Senate Summary April 2016

In this, my very last Senate summary, there are important issues to contemplate arising from the most recent meeting of Senate. One that I will reserve for a separate post is the key topic of Academic Integrity, and in particular the report of the Academic Integrity workshops hosted by Senate in November 2015.

So on to the big issues and, first up, there can be few things of greater import to our careers than the way in which the University rewards our efforts through promotion:

Academic Promotions Policy – A New Direction

Nicole Gower, the Director of Human Resources, provided a summary of the review of the Academic Promotions Policy, which is currently ongoing.

Amongst other things, this review has been tasked with reducing the burden of the promotions on candidates and committee members, ensuring greater Faculty involvement in these decision processes, and better aligning the standards applied to promotion with those for external recruitment. It has also been asked to consider how we might structure pathways for promotion which cater for the differing strengths and workload profiles of academic staff.

The proposed new model includes three key changes:

  • Candidates would be able to choose to apply in one of three pathways to promotion – teaching excellence, research excellence or combined research and teaching excellence.
  • Committees would be established at Faculty level to consider cases for promotion to all levels. Those committees would either approve promotions to levels B or C or make recommendations to a University panel for promotions to levels D or E. All candidates would be interviewed by Faculty panels, and Executive Deans would then be expected to advocate on behalf of Professorial (level D and E) candidates to the University committee.
  • The policy under development will provide a streamlined set of promotion criteria, which will be more closely aligned to the University’s strategic framework and are intended to be less burdensome for candidates to address.
  • Promotions rounds to all levels would occur only once a year, but a mechanism for out of round promotions would be introduced to handle pressing cases.

As things currently stand, promotions committees are asked to “impedance match” existing policy to the evolving needs of candidates and the University. This routinely requires significant use of the “relative to opportunity” clause, to justify promotions of those on research or teaching weighted appointments for example. While this has certainly proved to be a flexible and measured way to proceed, it is far from a clear, well articulated and transparent mechanism. By allowing for tailored promotion streams and stronger early stage engagement by Faculties, the proposed promotion process promises to greatly strengthen the transparency and accountability of this system.

Some improvements have already been made to the systems which support the promotions process, in order to alleviate some administrative burdens on all involved. As a new policy is rolled out, these will be expanded to further substantially relieve the weight of red tape.

Approval of Assessment Policy

I’m very pleased to report that, after a significant period of consultation and revision, Academic Senate has approved a new Assessment Policy & Schedules. The final version of this policy will be published on Policy Central very shortly, and it will come into effect from the beginning of session 2 2016. In the meantime, a marked up version of this final document may be found on pages 24 – 50 of the April Senate Agenda.

Schedule 3: Higher Degree Research Assessment Requirements is currently missing from the policy suite as it remains under development. This project is being led by Professor Nick Mansfield, Dean HDR and will involve review of the Thesis Preparation, Submission and Examination Policy and Procedure and consolidation of other guidelines and documents. Schedule 3 will be presented to the Higher Degree Research Committee, Senate Learning and Teaching Committee, and Academic Senate for discussion and final approval in the coming weeks.

In acknowledgement of the fact that assessment practices should, and do, vary across Faculties, Faculty Boards will be given autonomy and flexibility to develop, publish and implement procedures tailored to the way the Faculty conducts its own assessment regime. It is hoped that through this process Faculties will own, and be genuinely committed to satisfying, the requirements of the University’s assessment policy. A guidance document is currently being drafted to assist Faculty Boards in this process.

The new policy is a key plank in the implementation of Macquarie’s Learning and Teaching Strategy and provides a valuable opportunity for the University to reconsider assessment practices across and within programs.

I’d like to extend my warmest thanks to the members of the Assessment Policy working group, all of whom have committed enormous time and effort to bring about this major and very detailed policy revision.

Academic Freedom

Under the Academic Senate Rules of University Council, Senate carries a responsibility to advise University Council and the Vice-Chancellor on ‘measures to safeguard the academic freedom of the University’.

Academic Senate last revised its Statement on Academic Freedom in October 2006, and in the decade since then our University has evolved radically. We now find ourselves in an environment framed by ever increasing competition, greater financial pressures, and new regulatory restrictions. In light of these changes, it is time we reconsidered and renewed our commitment to academic freedom. To that end, Academic Senate has established a working party to consider threats to our academic freedom, to examine how we have upheld this value over the past decade, to examine how other institutions govern and support academic freedoms, and to rewrite the University’s Academic Freedom statement accordingly.

