timely and considered succession, interim arrangements will follow.

There is a worrying trend evident at UON. Senior leadership of a public university seemingly ignoring or dismissing research evidence, whether about staffing levels, or optimal office arrangements, in favour of a destructive ideology of relentless cost-cutting, out-sourcing and insecure employment.

Professional and academic staff work hard to deliver on the university’s teaching and research goals, and are justly proud of their achievements and impact.

Instead of a review of professional staff, we suggest a review of the university’s current senior leadership is in order.

Management, in their own words, describes the university as having ‘a relatively high proportion of… senior staff.’

Reviewing the current senior leadership can provide an opportunity to address that.

Associate Professor Tom Griffiths is president of the Newcastle Branch of the National Tertiary Education Union