Update from the VC: ANU in full swing

4 March 2016

It's truly exciting to see and hear first-hand the great work that is being undertaken across these areas and I look forward to seeing the continued success of your efforts.

Hi everyone,

It's been another busy few weeks at the University and I hope that everyone, our new students in particular, are settling into campus life well and managing to find some relief from this heatwave.

Last week the University released the formal change proposal for the future structure of the School for Culture, History and Language (CHL). You can read more about it on the CHL Review page. I recognise that the change process has been very difficult for many of the CHL staff and the proposed structure may result in some staff leaving the University. I would like to reassure all staff that we are deeply committed to ensuring each person affected by this proposed change is treated with care and respect. I would like to thank all staff involved in the process and I am confident that the proposed new arrangements will position the School for future success.

On Tuesday I joined more than 200 scientists from all over Australia for the annual Science meets Parliament event. This is an important event that allows us to remind politicians and parliamentary leaders about what science does and why it matters. I was really pleased to see so many ANU scientists and science communicators feature strongly in the program.

I was fortunate to catch up with three outstanding student leadership groups of the University last week - the Residents Committee Presidents, the Residential Community Coordinators and many members of the Senior Residents Group. We talked about a range of matters relating to student accommodation, welfare and safety on campus. We all agreed that the overall ANU residential experience is good but we still have some things to work on to make it even better. This is a big priority for me.

It was a real highlight to join with Drs Graham and Louise Tuckwell on a Saturday night recently to welcome the third cohort of Tuckwell scholars to ANU. The University is now home to 68 Tuckwell Scholars and the program continues to grow from strength to strength. I was delighted to meet and speak to this year's scholars and I look forward to watching their progress over the coming years.

Last Thursday night I spoke briefly before the screening of a film called The Hunting Ground. This is a documentary film about the prevalence of sexual assaults on university campuses in the United States and the failure of a number of American universities to respond effectively and appropriately to these reports. I watched the film at home the night before the screening and I was appalled and deeply saddened by many of the young women's stories featured in the film.

Sexual assault, rape, sexual abuse or any unwanted sexual attention has no place at this University, our university.  ANU will not be a place that hides, covers up or stands by. Our staff and students have the right to be part of a safe and respectful university. I took this pledge at the Commencement Address and it is a promise I intend to keep.

Finally, over the last two weeks I spent a full day in five of our seven ANU Colleges meeting staff and students. It's truly exciting to see and hear first-hand the great work that is being undertaken across these areas and I look forward to seeing the continued success of your efforts. Next week I will visit the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific and I'll soon visit the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science.

At each College meeting I spoke about my ambitions for the University and its place in the world.  I see ANU continuing to shape modern Australia through excellence in research, in education and in societal transformation. But if we want a truly excellent university and one that sits comfortably alongside the great institutions of the world, we all, every one of us, need to work together to make ANU exceptional. I need your input, views and contributions to help me make the very best decisions for ANU.

I hope you all have a great weekend and I'll talk to you next week.



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Comment by Bryan Furnass AM
9am 7 Mar 2016

I write as an ancient (88) retired physician who was fortunate to be appointed as foundation director of the ANU health service in 1966, where I extended my clinical skills to preventive medicine and health promotion. On retirement I metamorphosed my interest in internal medicine to what I like to call "external medicine", namely the health of the planet, which is sorely under threat at present. The Emeritus Faculty enabled me to present a few papers, including on my neologism the sustainocene. Thanks for your humane, eclectic blog.

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Comment by Rebecca Carola
11.15am 7 Mar 2016

Thank you, Professor Schmidt.  Very exciting to see you consulting so widely with the grassroots university community about the direction of the ANU going forward. Positive changes will no doubt flow from the process.   

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Comment by Amir Masoud Parvanian
11.15am 7 Mar 2016

It's really honourable reading about your attitude on prosperity of ANU. I wish they all come true.

It's such a great pleasure for me to continue my PhD in this well-managed university.

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Comment by Graham Walker
11.15am 7 Mar 2016

Glad to hear you're enjoying your science communication Brian. The kids in Africa feel the same way about the CPAS SKA programs :)

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Comment by Fergus Thomson
11.15am 7 Mar 2016

My dear Vice-Chancellor

You referred to 'the future structure of the School for Culture, History and Language'.