Early in this review process, it became apparent that our current statement is focused on defining the limits of academic freedom, rather than on the protection of those freedoms. It is also clear that the freedoms it upholds, and the rights and responsibilities it parametrises, are not well understood by the broad University community. Finally, the working party observed that this document is now well aligned with the University’s strategic intentions, as articulated in “A Framing of Futures”.

At the next Senate meeting, on 24 May 2016, a draft Academic Freedom Statement will be presented to Senate members for consideration. This revised statement has been drafted to:

  1. provide a commonly agreed definition of the term “academic freedom”;
  2. clearly articulate the importance of academic freedom to the University, its academic community, and society at large;
  3. detail the rights and responsibilities of Macquarie scholars, including staff and students; and
  4. adumbrate the rights and responsibilities of the University in upholding these freedoms.

As part of the discussion, Senate will consider a number of scenarios that have been designed to provoke thought and debate in regard to our definition and practice of academic freedom. These are to include an analysis of situations where a scholar might comment outside their area of expertise, make controversial political comments on social media, or make a sexist remark at an academic conference.

Finally, the working group reported that the University’s Public Comment Policy needs urgent revision, and that it was of the view that it contains provisions contrary to commonly held principles of academic freedom. Of particular concern is the clause that reads: “Comment on matters outside a staff member’s area of professional expertise must only be made in their capacity as a private citizen”. The working group will propose amendments to Academic Senate and the Vice-Chancellor for consideration.

Academic Appeals

Academic Senate has identified the development and implementation of an Academic Appeals Policy as a key priority for 2016. This is a very important policy development for both students and staff which will involve streamlining the structures which hear coursework and higher degree research appeals. At its meeting, Senate endorsed the grounds for an academic appeal which will be articulated in the new Policy (see pages 54 – 55 of the April Senate Agenda). These follow widely established principles for procedural appeal and review, such as those that apply in the public sector for example. In particular, they are framed largely to address issues of procedural fairness and natural justice.

To ensure the timely management of appeals and the appropriate membership from staff with the required breadth of experience, there will be a nominated group of staff eligible to be selected to sit on an Appeal Panel. Rather than having fixed membership, staff will be selected to form a panel based on availability, expertise, and independence. Staff nominated to sit on the Academic Appeal Panel will be provided with role specific training.

A full suite of documents, including the full Policy and separate Procedures to apply to each individual area of application, will be presented to the next meeting of Academic Senate on 26 July 2016 for consideration and approval. Training will then be rolled out across the University to assist in the implementation of the new policy.

Vale the Quality Enhancement Committee (QEC)

The Quality Enhancement Committee (QEC) was transferred to become a Committee of Academic Senate in November 2014. Prior to this time, QEC was a Committee of the Provost’s Office and reported its activities to the University Executive. During 2015, QEC discussed and endorsed a draft Terms of Reference, which outlined the three broad responsibilities for the Committee under the auspices of Academic Senate:

  1. Development and ownership of the University’s Quality Enhancement Framework
  2. Administration of the quality enhancement process
  3. Ownership of the Academic Risk Register

As the Committee further debated its role, it became apparent that its reporting lines and responsibilities were, of their very nature, fundamentally conflicted. In February 2016 the Academic Senate Standing Committee (ASSC) considered the question of the issues inherent in the role of QEC and concluded that the it would be better to disestablish QEC and to redistribute its responsibilities to the Academic Standards and Quality Committee (ASQC), the Office of the DVC-A and to Academic Senate itself. In short, at this stage in its development the University does not appear to need a separate committee, beyond those that already exist in the Executive and Academic Governance arms, to execute the Departmental, Faculty and Program review processes.

In line with the recommendations of ASSC, Academic Senate resolved to:

  • disestablish the QEC with immediate effect,
  • task the ASSC with responsibilities in regard to approval of reviews of academic Departments and Faculties, and
  • allocate any residual responsibilities variously to ASQC, Senate itself and to the Office of the DVC-A.

It was also agreed that the University would establish a working party to develop a new Quality Enhancement Framework, and that this work would be jointly governed by Academic Senate and the DVC-A.

