Where this came from: Flinders VC Colin Stirling plays a long game. In 2015 he started pushing for staff to either lift research outcomes or move to teaching-only roles (CMM May 19 2015) and now he moving to change the make-up of the academic workforce, with the first of a series of change proposals, presented to staff in the College of Nursing and Heal Sciences. It’s the culmination of a plan which the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union has long seen coming. In 2016 the union feared that management would try to force staff on the standard teaching-research-service model into teacher specialist roles. The two-sides ended up in the Fair Work Commission, where there was an agreement that teaching specialist positions could be continuing positions, once the university’s academic re-structure was in place, from this year. (CMM August 23 2017).
But by March the NTEU was worried that if management moved to have 50 per cent of staff in teaching-specialist positions, “any wholesale reconfiguration of the academic workforce will mean job losses and hardship. Teaching-only positions may be presented as shiny new opportunities, but the reality is more sinister.” ( CMM March 14 2018).
Which deterred Professor Stirling as much as not at all. In August he had his staff restructure ducks in a row, announcing that as the union had wanted a formal process for staff change, this is what he would deliver; “the university intends to implement teaching specialist positions and so is examining the best options to meet the union’s requirement for a restructure,” he said (CMM August 9).
Which is where we are now. Last week Professor Stirling set out his objectives; “the university aims to double its research performance, both in terms of research income and high calibre outcomes. In parallel, we will achieve international recognition as a leader in contemporary education by simultaneously increasing the academic staff resources dedicated to providing exceptional educational experiences for our students.”
In an all-staff message, Professor Stirling assured the Flinders community “there will be no reduction in the number of continuing academic staff in any college. On the contrary, the number of continuing academic staff at Flinders University is expected to increase through this process.”
What’s next: The university is now consulting with staff in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences on proposed changes, including the creation of new teaching specialist and separate research positions. Some 44 staff already in specified research or teaching positions are “out of scope” meaning it is identified academics in continuing teaching and research roles who will need to apply for teaching or research specialist positions.
But the union is not having it. Branch president Andrew Miller says the plan’s purpose is ‘to cull staff” and will put people “through a distressing and humiliating process.” It is also unnecessary, management has the capacity under the existing enterprise agreement “to transition willing staff into these roles.” The key word is willing.
What’s next looks to CMM like another visit to the Fair Work Commission.