Down River: A Retrospective of Jan Reid by Mark Hutchinson

You’ll need to rush down to Dymocks to get a copy of this rare and sought after little tome. Written by the university historian, and published in the dying days of the last vice chancellorship, it pays homage to the reign of Queen Janice. Yet only fify copies were printed and unfortunately, not a single one has been deposited in the university library. In view of all this you would assume, of course, that the Emeritus Regis paid for the production of the glossy little number out of her own pocket. But did she? Did she stump up the cash to pay Mark Hutchinson for his labour. Did she cover the very substantial production costs? Or did the taxpayers foot the bill? Was this yet another example of 2013 UWS management profligacy, as university employees were denied a pay rise for eighteen months? Watch this space.


From Joan of Nark



‘Jaenerys the Unburnt’, Mother of some rather big reptiles, Empress of Five Campdoms, has relinquished her rule. Finally, she finally called it a day (she had us guessing there for a while), surrounded by her adopted clan, the devoted ‘Beauraki’ (a band of savage paper people), and guarded by her ‘Unsullied’ (an army of ultra-disciplined fearsome eunuchs, former slaves, who got their licenses by killing off programs and even schools without blanching or moving a facial muscle). So, no more ‘Jangelising’, no more sermons about the sacred mission of bringing freedom, choice, and excellence to the peasants of Western Sydney, if not the whole known world. It’s enough to make me shed a crocodile tear or two, if not a whole river.



So hey, Ser Barney! If you’re out there, or have some ‘spiders’ in the network, House Looney (yes us, the one with the sigil that looks like a drip needle, although some people think it’s a bird or an opened book. Funny that.) needs another story. After the leeching we’ve had through the Jaenerys Crusades, something like Robin Hood would be good (you know, taking off the rich to give to the poor) – James Cameron, in his retelling of the tale, made a good point about moralising regimes bankrupting themselves through the pursuit of shiny ideas with no thought about the needs of the folks at home, or their own fates.



So, we’re a bit sick of the chivalric posturing, and the endless promotion of shiny expansiveness in order to flog a tired and underfed institution for the benefit of some Holy Grail (coconut shells anyone? )We’re all a bit tired of seeing your empires built on our corpses. In fact, we’re sick to death of being either tortured or ‘jollied along’ while we’re starved of proper funding for teaching and research in order to stock the table of management salaries, bonuses, and whimsy. And we’re made nauseous by our endless and indigestible diet of stupid slogans, calculated speeches made to some idea of some ideal consumer that infantilises the intelligence of any serious student, templates for everything (including ‘original thought’), measures of achievement (will a ruler suffice?), outcomes (did you hear the one about the constipated mathematician…), KPIs (Keep Pleasing Idiots ???), quality assurance and standards based assessments (if a camel wont fit through the eye of a needle it’s always possible to poke it in the eye with one…) … and the daily spray of new policy – soon we’ll be spending more time reading it than anything else.



And if you haven’t noticed already, House Looney is run along the lines of those contraptions that quaintly complicate simple processes, you know, those for switching on a light, say, which involve an orchestration of improbable triggers and perfect flows – like falling dominoes triggering balls running down pipes tipping scales hitting pop-up toasters tossing up flaming buttered crumpets igniting and burning a golden thread holding a silver ball which brushes past a flick switch as it falls towards earth turning it on and giving us light. I tell you, talk about complicated when a small thrust of a finger will do! I wont say anything here about (in)House Looney jokes i.e.


 Q: how many looneyversity committees does it take to change a light-bulb


A: all of them and then don’t hold your breath … if it’s anything like changing the content of your units, plan ahead. A couple of years should do it… Although I haven’t factored in the obligatory signing off by our perky CFO…



So I’d like to make an observation about the contents of your Looneyversity VC induction pac, which I’m guessing contains a pair of scissors and a hammer in case you want to indulge in a little trimming here and there, or just a bit of banging things about to rattle the troops (what’s left of them, that is, after last year’s ‘Battle of the Bulge’. Some exercise in belt tightening that was in the wake of all those new ipads and our recent $1,500 sign up bonus – what was that about? Secret Santa? Makes you wonder what the managers got).