More detail regarding the rationale for this re-organisation may be found on pages 21 – 23 of the April Senate Agenda.

Final Farewell

After over 13 years of service to the academic governance of the University, this was my last (ever) meeting of Academic Senate.

I was first appointed to the Academic Program Committee (APC), the precursor Senate’s ASQC, in late 2002, beginning an apprenticeship in governance that encompassed 5 years. I have served 9 years on Academic Senate, as the Chair of the Senate Learning and Teaching Committee for 3 years and, most recently, as Chair of Academic Senate itself for 3 and a half years.

What the future holds. Sunday morning coffee and maths, The Bun Shop, Baltimore MD, October 2015

I would like to thank all of those with whom I have worked on governance matters in that time. After so many years there are too many of you to mention here, but I hope to be able to get round to thanking you all in person over the next few months. I might, however, make special mention of Ainslee Harvey who has kept me on the straight and narrow as Chair over the past 2 years, and indeed has been a primary contributor to the maintenance of my sanity in that time. I also owe a great debt to Zoe Williams, and all members of the Governance Services team, without whom the academic governance of the University would grind to a shuddering halt. Finally, I would also like to honour the memory of Amanda Phelps, our former University Committee Secretary, who was an extraordinary support in so many ways and was taken so tragically last year.

I am confident that the appointment of Prof. Mariella Herberstein as incoming Chair will ensure that Academic Senate continues to evolve to meet our new challenges and to thrive as the key deliberative forum of the University. I would like to take this opportunity to warmly welcome her to the Chair. She commences her term on 1 May 2016.

On that note, may I wish you a merry adieu. I offer you the farewell of Douglas Adams’ Dolphins, as they escaped the destruction of the Earth by a Vogon constructor fleet, “So long and thanks for all the fish!”


Header image: (c) Adho1982 2011

4 thoughts on “Senate Summary April 2016”

  1. So long Dom, and thanks for all the posts! If during Sunday morning coffee and maths you ever feel like jotting down thoughts on learning and teaching, we would love you to keep posting 🙂

  2. Since posting this blog I have been asked two related questions about the proposed changes to our promotion regime:

    1) You’ve mentioned there will be three promotion streams teaching, research, and teaching & research, but you haven’t mentioned community engagement (service). Does that mean that community engagement will no longer be taken into account as a promotion criterion?

    2) What will happen in cases where academics have a service focussed role (Head of Department, Associate Dean, or even Chair of Academic Senate)? Will there be a service excellence promotion stream?

    The short answer to the first of these questions is an emphatic no! Each one of these streams will have detailed promotion criteria which will encompass all three areas of academic endeavour – teaching, research and community engagement. What will vary from stream to stream will be the relative emphasis placed upon each kind of criteria. What is more, the detailed criteria in each stream will be written in a way that is less generic and more directly relevant to the activities of academics in that stream.

    So, for example, someone seeking promotion in the teaching focused stream would certainly be asked to demonstrate exemplary results in their teaching practice, to be highly influential in curriculum design, and to provide pedagogical leadership at departmental, faculty, university or national level. Beyond that they might also be asked to achieve a lesser level of attainment in research related activities, such as in the scholarship of teaching or in their own home discipline, and to demonstrate influence in community engagement or service activities related to learning and teaching. What is more all of the promotion criteria for the teaching focused stream would be phrased to speak to these more specific expectations of placed upon academics whose duties are more heavily weighted towards teaching realted activities.

    In a similar fashion, someone seeking promotion in the research focused stream would be asked to show exemplary performance in research, above and beyond that expected of balanced teaching and research academics. However, that again would not be enough in itself, and those individuals would also be asked to meet criteria that call for a lesser attainment in teaching, possibly largely around HDR supervision, and community engagement.

    What is important to recognize here is the difference between the new promotion streams (or tracks), proposed in this policy update, and promotion criteria, which we’ve always had. The former really consist of packages of the latter, specifically tuned to the profile of a particular academic role. As a matter of principle all academics will continue to be asked for achievement in research, teaching and community engagement, but to differing extents depending on their professional responsibilities.

    The second of these questions is, of course, one which resonates with my own career as someone who has gone straight from one service heavy role to the next over more than a decade. Given that experience, one might assume that I would be a strong supporter of a service focused promotion stream.

