10 Comments

To provide a space for open discussion I’m bringing you these two letters to the editor from today’s edition of the Otago Daily Times. (The letters they don’t seem to be on their website, and there is only so much space for the ODT to print letters to the editor.)

Mike Hamblyn writes, somewhat tongue-in-cheek:

THERE has been disquiet lately about Otago University having been taken over by the managers. This means academics cannot flourish any more because they’re hog-tied by the strictures of managers who want researchers to tick the right boxes instead of engaging in ’blue skies’ research. So, it would seem academics are an endangered breed. It seems to me then, we need to find some new means of protecting our university at Otago and our academics from the managers. In keeping with the spirit of the times, we should pass some legislation. The legislation would be, in keeping with Dunedin’s reputation as the wildlife capital of New Zealand, predicated on a currently fashionable wildlife or conservation theme. I propose the Protection of Endangered (Otago) Academics Act.

Our academics would be protected from the ravages of managers and their philosophy of managerialism. The university would become a ’manager-free zone’ and the academics could flourish in safety in their own intellectual eco-space because the managers with their clip-boards were being keep at bay behind a virtual fence. The only problem with the legislation is that the role of ’critic and conscience of society’ would have passed from the university, to us, the people–if it hasn’t already.

Vice Chancellor of University of Otago, Prof. Harlene Hayne replies:

I must say, I am a bit surprised by Mr. Hamblyn’s comments. The university is highly committed to ‘blue sky’ research; for six years in a row we have secured more funding from Marsden (the primary funder of this kind of research) than any other institution in New Zealand. Far from an environment of ‘managers’, the University of Otago is the only university in New Zealand in which the vice-chancellor, the deputy vice-chancellors and the pro vice-chancellors are all active academics who continue to be engaged in research, teaching and post-graduate supervision in addition to their administrative duties. Finally, the University of Otago continues to celebrate its role as critic and conscience of society; many members of the senior administration, in addition to members of the wider academic community, regularly contribute to lively debates of public concern.

Discussion/thoughts welcome.

Please note I’m not offering these as having a particular view on either letter, indeed I have no first-hand experience of the (current) administration in the manner these letters refer to.

I’m sure this is a common gripe, but it also needs to be balanced by that organisations–of any kind–need processes and structures.

On something of a related tangent:- I know I personally feel happier if a form briefly explains what role its contents have. If a form clearly communicates the objective and how it (ultimately) has a supportive role I feel happier obliging. (Writing such explanations may also help ‘test’ if the material does, in fact, in fact ultimately have a constructive role – good practice for those writing forms – !?)

Footnotes

Further to Prof. Haynes remarks about the academic role of the various vice-chancellors, as far as I am aware, the University of Otago is also the only university in New Zealand (currently) with a woman holding the position of vice-chancellor.

I’ve tried to transcribe these letters accurately; any errors in typing these are my own.

(Updated to correct minor typing error.)

Other articles in Code for life:

How did you learn to critique the scientific literature?

Local events: science story telling, non-academic careers, doctors and evidence

When the abstract or conclusions aren’t accurate or enough

Haemophilia – towards a cure using genetic engineering