SMS scnews item created by David Easdown at Fri 26 Aug 2016 2012
Modified: Fri 26 Aug 2016 2018; Fri 26 Aug 2016 2043; Fri 26 Aug 2016 2053; Sat 27 Aug 2016 1326; Sat 27 Aug 2016 1328; Fri 2 Sep 2016 1609; Fri 2 Sep 2016 1622; Fri 2 Sep 2016 1632; Mon 14 Nov 2016 1410
Expiry: 12 Sep 2016
Calendar1: 2 Sep 2016
CalTitle1: Urgent: feedback by 2 September SIPS proposal
Calendar2: 12 Sep 2016
CalTitle2: Urgent: feedback by 12 September (extended from 2 September) SIPS proposal
Auth: firstname.lastname@example.org (deas8489) in SMS-WASM
Urgent: feedback by 12 September (extended from 2 September) for SIPS proposal
This is a brief update on the scnews item I posted last Friday, and make the following further points for your consideration:
Note that the deadline for feedback has been extended to Monday 12 September 2016.
Anyone can provide feedback by writing to email@example.com, and they encourage brief or succinct submissions that avoid identifying individuals or writing hurtful comments.
The response below is not brief, but I have expanded the distribution from the School to the University, so that if you want to refer to any points, without reproducing too much detail, you can include a link to this page as a reference, if that helps, and then anyone with a unikey can read it.
I looked through further documents related to or as background for the University Strategic Plan, but could not find anything related to the SIPS proposal, apart possibly from one recommendation about formalising the process of reporting of Faculty Managers within the portfolio of the Provost. The SIPS proposal appears to be a stand-alone initiative by the Faculty. Possibly it is motivated by an idea of creating a tree of reporting lines from the Provost, through the Faculty Managers and then on to all other administrative staff, I'm not sure. The idea does not appear to originate with the Provost, and the email he sent recently about the University Strategic Plan is related to the overall organisation of the University into Faculties, and not directly related at all to the SIPS proposal, as far as I can tell, and should not be confused with it, especially if you are planning to provide feedback.
I have received a number of comments about my response below, overwhelmingly supporting the analysis and conclusions, but I am especially keen to hear from people who disagree with me or who can point out merits in the SIPS proposal.
I would argue strongly that we should wait at least two years to see how the SIPS proposal works in practice in other Schools before agreeing to combine our administrations with Geosciences and History and Philosophy of Science, and before agreeing to a realignment of functions and lines of reporting and responsibility outside our respective Schools. A fundamental starting point for any partnership, alliance or marriage should be consent between the participants.
Best wishes, David Easdown
It is important that we provide clear and unambiguous feedback regarding the Service Innovation Program for Science (SIPS) Draft Change Proposal. It affects all of us in the School directly or indirectly and we should not neglect our responsibilities, especially towards supporting our colleagues working in the professional area, who have given outstanding service to the University over many years and deserve to be appreciated and treated with respect.
The supporting documents for the Draft Change Proposal should be read and scrutinised at least with the level of rigour that we apply routinely in our academic activities.
The SIPS document is long and expansive, with a lot of repetition and overlap, so by nature it is difficult to respond to quickly and concisely.
The main points or bones of contention claimed by the documents that drive the apparent need for change appear to be the following:
I will make comments pertinent to the first three points in the same order:
Inconsistencies exist across the Faculty.
Processes have been developed at a local level, apparently in isolation.
Professional staff workforce do not share a common language.
Communication generally is lacking concerning key outcomes, learning, innovation and best practice.
Professional staff feel uninformed about roles and responsibilities of staff elsewhere in the system.
Professional staff advice about work often occurs in an environment without effective communication.
The other points (4, 5 and 6) all relate to communication. There is nothing that I can see in the new proposal that bears any relevance to improving communication, which seems to me to be a separate issue to be dealt with by other means. There are significant changes in lines of reporting in the new proposal, and some of these are ambiguous (essentially a shift away from Heads of School towards central sources of authority from within the Faculty). Effects on communication are likely, in fact, to be negative in the new proposal, as people are unsure from whom to take instructions, or how to interpret instructions or requirements, and how to resolve split responsibilities or loyalties, when they emanate from different sources.
I could not find any list or description of inconsistencies in the documents. I was unable to gauge what is intended by the word "inconsistency", whether it refers perhaps to instructions to staff, or the nature or quality of their actions or services, or the level of remuneration, or even logical inconsistency. I am not doubting that inconsistencies exist, just that I do not know what they are, or how the proposal that follows helps to alleviate them, assuming we could identify them. In fact, for reasons I give below, I think the new proposal will propagate serious conflicts of interests, which is surely a dangerous form of inconsistency.
That processes have been developed at a local level does not seem surprising, unusual or undesirable, as staff react to special needs as they arise in context. For example, we have excellent tools within the School for using webpages and processing assessment results that are specific to our programs and tailored to our needs in mathematics and statistics. Tools that exist elsewhere are not necessarily applicable or would take even more effort to adapt or redesign for our specific purposes. Our tools are flexible and adaptable. They complement and dovetail well with Faculty and University wide systems. I think, for example, of our systems supporting Summer School, which presently dovetail perfectly with the Central Summer School Office, Timetabling and Sydney Student. Because of the need to react to students and the requirements of our programs in real time, it is important that we retain autonomy and keep control of those local processes. The decisions should be made within the School and lines of reporting directly to Course Coordinators and the Head of School.
