VC's update - staged return to campus

15 May 2020

Hi everyone,

2020 has been an unforgettable year and a year I would like to forget. And while it has been incredibly rewarding to see the resilience of our community face up to fire, smoke, hail and a global pandemic, I know this year has been exhausting and emotionally draining for everyone. We will get to easier times together, but our journey is a marathon, not a sprint. And so I am starting this blog by talking about the importance of self-care.

So as I remind myself, I remind everyone that it is okay to seek some support, whether its informal from friends or family, or more formal, from support services. Our mental wellbeing is incredibly important - and each of us need to look after it. So I am putting my hand up to say that I regularly need to make time for my mental health, by stepping back for a while, and letting others step up. There's a lot of pressure right now from work and home - and those lines have blurred - but the university will support you to take the time so that you are able to look after yourself and care for those around you.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, we've been working hard to develop our roadmap for returning more activities to campus. We're implementing a staged return, where access to campus for staff, students and visitors is broken into colour-coded levels. This is to ensure we can gradually open parts of our campus, whilst maintaining the necessary social distancing and hygiene protocols. From Monday 18 May, College Deans will be making decisions about their College - because this graduated return is complex and the "one-size fits all" approach won't work. Deans' decisions will mostly be focussed on research staff who need to access on campus facilities such as labs. For staff in service divisions or central teams, you'll be updated by your Executive Portfolio lead, through your Director and supervisor. This is an incredibly complex process and it won't be perfect - but we will refine as we go, and ensure that at all times our community is safe. We will be providing more information about our plan and what you need to do next week, but we will remain highly flexible in our approach.

With the first semester census date for domestic students now passed, we are starting to better understand and forecast our financial position for 2020 and beyond. Thankfully, our financial situation, although not as good as it's been in recent times, is better than most other Australian universities. In early May, ANU Council approved the development and implementation of a Financial Health Strategy which the University Leadership Group and I are currently working through. I will provide an update on the framework in the coming fortnight. In the meantime, we all need to think about how we tighten up our spending and ensure we are making sensible budget choices.

With the news of other universities and their financial positions in the media, you may have also seen reports about a negotiation between the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association (AHEIA). I've been in close contact with Professor Andrew Vann, President of the AHEIA, and we are still working through the detail of what's been proposed.  My principal goal is to make sure any agreement we might make is in the best interests of our community - and we are quite different from the rest of the sector. Our community comes first, and I will continue to resolutely adhere to that guiding principle.

Finally, while we've faced our fair share of crises in the past - the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted everyone in our community, and its aftermath will continue to affect us all. A couple of weeks ago, Professor Matthew Colless decided he wanted to make a difference and help some of our most affected staff members.  Matthew advocated to our University Leadership Group to establish the staff urgent relief fund, a fund to provide support to staff and their families whose circumstances may not be adequately covered by the Government, or ANU schemes, and to provide a lifeline of support when they need it most. The University is also focussing philanthropic activities to further support our students in need through the student urgent relief fund.  I have decided to make a significant personal donation using my long service leave to both these funds to help out during this tough time.

This year has brought out the best in our community, and I am very proud to be your Vice-Chancellor as we navigate an untravelled path together.

Brian