Absolutely FABuLous at UWA

plus Uni Melb wants academics to behave

and the hard task of selling science to the Senate

Fast and furious

Lauren Shaw and University of Queensland psychology colleagues are surveying the causes of road rage. They must have missed Walt Disney’s 1950 jekyll and hyde cartoon explaining what happens to Mr Walker when he becomes Mr Wheeler.

Thurs July 14

Suspicious of science

Science and Technology Australia has congratulated the government on re-election and reminded the coalition of its previous commitments to supporting science, ditto Labor and the Greens. “In our pre-election survey of the major parties, STA was heartened by strong cross-party support for strategic and steady investment in STEM research, infrastructure and education,” CEO Kylie Walker said yesterday.

Problem is that while the parties are on-side Malcolm Turnbull’s plan for a research and innovation led economy did not impress millions of electors. Universities Australia recognises this (CMM yesterday) and all other lobbies need to. As well as convincing ministers of the case for science lobbies have to make their case to senators, some of whom represent people who see innovation as a threat to their jobs and not the source of betters ones for their children.

Great and powerful friends

On the weekend US Vice President Joe Biden will visit the new Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, home to Peter MacCallum Institute and University of Melbourne researchers. Good, but UoQ still has the bragging rights, hosting Mr Biden’s boss in November 214.

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Academic freedom bigger than behaviour

The University of Melbourne has a draft appropriate behavior policy, which largely codifies common courtesy, apart from a couple of clauses that could mean whatever a university manager wants them to mean. Cl 5.1 states staff must “act in good faith and use skill and care in performance of their duties and responsibilities in a manner that will not intentionally cause serious risk to the reputation, viability or profitability of the university, consistent with their employment obligations.” As it reads this could cover cases of opinion based on scholarly work where, for example, a climate change scientist publicly denounced the university as immoral for holding shares in a fossil fuel company.

Then there is Cl 7, “the university recognises academic freedom of expression. Academic freedom of expression does not abrogate an employee’s employment obligations as set out in the employee’s particular terms and conditions of employment and university policies and processes

“There is a policy on academic freedom that’s OK but this ‘appropriate behaviours’ policy cuts right across it,” a staffer says.

La Trobe’s Roz Ward, who that university briefly suspended over comments which upset old- media, could fall foul of both these clauses. So could economist Paul Frijters who upset University of Queensland management with a controversial research project.

CMM suspects this is drafting over-reach at UniMelbourne, which unintentionally undermines the university’s commitment to the independence of academics, set out in existing policy, and will accordingly disappear. It will be interesting to see how academics respond if it doesn’t.

Hard to top

CQU was all set up to collect kudos with a “multi-million dollar bequest” announcement for Friday and then ANU got in first, celebrating $100m in cash and another $100m to come in income from Graham and Louise Tuckwell on Tuesday. It’s going to have to be a bloody big donation to impress anybody this week.

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Absolutely FABuLous

UWA VC Paul Johnson says the election makes the case for the proposed new structure of the university. “During the campaign higher education and research barely got a mention, we have to look to our own devices,” he told a recent staff briefing. And complex indeed those devices are, as explained by Senior DVC Dawn Freshwater.

While the academic structure is not yet fixed it seems there will be four faculties, down from nine, but not three or five, both of which were still possible a couple of weeks back. Overall the new senior executive will be down five positions. But beyond that nothing is determined. Where for example, should the Graduate School of Education sit? Planning now has it in the engineering and math faculty but it will also have a university wide role. Similarly physics could be in science or engineering. CMM also wonders whether calling a faculty FABL (arts, business and law) is a good idea.

As to administration Professor Freshwater is very clear about the need for one lean, mean administering machine. “We are one university, there is a one university, there is no us and them,” she says. This means each faculty plus the university’s central management, will have its own service delivery centre. But SDC staff will report to the director aligned with their function, not support unit. There is still work to do, with professional staff consultations to occur into August, presumably when people effected by the SDC plan will have worked out what it means.

Flinders education appointment

Flinders U has appointed Lindsey Conner dean of education. Professor Conner joins from Canterbury University in New Zealand.

Open Day of the Day

Monash makes it as the open day of the day for the way the organisers have dealt with the vast range of courses on offer at this enormous university. The website is slick, demonstrating what people will get on the day, which is information and lots of it. But jove is it ponderous. Forget the AI interfaces and digital fun and games on offer at other unis (say Swinburne). The closest thing Monash comes to campus-wide fun is “discovery stations” where you can go into the draw to win $2500 worth of digital gadgetry. Yes you can play with Mechanical Engineering’s racecar simulator, but you will have to find it (p17 in the Clayton programme).

Cartoonist rubbed out

In Perth the UWA student magazine Pelican has sacked the West Australian in protest at editorial cartoonist Dean Alston, some of whose work, Pelican’s Kate Prendergast writes, presents feminism “as a joke and an attention-getting sham.” You know the old-media is in strife when student organisations don’t want newspaper advertisements.

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Un-inventive

The US National Academy of Inventors has listed the worldwide 2015 top 100 universities that took out a utility patent, which the US Government defines as “a new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement thereof.” The University of California network is first with 489 and Rice U (in Houston) is listed last of a group on equal 96th with 25. The first foreign institution is Tsinghua U at 5th with 184. There are another ten internationals, mainly from Asia including no Australian institutions at all.

Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au