From Ex UWS Academic! [Thanks so much for this contribution, for sharing your experiences. Nothing yet published on this blog quite captures the sad state of the university as well as this does. Eds.]

That’s me. After many years at UWS I finally gave up the fight. I didn’t retire. I wasn’t pushed. I didn’t opt for the doubtfully ethical “early retirement.” I just served my regulation 6 weeks minimum notice and left.

Why?

I loved educating and believe I made a major contribution. Certainly feedback was always above average and it wasn’t because I courted popularity by passing everyone who turned up every now and again.

It wasn’t because I had problems with academic colleagues. I left behind great and able colleagues both past and present. That includes those of many other disciplines.

It wasn’t dissatisfaction with salary. I always put in many more hours than I was paid for but that is / was normal for real academics.

There are three fronts where academia was fighting a war.

First was a war in defence of the integrity of the course. It was forever being watered down with reducing content, reduced face to face teaching, and increased student staff ratios. 18 hours face to face with student staff ratio of 16:1 has become 12 hours (over less weeks) with student staff ratios of up to 40:1. What sort of tertiary education is that? A third rate system by a third rate university far worse than universities elsewhere in Australia and in our region of South East Asia. Masters programs, built and run by committed academics, were “stolen” by a Dean who desperately needed income so that the Deanery would not be solely a cost centre.

Second was a war in defence of academic freedom. Course schedules dictated by non teaching administrators with no experience in the disciple. Unit outlines similarly dictated. Assessment regimes not determined by academics but determined by “academic” administrators. My way / your way / our ways will always be a matter of debate but they are for academics to determine and discuss as academics. The issues of assessment type, length, examination lengths were issues for academics to fight over and not for administrators to determine because, for example, they’d taken an entire floor of a new teaching building and converted to a Dean’s palace with a poorly used senior common room.

Third was a war against the ethics of taking in undergraduates who were unlikely to be able to graduate with a degree worth being termed “a degree”. It might be OK to take in low ATAR scoring undergraduates provided resources are poured in to bring up their standards of literacy, numeracy, and attitudes. But the solution of UWS was to progressively lower the standards of the units so that in some cases student with marks of 35% were scaled up and passed. The degree they will end up getting is not one that I could accept with any respect for personal my ethics.

The war was largely against the administrators who have proliferated to an amazing degree. 50% of salaries in audited UWS were labelled as administrative. With administrative salaries being on average lower than academic, that meant approximately 60% of staff were administrative; not educating, not researching, not publishing or involved in community engagement. And don’t forget that some administrative costs have been taken out by using contract staff.

Worse still is the fact that academics were still carrying large administrative loads themselves. Probably 75% of the payroll was spent on administration.

How to cut costs? UWS did it by increasing on cheap labour sessional staff. Increasing student staff ratios.

How to increase income? UWS did it by reducing drop out rates by reducing standards. Sell as many degrees as you can overseas and don’t worry if they graduate and can still barely communicate in English.

No! Sorry but my heart and energy was no longer into a fight that has dragged on for years with successive reorganisations doing nothing more than increasing the number of administrators.

In taking about “administrators” critically, please accept that this is no criticism of those administrators at the coalface of dealing with students and helping academics on a day to day basis. The worst of the administrative breed was the academic turned administrator whose chief objective looked to be rising up the academic ladder rather than educating, researching and publishing.

Solution. Bring in Gina Rinehart for 6 months :) Certainly, get rid of the entire top two layers of UWS who have presided over the devastation of what could have been a great university. Aim for administrative costs of no more than 40% of the salaries bill but start at the top layers of salaries rather than the bottom.

Good luck!

You’ll need it.

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