Anyway, Barney, my observation is that rather than a sleek, well oiled and maintained machine raring to go, you’ve inherited a round table of managerial knights sitting on top of their ‘castles’ (for want of a better word) ingeniously held together by band-aids and a load of spakfilla. In fact, the children’s game ‘Kerplunk’ is probably a good way of thinking with images here. It’s a tube with holes. You stick wooden straws across it to form a platform before filling it with marbles. The aim of the game is to pull the straws out one by one without being the person left with the last straw before all the loose marbles in Kastle Kerplunk come tumbling down… Know what I mean?    

From Dougal Doubtfire

The Chancellor remarked that the VC has had more farewells than Nellie Melba or Johnny Farnham. But then, as he also said, this is Jan’s University. So, to celebrate her impending departure, we were bidden to be fed and watered in the new Pavilion restaurant.  Apparently, however, they had some difficulty in rounding up the troops. First the invitation went to the Professors and Senior Managers, then to the Associate Professors, then to spouses and partners, and finally on the night there were tables of students to make up the numbers. But it must be said that the new Pavilion scrubs up well, the food and service was excellent, as long as you can fend off the attacks from mosquitoes, and Scott Christensen was a capable Master of Ceremonies. Many, I’m sure, would have hoped that Andrew Cheetham would have been given that role. Andrew’s MC approach of ‘opening mouth and inserting foot’ has enlivened many an otherwise dull UWS event. We wish him all the very best for his retirement next year. The speeches of course were the highlight. I am not sure it was wise to give the Chancellor two speaking slots given his ribald and colourful remarks to an earlier professoriate dinner (that raised ire and eyebrows). So the organizers took a risk in wheeling him out again. True to form, instead of amplifying the V.C’s virtues, he spruiked the official history of UWS ($40 paperback, $55 hard cover). The VC had earlier noted that it is beautifully illustrated and ‘most of the photos are about me!’. The second part of the Chancellor’s speech again departed from the script and focused on his own achievements rather than those of the VC. Apparently he was once a member of a little-known pop band alleged to have drawn larger crowds than a rival band by the name of the Moody Blues. While there are no extant recordings of the Chancellor’s band, there was an an appropriate Moody Blues song  “Go Now” that was then played for the audience. Not sure what the VC made of all this. I am sure she was even more puzzled with the gift the Chancellor gave her – a photo of his former band. Her speech was puzzling, with tongue in cheek claims that she taught the CFO about balance sheets and ledgers, the media unit about brand and ….. . Like most UWS events there was plenty to gossip about at the end.

Recent email from Kerri-Lee Krause

Dear Colleagues
As you are aware, a recent analysis of support needed by academic staff to enhance their teaching was undertaken by Liz Deane and was the basis of the successful sessional FULT offering this semester. Another area of need that was identified was developing staff skills in teaching students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds and skills in addressing students’ academic literacy skills.

Come again?? Let me try to translate this. When we prune the passive constructions and the tortured syntax. I think you mean something like:  ‘Research conducted by Liz Deane has revealed that, in order to make them better teachers, academics need to be shown how to teach academic literacy skills to people from non-English speaking backgrounds.’  Really? Is that really part of their job? Don’t academics have enough on their plates already? I would have thought that if the looneyversity is offering places to people lacking sufficient academic literacy skills then it has an obligation to hire a good number of specialists who can address that lack, not foist more responsibilities on the already-overburdened academic staff.

As one initiative directed at this issue, I am pleased to be able to advise you that UWS College is able to deliver a 2 day TESOL basics  program in December… This offering will be free of charge to Schools…

Thanks for your support in this initiative.
Best wishes

Well I’m glad you’re directing initiatives at issues, Kerri Lee. We need more initiators at the looneyversity. But maybe you’d like to direct an initiative at another issue. At present the poor harried souls at the Hub for Academic Literacy and Learning (of which the staff diectory reveals there are just five!!), run a ‘library rover’ programme where they sit in a campus library and read over essays that students bring in. But they’re not allowed to correct their spelling or grammar. They can only check whether students are on track, answering the question/performing the assigned task adequately. The problem is that many of those who avail themselves of this service can hardly write a coherent sentence and there’s little the rovers can do. It frustrates them immensely. It’s like trying to put out wildfires with buckets of water.

