5 Dec 2011

Sydney University Academics Speak Out

By Sydney University Academics
How did Sydney Uni management get it so disastrously wrong? With cuts on the way and their jobs on the line these high-profile Sydney Uni academics are outraged by the way the budget crisis has been handled
For more than a week, the University of Sydney has been in the grip of an unprecedented crisis. On 23 November, the Vice-Chancellor, Michael Spence, made an all-staff announcement by video-message, his standard mode of communication (the transcript is available here).

Fee income, Dr Spence told the university, was less than management had projected. "If we are to meet our financial targets in 2012," he said, "we need to take some stringent measures". Staff who are not 'pulling their weight' can no longer be 'carried'. According to estimates based on the university's desired savings, up to 150 academic and 190 general staff jobs are under threat.

In his video, Dr Spence announced that "academics who do not contribute significantly either to ... research or teaching" would be subject to corrective measures, including redundancy. The details are specified in the university's Draft Change Proposal document (DCP).

Given that the proposal is clearly non-negotiable in all essential respects, the term "Draft" is highly misleading: the university has provided for two brief staff "consultation" periods between now and mid-February, when the final decisions will be made. For measures as unanticipated, sweeping, summary and, to many, devastating as these, talk of "consultation" is no more than an insult.

Whatever it is called, the DCP reveals a far more worrying situation for academics than Dr Spence acknowledged on the video. Rather than research and teaching constituting the measure by which staff not "pulling their weight" are to be identified, the DCP makes it clear that academics will be assessed purely on the basis of their publications ("outputs") between 1 January 2009 and 4 November 2011. The only way a staff member can avoid being "considered for possible redundancy or alternative arrangements" is by having four publications to their name in that period.

Academics with three or fewer publications will be eligible for punitive action — being reassigned to teaching-only roles (professionally disastrous in a research university), offered pre-retirement contracts or voluntary redundancies, or, as a last resort, being sacked. The DCP recommends "reducing the number of continuing and fixed-term academic staff across the University by 7.5 per cent". The savings in salary costs will be used on building work and computer infrastructure.

The Vice-Chancellor's announcement has caused deep consternation. Academics' official duties are determined by the current Enterprise Agreement, signed in 2009 after significant management obstructionism. According to the EA, most academics are meant to spend 20 per cent of their time on administrative duties and 40 per cent each on teaching and research.

These figures are the object of widespread derision. Like their general staff colleagues, academics are, almost without exception, extremely dedicated and hardworking. They are also uniformly beleaguered, with teaching alone occupying the vast bulk of available time. This means that the criteria the university has announced — three or fewer "outputs" and you're in trouble  — make academics' job security dependent on a crass quantification of their performance in only two-fifths of their official duties, and in a much smaller proportion of their realistically achievable ones.

Good research takes time. Leave aside the fundamental question of whether "research performance" can be measured by counting publications: the "output fundamentalism" of the DCP involves an even greater inequity. The "less than four" test is a much higher bar than any previously advertised — almost twice as demanding, in fact, as the "Minimum Levels of Research Performance" released only in October by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, which claimed to reflect 'university-wide norms'.

Staff at the university are still trying to come to terms with what has just happened. At union meetings, at general "Town Hall" meetings called to discuss the changes, and in the corridor, staff are expressing their incredulity, distress and outrage.

Why are staff and students paying for management's budgetary failures? How can the Vice-Chancellor announce punitive action on the basis of an absurdly harsh, retrospective performance test that applies to only 40 per cent of an academic's overall duties? How could it be more important to invest in IT and buildings than in the staff who teach in them? How will the reduced academic workforce cope with the increased teaching load caused by redundancies?

How could the quality of education and research at the university fail to be damaged? Why is Sydney the only institution where management has got the budget so disastrously wrong? Why are we talking about 150 redundancies when UNSW has just announced 100 extra appointments? What guarantee can be given to staff members not targeted by this proposal that they will not be subject to some new and equally arbitrary change to the rules whenever management next decides that "stringent measures" are needed?

Neither Dr Spence nor anyone else has given satisfactory answers to these questions. In the video sent to staff, the VC suggested that the DCP was no more than what staff themselves had asked for, and were even expecting:

"But to progress further, we must, amongst other things, invest in our buildings and ICT systems: their current state is of real concern to everyone... and there is an urgent need for new facilities to better support you and your work. All of this will come as no surprise. You raised these issues in our Green Paper consultations and you continue to do so. You deserve better."

The VC is right: staff "deserve better". But what they deserve is not just new buildings or better IT systems, but the security of knowing that their job description will not be retrospectively rewritten. No one wants better facilities for a job they no longer have. What staff deserve is a guarantee that they will be treated fairly, and not made the objects of unprovoked employer militancy.

Dr Spence's hypocrisy continued in an email circulated to staff on 1 December, the day after the best attended National Tertiary Education Union meeting held at the institution in living memory, with more than 500 staff present. Dr Spence noted that:

"The NTEU is also calling for various forms of protest action. While I would not want to prevent any staff member from expressing their opinion I would ask that this be done in a collegial manner..."

The irony was lost on no one: The VC's proposal violates the most elementary standards of equity, decency and procedural fairness — and he reads us lectures on collegiality.

The VC is not, of course, solely responsible: the University Senate and the "Senior Executive Group" — a formation which has increasingly assumed control over key university decisions — have agreed to the strategy, apparently despite the resistance of a few Deans. The DCP is evidently a joint effort. In its arrogance, its incoherence, and its fundamental hostility to the core values that should animate a university community, it stands as one of the most representative achievements to date of the distinctive managerial culture of the corporate university.

At less exalted levels of the university hierarchy, there seems little evidence of any inclination to resist the DCP. With a handful of honourable exceptions, most mid-level managers seem largely to have failed to offer any resistance whatsoever to the plan when challenged on the grounds of its fundamental inequity. Without batting an eyelid, they have fallen into lock-step behind management's demands and refused to call the scheme's basis into question.

At most, there have been declarations of distress and assurances to desperate staff of procedural support, within the terms of the DCP, in identifying extenuating circumstances which might avert redundancy. They have specifically excluded taking a principled stand in favour of equity or reasonable treatment. This is predictable enough, given that the logic of university appointments precisely favours those who aim to acquire institutional power rather than challenge it, and who have demonstrated preparedness to automatically implement their superiors' decisions, no matter what.

Many people think that what the university is proposing is illegal and will never make it through the courts. As Dr Spence now clearly recognises, he has a fight on his hands.

Management does, however, have one advantage. Universities are aspirational workplaces, with a seamless continuity between junior academic and senior management roles. If you keep on getting promoted, you can start as a humble lecturer and end up a Head of School, Dean, Provost or VC. This role-fluidity makes it easy to forget just how little community of interest there actually now is between the academics who mainly teach and research and the managers who manage.

