‘SELLING THE FARM’
MONASH University’s move to discard its Gippsland campus has been likened to a “big bank business model” by one long-term academic who said “they have stripped the farm and this is a clearance sale; they are selling us to the highest bidder”.
Confirming fears expressed by numerous staffers that promises of consultation over a potential Monash Gippsland alliance with the University of Ballarat would prove farcical, Dr Chris Laming said he believed Monash University Vice Chancellor Ed Byrne had already told a professorial board the alliance would proceed even if staff objected.
Speaking with The Express yesterday Gippsland senior lecturer Dr Laming said another story circulating at Monash Gippsland was that the campus had been offered to two other universities who had declined the offer.
“I don’t blame them,” he said, adding “what has happened to us is reflective of the breakdown in a 22-year relationship… when Monash came in as the rich cousin from the city to tell us, the poor rustics, how lucky we were to be part of its great enterprise, for them to lend us their name, convince us with spin that they were investing in us before setting us up in such an unviable position that they have foreclosed on us and we have lost the farm.”
Dr Laming agreed with the claims of multiple administrative staffers that Monash had systematically stripped Gippsland of some of its most popular and profitable courses and offerings, including engineering, outdoor education, open university and offshore pathways academy TMC, that offloading the campus was ultimately “inevitable.”
“We have had so many policies handed down from Clayton (campus) and they have cherry-picked the best courses and taken them elsewhere,” he said.
Dr Laming said another Gippsland leading academic had been vocal, during staff forums at the local campus last Friday, that “everybody is tired of what has been happening here, the dishonesty and lack of transparency and that a lot of people are hurt… so he is supportive of the alliance as being constructive and a relief.”
‘SNOBBERY AND SPIN’
DR Laming dismissed last Friday’s announcement to Gippsland staff, conducted by “the spin doctors from Clayton”, as being “completely stage managed in its timing”.
Another lecturer said she hoped a new alliance could prove to be “a good thing if Ballarat are wanting to enhance student numbers and community engagement”.
“I can’t help but feeling Monash is giving Gippsland away…it’s insulting to everybody who works there. It seems to me they’re trying to create an elite university and the regional campus can’t fit into the elite model. It feels to me there’s an element of snobbery here,” the lecturer said.
“Nobody likes to feel like the sands are shifting underneath them – I think all people wanted at Gippsland was some stability and I think this has completely undermined that.”
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
SCHOOL of Applied Media and Social Sciences lecturer Dr Olga Bursian said she remained cautiously optimistic an alliance would meet the needs of this region’s aspiring students, as long as it was not coupled with a dramatic reduction of resources.
“A ‘regional university’ does not mean second best – in Australia there is a tendency to think that way – but that is a snobbish populist view that doesn’t have any substance… the future does lay with the regions, that’s the way the world is going, and that’s why this (proposal) could be a great thing.“
Dr Bursian said many Monash staffers shared concerns setting higher ATAR scores for some degrees offered at Gippsland had created “barriers that have prevented very capable students from joining us in recent years”.
With details about the proposed Monash/Ballarat University alliance still light on the ground, the Churchill campus student union is yet to form a position on Friday’s sudden announcement.
Initial reactions from within Monash University Gippsland Student Union vary, with executive officer Dan Jordan highlighting a raft of alarming concerns and president Ben Rogers noting the proposal had encouraging potential for the campus.
“Monash has had a deceitful track record in the way they have kept people in the dark about this move, so it’s very hard to trust how they handle this transition (as it) plays out – Ballarat doesn’t even have a student advocacy service there, so that’s a major concern for us here,” Mr Jordan said.
However president Mr Rogers said an apparent enthusiasm by both Gippsland Pro Vice Chancellor Robin Pollard and Ballarat Pro Vice Chancellor Todd Walker could signal a turnaround in campus management.
“We’ve had a discussion with the (Monash) director of marketing about the concerning track record (in communicating changes), and have voiced students demands for a different approach, and there was an admission that sometime things hadn’t always been the best practice, so I personally feel they will move forward on this,” Mr Rogers said.
STAFF and students of Monash University’s Gippsland campus are this week trying to make sense of the institution’s shock announcement it would move to form an alliance with the University of Ballarat.
‘BATTERED AND BRUISED’
STAFF at Monash University Gippsland are “battered and bruised”and fatigued by ongoing workplace upheaval but still hopeful a potential alliance with Ballarat University will prove positive.
That was the overwhelming message coming from numerous administrative and student service staffers, as well as lecturers, who spoke with The Express yesterday, most on the condition of anonymity.
Worn out from a widespread ‘restructure’ announcement just conducted at the local campus, staffers expressed concern about how burdensome the logistics of a shift away from Monash to a new alliance would be on a body of workers whose morale was already at “an all time low”.
“There is certainly that feeling of ‘oh my God, I can’t do this all again’,” said one.
While all staffers they hoped a partnership with Ballarat University would bring with it a stronger regional focus, more flexibility with course offerings extended to students with lower ATAR scores and a greater variety of courses, most remained distrustful of the bureaucratic process.
