Welcome Back or Welcome to 2013

A belated welcome back everyone to what should be a very interesting 2013.  Also welcome to new staff members including a few new Heads of School and, later in the year, a new Executive Dean of Science.  I hope that you had the opportunity for some downtime over the break, although I know some have been teaching in the summer semester and others (such as Sue Thomas who was Acting V-C) have deferred leave until now.  I have to confess that I’ve been back for over a month now but I had a wonderful couple of weeks off over Christmas and feel that batteries and synapses are refreshed for the coming year.

Having reflected on social media usage through the year, one interesting feature I noted of the Vann Christmas morning was that pretty much the whole family was on Facebook after presents were opened.  Whilst there is a bemoaning of the impact of social media on relationships, actually it was lovely as we connected with friends and family across the globe.  We did, on this instance, avoid messaging each other in the same room.

Graduations

I realise I didn’t say much about graduation in the post at the end of last year.  I tried to get to each campus and each Faculty so I did Wagga, Dubbo, Orange, Bathurst, Albury and Bathurst again.  This was a really enjoyable, but hectic, week.  I wanted to thank all the staff involved in organising these events which seemed to run very smoothly.  I also wanted to thank the academic staff for attending.  We had a really good turn out and I think it’s important for students to see their lecturers on the stage.  Finally I wanted to thank the musicians who performed at the various ceremonies.

There were some delightful moments, not least meeting the students afterwards.  There was one Masters by distance graduate who was thrilled to meet his/her supervisor in person for the first time.  There were also great stories of graduates who were the first in their family to attend university and who had brought a lot of that family with them.  The Deputy Chancellor and I had a great time having photos taken with the families of international students, including many from Nepal.  Finally I met Twitter contacts like @amyzing in person for the first time.

Structure Discussions

The restructure proposal was out for comment over the Christmas period and we received very thoughtful and constructive input to this.  We have amended the proposal in the light of the comments so we really do appreciate that people took the time to digest it and comment.  The response and revised final proposal was advertised through What’s New last week and is available to staff.

As noted in the original proposal, this restructure was not a root and branch transformation but designed to improve span of control for senior managers and align structure to the 2013-15 Strategy document.  I am confident that this now gives us a good structure with which to move forward.

Articulation of Strategy

As noted at the end of last year, the 2013-15 Strategy document was approved by University Council and is being reformatted with some minor changes. This year will be about fleshing out the plans at the next level down and ensuring that we have integration across our activities.  An important activity this year will also be working on campus and course plans to map out the shape of the University into the future.  Port Macquarie is reasonably well covered on this because of the work that was done prior to the establishment of the campus.  However, we do not have similar plans for the other campuses.  I believe this is a very important activity because the health and strength of the University depends upon a network of strong campuses.  Without this I fear we would be very much less than the sum of our parts.

One thing I did want to emphasise about the idea of an institution with ‘soul’ is that this is not a soft option. Large entities that balance the books, pay the staff and the bills and print out testamurs are reasonably easy things to create and sustain.  Engendering a real sense of community and belonging is harder.  It requires all the usual diligence but beyond that it requires putting the idea of community first.  It strikes me that successful communities strike a balance between promotion of self-interest and community interest. I don’t believe there is a formula for this, but that it is something that needs to be navigated day by day.  On reading David Whyte’s ‘The Heart Aroused’ I think he used a phrase that it seems is attributed to Soren Kierkegaard but which I heard years ago from an academic colleague – “Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved”

Looking Forward to 2013

2013 will inevitably be an interesting year.  We now know the Federal Election will be in September and in the middle of writing this Senator Chris Evans, the Minister for Higher Education, resigned.  I enjoyed dealing with Chris who had a good understanding of the sector so it is sad to see him go.  I would have to note though that the response to the Base Funding Review was deeply disappointing for the sector if perhaps predictable.  Universities Australia has made a pre-budget submission to press the case for investment in higher education and research.  I welcome Minister Bowen to the portfolio who we know is taking a keen interest in the sector and I look forward to working with him too.

In closing, I hope you all have a great year and look forward to further conversations about the future of the university.

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