From Perplexed Academic

When people retire from important and high profile positions, their minds may be concentrated on their legacy; on how respected colleagues and peers will view their overall performance. Often the perception will not be an objective and balanced one, encompassing your whole career, such as might be provided by a historian writing long after the event. The timing is often crucial and the last few years tend to loom large.

The sporting analogy is perhaps helpful. When do you retire? Do you call it quits while at the top of your game, so that the memory of your skills are not dulled. Do you carry on, for it is all you know and the applause of the crowd drives you on, even though injuries have taken a toll on your body, and your performance only very occasionally reaches the standards of earlier years. Will you face the ignominy of being dropped from the team and told that your services are no longer required? Given the financial rewards available, perhaps you play on purely for the money after the joy and the excitement of the game have long gone. One can think of former champions of a sporting code left on the canvas in an embarrassing display or drugged up with pain-killers and made to look ridiculous by younger, fitter players in a final game that will long cloud the public’s memory. Unfortunately, it is the sometimes pathetic and disappointing final performances that will stick in the minds of observers.  One would like to go out a “winner” but that’s hard to engineer.

So timing is critical. Had our VC moved on after the AUQA audit then the memory of her stewardship would have been more favourably reviewed than it now will be. Yes there were calamities like the RIF process but that could be blamed on others. Yes there were other episodes that may sully a reputation but the decision to extend her time here has not helped. The AUQA audit outcome, other than the major IT shortcomings that it revealed, reflected favourably on the immense effort and goodwill of staff. Following the formal acknowledgment of that effort, it would have been ideal time to pull up stumps and retire.

But the VC decided to bat on. Many reasons are given for this decision; the official one was that it would preserve ‘stability’ at UWS. In retrospect that has been a laughable outcome.  UWS has seen more instability in recent times than since the amalgamation. The restructure has not gone well, certainly in some Schools. It is clear that it will only be a matter of time before the next restructure tries to fix the errors of the current one. The VC seems genuinely surprised about the negative staff feedback that was received on the My Voice survey. Is she so out of touch? Several of the Deans  are  skeptical of the direction in which the university is going.

The financial situation of UWS deeply troubles her – it now appears she will be handing her replacement, the new VC, a university with a very large projected deficit in 2014. Her back flip on UWS online has been quite spectacular. It was only a few years ago that she was publicly saying that we would not proceed in that direction. Established online providers, like Charles Sturt, had been in that game for a long time, had developed high quality resources, and we would not be competitive. That all sounded terribly sensible. So why the back-flip? Then there is the shift to trimesters that academics and professional staff have very serious concerns about. Will it really increase student numbers? It will certainly make life far more miserable for staff and administrators. Perhaps this growth fetish – 2.5 per cent growth in annual student numbers – needs to be jettisoned. It was an highly unlikely scenario from the start and did she really believe that the other universities would sit on their hands while we vigorously expanded?

Her final year – 2013 – is shaping to be an unpleasant one. Enterprise bargaining will be difficult and given what has happened recently, industrial action is likely. Not a nice way to end your reign. The VC has already lost a number of rounds in Fair Work Australia recently. Management will say “We are broke and can’t offer much” while the NTEU will demand considerable staff compensation for the instability and restructures imposed on staff. Blended learning demands and the proposed severe cuts even to units with enrolments of nearly one hundred students are the latest impositions on staff. It could get ugly. So far it has mainly been passive resistance.

On the strength of recent experiences the VC will not be judged as favourably as she would like. The moral of the story is: one shouldn’t overstay one’s welcome.