SMS scnews item created by Georg Gottwald at Fri 23 Aug 2013 0934
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Modified: Wed 28 Aug 2013 1837
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more from Andrew Mathas’ conversation with the VC

-------- Original Message -------- 

Subject: Re: Further information on University’s proposed EA 

Date: Wed, 21 Aug 2013 12:57:06 +0000 

From: Michael Spence <michael.spence@sydney.edu.au> 

To: Andrew Mathas <andrew.mathas@sydney.edu.au> 

Dear Andrew, 

We probably should draw this conversation to a close, but on two things we agree.  

First, we agree that there has been a deluge of compliance.  Most of this is externally
driven and the product of a massive amount of new regulation in the last few years.  But
we need to get better at data management to make sure that we don’t have to ask the same
questions too often.  That is what a project called SIBI that will better handle our
data is all about.  

Second, we agree that academics should be relieved of administration.  This is, for
example.  a large part of the purpose of reorganising student admin.  At the moment a
part of the problem is that admin is created by government rules, piled on University
rules, piled on Faculty rules, piled on School rules.  A big part of the student admin
project is to simplify all that.  But all of that is going to take time.  In the
meantime, I understand the frustration.  

Thank you for writing to me about all this stuff.  I don’t feel at all ’frustrated that
the reforms and improvements that [I] and my team have achieved are not being
appreciated.’ I feel frustrated, if anything, that change is not happening quickly
enough to free more time for teaching and research.  

Yours 

Michael 

From: Andrew Mathas <andrew.mathas@sydney.edu.au> 

Organization: University of Sydney 

Reply-To: Andrew Mathas <andrew.mathas@sydney.edu.au> 

Date: Wednesday, 21 August 2013 10:07 PM 

To: Michael Spence <michael.spence@sydney.edu.au> 

Subject: Re: Further information on University’s proposed EA 

Dear Michael, 

Perhaps this is the crux of the problem: from where I sit further down the food chain
there is a big disconnect here.  What I see is: 

A decision process which frequently fails to consult with, or even to inform, heads of
department let alone general members of staff.  

A budget model which in theory allocates to each department what they earn but which in
practice wastes many hours of staff time with the required submissions and resubmissions
of budget plans for approval.  

A budget model that assigns funding to the administrative branches without giving them
any incentive to provide the services that the departments are being forced to pay for.
In part this is because centralising has the unfortunate side effect of physically
separating "clients" and "workers" and partly because the performance management system
does not incorporate in any meaningful way feedback from the "clients" of these
services.  (Incidentally, many companies are now using "360 degree" APD systems which
takes into account feedback from people both upstream and downstream.)  The end result
is that after requesting information or advice from admin you often feel like a badly
battered tennis ball that has been hit around the offices of the university until,
finally, you were able to amass enough information to solve the problem yourself.  

A hamstrung research office which no longer knows what Canberra is doing until after new
programs are announced.  As a result of the loss of expertise in the research office I
personally spend a lot more time each year helping members of my school with their grant
applications.  I suspect that a large part of the problem here is that few, if any?,
people on SEG have any recent experience in applying for grants from the ARC and NHMRC.
In an ideal world a research office would be almost unnecessary.  Unfortunately,
Canberra’s world is not ideal.  

A growing number of dysfunctional computer systems and web pages which do not share
information and which are poorly designed and difficult to use.  

A proliferation of "essential", albeit pointless, forms and courses that we are required
to complete, frequently annually, and which usually require a large duplicated
information which shouldn’t be required.  (I include in this the recent initiatives you
referred to such the annual OH&S "course" and the requirement that all committees have
an OH&S agenda item even it is irrelevant to the committee.)  Collectively these
required activities waste an enormous number of staff hours and most of them serve no
purpose other than to allow the university to claim that we are technically fulfilling
some external requirement.  Universities rightfully complain that the government is
tying us up in red tape.  I am not sure that the solution is bury your staff in
paperwork.  