Along with nostalgia for a less brutal age of genuine collegiality, role-fluidity militates against an accurate appraisal of the structural contradictions between staff and management. As a result, rank and file staff want to believe that managers are on the same side as they are, and motivated by their best interests. These are dangerous illusions, the baselessness of which is rarely exposed as unambiguously as at Sydney today.

Tertiary education plays a central role in society. Universities are vital milieus for the fashioning of a distinct generational consciousness among students. For those young people able to attend them, they often provide the context of their first sustained adult encounter with a State instrumentality. It is at university that subtle expectations are formed about the character of institutional behaviour and the norms of authority, respect and fair treatment that govern relations in the community.

Management's current summary assault on staff will not just hurt students by making their classes more crowded and their lecturers, librarians, and admin and lab assistants more overworked. It will hurt them by poisoning the environment in which they acquire fundamental habits of mind. The structural bullying, ugly authoritarianism and arbitrary and summary exercise of power of which staff are currently objects will create an atmosphere that cannot but adversely affect the university's entire ecology. The consequences will be subtle and serious, and they must be resisted.

Given its content, this article obviously reflects the authors' personal opinions and not those of the University of Sydney.

Log in or register to post comments

Discuss this article

To control your subscriptions to discussions you participate in go to your Account Settings preferences and click the Subscriptions tab.

Enter your comments here

Joshua Mostafa
Posted Monday, December 5, 2011 - 11:56

This is the latest in a series of high-handed technocratic decisions that go beyond managerial philistinism into pure corporate vulgarity.

I'm going to be graduating with my MA this summer. In my time at Sydney Uni I've been privileged to learn from some really amazing individuals.

I've also been crammed into classes overflowing to the point where there aren't enough chairs to go round. Subscriptions to academic journals have been allowed to lapse across the board. I hear that library stock is undergoing a 'dust check' to scrap as many of its books as possible; heaven forbid that a library should contain dusty books.

Meanwhile, the entirely pointless replacement of the bridge over City Road, and the new law building - constructed of equal parts glass, concrete and smugness - demonstrates the hypocrisy of Spence's austerity argument more eloquently than words can.

Posted Monday, December 5, 2011 - 14:26

We can be assured that none of the cuts will come from the VCs $750,000PA salary, plus free housing in a mansion, plus a driver, plus expense accounts etc etc.

Posted Monday, December 5, 2011 - 14:42

Is this a consequence of the University of Sydney's finances suffering due to the GFC?

SMH article from 2009 'Diving Shares teach uni tough lesson': http://www.smh.com.au/national/diving-shares-teach-uni-tough-lesson-2009...

According to the SMH article, USyd had 23% wiped from its portfolio. At the time the University of Sydney's chief financial officer, Mark Easson, stated that:

"We remain debt free with a pool of discretionary funds [$300 million available for contingencies]. Our investment portfolio is well diversified and performed better than most similar sized balanced funds. We expect the value of our investment portfolio to recover in time."

So what has happened to this 'pool of discretionary funds'? Has that been mismanaged?

Posted Monday, December 5, 2011 - 15:24

"Given that the logic of university appointments precisely favours those who aim to acquire institutional power rather than challenge it, and who have demonstrated preparedness to automatically implement their superiors’ decisions, no matter what." Exactly. I really appreciate everyone who put their name to this article.

"No one wants better facilities for a job they no longer have." Yes. The logic of this decision is insane. I would rather take classes out on the lawn with decent lecturers, than be crammed into a state of the art lecture theatre with 300 others and sub-standard teaching.

Eff Sea Why
Posted Monday, December 5, 2011 - 16:28

Sydney University has been gutting its own future for years.

First there was the perceived payoff in allowing more full fee paying students into local and overseas spaces, creating a financial dependency on student fees that has only increased over the years and is now under threat due to dropping overseas enrolments post GFC.

At the beginning of last year, the university made widespread funding cuts of between 7 and 10% to general staff and expenditure. This pushed an increasing administrative burden onto already overstrained resources amongst both general and academic staff.

Earlier this year, a restructure in the university's "funding model" has pushed operational costs onto individual schools for basic services and support such as IT, HR, and Accounts. It also meant that departments now need to pay the university for teaching space to conduct tutorials and lectures - fees based on square foot floorspace, not on quality or technological capability of the room. This meant that casual staff budgets - tutoring for postgraduate students, which is essential training and income for the students, and essential teaching relief for academic staff - were cut, pushing more teaching back onto salaried academics.

Now this. How a research-intensive institution is supposed to maintain any kind of standard of research when its teaching staff are under threat, its high 'output' researchers are forced to take on more teaching, its postgraduate students are under-resourced and under-trained, with no future job prospects at the institution, and classes are getting more and more overcrowded...

The sandstone walls are still standing, but the integrity of this university is crumbling fast.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. NewsGooJake
Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 14:06

Comment from Associate Professor Jake Lynch, Director, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney.

This is my personal opinion too!

Thanks to my colleagues for their comments - which I endorse - and to New Matilda for ventilating this issue.

There is one curiosity amid the welter of claim and counter-claim over the planned job cuts, which I feel deserves closer scrutiny.

The rationale put forward for the cuts is in terms of the University's overall budget. No case is made that the proportion of turnover spent on staff salaries is excessive, in and of itself - merely that cuts must be made somewhere, and this is the 'share' expected to come from staffing costs.

However, while cutting jobs would mean less money paid out on salaries, it would also incur a cost in paying out people's contracts. If - as seems possible, given the arbitrariness of the publications criterion - the 'cull' were to include colleagues with significant length of service, it is likely to cost at least as much to pay them off as to employ them, at least in the short term.

Even if it goes ahead as planned, therefore, the exercise is likely to deliver, at best, a very modest saving to the University's overall budget in the next year or two. The timing is significant because after that, the provisions of the Bradley review of Higher Education start to 'kick in', including the wherewithal for universities to set their own enrolment levels and adjust entry criteria accordingly: the so-called 'lifting of the cap'.

That is widely expected to herald an increase in student numbers, whereupon the University of Sydney will presumably have to, er, recruit more staff.

Management have attached no costing to the proposed program of job cuts so it is impossible to tell if it will indeed save any money, and if so, how much and over what timescale. The VC clearly has some more explaining to do. Perhaps we can look forward to another video, this time with accompanying graphics showing how the figures are expected to add up?

Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 14:34

As a student of Sydney University, I for one welcome a major upgrade to the IT systems and e-learning environment of the uni. It is so far behind other universities, it really has become a joke among students and academics with recent experience elsewhere. The current systems are surely a hindrance to offerring (and charging) more students to acccess to an education at Sydney.
I also not opposed to an expectation that academics will perform.
How that is measured, however, I will leave to others.

Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 18:39

Interesting how the VC has money when it suits and none when it doesn't!