The change of name of ANU's former 'Law School' to 'College of Law' has puzzled many, including potential students and potential employers of the Law graduates. Many employers, accustomed to the 'universal'term Law School,  think that a 'College of Law' delivers some sort of practical 'nuts and bolts' course. This depreciates the ANU Law degrees.

Perhaps you would consider restoring the name of the law school accordingly?

With good wishes Fergus Thomson ( Barrister)

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Comment by Alan Rumsey
11am 15 Mar 2016

I'm afraid I cannot share the vice-chancellor's confidence that the proposed new arrangements for CHL will position the School for future success. There are many problems with the proposal, which he and the dean will be hearing about from members and supporters of the school. Here I would just like to briefly highlight four of them:

1) The level of proposed reduction of staff - approximately 30% - is draconian and seems out of proportion to the level of deficit that has been claimed for the school.

2) The overall staffing profile that has been proposed for the school - with ca. 43% academic staff at level E or E3 - seems top heavy and unlikely to assure the school's future for very long.

3) Notwithstanding 2, in stipulating exactly the same staffing profile for all four of the proposed new departments, the proposal does not recognize the big differences among existing CHL departments in that respect. For example, in the depts with staff who would be appropriate candidates for the Language dept there are currently only 1 or 2 people at level E, whereas among those in depts which are likely to feed into the Culture Dept there are 6-7 people at level E. This would result in gross disparities in the competition for the level E positions within those two depts.

4) Changes of the kind and magnitude proposed will demoralize even those who survive the cuts, leading many of them to look for jobs elsewhere. Indeed, some of our top people are already doing so.


Reply to comment:

Thanks for your feedback Alan and raising these points about the change proposal for CHL.

The proposed School structure has been carefully considered and was designed to reflect the proposed structure put forward within the CHL Strategic Plan prepared by the School.

While the levels within each department as outlined in the proposal are indicative only (i.e. there may be some variance to this as the Departments are constituted by the Deliberative Committee ), I acknowledge the concerns you raise and will ask them to be included and considered with the formal feedback being received during the current consultation process. Brian

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Comment by Bryce Kositz
11am 15 Mar 2016

My name is Bryce, I had the pleasure of meeting you on the 7th at the HDR forum, I was the fellow Alaskan. 

The CHL review process has been ongoing since 2014.  The lengthy process, the constant misinformation about financial data, and general disrespect of opinions that have not conformed to the administration's preordained plans to significantly cut down the school have ensure that staff and students do not feel as though they are being treated with care and respect.  I implore you to read carefully the documents which CHL has produced on the matter and consider the innovative ideas and financial modelling within, to read the external review and let those suggestions ferment and take shape, then compare those to the current change document.  The current change document reflects no suggestions from the staff or external review, and contains does not contain a well-considered plan that will continue CHL's and ANU's excellence into the future.  Please, for the sake of our national mission to engage with the Asia-Pacific region, help produce a change document that reflects the opinions of the current staff, students, the external review, and the best financial data that establishes a clear and far-sighted plan for CHL.  That is the only way that staff will feel cared for and respected


Thanks for saying hello at the HDR forum Bryce and for your comments on the CHL Change Proposal. 

The CHL Change Proposal was prepared giving careful consideration to the work, feedback and strategic planning that had been done by you and many colleagues within the School since late 2014 and during the 2015 Review process - but your involvement does not end there.  The current consultation process (which runs until Tuesday 29th March) is about seeking further feedback, input and ideas about the best structure for the School to continue to be a success and also sustainable. 

As I mentioned at the CHL all staff meeting in early February and again at the HDR student forum, I strongly support the work of CHL and want to see it thrive, be sustainable and be able to continue making an important contribution to the ANU, Asia and the Pacific. Brian

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Comment by Hannah McCann
3.45pm 16 Mar 2016

While it is nice to see a positive tone looking forward for ANU, I am afraid the reality is not looking good.

Not only are we struggling with the legacies of decimating the humanities at ANU and the School of Music, the cuts to CHL are worse than any other cuts proposed before and this will have far reaching effects that cannot be measured in financial figures.

For a school with such a fantastic reputation to face the kind of cuts being proposed is, to say the least, scary.

As reviews roll out across the university there is no security for staff, HDRs or undergraduate students about their jobs, supervision, or degree viability into the future.

It is a very very sad thing to see ANU's excellent reputation being challenged because of "budget crises" when there are many creative ways to address financial plans.

There need to be concrete guarantees that no more staff positions or courses will be cut because without such surety no one can really move forward, no one can share in the enthusiasm for the future of ANU.