I can understand that you are frustrated because you feel that the reforms and
improvements that you and your team have achieved are not being appreciated.  I hope
that you can appreciate that I, and many of my colleagues, are frustrated because we
feel that we are being asked to spend more and more of our time on compliance
administration with less and less administrative and managerial support.  The net result
is that we have less time to interact with and teach students and less time for research
which ultimately, at least for me, is what the university is about.  

I think many of these problems come down to poor communication.  From my perspective
this is best summarised by the comments of a dean who told, half jokingly (but only
half), that academics were not qualified to manage themselves.  This is the prevailing
impression that comes down from management.  The real irony here is that almost all of
our senior positions are filled by academics.  

I initiated this discussion in the hope of making a positive difference but
unfortunately this feels like it is degenerating into an argument, with each of us
protecting our corner.  This was not my aim, so whether or not you choose to reply I
think I should stop now.  I am sure that we can agree that some of these problems have
been around for a long time and that some are new.  I am also fully aware that it is
much easier to critique a system than to propose a better one.  Still, I am an optimist
and I hope that things can improve 

Best regards, 

Andrew 

On 20/08/13 11:17 AM, Michael Spence wrote: 

Dear Andrew, 

Just a quick note en route to a University event.  In fact, the approach that the HR
Committee of Senate adopts to executive pay is not too dissimilar to that which you
propose.  

In addition, bonuses are strictly against performance.  And the performance of my team
has been pretty impressive in one way or another.  They have led changes that have
introduced collective governance to a place with no clear process for decision-making;
introduced financial transparency; brought a place that was financially on its knees in
2008 to sustainability; begun to address our 321 million dollars of backlog repairs and
maintenance for which there was no programme; financed a building programme to which the
university was, legally or morally already committed in 2008 for which it then had no
funds; introduced appropriate systems for the governance of OH&S, the management of
risk, research management, the management of the endowment and the like; taken the
university from 5th in the first ERA to 2nd in the next one; increased international
student numbers 22 per cent to recover from the crisis when other universities are at
about four per cent; led a development campaign that has set Australian records 321
million of 600 million so far; introduced a strategy for indigenous education that has
been so recognized as leading nationally that it has already had 13 million of out of
round funding; established the major cross/disciplinary activities in CPC, South East
Asian studies, and China Studies where we had no reputation and are now recognized as
nationally leading; established connections with government that have been recently
recognized in a survey as making us the go-to place for policy when in the last version
of the survey they were seen as poor; developed a strategy and are more than half way
through implementing it; and much much more.  I am not saying that these things were my
team alone.  Far from it.  But these particular things have been transformative and led
by my team and will bear much fruit.  The Sydney Student project and APD have had
problems.  True.  Each contributed to the relevant executive losing their job.  But they
hardly represent a fair assessment of the performance of the team as a whole.  As a
matter of fact, I am not a great fan of bonuses, partly because I think they send very
odd signals in a university community (though they are common here).  But I do object to
the extraordinary things that have been achieved here being reduced to teething problems
in Sydney Student and APD: incidentally, the fact that we are talking about, far less
implementing, a university-wide student admin system and that so many staff are engaging
in APD are achievements in themselves! 

I am sorry if this reads like a rant, but I do feel that the work of my team in bringing
order to what has been, and still is in many ways, quite a chaotic place, deserves some
recognition.  

Yours 

Michael 

Michael Spence 

Vice-Chancellor and Principal 

University of Sydney 

Sydney NSW 2006 

On 20/08/2013, at 4:43 PM, "Andrew Mathas" <andrew.mathas@sydney.edu.au> wrote: 

Dear Michael, 

If you will permit me, I would like to make one more comment on the question of
salaries.  Whilst it is true that executive salaries have not increased since 2012 this
is, of course, true of everyone at the university because of the protracted EBA
negotiations.  The point that I was really trying to make is that during the lifetime of
the new EBA increases to executive salaries should be no more than those granted to
ordinary staff.  I think that this principle should also apply to bonuses.  