He spent more than $500,000 on endless investigations of misconduct in a dean of this university but ignored the advice provided at the end of that expenditure that she should be sacked? How could he allow a dean to spend $137,000 on her own PR in one year, while simultaneously failing to provide students with the education they have a right to expect and for which they are paying HECS? Or allow her faculty to acquire $5 mill - $10 mill debt without reigning in her obscene spending? Or fund her OTT self-aggrandizing farewells, involving Scottish bagpipes piping her down Macquarie St as if she were a departing hero? Or providing her with home loans of $175,000 and outrageous bonuses on top of an inflated salary for her work as "cultural ambassador" that has succeeded only in trashing the reputation of the Conservatorium internationally such that it can no longer attract high calibre applicants for the position of dean?

Now the university has to find funds to defend a law suit that this very same protected, pampered dean has brought against it because her contract will not be renewed.

If this is the way that the university sees fit to spend its income, it does not surprise me that there is yet another financial crisis to be managed, at the expense of those who had no role in creating it.

How many of the top heavy management of this place will meet the publication criteria needed to avoid sacking? How many of them are contributing to teaching? Perhaps we should, in the interests of equity, start with assessing those on the biggest salaries - no doubt we could find substantial savings more quickly by targeting those on $250,000-$750,000 first?

Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 19:09

Abandon-hope: well said! I agree. Where are the measures to stop this behaviour? It affects people who played no part in it, who have no benefit from it but who shoulder all the consequences of it - that's just wrong! Why does this keep happening?

Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 20:07

Alongside the questions about whether management's proposals have been costed (raised above), there's another issue that I think deserves further attention. That is, the proposal released by the university for determining those staff who are "not pulling their weight" manifestly disadvantages academics in the humanities.

Academics are being assessed on the number of their publications in a three year period and all publications are treated equally (as long as they fit the draft ERA guidelines). Management have made it clear that academics need to have four publication or more to be safe from redundancy. This means a historian who has published three books in the three year period is at risk of being sacked, while a physicist with four articles (or even refereed conference papers) with multiple authors is safe. Since it's been made clear to all academic staff that these are university wide cuts, and there will be no target imposed on individual faculties, it's hard not to think that the humanities have been placed in greater jeopardy than the sciences. This is even harder to swallow given the consistently excellent rankings humanities at Sydney University are awarded by the Times Higher Education Supplement (#5 in the world in 2006 and 18th in 2011)

I think this - along with the issues raised by other commenters - needs greater scrutiny.

David P
Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 21:02


I too am a student of the University of Sydney, and the views you put forward are not representative of the majority of us.
While I agree that a major IT/infrastructure upgrade would be kind of nice, no student I know would rather have a shiny new table-top or a slightly faster internet connection than a strong community of academics.
Consider this part of the article again:

"But what they deserve is not just new buildings or better IT systems, but the security of knowing that their job description will not be retrospectively rewritten. No one wants better facilities for a job they no longer have."

What good would it do to give us an upgraded IT system if you take away our whole reason for actually being here at all?

Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 21:10

We had been an international agent for The University of Sydney dealing with the administrators in the International Office... Like other universities we (being Australian) take issue with huge amounts of "marketing funds" of a public institution being justified by being invested in dubious and outdated education communication or distribution events requiring (frequent) offshore travel.......

We appreciate faculty visitors offshore as they have real expertise and added value for the university, but armies of international administrators spending a fortune to distribute brochures offshore at public events, ever heard of digital?

Is it time for universities to give up some of their autonomy for more public accountability?

Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 22:29

Apart from the politics of the actual job losses themselves (which do not seem warranted), the methods for identifying academic staff at risk of redundancy is shamefully blunt. From my understanding, it unfairly targets Humanities scholars, who usually publish individually and less often than Science researchers (who might be one of 20 people credited on a publication). Books are also more common outcomes in the Humanities and are massive undertakings. It is not clear whether one book is being counted as one publication, just like a journal article.

The total dismissal of teaching performance shows the true attitude of Group of Eight institutions to teaching. While there is a lot of lip service paid to quality of teaching, it's not what they privilege when hiring or promoting.

The period of two years is also questionable, as academics are often working to the cycle of ARC grants. In the first phase of a project you may not have many publication outcomes, but at the end a fantastic book with a prestigious press and a few articles may emerge. To put a scholar in this situation into the "underperforming" category is laughable.

Robert B
Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 22:34

As a student of Sydney University, I would like to respond to the comments of ‘cms’ by reiterating the point, already made above by ‘David P’, that they are not representative of the opinions of the majority of the student body on this issue. It is disheartening, if not infuriating, to think that Sydney University believes that an upgrade to the IT facilities should be bought at the expense of the jobs of committed, inspiring and hard-working academics. The criteria of three or fewer publications in the last 3 years is as arbitrary as it is embarrassing to the management team who thought it up. Students recognize, appreciate – and will therefore support – those academics whose dedication to quality teaching is the foundation a University’s reputation.

Sam Lewin
Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 22:47


I agree with everything you say; the problem is what you don't say.

"I for one welcome a major upgrade to the IT systems and e-learning environment of the uni."

As a student, yes I would like an IT upgrade, but not at the cost of the job-security of academics. It is a mystery to me how the poor state of IT is supposed to justify penalising academics for management’s budgetary failures.

"I [am] also not opposed to an expectation that academics will perform."

No one thinks that academics don't need to "perform". The most maddening aspect of the proposed change is the implication that academics are failing to "perform". This is simply untrue. I cannot understand equivocation. We cannot abdicate our responsibility to the university by allowing an arbitrary and unfair criterion to determine academics' future. You should be outraged that academics who are "performing" are at risk.

We cannot afford to be complacent about this. The positions of some of the best teachers at our university are endangered by this proposal. We cannot let the VC tell us that this is something that anyone at the university has asked for.

Posted Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 04:36

Are we really naive enough to believe that laying off 150 academics and 150 general staff will fund new buildings and IT in any case. I don't quite see it

Even if it might, in the very long term--- i.e. IFF there were no replacement positions for a lot of years. And if the management would become fiscally responsible and have some foresight.

And lets face it, thats not going to happen. As soon as positions are vacated by VR or whatever, the powerful departments will get and fill new positions for research active staff- then those staff will get to do research while other staff (probably female and junior) will be forced to take the teaching load and the whole cycle will begin again.

Management had the same information as the rest of the world when in 2008 there was an economic downturn- yet management did NOT foresee that student numbers would drop. Many of the rest of us did.

Posted Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 08:08

Having been in primary school education, the whole issue of gauging teaching performance is very contentious anyway, the accountant-types always want to put quantitative figures on something that is not easily or realistically quantifiable (ie teaching effectiveness, academic usefulness) and in the act of treating a human activity and human beings as inhuman objects - these people do a great diservice to the university and students.