    From a philosophical perspective, however, I am not at all comfortable with the idea that we might promote an academic all the way to full Professor largely on the basis of service contributions. While service is deeply important, its purpose is always to enable our core business of teaching and / or research – it is the vital hygiene that keeps the system working, not our source of intellectual sustenance and stimulation. As a corollary of this view, I actually know of no one in a service weighted role who isn’t also active and excelling in either a teaching or research role – in all cases these service contributions are indeed a direct expression of leadership in one or other (or both) of those endeavours.

    In the rather blunt words of a former Dean of Division, with whom I worked closely in a previous service role, “if you are going to be a Professor you need to profess a discipline, and that can’t be administration”. I wouldn’t phrase my own view in quite that way, but he did have a point.

    So in answer to the direct question of whether there might be a service focused promotion stream, all I can say is that nobody has suggested to me that this something the University is exploring and no such ideas were canvassed in Nicole’s presentation to Academic Senate.

  3. Academic freedom is not a civil or human right, it is a qualified right; a privilege enjoyed in consequence of incumbency in a special role – academic life and is conditional on conformity with an institution’s rules and by-laws (Minerva, 1994, 32;79-98). It must include immunity from decisions about academic matters taken on other than academic or intellectual grounds by government, ecclesiastical or academic authorities. It is the freedom to do academic things without the fear of sanctions or interference. Academic freedom is also an obligation to participate in the academic life and the self-governance of the academic institution. It is never a license according to which anything goes. In short, the limits of academic freedom should not be narrower than the limits of intellectual freedom. It is the right of the scholar to think, write, and speak whatever he or she wants to think, write, and speak (Raritan, 2012, 31;19-33). This should be protected by the University by a policy on academic freedom – as required by, and referred to by the Enterprise Agreement.

    Academic freedom has been undermined for the past 50 years primarily from the political right,
    initially as a response to the campus activism of the ‘60s and ‘70s and more recent restructuring of higher education over the past generation by forces of academic capitalism that has resulted in the unchecked expansion of middle management and the loss of tenure in all but name.

    The increasing market-orientation of universities in response to an array of potent developments: the massification of higher education and the attendant expansion of institutional demands including a new emphasis on undergraduate teaching; changing federal student aid policy; the twin economic dislocations of nationwide inflation and state government disinvestment in higher education in the face of competing, and compelling, demands from K–12 education, healthcare and border protection; the expansion of administration, etc. In the face of such market-abetting adjustments, the faculty has been largely marginalized, reflected most pointedly in the decline of tenure, increased unionization and the increasing resort of Universities to part-time/casual employees.

    American higher education rose to a position of global pre-eminence in the past half century owing to the unique coincidence of three critical factors: generous government support, institutional independence from government control and standardization, and the establishment of a predictable academic career path in a relatively healthy job market. We need to emulate these conditions if we want world-class universities in Australia. At the moment we cannot even get one into the world’s top 40 Universities (Shanghai Jiao-Tong Rankings, 2015; 33/50 are from the USA and all but 4 of the top 20 are from the USA).

    In contrast, Australia has seen a progressive decline of federal investment in Universities as a percentage of GDP and a “disinvestment” in higher education by all state governments. The corporatized Universities have, at the same time, summarily restructured academic appointments and academic work—largely in the absence of any external regulation for protecting the “general good”. Academics are being asked to fit into an ever more codified and rigid teaching (see iLearn, UNITS etc as examples here) and research systems that are managerial rather than intellectual. We are in real danger of incrementally slipping into a system such as that in Turkey where simply buying research consumables, inviting speakers to come to campus or attending a conference require permission from bureaucrats (Science, 2013, 341:332-3). The Turkish academy of science has now the majority of members appointed by the government. Similarly, our Academic Senate, which used to have only 3 ex-officio members, is now dominated by executive appointees who may be part of the Professoriate but are none-the-less there through an appointment from the Executive. There is also the increasing private funding of universities and particularly of research which brings with it pressures to do translational research and not publish that are threatening academic freedom worldwide (Nature, 2012, 18;469-470). Given these forces, and the new trend of punishing those that disagree, the role of a policy on academic freedom from our Senate is more important now than ever before.

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