Again it is not surprising if there are differences in language, terminology or nomenclature relevant to different disciplines at the coalfaces. Indeed it would be surprising if there weren't differences, given the wide diversity of interests, practices and procedures in science. Even within mathematics there are significant and unavoidable shifts in language and terminology between pure, applied and statistics. The translation to common language across disciplines surely occurs at the Faculty and University wide level, in applying common processes and procedures, particularly with regard to enrolments and assessments. I am not aware of any deficiencies presently, though of course there are always significant learning curves that need to be overcome when there are changes in polices, such as those concerning assessment, special consideration or academic integrity. However those issues would need to be resolved in any organisational structure, and appear not to be relevant to this new proposal.
These points indicate an overall weakness or absence of rationale for the proposed changes. One can then ask, irrespective of rationale, whether the new structure being proposed looks like an attractive alternative or useful to us anyway for other reasons?
I would make the following specific critical points about the proposed structure, which are not meant to be exhaustive, and invite others to comment, expand on them or refute them:
The document also attempts to create a taxonomy of portfolios and categories of tasks or activities, called "job families", some of which align with each other, and others that cut across in different directions. As far as I can tell, the primary motivation for this, and the accompanying tables is to create a culture of collaboration and a sense of community. The tables themselves seem to me to be unwieldy and not particularly user friendly, and work in progress. The idea may have some merit, but surely such taxonomies, or commentary about processes and where to find support or similar services, can be made in any system, including our present system. I personally have not found it difficult to navigate to relevant services in our own Faculty, and found the staff particularly helpful, knowledgeable and supportive in periods when I served as a SubDean or when coordinating First Year or Summer School. There is always room for improvement in terms of webpage development or design, but again that appears to be a separate issue related to evolution of the internet and access to information, and has little relevance to the radical structural changes in the new proposal.
As far as I can tell, the proposal to combine the administration of Mathematics and Statistics with Geosciences and History and Philosophy of Science is based on a question of balance, compared with staffing in the other Schools. This seems incorrect to me, and probably based on an illusion created by the fact that we do not have physical laboratory staff. It could also be exacerbated by the fact that we are very good at administration and, over a period of time and due to financial pressures, have culled staff to an absolute minimum, whilst exploiting techniques and competencies to maintain our operations at high levels of excellence. The fact is that we have, apart from Psychology, the highest enrolment levels of any school in the Faculty, and certainly service the most students from outside any school (especially students from the Faculties of Engineering). We have one of the most sophisticated Teaching Programs in mathematics and statistics in Australia, and an absolutely world-class program in terms of flexibility of offerings and pathways and opportunities for students to engage in mathematics and exploit their potential, regardless of their backgrounds, abilities or interests. The administration of our School is central to the success of our program, and absolutely must be retained in the control of the School and not diffused in some vague way by ambiguous routes of reporting to authorities in other schools or departments, or obliquely to an authority within the Faculty. The administration of our Teaching Program should not be confused, compromised or diluted in any way. It should be an axiom that we retain full control, and that the pathway of reporting is primarily through Course Coordinators, to our Academic Program Committee, Management Committee and finally to Head of School.
The idea of combining the administrations of Mathematics and Statistics with Geosciences and History and Philosophy of Science is inherently unstable if any of us intend to grow or have aspirations of expanding our activities or spheres of influence and connections. The only way this new structure can survive for more than a short period is by making a conscious decision to downgrade our prominence as a scientific discipline, be prepared to or expect to contract further, and be satisfied with becoming a permanent second-class school within the Faculty.
I think it is unconscionable that our present administrative staff should have to consider employment, or the indignity of reapplying for employment, at levels beneath their present classifications. All of them deserve full support and encouragement and a vote of appreciation for their efforts and participation in a combined School endeavour of great success and excellence. There is nothing in the rationale for the new proposal (discussed thoroughly above) that provides any substance for the claim that it will improve the processes, service and performance of our present staff within a new structure, and absolutely nothing to support downgrading their job descriptions or classifications.
The most efficient way to gain the most of our present staff is by supporting them, and exploring ways of developing or expanding their skill sets through the AP&D and other mentoring processes. Dispersing their present activities through contracting their job descriptions, and employing extra Faculty staff (illustrated diagrammatically by boxes to the right) with vaguely defined roles and functions, is both inefficient and self-defeating. "Spill and fill" processes are inherently risky, unfair, inhumane and lead to poor outcomes, especially if it leads to the loss of our best and most loyal staff and their combined collective wisdoms.
Is it possible to request a stay or reprieve for our School, perhaps for two to three years, at least until the new model is properly tested in SOLES, in the context and evolution of the LEES programs, and waiting until the new curriculum has been implemented?
Then we may be in a better position to see clearly what might work well or not so well, and then make an informed judgement about the best model to adopt moving forwards.
Best wishes, David Easdown