Posted Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 11:28

Sad to read the conclusion: "The structural bullying, ugly authoritarianism and arbitrary and summary exercise of power of which staff are currently objects will create an atmosphere that cannot but adversely affect the university’s entire ecology. The consequences will be subtle and serious, and they must be resisted. "

A decade ago (19 August 2001) I commented forthrightly on "The crisis in our universities" in a ABC Ockham's Razor broadcast talk (now apparently deleted by the neocon infested ABC but still available by Google cache: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:sJv-yiNLMJUJ:www.ab... ). I concluded : "A fundamental problem can be seen to be sustained academic unresponsiveness and self-censorship that is the more extraordinary deriving from institutions of learning in an ostensibly open and free society. However our Kafkaesque, Orwellian universities are now a bully’s paradise. Australian academics are perceived to be highly intimidated in an environment in which there is increasing financial constraint, massive overwork, constraining codes of conduct, effective absence of tenure for many, massive downsizing, threats of downsizing and aggressive, rude management. Some recent occurrences illustrate problems for vocal academics, including astonishing victimisation, gagging and threatening of dissenting academics. This is Australia in the New Millennium. Commonplace Australian academic realities have now overtaken implausible satire. Public scrutiny and action is now urgently required to halt and reverse the perversion of our universities."

Today 50% of undergraduate teaching is done by casual academics - great for rich, semi-retired senior academics such as myself who love teaching and do the full time academic's undergraduate teaching in 10% of the time for 10% of the money. However spare thought for young casual academics with spouse, children, mortgage, scholarly commitment and career track concerns.

We live in an increasingly dangerous world and a respected, independent, bold academia is vital for honest scholarship, rational risk management, societal safety and societal health. Academic independence is threatened by the kind of bullying perversion exhibited by Sydney University (also see “Current academic censorship and self-censorship in Australian universities”, Public University Journal, volume 1, Conference Supplement, “Transforming the Australia University”, Melbourne, 9-10 December 2001: http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/57092/20080218-1150/www.publicuni.org/jrnl... ).

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Posted Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 11:55

While a Google search for “Crisis in our universities” coupled with or without the word Ockham yields a non-functional link ( http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/science/ockham/stories/s347931.htm ) a search of the excellent ABC Radio National Ockham’s Razor program does elicit a transcript: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/crisis-in-our-... - but you have to know the author and program to find it. Indeed this and other talks I gave on Ockham’s Razor have been similarly “disappeared” when you do a "Google Search" or “ABC Search” but can still be accessed as transcripts via Ockham’s Razor, a key last vestige of honest free speech in the neocon-infested ABC (see: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/search/?query=... ) .

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Posted Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 15:17

DrGP - managerialism - it's a dirty word!

Posted Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 15:45


Perhaps you are a little disgruntled that your contract with the University was not renewed?

Compared to other sectors, universities spend an embarrassingly low amount of money on marketing (for many universities its around 1-2% of their overall budgets), given education is Australia's third largest export market. At the end of the day, with the increasing reliance on student fee income (especially international students), universities have to compete, just like in any other sector. To stay visible in a crowded market place, you have to promote yourself.

I agree universities have to be smarter about the way they market, but with dwindling budgets, innovation suffers.

Posted Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 16:41

I've blogged a response here about Sydney University's decision rule:

4 Publications, 3 Years

In short: Sydney University's decision rule sets a low threshold for many academics. 4 publications in 3 years is achievable.

If you feel this is a problem, I have suggested some resources and strategies that successful, productive academics use.

I Palmer
Posted Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 17:36

alexburns it may interest you to know that as a matter of fact there are full professors with successful ARC grants who face redundancy on these criteria.

This is not about productivity. Quite aside from the arbitrariness of these measures, they constitute a crass attempt to change irrevocably the culture of academia. Once these positions are gone, they will not be replaced.

These measures will mean the further casualization of the workforce – neither good for students nor staff.

These measures will also result in an upsurge in second-rate publications as academics will be forced to get material published simply for the sake of it.

Annie from Faulco
Posted Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 00:33

Perhaps the bean counters could answer these questions:

* Where did you go to university?
* Why did you go there?
* What did you learn?
* Why is your degree any good?
* Who taught you?
* What were the qualities of the best teachers?
* How did their research output affect your view of their teaching qualities?

I fear that their spreadsheets may not reveal any of these answers. They may have to think how they got to where they are now due to quality teaching by academics who then went on to burn the midnight oil on their research quota.

My daughter has dreamed for years of going to the U of Syd. I sincerely hope, Dr Spence, that the subjects which she has aspired to study for so long will still be on offer in 2012.

This decision has affected potential students and their parents, as well as staff, current students and the wider educational community.

Financial errors should not be permitted to compromise the quality of teaching at U of Syd, because the reputation of graduates of the university depends entirely on the quality of the education they receive.

I suggest that a graduate who emphasised their exposure to flash IT and new buildings may not be as well-regarded as another, from a different university, who had quality teaching, assisted by competent administrative support.

Posted Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 08:33

@alexburns - do they have such quota at real research universities? I have friends and colleagues who are full professors at institutions like Harvard, Yale, Cornell and Princeton. They have no such constraints on their research. They publish - and they are highly respected- but not at the rate of 1 paper per year. The emphasis is on quality. In addition they work in well funded departments and have usually more than a single department administrator. They have colleagues who provide a stimulating environment for talk and discussion. They teach only 3 classes per year and there may be only 10-15 students in each class. There is no pressure to 'put bums on seats'. Excellent support is provided when the classes are large.

Its the university's responsibility to its academic employees to provide the background necessary for good research. Sydney University fails in this regard except in a few select departments. Neither the academics nor the graduate students are provided anything like the kind of environment necessary for good research.

The pressure to produce most certainly does push for quantity with no regard for quality. In fact even the A journal rankings are bunkum- having been designated as such to ensure that papers published therein will 'count' and not because they are in any real sense 'A' class.

Many of the best academics are people who publish a few articles in their entire career. Many less than 1 per year.

Good research is about quality and impact. Try googling some of the Sydney Uni elite to see how often their many books and articles are cited by others in the field. I think you'll find that the numbers are small. Good research is read by others in the field. If its not cited its not being read. All it is is a waste of trees.

Posted Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 09:27

Well said, Simmo: "Good research is about quality and impact"and the Sydney University "4 papers in 3 years rule" is puerile bean-counting antithetical to serious, hard scholarship.

That said, it is clear that the Dawkinization of our universities (circa 1990) meant that there were many vocation-oriented academics without a solid record of scholarship.

Conversely, ideologically-inspired Australian Government, corporate and international government funding can favor sponsored academics (e.g. American Studies , Security Studies, Terrorism Studies) in terms of money, research fellows, graduate students and ready publication to the detriment of traditional serious scholars.

A little bird tells me that this is already an increasingly serious problem at Sydney University which could face the prospect of becoming a CIA-occupied University just as Australia with bipartisan. Lib-Lab, neocon support will shortly become Occupied by 2,500 child-killing, cluster bomb-deploying, nuclear terrorist, war criminal, genocidal US Marines (38 million violent deaths plus avoidable deaths from war-imposed deprivation, so far, in post-1950 US Asian wars, in all of which White Australia has been involved).

