Chancellor David Flanagan’s extraordinary interview

It’s (nearly) time

The Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014 is on the Senate programme for Monday. Yes there is plenty of time to pull it but Minister Pyne shows no sign of allowing Labor and its allies such an easy win by default.

Flanagan goes public

In an extraordinary interview on ABC Radio in Perth yesterday Murdoch University chancellor David Flanagan broke the silence surrounding inquiries undertaken by both the university and the WA Corruption and Crime Commission. The CCC is investigating former vice chancellor Richard Higgott and the universityprovost Ann Capling and (believed to be) three un-named other senior staff.

Mr Flanagan made no accusations against any individual, stating he knew lawyers would be listening. However he did specify the broad allegations being investigated:

* “misleading and deceiving the CCC”

* “significant conflict of interest” and lack of proper process around key appointments

* destruction of records covered by FOI and state requirements

* excessive termination payments

* bullying at the university

“All pass the ‘serious’ test,” the chancellor said. He revealed the CCC asked Murdoch to launch investigations in December 2011, and again this January. Mr Higgott took over at the university in August 2011  and Mr Flanagan became chancellor in August 2013.

Mr Flanagan said that the university examined the matters the CCC asked it to investigate but the investigation identified new issues, which the university had no choice but to take to the Commission.


Will this convince those who argue Mr Higgott is the victim of an attack by opponents of his vision for a reformed, research-focused Murdoch? Not a chance, but they are not the audience. This message is for the generality of staff who are angry at the way the reputation of their university is being traduced and reduced by internal critics who present Mr Higgott as a change agent brought down by mediocrities. It is also for opinion makers in Perth and researchers and the agencies that fund them in Australia and overseas. Mr Flanagan had to show them all that Murdoch is not out of control, that process is being followed and the university is well managed.

Did it work?  As to the judgements of Perth’s opinion makers and the international research community – this is the sort of controversy that shapes judgements for years and years. For all the talk of a commitment to research excellence Murdoch’s reputation will long be besmirched by this mess.  With the majority of staff however my guess is that the chancellor did well enough to convince them that appropriate processes are in place – precisely what the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union advocated yesterday. Certainly many will see the decision of the CCC to undertake its own investigation of Mr Higgott, as a demonstration of this. But it will take more than explaining why inquiries are underway to restore morale.

Don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing

Clarkson University in upstate New York reports a study of golfers showing a positive link between listening to jazz and putting. Oh please, as if any cat who digs jazz would play golf, or be young enough to walk around a course without a zimmer frame.

Oldies but goodies

Submissions to the cooperative research centre review are closed and the word is that a great many industry groups, and individual organisations, including major miners, are supportive, essentially because they know individual CRCS. In building business links to applied research it seems familiarity breeds confidence. “The enemy of industry involvement is change. Business like programmes with history and performance,” one observer of many industry schemes said yesterday, pointing to CRC-similar schemes in the US and Germany in place for 30 years.  “Every programme worldwide notes that academic-industry trust takes years to develop.”

No comparison

Griffith University yesterday was promoting Brisbane lord mayor Graham Quirk’s remark that the university “led the G20 agenda.” And all rival UoQ has to counter is a speech on the weekend by some blow-in called Barack Obama. Very nice, but the mayor of Brizvegas he isn’t.


Less bad news

The estimable National Centre for Vocational Education Research reports total apprentice and trainee starts for the September quarter improved on earlier this year. But don’t get too excited, the 49,000 figure is still the second lowest in a decade.

Painless savings

Yesterday’s CMM report that the feds will roll out a “modest” $2.5m social marketing campaign, selling the benefits of higher education to low SES kids, upset a budget conscious commentator who points out what such a sum buys, “25,000 hours of tutorials @$100hr, 10 $250,000 research grants, 25 lecturers for a year, or a whole lot of meaningless marketing drivel on social media” Perhaps Minister Pyne could tell the department to cancel the programme – if the hunt for savings gets really serious every little bit will help and no one will miss a generic version of individual university campaigns. Nobody except Kim Carr that is, who seems to have never seen an education saving he liked.

Dead on their feet

“Walk to work day a wake up call” the University of Melbourne announces. Very wise – can’t have sleepwalkers out in the traffic

Nothing relaxing about being casual

In the lead-up to next weeks Insecure Work conference in Hobart the CASA sessionals site has a piece on what the long summer breaks means to a casual staff veteran. “I find myself on the other side of the renting an apartment challenge. I have three months left on my lease, and a potential summer break of no income to pay the rent. Whilst I have attempted to live frugally, trained by my experience of long-term employment precarity, my savings will not stretch anywhere near that far.” People haggling over how many hours they need teach in a year’s time have problems this bloke dreams of.

Crucial detail scarce

Flinders University announced yesterday that recently retired South Australian governor Kevin Scarce will deliver its flagship Investigator Lecture for 2014 on Monday week. But it seems word travels slowly to the hermit kingdom that is Flinders, while Mr Scarce’s naval rank and years as governor are mentioned the announcement ignores his appointment on Wednesday as chancellor of the University of Adelaide.

Why didn’t they google him?

Which is what Vint Serf will probably say when he delivers a lecturer (with the award of an honorary doctorate to follow) at the University of South Australia today. Dr Cerf is a founding father of the wired world, being present at the creation of the domain name system and a prime mover in the creation of commercial email. He will speak on the security systems needed to keep the net safe and functional and the challenge to extend the net across the solar system, to space stations and the like. That’s what we need –cute kitten pics in outer space.

Long simmering dispute

The permanently simmering stoush over workloads at Curtin is bubbling again with union head Tony Snow urging staff not to agree to 2015 plans “that do not accurately reflect agreed or fair workload expectations.” Mr Snow says reducing casual staff and 55 per cent time allocations for teaching in one school “make a mockery” of management plans to increase research output. This is renewal of an argument over staff being moved to teaching only positions that last flared in March.