Keep it clean 

So what does being a high performance sports manager involve, a Deakin research project inquires.  Um, confiscating all the syringes?

What will Brett get?

We will know today whether higher education and training will have a friend in cabinet. Some speculate Brett Mason will not even make the ministry. Others suggest with the departure of Sophie Mirabella, Senator Mason is likely to keep higher education and pick up science (as in CSIRO and the chief scientist) reporting to a portfolio minister.  “Fingers crossed” is all Liberals well disposed to the senator would say over the weekend.  It was probably an accurate reading of the situation – there are always many, many political parts to assemble in cabinet making. As one reader reminded me, back in 2010 higher education had no minister at all until one of Julia Gilard’s advisers noticed the oversight and passed the portfolio to “Silent Chris” Evans.

Scathing and shaming

Plenty of people argued in 2010-2011 that then University of Queensland vice chancellor Paul Greenfield need not have resigned over the way his daughter was admitted to the university’s medical school. In my opinion Friday’s report from the the state’s Crime and Misconduct Commission confirms that argument was and remains unsustainable. There is no need to repeat in detail what the CMC has put on the record, other than to recommend it to everybody who has ever been leant on to bend the rules to please the powerful. What is more important, is the Commission’s forensic criticism of the way the university dealt with the scandal. It is a textbook case of how anything other than immediately presenting all the facts in a crisis, however embarrassing, inevitably damages the reputation of organisations and individuals.
As the CMC makes clear, the university did itself no good by trying to keep quiet the reasons for the resignation of Mr Greenfield and senior DVC Michael Keniger. Thus it describes the media statement regarding their departure; “although factually correct, the media release by the university could fairly be interpreted to mean that there had been an investigation and its conclusion was that no misconduct was found to have occurred. It omitted to disclose that the investigation conducted on behalf of the university had not been tasked with making findings of misconduct.”
Some suggest the investigation got out of hand. This is nonsense on stilts, demonstrated by the way the commission explains what went on.
“It may be considered that the right balance was not struck between the public interest on the one hand and protecting the public interest on the other, and protecting the reputation of the university and the reputation of the two most senior officers on the other.
The university demonstrated a lack on transparency in its public statements and in its public statements to its own staff. The CMC review identified that the leadership of the university had difficulty knowing how to deal publicly with the suspected official misconduct of two of its most senior officers.
The diligence of the admissions staff in difficult circumstances must be acknowledged. It is unfortunate that the university’s public statements characterised what occurred as an irregularity in the admissions process when, in fact it was the admissions staff who raised and recorded objections to the decision to force an offer to the vice chancellor’s daughter.”
The good news in this story is the way administrators and academics protested at the time. Members of the National Tertiary Education Union also demonstrated their respect for the university’s reputation by speaking up in a carefully considered fashion.  But there is a great deal of bad news in the way the university administration handled what was an entirely unnecessary problem. The CMC report says all that needs to be said. It’s message must not be forgotten.

Ex cathedra

Stephen Parker is in the happy position of having more University of Canberra land than he knows what to do with and so he wants to go into business with people who have ideas and presumably money to develop them. “I think the campus of the future will be a special community resource, where learning, discovery, cultural activities, sport, business, innovation, health and residential living all combine,” he says. Flash way of  spruiking real estate development, but who am I to comment? Instead, I will just leave it to the vice chancellor. ““I think the university is the cathedral of a modern knowledge economy; and this campus can be a new form of cathedral town.” Good oh, but in whose service, God or mammon?

So what does UQ think?

The university extracted what it could in its Friday reply to the CMC report – which is not much. The official statement “is pleased” the CMC confirmed Chancellor John Story and the UoQ senate “genuinely acted in what they believed were the best interests of the university.” The statement also adds how “competing interests” made everything difficult. But among the weasel words are the admissions;
“the university has noted and taken on board the conclusion of the CMC that it demonstrated a lack of transparency in its public statements and in its statements to its own staff. “
“The university accepts, however, that its response was not well handled and acknowledges that it lacked the transparency called for in the circumstances.”
Too right, Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj did not work for UofQ when all this happened – but it is up to him to ensure the culture change needed to ensure nothing like it ever does again.

History girls

La Trobe University honorary associate in history Janet Butler is the winner of the NSW Premier’s Australian History Prize. Dr Butler wins for Kitty’s War, a book based on the diaries of WWI front line nurse Kit McNaughton. The general history award went to Saliha Belmessous (University of New South Wales), Assimilation and Empire: Uniformity in the French and British colonies 15410-1954 .

Brief (in brief)

So what should the new minister/parly sec do? One issue he, she or they, should get stuck into is the cost of journal publishing. Argument rages in the UK between advocates of green access and gold (research funders pay to have articles in open access mags) but things are quiet here.  But here, while research funders require publicly funded research to be universally available after a while  the journal publishers are still able to charge institutions for publishing papers.  There is a case that the existing model is the only commercially viable approach. However, it’s about time the conservatives do what Labor wouldn’t – investigate whether the taxpayer is receiving value for the money they provide commercial publishers.

 From the desert prophets come

Here’s hoping the incoming research minister does not get the speech in his in-tray Peter Murphy from James Cook University will deliver on Wednesday week. From the sound of it Professor Murphy will make a case for cutting university research. Apparently we are enduring a “desertification of the imagination”.
Modern economies are ideas-driven but we live in an era when big ideas have dried up. … The more modern societies spend on ‘research and development’, the fewer breakthroughs are generated …The humanities and creative arts are treading water. Core areas of the natural sciences are increasingly sterile. … Experiment and research in technology and medicine remains outwardly productive but generates fewer and fewer high-level discoveries. … As universities have expanded in the past 40 years, the level of research and creative achievement has shrunk dramatically.”
You can just hear the Finance official quoting the paper and explaining how Professor Murphy proves the best way of generating research breakthroughs is shrinking universities.

We need a CRC for copywriting

The Advanced Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre announces a commercial consultant’s seminar. “Comprehensive, cutting-edge and hands-on, Innovativity is an interactive training program designed to help Australian manufacturers.” Innovativity? Oh please. It will be incentivisation next.