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Posted Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 09:44

Simmo - we're talking about accountant types here - they only care about figures thus are making their decisions based totally on aa easily applied quantifiable process (because they can't handle the human unpredictable side of living in a real world with real people) and of course quality is much harder to work with - this has happened in every field of work from policing, to nursing, to community welfare why would universities be immune to this disgusting, inhumane practice?

Posted Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 12:25

@Simmo, @DrGideonPolya, @fightmumma,

I pointed out that Sydney University's criteria doesn't totally address 'quality' outputs. (I work as a developmental editor for 120 academics.)

@Simmo: I know professors at Harvard, Princeton, UCSB and other places (and at various Australin universities). They publish regularly, including in university presses that have high publication standards. Some publish 4-5 papers a year and are major people in their fields. Some do publish less than one article a year, but when they do, it is in an A* journal and gets highly cited by JSTOR, SSCI and other measures.

One major difference with your examples is their funding source. They each have university fund/endowment managers; external funding for particular chairs; and high fees. Many Australian universities don't have an endowment like Harvard or Yale.

I come from a publishing background and spent time in a CRC. 4 papers over a 3 year period is not much for a focused, well-organised academic. The output is much higher for Associate Professor and Professor level --- as also mandated by university HR criteria for promotion. Sometimes, the best work can be done under constraints --- which people who are on short-term, sessional contracts have been able to do --- and who perhaps deserve a shot at a more full-time gig.

It's the individual academic's responsibility to develop and undertake their individual research program. The most effective ones are self-defined and occur despite institutional limits or pressures. It's those people who get promoted quickly to Associate Professor than their peers, in a 'winner takes all' dynamic.

Lastly, citations are problematic --- and can be very revealing about who is citing whom, and why. You'll find me on Google Scholar.

@fightmumma: yes, there are some limits to corporate finance metrics that are applied to qualitative areas. It's better to 'build the quality in' (Philip B. Crosby). The metrics don't address developmental time that is sometimes needed during changes to a research program, for example.

@DrGideonPolya: I take issue with your very narrow description of academics working in Security Studies and Counter-terrorism Studies (which I am doing a Monash PhD in). There's a broad spectrum of work, some by research teams that have won competitive ARC Discovery and Linkage grants. Your comparison with "traditional, serious scholars" is a false one, because you overlook the serious scholarship being done in the field (e.g. in the US and the UK: Audrey Kurth Cronin, Robert Pape, Mark Juergensmeyer, Andrew Silke, John Horgan, Martha Crenshaw, Jessica Stern, David Rapoport). I suggest you look up Lisa Stampnitzky's 2008 dissertation on the field. Your message's third to fifth paragraphs go off on ideological tangents which don't reflect what people in those fields are actually doing.

Posted Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 16:24

@ alexburns re buckets of money for Security, US Apologia, Terrorism Studies at places like Sydney U.

Eminent anti-Zionist, anti-racist, Jewish American scholar and Sydney Peace Prize winner Professor Noam Chomsky (77 Nobel Laureate Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has unequivocally described the US as a "leading terrorist state" (see: http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/200111--02.htm ).

According to Economics Noel Laureate Professor Joseph Stiglitz (72 Nobel Laureate Columbia University) and Professor Linda Bilmes (46 Nobel Laureate Harvard University) the US has already committed to an accrual cost of $3 trillion for the Iraqi Holocaust and Iraqi Genocide (4.6 million war-related deaths, 1990-2011) (see "Iraqi Holocaust, Iraqi Genocide": https://sites.google.com/site/iraqiholocaustiraqigenocide/ ) and the Joint Economics Committee of Congress estimates $3.5 trillion (see "The Three Trillion Dollar War": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Three_Trillion_Dollar_War: ).

Dr Michael Dr Michael Intriligator, a senior fellow at the US Milken Institute, has suggested a long-term cost of the Afghan War at $1.5 trillion to $2.0 trillion. Australia 's involvement costs about $1 billion annually (see "Afghan War, Afghan Holocaust & Afghan Genocide 9th Anniversary - 4.9 million dead, 3.2 million refugees", RAWA: http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2010/10/15/afghan-war-afghan-holocaust-a... ). Afghan war-related dead, 2011-2011 now total 5.6 million (see "Afghan Holocaust, Afghan Genocide": https://sites.google.com/site/afghanholocaustafghangenocide/ ).

In contrast Muslim-origin non-state terrorists have killed 7,000 Western civilians in the last 40 years (this including about 2,000 Israelis engaged in the US- and Australia-backed Palestinian Genocide and 3,000 victims of the 9-11 atrocity that almost certainly involved the US itself; see "Experts: US did 9-11": https://sites.google.com/site/expertsusdid911/home ).

There is a huge amount of money available for scholars to blame the 12 million dead Muslim victims (half of them children) of the racist, anti-Arab anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, inherently anti-Jewish anti-Semitic and genocidal US Alliance state terrorism War on Muslims (1990-2011), whether at zero Nobel Laureate Sydney University or zero Nobel Laureate Monash University.

For expert documentation of the consequences of US state terrorism see UNICEF, WHO and the UN Population Division (see my book "Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950": http://globalavoidablemortality.blogspot.com/2008/08/body-count-global-a... ). Thus UNICEF reports that 237,000 under-5 infant deaths occur annually in US Alliance-occupied Afghanistan, 90% avoidable and due to gross, war criminal violation the Geneva Convention that demands that an Occupier must provide life-sustaining food and medical services to the Conquered subjects "to the fullest extent of the means available to it". Yet the US Alliance state terrorists will not get to face the International Criminal Court as explained in "The Politics of Genocide" by Professor Edward Herman and David Peterson (for review see: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/15306-politics-of-genocide.html ).

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Andrew Riemer
Posted Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 17:27

I should not, perhaps, make a contribution to this debate, but the controversy over publications brought irresistibly to mind several distinguished, now mostly deceased, scholars at the University of Sydney who laboured patiently over the span of many years on research projects that gained them (and therefore the university) acclaim both here and overseas. I remember them beavering away, week by week, year by year, gathering material from often obscure sources so that at length they were able to make genuine, substantial and lasting contributions to knowledge. They were fortunate; they had the trust and the support of the institution where many of them spent their working lives. In those circumstances true scholarship could flourish even if the "outcomes" took years to achieve. And by the way, most (as I remember from my undergraduate years) were excellent, sometimes inspiring teachers.

Posted Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 22:09

Excellent article. Brave authors.

Proper R&D takes just as much time now as it did in the past. I work in industrial research and the idea that we would value the quantity of published work over real results just makes me laugh.

Who are these university administrators??? What kind of "leadership" is this!?!

Sydney Uni – more and more tinpot by the minute.

Nice one Dr Spence.