Like you I am paid more than almost everyone on campus.  That your bonus, for example,
exceeds my salary is difficult for me to justify to my colleagues.  That these bonuses
are not transparently linked with performance only exacerbates the problem (for example,
consider the ongoing failure of Sydney student and the new AP&D processes).  I think
that it is unfortunate that the remuneration of Australian university executives is now
completely out of kilter with comparable international institutions.  I certainly have
ethical concerns about the legitimacy of these bonuses, in particular, especially given
the current economic climate.  As you are a man of the cloth I can imagine that you
might have similar apprehensions.  

Best regards, 

Andrew 

On 19/08/13 3:24 AM, Michael Spence wrote: 

Thanks.  I agree.  The challenges that we have been facing (both internal and external)
are huge, and people need time soon for a bit of healing.  

Michael 

Michael Spence 

Vice-Chancellor and Principal 

The University of Sydney 

From: Andrew Mathas <andrew.mathas@sydney.edu.au> 

Organization: University of Sydney 

Reply-To: Andrew Mathas <andrew.mathas@sydney.edu.au> 

Date: Monday, 19 August 2013 6:29 AM 

To: Michael Spence <michael.spence@sydney.edu.au> 

Cc: Ann Brewer <ann.brewer@sydney.edu.au> 

Subject: Re: Further information on University’s proposed EA 

Dear Michael, 

Thank you for taking the time to reply.  I agree with your comments about executive
salaries.  It would be good to publicise this more, although it is a difficult argument
from your side because most people will be distracted by the size of bonuses that are
being offered, especially when compared with what happens in similar institutions in the
US and in Europe.  

I am afraid that I disagree with your justification for withdrawing the offer of
backdating pay on August 30.  If the university has the money now to backdate salaries
then it will certainly have the funds to backdate them in future because the any
additional funds necessary would be paid out in salaries if the deal were signed now.
Although I can appreciate that the university would not to carry this liability
indefinitely, I do not see this as reasonable justification for withdrawing the offer in
two weeks.  

Thank you again for your quick reply.  Like you I do hope that this matter can be
settled soon so that we can all return to our core duties of teaching and research.  The
past few years have been a difficult time for everyone at the university.  Here I really
do mean everyone, whether they are working in the gardens, at the chalk face or in
management.  As you said, the future for universities in Australia is, at best, looking
uncertain.  On the other hand, as far as I have witnessed morale in the university is at
an all time low.  Once the EBA is finalised I hope that it is possible to take some
positive moves to address this as I think it is very necessary.  I am aware of several
departments, both academic and administrative, losing good people and I think that it is
vital that we turn this around.  

With best regards, 

Andrew 

On 16/08/13 5:18 AM, Michael Spence wrote: 

Dear Andrew, 

Thanks for this message.  I am sorry if you have found our communications either
illogical or brutal.  We have tried to make them straightforward, but it is a very noisy
environment in which to communicate.  

You raise two issues, the first is the question of backdating and the second the
question of executive pay rises.  

On the first issue, the point is that the impact of backpay, as a single lump sum, grows
as time goes on.  We currently have the cash to pay backpay to 1 July 2013.  But this
dispute might go on for another year.  [I don’t want that, but I have been completely
honest about our financial situation and the amount of money that we have available.
The unions don’t agree and we are at an impasse about quantum.  I am still open to
negotiation about how the quantum might be distributed, but the total quantum is a fixed
amount.] If the dispute were to go on for, say, another year, then the amount of backpay
that we would have to pay as a single lump sum would be very great indeed.  Of course,
we could make provision for that in our budget planning.  But I think that that would be
hard to do, given the uncertainties on the funding side.  I would then be making a
commitment to a particular ongoing accruing liability, with no certainty as to the
resources that I would have to meet it.  That is the sense in which I think a commitment
to backpay extending indefinitely would be irresponsible.  We really do live that hand
to mouth! 