“OBVIOUSLY there are a lot of concerned staff members at Monash at the moment, even though they gave an undertaking no staff will be disadvantaged… people are feeling bewildered,” said one staff member.
There was widespread suspicion of the University’s version of events preceding last Friday’s alliance announcement, with one staffer saying “we don’t believe they could be this advanced in the planning without having discussed it earlier.”
“That was very hard to swallow,” another agreed.Dr Chris Laming, a senior Gippsland lecturer, said the success of a transition relied “on trust and confidence in those doing the decision making and currently that confidence is not there”.
“I liken this situation to someone leaving an abusive relationship, they feel battered and bruised and have to learn how to trust again, …that’s what many of the staff feel because of the way they have being treated over the past few years, by Monash Clayton’s management practices,” he added.
With most staff learning of the new proposal via leaked media reports before a staff forum was conducted, one employee said “at the forum we were still digesting the shock, it was hard for people to gather themselves.”
It is known a number of staffers at the Gippsland campus are funded through Monash Clayton and their questions to Monash leaders about the future of their employment arrangements had not been addressed, despite staffers being assured no-one would be disadvantaged by any new alliance.
With most Monash staff being employed on contract, others wondered who they would negotiate new contracts with while an alliance loomed but was not yet guaranteed.
Another staffer said, “as far as we know, the faculties had not even been told they would be handing over their IP (intellectual property) to Ballarat”.
IN the next few months Monash Gippsland staff will kick-start their 2014 enrolment recruitment efforts but most have no idea how to market the campus.
“We have to recruit new students but what are we recruiting them to?” one asked.”We have no idea what we would even be called,” another said,”it can’t be the University of Ballarat”.
Staffers said the loss of the Monash brand would impede efforts to attract some students, but agreed a more regional focus could help recruit others.
“Time will tell if the brand matters to potential employers,” one staffer said, but another said the brand was particularly “important for researchers in opening doors internationally and nationally”.
One staffer said a move away from Monash would disadvantage younger researchers “hoping to get their profile up” and “would be pretty disheartening if you had just relocated here for a research job”.
Dr Laming said “any future of a campus in Gippsland gets down to whether it meets the needs of Gippsland people and whether then, enough students, VCE and mature aged, see it as ‘a destination of choice’.”
“We as staff need to walk the talk, rather than be a victim of spin, or be seduced by it, by the ‘metro gnomes’ with their own agenda,” he said, referring to Melbourne-based university managers.
Several staffers agreed the absence of Monash’s name would see a loss of international students, but they had observed those numbers dwindling over past years anyway.
Though they were faced with “so many ifs and buts”, the prospect of “a greater array of offerings, not restricted by inflexible Monash criteria” was something to look forward to, staffers said.
MEANWHILE The Australian reported yesterday the National Tertiary Education Union warned the proposal to form an alliance between University of Ballarat and Monash Gippsland by the start of next year would “be too fast for real consultation to take place”.
Monash Gippsland staffers said they were sceptical of proposed consultations plans and the NTEU said the “pressing external deadline” left little scope for consultation to be “very deep or very real”.
WHEN Monash journalism/science student Verity Thornton was shocked to find her university was forming an ‘alliance’ with the University of Ballarat, she said she also felt a strong sense of deja vu.
“This was just like the dropping of the journalism course last year; how they handled it was terrible; none of the students were notified until after the decision had been made,” Ms Thornton said.
In November last year, Ms Thornton found out her Bachelor of Arts (Journalism) and Science double degree was being axed from the Churchill campus, before there had been any apparent consultation with staff or students.
“There were meetings held after that, but they didn’t help because the decision had already been made, any meeting was just a formality, and now we are seeing the same thing happening now,” she said, referring to the commitment by both universities’ Pro Vice Chancellors that a diligent consultation period with staff, student and the community would inform the proposal’s development.
She warned current on-campus students to take any claims by Monash all students currently enrolled in a degree would be taught-out on campus with a “grain of salt”.
“We were given a guarantee last year that one of our journalism units wouldn’t be run off-campus, but now that’s what’s happened; we need to be very wary if any commitments are made,” she said.
WHEN ‘James’ began his position lecturing in engineering at Monash Churchill a few years ago, he envisaged a long career in Gippsland.
He now feels demoralised, a little stressed out, and has little motivation for his work. Despite still digesting news the School of Applied Sciences and Engineering could soon be dropped by Monash, he was already mentally preparing himself to search for work interstate amid “extremely tight” job prospects for career academics in Victoria.
“I feel very bad about this all; I believe Monash has acted very arrogantly in the way they have tried to coat this proposal in beautiful words, but really they have traded everyone out to someone else, almost like slave trading; it may be legal, but it certainly isn’t ethical,” he said.
As a former Monash PhD student, James said he had no doubt the proposal would hurt the school’s ability to attract future PhD students, and while James said he felt the move would be beneficial for regional students’ needs, scientific disciplines like engineering would be impacted by a proposed lowering of ATAR scores.
“Engineering – which as far as I have been informed will continue in the new model – requires rigorous application by diligent students, but with lower entry requirements, I’m not sure how we are going to maintain the level of quality our discipline requires,” he said.