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 01:50

No-one is denying that some ppl are very productive. But most people are not like Stiglitz or Chomsky. And both of those people work in institutions that do not place any lower limit on publications, by the way.

Consider instead Ferdinand de Saussure who published one significant paper in his lifetime - his book was written by his students, posthumously. Yet its had a major impact in the humanities.

The point I make is not that people should not be expected to publish but that they should not be forced to publish a particular number because that encourages bad research it does not encourage good research.

A decent university environment would nurture all research not focus on quantity and punitive actions if you don't meet their minimum. This institution fails in its duty of care to academics. Focus on that.

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 05:40

Well said, Simmo.

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 06:54

Why should you not be on google scholar @alexburns?

Citations seems only to be considered problematic by the Humanities- or some of them. Its not that difficult to separate out the self-citations from the real citations. Whether work is cited for negative or positive reasons, its some measure of its impact over the long term. If your work is wrong and people argue against you, that still means it was read, and that it mattered enough to warrant a response.

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 14:22

@DrGideonPolya: I interviewed Chomsky in 1995 and am familiar with Stiglitz's work. I did peace studies at La Trobe with Tom Weber. Your comments do not describe the actual research being done and published in counter-terrorism or security studies: you're being polemical. See Barry Buzan and Lene Hansen's 'Evolution of International Security Studies' (2009) for probably why (your ideological stance). There are many people in these fields who have raised similar concerns. Also, the Milken Institute could be a biased source. If you're going to use Chomsky as an example, then follow what he and Edward S. Herman did, and base your arguments on what is actually happening --- i.e. cite specific examples and work --- rather than mis-characterise others and entire fields of study.

@Simmo: You raised several points:

(1) Polya raised the examples of Chomsky and Stiglitz, not me. Both are public intellectuals with a long publishing history who are given considerable space by their institutions (MIT and Columbia) in part because of university endowments that Australian universities do not have.

(2) Being on Google Scholar is no problem. In my profile, I discovered some unexpected work had been cited. That said, citations need to be taken in context of the particular framework being used, and the individual's research program. There are always biases and omissions.

(3) If you re-read my blog comments, I state that the decision rule doesn't cover everything, such as collaborations and developmental time. I also said a well-organised academic can publish 4 good articles in 3 years, particularly if they do so collaboratively.

(4) Ferdinand de Saussure: I could pick H.P. Lovecraft, who wrote several books and stories, and whose work survived posthumously and influentially due to friends and allies. Whilst these are interesting examples, they are really outliers and don't reflect the real conditions that contemporary academics work in. Why not also focus on what successful, highly-cited academics do?

(5) "A decent university environment would nurture all research not focus on quantity and punitive actions if you don’t meet their minimum." Sorry, but reality-check: a university has --- and does --- make choices about the types of research and areas to support. A good researcher is aware of the institutional politics. I said the quantity focus has problems, and that individual follow-up may be needed. No one likes punitive actions --- however, most universities already have a productivity level in their HR guidelines for academic role levels. A productive academic from senior lecturer upward will already likely be publishing four articles in three years. Whether you like it or not, many institutions already make the kinds of choices that Sydney University's policy targets.

Old Prof
Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 14:22

Oh Look, the VC thinks its UNFAIR to offer Voluntary Redundancy packages to to anyone who might want one.

Go figure!

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 14:39

@I Palmer: I missed your comment. Sure, some professors may be affected. A well conceptualised research program means they would have several research streams, collaborative publications, and grants (from Category 1 including ARC to Category 3 or 4). If they have that, they can probably meet the criteria --- although, as I originally pointed out, three A* articles is better than four C articles. It really depends on the individual case.

What I have seen over 11 years at four institutions:

(1) Some people promoted or 'parachuted in' to professor in order to lead strategic areas --- which may not get the research outputs, or that may no longer be a priority area under a new VC.

(2) People who are professor at one institution that would not have the same rank at another institution --- because they don't have comparable grants or research outputs.

(3) People who got ARC grants about 5-8 years ago --- or who were hired by their current institution because they had done so --- and who are now unable to get ARC grants because they do not read the funding rules; do not have a problem of national significance, a good research design/methodology, or a good team; and who instead blame the ARC.

(4) Professors who leave and become industry/tender consultants.

(5) Professors who co-publish with HEW 5-1 research assistants in the same journal and edited conference proceedings each year.

So, you'll find a range of performance levels and expectations of professors at different institutions.

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 14:43

The university guidelines for promotion do not require 4 papers in 3 years. The most recent guidelines for research activity is less than 1 point per year as far. Collaborative work only brings fractions of points.

I think if you check some of the power elite you'll find that while they may have been prolific, their research is rarely cited.

I don't believe de Saussure is that much of an outlier. But whether he is or not, he would not have had the opportunity to teach those classes that translated into a highly influential book if he'd been working at Sydney Uni in 2012. How many 'outliers' might there be on the VC's secret list? Does anyone know? No, they do not.

You keep arguing that a person can write 4 good articles in 3 years- I agree its possible. It doubt its probable in the long term. But what I also do believe is that if a person is FORCED to write 4 articles in 3 years then most of the work coming out of the institution is going to go down in quality. That is the point you keep missing.
We know universities have priorities. thats not relevant. We are aware of the real world. And the reality is- if you have to churn out articles you will end up churning our stuff and sending it to any journal that will publish it. Sydney Uni humanities is already all about the FOGE paper. This kind of stuff only increases that kind of self published crap that fills up libraries and makes no useful contribution.

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 14:53

DrGideonPolya: You write: "There is a huge amount of money available for scholars to blame the 12 million dead Muslim victims (half of them children) . . . whether at zero Nobel Laureate Sydney University or zero Nobel Laureate Monash University."

Please cite me the specific academics --- and their work --- at either institution who you claim are individually responsible for "the 12 million dead Muslim victims".

I was in Monash's counter-terrorism studies program at their School of Political & Social Inquiry in 2005-06 as a Masters student, and as a PhD student since March 2011. I studied with Pete Lentini, David Wright-Neville, Shahram Akbarzadeh (now at University of Melbourne), Andy Butfoy, and others. Lentini was on two ARC Linkage grants during this period.

(Prior to this, I was an undergraduate student in La Trobe University's politics program, and a masters student in Swinburne University's strategic foresight program.)

At no time did any of these Monash scholars incite genocide or hatred of Muslims. Many were critical of Bush Administration policies and the 2003 Iraq War decision. Many worked closely on issues of Muslim community reconciliation. They are not responsible for any Muslim deaths.

Your claim above is false and an ad hominem attack on these scholars and Monash University's School of Political & Social Inquiry (and probably the same for Sydney University scholars).

Unless you can cite specific instances and evidence --- as Chomsky or Stiglitz would --- please stop these 'flame-war' comments.

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 15:36

@Simmo: Thanks for the discussion, in response:

(1) Can you please email me the guidelines to alex@alexburns.net? Thanks. Many institutions provide extra loading for collaborations and journal rankings when calculating a 'research active' status.