If the looneyversity is going to open its doors to all-comers then it had better provide proper remedial support to those who are not well-equipped for higher education. Otherwise I suspect student satisfaction levels will plummet and with it UWS’s reputation.


From Horse with Burnt Stable
While it appears charitable to give places to students who experienced some difficulties due to the recent bushfires this sends a number of negative alternative messages for UWS.


1.  If there is  capacity for creation of new places then current staff are under deployed. That is, UWS is not using tax payers money efficiently at the moment.


2. If current staff are not under deployed, as seems the opinion of staff in the press and the increase in casualisation, it means that greater workload may be put on staff. or greater casualisation.


3. If current staff are not under deployed,  and there is not to be  greater workload on staff  or increase in casualisation, then it must mean that students with legitimate entrance scores are thus deprived  of a place, at no current fault of their own due to the bush fires.


4. This sets a equal opportunity problem  which could be legally challenged. What other sorts of trauma – not bushfire related – should entitle someone to a university place?


5. It sends a message that with no entrance score, UWS is lowering standards?


6. The offer will not be honoured anyway in courses where there are strong professional bodies controlling entrance such as medicine so it looks like a publicity stunt.



Someone has not thought this through. Much better to look at each individual students HSC mark,  and previous record and make a decision on each.   Related  procedures have long been used in Universities  to weight who would more likely pass a course, such as high maths scores being taken into account in mathematical related areas such as Engineering, where a poor score in Art for example is deemed less important. (Mind you, I have always had a different opinion that a bit of Art etc may have produced a less single minded engineer!).



From Dr Legal

It’s that time of the year again when we have to do our annual reviews through the wonderful (read clunky) online program Compass. My supervisor has already e-mailed me twice about it. Early in the year I sent my annual report on what I might be doing in 2013. It was a work of guessing, wishful thinking, and lots of conjecturing in order to assuage the supervisor (read someone who is not really an academic and does not understand fully what I do). At the time he was never happy with whatever I wrote and we went through a game of volleying emails back and forth with answers to his ‘further questions.’ It was an exhausting exercise and it wasted a lot of my time.


Now, it is time to show whether I have lived up to the expectations created in the first report. This time I wanted to make things different. No more wasting time with e-mails back and forth, my plan was to give him so much information, be so thorough, that he’d back off and let me be. After all, academia is one of the few professions in which you feel you have to be productive (and you want to be for the love of what you do!) even if you have no boss breathing on your neck. But the university does not believe it is in our own interest to work hard. It spends money and time devising endless online forms to be checked by a bureaucrat somewhere up the food chain. (Please note that the same bureaucrats are NEVER assessed or made to justify what they do and why they command salaries which are usually three times those of teachers and general staff).


So last week I spent 5 hours of my time not teaching, not writing, not supervising PhD students, not writing grant applications. No, I spent 5 hours filling out my compass annual review report. I had to justify how each of the things I did during the year benefitted UWS. Humm, how does publishing, being invited to conferences, presenting my work overseas, or having a PhD completion assist UWS in its mission? In my view, it is self-evident how they do. What is also clear is what doesn’t benefit UWS: the Compass review. Now the big question is: will my supervisor finally leave me alone to do my job as a teacher and a researcher? Watch this space…

Message to the good burghers of Parra-Matta, from his Excellency the Governor of New South Wales Lt James Whiskers. Let it be widely published in the town that a band of savages is gathered on the Cumberland Plain intent on wreaking foul and vengeful siege upon the estate of Rydal-Mere, Wednesday next. The Governor’s delegation sent in the company of the NSW Corps to appease the outlaws has been rudely spurned. The offer of blankets and bread seemed only to encourage the indigents to greater bouts of furey, fuelled as they were by the firewater that they too readily obtain from the more unscrupulous traders. Troopers will patrol the boundaries of the estate to ensure that citizens can go about their business unmolested by the heathens. Let it be known that any convict who finds reason to join the rabble will be tracked, caught and flogged roundly for their treachery.