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  • Writer's pictureKane Murdoch

On wastage

Evening all,


We're back for another week in the endless quest to make universities a fulfilling and rewarding place to work. If I have to live until I'm 182 to pay off the mortgage on my house in Sydney, I might as well try to make my working life a bit better for all involved.


I want to change tack today, and talk about another way in which universities are incredibly wasteful (haha, got you).


I see a lot of academics on twitter, and in real life, talking about the various painful stages of becoming, and growing, and succeeding as an academic. I hear you. I see you. It's hard. And painful. And often damaging or soul destroying. Your pain is the destruction of human potential, and I feel sad that you are treated this way.


But I would like to point out that professional staff have much of the pain, without the rewards or the respect in academia. When restructures happen, the scythe swings at us first. We don't get promoted, ever. We have no incentive to do better. In fact, if you get the wrong boss, you can be very actively incentivised to do a worse job because they're threatened by excellence, and sometimes even threatened by competence.


(*cough*).


Luckily I don't suffer from that now.


Aside from any personal annoyance I might feel at all of that, my overriding feeling about it is disgust at the waste of potential. Let's take a real life example.



I started at unis in a big school of engineering at HEW6 (Australian levels 1-10 in which 10 is the most senior). I won a Vice-Chancellor's award for the stuff I did there. Someone managed to help me get me to L7 (band reference for you 90s female rock afficionados). Tapping out (after more than 6 years) what I felt I could achieve there, and seeing a uni restructure coming over the hill, I dumped most of what I knew and could do and went to a totally different area of the uni, student conduct. Unis don't exactly manage people transition well. I left one job on friday and started another one up the hill on Monday.


In the new role I started doing good stuff there, by most accounts. With a good friend and colleague (@fourthlinemagic) we won another Vice-Chancellor's award for our work on contract cheating. Then Covid hits, and the uni decides it needs to slash staff. I kept my job, but that experience again reminded me that the uni doesn't think much of professional staff at all. And so in good time I leave the uni because there was no way forward there.


People who are literally at the absolute top of their fields in professional spaces (I'm not sure where the 3rd space begins and ends) can simply shut down their computer one day and they're gone. Am I the only one who sees how stupid this is? Unis have some absolutely incredible people working for them (not me, I'm merely excellent 😎) and it strikes me that the institution has not even the foggiest idea that most of them even work there.


I had a random discussion with one of the "talent" people from the uni one day. I asked them why they don't see the VC's awards as a talent pool to cultivate. I asked why they don't ask these people "what do you want to do here?" and help them achieve it, for the betterment of both the staff member and the uni. He looked at me dumbfounded, said "I don't know, I should look into that. I'll be in touch" and left. I heard no more of it but the question stands.


So let me end with a practical suggestion. If your uni has awards for professional staff, start considering how you can lay out a career for these people, allowing them to stretch themself, and benefit your organisation, all in one fell swoop. But don't leave them to rot on the vine, and (worst of all) don't allow them to simply shut down and sign off because you were too blind to give a damn. Otherwise they probably will. I know of two people beside myself who won VC's awards at our shared previous uni, but now work at my current uni. Seems like several balls were dropped.


Till next time,

KM




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6 Comments


Guest
May 03, 2023

As a current academic working at my department,I'm sure the idea of change the current learning environment or policies must feel like the ramblings of a verbose simian who's lost in their own world of words. It's interesting to hear that some of your colleagues at the university view those striving for change as misguided or even destructive. What you write is totally true, but I guarantee the university do not have energy, budget or resources to change the fund allocation of researching, change the special consideration policy appear to be "fair". No changes is the most cheapest for our current learning environment. It's just like a heartwarming underdog story written by you, where the hero faces countless setback…

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Kane Murdoch
Kane Murdoch
May 03, 2023
Replying to

I can't live with the idea that I phone it in for the next two decades. I've watched people do it. And so here we are. I live in hope that there will be a leader or group of leaders who start to look at their orgs with not my eye, but a similar eye.

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Guest
May 02, 2023

I also got a VC’s award for teaching excellence and was offered a single extra year’s extension on a less than half an FTO contract. After being appointed directly to the role during a hiring freeze for my particularly unique third-space expertise. Sigh.

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Kane Murdoch
Kane Murdoch
May 02, 2023
Replying to

I hate hearing this, but I'm not surprised. Awards are a sop to keep people giving more for no reason.

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Guest
May 02, 2023

I once got a VCs award for teaching excellence and was knocked back for promotion to Associate Professor the next year while the academic who won the VCs award for Research in the same year as I got the teaching award was promoted to Associate Professor the next year. That told me everything I needed to know about how excellent teaching was valued and I took my excellent teaching elsewhere soon after.

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Kane Murdoch
Kane Murdoch
May 02, 2023
Replying to

That experience really encapsulates a bunch of things I've talked about over the last few weeks, doesn't it? I'm glad you went somewhere that your quality is recognised. But it sucks that you had to uproot to do it. Changing jobs is hard, and slows us down in many ways until we get reestablished. Thanks for sharing .

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