(2) Sure, you'll find many people with lengthy publication track records --- including at professor level --- with low citations. One reason is that Australian Government guidelines used to reward volume of publications in awarding HERDC and research block grants to universities. So, people published in low-level journals with high acceptance rates that were not cited. Or, they published in academic conferences rather than journals. This changed with ERA. It was one reason why many people objected to ERA's letter code rankings of journals --- because the letter codes revealed a quantity rather than a quality-based approach --- and track records were re-evaluated, accordingly.

The approach I take is to look more holistically at a person's research program.

(3) What I meant by de Saussure as an "outlier" (and Lovecraft) is that they are unusual cases: both are influential today because of students, friends and allies. Most academics today would not publish just one paper or book and expect to hold tenure or comparable influence. So, it's not really useful to base your arguments on such cases --- because they don't reflect current realities. To me, it's better to pick exemplar cases and discuss why they have been successful.

Also, a deeper problem is that such examples enforce a sense of entitlement that again, doesn't reflect current realities. I also know professors who taught classes of 15 students and had loads of resources, too. Their younger colleagues would not have the same opportunities now.

Finally, book publishing has different standards to journals or conferences. It usually takes 3-4 years to write a book for a good university press in the United States. Some people are quicker. It took the late Terry Deibel about 21 years of reflection including 2 years of writing for his book Foreign Affairs Strategy: Logic for American Statecraft (Cambridge University Press, 2007). That's what creates master works which encapsulate a life.

(4) "But what I also do believe is that if a person is FORCED to write 4 articles in 3 years then most of the work coming out of the institution is going to go down in quality. That is the point you keep missing."

Let me clarify:

(a) I worked in commercial publishing for 5 years and edited a daily US internet site for 8 years. I worked in a CRC for just over 3 years including a successful $A120m rebid. I then worked on a university-wide audit for a year, and in research administration for the past 3 years.

So, I have heard your argument before, in other variations.

(b) My track record and experiences in (a) lead me to different conclusions and beliefs than you in (4). Furthermore, if you are at senior lecturer level and above --- then you are expected to have a higher publication output than Sydney University's policy seems to suggest.

(c) My current RAI is 2.33 for the past 3 years --- however, I am in a HEW role and don't get the HERDC monies (university or faculty) that academic staff members get. My outputs since January 2009 are: (i) two co-authored journal articles in an A level journal; (ii) two single authored articles in a C level journal; (iii) two co-authored conference papers in edited proceedings --- one paper cited 20 times according to Google Scholar; and (iv) a single draft article and two co-authored draft articles. The published work is all at www.alexburns.net under 'Body of Work'. This does not include PhD draft chapters nor that I work in a full-time administrative capacity.

(d) You suggest that high publication rates can risk low quality. Let me cite some specific examples for you to consider: (i) Ben MacQueen and Luke Howie, two of my PhD co-supervisors at Monash; and (ii) Axel Bruns, Jason Potts, Terry Flew and Ellie Rennie in creative industries. The (ii) academics all have Google Scholar profiles. At least in some cases, high publication rates are still equivalent to high quality or research impact (there are reasons for this, and variations in some publications).

I suggest it's more pragmatic/useful to focus on the specific strategies that successful academics use --- which include meeting such criteria with high quality publications.

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 15:42

@alexburns I think that unfortunately it is highly likely that my "comments do not describe the actual research being done and published in counter-terrorism or security studies". I approach things as a biological chemist from a medical epidemiological perspective, 2 +2 =4 perspective and biological cause and effect perspective rather than from an Orwellian CIA perspective that denies the Elephant in the Room reality of US state terrorism (12 million war-related deaths in the racist, war criminal and genocidal US War on Muslims, 1990-2011) and instead focusses on Muslim-origin non-state terrorism that has killed about 2,000 Western civilians in the last 40 years (i.e. ignoring 2,000 Israeli deaths and the 3,000 Americans almost certainly killed by the US Government on 9-11).

I am certainly not "being polemical"- I am being strictly numerate. The "annual homicide rate" in "deaths per million of population per year" is 2000/(40 years x 1000 million) = 0.05 (for North Americans, Australians and Europeans at the hands of Muslim-origin terrorists over the last 40 years) as compared to 5,600,000/(10 years x 27.6 million) = 20,290 (for Afghan war-related deaths under US Alliance state terrorist Occupation since 2001) and 473 (for homicides in Detroit, Michigan).

The well-funded CIA, US State Department, Zionist and Neocon polemicists destroying Sydney University (and no doubt other universities from De Paul to Darwin) put Orwell's Big Brother in the shade. Big Brother merely said 2 plus 2 does not equal 4 (sometimes it could equal 3 and sometimes 5 but basically he was roughly in the "more or less sane" zone) whereas the racist, genocidal Neocon American and Zionist Imperialists (NAZIs) of the CIA, US Administration, US and Western MSM and the US State Department are saying that 0.05 is vastly greater than 20,290 - and their well-funded academics will be publishing much more than 4 papers every 3 years essentially saying exactly that for the greater glory of Sydney "University".

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 16:04

Hi thanks for your interesting debating simmo and alexburns!

Alex your writing is very level-headed and considered I enjoy and respect that approach!

I find this interesting because I am an undergraguate student but for a second degree (the first as PS teacher when Jeff Kennet was premier :-( )but I also want to pursue research and publication though I am working only on novels between semesters at present.

Could you please explain one other aspect to me which confuses my poor humanities mind no end (I'm studying community welfare so I'm sure you will understand where my values come from!!) I simply do not understand why people who have not caused the financial problems to begin with even have to prove their worth via number of publications or lose THEIR jobs!! Why do these people have to bear the brunt of management malfunction? Why don't the jobs disappear from the management ranks who were responsible for the financial side of the university? Where is the accoutability?

I know I am simplifying the problem - but in most other fields of work, if a person were to grind their budget into the ground - that particular person would be held responsible and have to answer...NOT someone else? Can you explain this?

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 16:08

The guidelines for research activity must be available on the USyd policy webpages.

You argue in circles. No-one is disputing that there are some excellent examples of prolific academics around. It doesn't disprove my point. Go look around at ALL the papers coming out of your institution.

You yourself point out the many people with lengthy publication track records in low level journals or conference papers. Just as many in FOGE journal special issues or books. There is NO MORE 'A' journal ranking @alexburns. The requirement is for 4 articles. No further specification has been made. So if a person has 4 poor papers in obscure conference self published books, they are not on the VCs list.

Its enough now- I need to write a paper.

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 16:10

Also - why is the worth of these workers ONLY being judged on publications? Though Alex as you said - what DOES make a successful academic? My sociology lecturer was so awesome that now I want to pursue this area - without him I wouldn't have fallen in love with the subject, I have no idea how published he is and I'm sure most students care more about how well and interesting and passionate their lecturers/tutors are rather than their publications...???