As for the issue of executive pay, in fact the Deans and other senior executives did not
get any pay rise in 2012 and, with a few exceptions for particular circumstances, have
not had any pay rise in 2013.  So we have already taken the step for which you have
asked.  But, beyond that, it is important to know that we pitch executive pay at the 75%
point on the scale of Go8 comparators.  We pitch salaries for staff more generally at
the 100% point.  In short our executives are not the best paid in the sector and our
staff are.  That seems right to me.  You may have seen the NTEU study that puts my own
salary at 10th in the country, below that of the Vice-Chancellors of much smaller and
less complex institutions.  That is fine by me: I am extremely generously paid.  But I
do need to recruit good Deans and other senior staff and paying them less than about 75%
of the Go8 comparators would probably make us uncompetitive.  I understand the
sensitivities here, though, and think that we do really need to be careful about
executive pay.  

Thanks for writing to me and giving me the chance to outline my understanding in
relation to these issues.  I think both the question of communications and executive pay
are really important to get right.  

Yours 

Michael 

Michael Spence 

Vice-Chancellor and Principal 

The University of Sydney 

From: Andrew Mathas <andrew.mathas@sydney.edu.au> 

Organization: University of Sydney 

Reply-To: Andrew Mathas <andrew.mathas@sydney.edu.au> 

Date: Thursday, 15 August 2013 10:46 PM 

To: Michael Spence <michael.spence@sydney.edu.au> 

Cc: Ann Brewer <ann.brewer@sydney.edu.au> 

Subject: Re: Further information on University’s proposed EA 

On 15/08/13 8:38 AM, Michael Spence wrote: 

This was not "brinkmanship".  It would be irresponsible to give any undertakings about
backpay that would have effect after the federal election.  There is a very real chance
that our budget will be cut further by an incoming government and so, while I am
absolutely committed to the 2.9 percent, I cannot guarantee any backpay at all after the
election.  These are tough times and I do not think that is understood by the local
branch leadership.  

Dear Michael, 

I accept that Australian university budgets are tight and I agree with you that the
union’s insistence on a 4% pay rise is unrealistic given Australia’s current economic
outlook.  This said, I have found managements’ arguments during the enterprise
bargaining process to be frustrating, both because they have often been illogical and
because of the occasional brutality in expression - for example, some of the rhetoric
from the executive over planned strike action bore a strong resemblance to the rantings
of a school yard bully.  It has not been to anyone’s benefit that much of this debate,
from both side, has been conducted outside of the friendly collegial framework which you
aspired to when you were first appointed.  

Against this backdrop I have to take exception to your paragraph above.  As you said,
university management is fully aware that there will be an election soon and that this
will probably have a negative impact on our budget.  Being cognisant of this fact, any
competent management team would take this into account when offering a pay rise, whether
or not it was backdated.  It makes no sense to pretend that the election affects the
offer to backdate this pay rise because your calculations should already anticipate the
effects of the election.  It would be reasonable to say that budget changes after the
election may be worse than expected, with the result that the university cannot afford
to backdate the pay rise, but if you seriously believe this then you should not be
offering to backdate any pay rise now.  Your withdrawing the offer to backdate the pay
rise one week before the election, and probably a month before any budget changes will
be announced, comes across as another backhanded bargaining ploy.  

As I said above, I think that the unions demand for a 4% pay rise is unrealistic.  It
would help in convincing my colleagues of this if you and the rest of the executive
agreed to similarly restrict your own pay increases and to forgo any bonuses whilst our
budget strictures remain tight.  This would also be fair and reasonable by any
standards.  On a previous occasion when this was suggested to you you replied by saying
that "such staff, however, may have a contractual entitlement to a performance-related
bonus as part of their conditions of employment".  This is disingenuous.  The executive
could, if they wished, release the university from these obligations and agree to
reduced salary increases and to a pause in the payment of bonuses.  Given the high level
of dissatisfaction with university management reported in recent surveys I think that
this is something that you should be considering anyway.  In any case, agreeing to
restrict your salaries and bonuses would remove one of the union’s most emotive
arguments and it would help to convince my colleagues that we honestly cannot afford a
larger pay rise.  

I sincerely hope that the enterprise bargaining processes can be brought to a conclusion
soon.  In my experience it has never taken so long to reach agreement and this long
drawn-out process is proving to be very damaging for morale, particularly for younger
members of staff.  It is in everyone’s interests to bring this to a conclusion as
quickly as possible.  

With best regards, 

Andrew


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