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 16:20

DrGP - I think you are in the wrong field - try fiction writing or poetry!!

We could start a list on all the evils scientists such as yourself have inflicted on civilisation since the great enlightenment? Wondering uteruses, that aboriginals are a sub-human species, YOU invented the nuclear bomb that caused the death, YOU invented the advanced weaponry, thalydimide is safe....asbestos is a fantastic building material...DDT????safe...see what happens when you generalise and apply arguments and animosity in a mis-fitted game of play??

Positivist approaches generally do not owrk when applied to the real living, dynamic, spontaneous, unpredictable world of human beings and it is an inherent weakness in approach to apply this mentality to a non-clinical, static, controlled environment...social construction of reality and all that....not so easily stuck in a test tube or petri dish...

Old Prof
Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 16:23

He he. @alexburns you lack skills in logic
a most enjoyable argument but @simmo has the best of it

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 16:45


Your comment of Thursday, 08 December 11 at 4:24PM was an ad hominem and polemical attack on Monash University academics in the School of Political & Social Inquiry. You blamed them directly for the deaths of 12 million Muslims. Your "buckets of money" comment also directly attacks the Monash team's two ARC Linkage grants, and the integrity of the ARC and its competitive, peer reviewed process.

You don't actually cite specific academics and their work.

Your comment above is filled with polemical observations; such as blaming the US Government for Al Qaeda's 9/11 attack. Investigative reportage by Peter Bergen, Jason Burke, Steve Coll and Lawrence Wright found this was not the case.

You are a biologist. I am a political scientist. I am thus familiar with the areas you mention and their controversies (and, as a journalist, with Orwell).

You claim about (i) "well-funded CIA, US State Department, Zionist and Neocon polemicists" and (ii) "the racist, genocidal Neocon American and Zionist Imperialists (NAZIs) of the CIA, US Administration, US and Western MSM and the US State Department" is itself polemical.

OK, name them.

You are not 'numerate' or 'scientific' with such arguments.

People who are less polemical than you:

(1) Richard K. Betts, Robert Jervis and Amy Zegart --- critical scholars on US national security, intelligence and counter-terrorism policy.

(2) Richard Jackson and Joseba Zulaika of the critical counter-terrorism group.

You claim 'a medical epidemiological perspective'. However your labelling and framing of acts of genocide, war and terrorism is ideologically driven.

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 17:33

@Old Prof: Where am I being illogical? You simply express an opinion, given a personal preference for @Simmo's arguments. Address the specifics, please.

On logic, I recommend Austhink's Rationale software and the book Argumentation Schemes (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

@Simmo: My original blogged comments are here: http://is.gd/uXjkjh . You might read the third paragraph, where I said: (i) the ARC has discontinued letter code rankings (it now uses panels and citation analysis); (ii) that three A* articles was better than four C articles (or equivalent); and (iii) Sydney University's decision rule doesn't address quality issues in a research program. So, we actually agree on this.

I try to argue from an experience base --- I deal with these issues at another university. I also tried to pick examples --- and to address yours --- so that we had some actual people to work with.

"Go look around at ALL the papers coming out of your institution.": Sure, I know academics that do volume rather than quality. They get promoted to Senior Lecturer or Associate Professor but usually not higher, because they have difficulty in showing their work has international impact (a criterion at many institutions for Professor). Like yourself, I personally prefer quality outputs.

"You yourself point out the many people with lengthy publication track records in low level journals or conference papers.": Yes, and much of this will be excluded under ERA 2012 (and was in ERA 2010). It is a major factor also why some applicants do not get ARC Discovery or Linkage grants.

"So if a person has 4 poor papers in obscure conference self published books, they are not on the VCs list." As I said above, 3 A* articles (or equivalent) is better than four C articles (or equivalent) --- so we agree.

Good luck with your paper. :)

@fightmumma: Good to hear you are inspired by your sociology lecturer. Your queries:

(1) I don't know about Sydney University but at other universities, administrative positions are being cut. Self-protection is how institutional bureaucracies work. The cuts are possibly to lessen a university's long-term financial commitments on its balance sheet, such as superannuation and leave entitlements, but that's speculation on my part.

The accountability for academic roles is in the university's Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) and in the Academic Classification Policy (ACP) containing Minimum Standards for Academic Levels (MSALs). It is the MSALs that establish the hurdle rate/threshold for what an individual academic's output is expected to be (the Research Active Index or RAI at an institution). The RAI is calculated each year by the university's Research Office for a retrospective period of usually 2-3 years, on the basis of what has been included in the Research Office's annual Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC), i.e. an annual list of research outputs it provides to the Australian Government and receives research block funding for (some of which then goes to faculty or eventually into individual research accounts).

So, a Lecturer (academic level B) will have a different expected output to a Senior Lecturer (academic Level C), which will differ from an Associate Professor (academic level D) or Professor (academic level E). The higher levels are much more demanding in terms of both number of outputs and impact. If you are a Professor but have had a low output --- the reasons may vary --- then sure, your position may be in danger. I have seen that happen to several ex-professors at other institutions. If you have just finished a PhD then your institution usually protects you for several years, as you have an Early Career Researcher status (first 5 years after PhD conferral date).

(2) A Research Office's RAI calculations include publications and other factors --- usually external grant dollars (Category 1 to 4); and successful completions of higher degree students in Masters and PhD supervision. The scope and weighting of the RAI varies with the individual university.

If Sydney University was more holistic, it might consider these other factors. For instance, one professor I know has a relatively low publication rate but gets many external grants and tender contracts.

So, why the four articles? As people have pointed out, it's a threshold set by management. But compare it to the MSALs above. Two groups of staff are affected:

(i) Associate Professors and Professors with low publication outputs (as their MSALs would be at least four articles over the three year time period --- the people I mentioned in my previous post have published far higher numbers of articles and get cited);

(ii) Senior Lecturers and Lecturers who have been at the institution longer than ECR stage, and who don't publish or do so only sporadically (as many 'pad out' their publications with conference papers and other tactics).

To me, that's why the four articles was probably chosen as a threshold.

Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 18:27

Old Prof - I dunno - it seems a little like they are arguing the same point but coming at it from different angles? It seems both simmo and alex don't actually like the idea of judging academics only via quantity of publications and both seem to believe quality is most important...I've ginda lost track of what the disparity is actually!!

This tends to occur when people aruge a point that is not actually central to the problem, especially if personal opinion outweighs the significance of the topic - the quantity vs quality debate distracts from WHY this is the method to judge/condemn/sentence academics and WHY are management immune to what was the pudding they cooked...the proof of the pudding is in the eating...academics weren't in that kitchen were they...the pudding was a flop so the cook should answer?

I Palmer
Posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - 19:45

With all the above discussion about journal articles, it's worth remembering that the language used by the VC is "outputs," whereby 1 book is worth as much as 1 article. Absurd.