Saturday, April 14, 2012

Should unproductive academics be made redundant?

Below you will find the sort of rage-filled rant that comes from academics who have not shown academic excellence.  The "publish or perish" rule is a demanding one (though I never found it so) but a more objective  way of assessing intellectual excellence has yet to be found. And if a university is not about intellectual excellence, what is it about? 

The claim below that intellectual productivity is "philistine" shows by itself what a  confused thinker the author is.  He sounds like  one of the "Theorists" who tend to infest English Departments these days.

It is certainly true that some good teachers are inactive in research but they should not be in a research-intensive institution.  You can be good at both research and teaching and a university is right to demand that

How to assess academic productivity? At Sydney University, the question couldn't be more relevant: in November, management announced that it had made a serious budgetary mistake and would slash underperforming staff in order to pursue IT and building improvements. Although officially, research is only 40 per cent of academics' responsibilities, management retrospectively introduced a new performance test, just to purge staff. Anyone who hadn't published at least four articles in less than three years was threatened. This basic violation of natural justice was astonishing, particularly from managers who continually profess their commitment to high-minded, progressive values.

Like other workplaces, universities have performance management processes. These, not redundancy, are the answer to underperformance. But how to respond to a failure of management?

The cuts have provoked an outcry. With its simplistic measures, how will Sydney maintain research quality, when the finest researchers couldn't possibly teach and publish consistently at the rate administrators demand? How can management sack staff with classrooms already so crowded?

Sydney's administrators have not been so different from their counterparts elsewhere. Administrators everywhere are trying to shrink their already overstretched academic workforces. Universities, apparently, just don't need academics.

Talk of values such as productivity serves to justify managers' failure to promote the conditions necessary for universities to function. Local managerialism is the polar opposite of world's best practice - such as in the US Ivy League - and shows parallels with the disastrous financialisation of the global economy.

University technocrats are the equivalent of the regulators whose negligence caused the GFC. Just as markets favoured complex financial instruments far removed from commodities, so too universities have been alienated from their basic rationale by an ascendancy of executives hostile to the principles that should govern academic communities: respect for students and staff; research unfettered by philistine "productivity" requirements; security of academic tenure; uncasualised labour; low student-staff ratios. These are the ways to guarantee academic "productivity", rather than its bureaucratic substitutes.

It is the managers who are unproductive. Systemic managerial failures are compromising quality.


Aussies tell Dawkins: Live and let religion live

By Reverend Peter Kurti

When Cardinal George Pell and Professor Richard Dawkins faced off on ABC’s Q&A last Monday, they did so in front of an audience that seemed quite relaxed with the idea of discussing religion in the public square.

Dawkins correctly emphasised the importance of empirical research as the basis for scientific knowledge. But he was tetchy and misjudged his audience. He cited jet lag. But Aussies know about long haul flights and don’t fall for that hoary excuse.

Pell, a boy from Ballarat, can pitch religion almost faultlessly to an Aussie audience. There are limits to human reason, he argued, and some truth is best expounded and expressed by myth.

Pell stumbled once or twice. But the Q&A studio audience seemed to grasp what he was saying.

Militant secularists must have been dismayed by such open-mindedness. They want religion removed altogether from the public square.

They are a noisy group, but they are a small one. Indeed, a new study by researcher Mark McCrindle suggests as few as 4% of Australians are passionately opposed to religion.

‘The idea of a 21st century sceptical, secular mind dominating is not accurate,’ says McCrindle.  Although one in two people did not identify with religion, McCrindle’s survey of 1,094 Australians suggests that religion continues to be an important part of our culture.

Almost half of those surveyed (48%) described themselves as being open to a religious worldview. About 40% identified as Christian and 19% as spiritual.

Christian leaders might be encouraged by these figures. But with only one in four Australians going to church, they are unlikely to translate into active church membership.

‘Our Aussie approach to religion is, like everything else, a bit laidback,’ says McCrindle. ‘It’s an identity, it’s not an activity and more about who you are than what you do.’

What is real, however, is an innate openness towards religion and tolerance of different religious beliefs, which is entirely in keeping with the Aussie ‘live and let live’ ethos.

So while Dawkins and his local disciples maintain their rage against Rome, Mecca, and Lambeth Palace, the rest of us are not as troubled. Most Australians are comfortable with both the secular and the sacred sharing space in the national life.


Attack on "green" energy by NSW conservatives

THE NSW government's decision to withdraw support from clean energy schemes was criticised yesterday as a retrograde step that would threaten billions of investment dollars.

The Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, has said the government would not be supporting green schemes that require a subsidy and is calling for the closure of the federal government's renewable energy target.

After the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal's draft determination for a 16 per cent rise in electricity prices, Mr Hartcher blamed federal Labor for forcing households and small businesses to foot the bill for its carbon tax and "costly green schemes".

He called for the closure of the renewable energy target - legislation that is supported by the federal opposition.

The NSW opposition spokesman for energy, Luke Foley, said yesterday the tribunal's determination found that green energy schemes had not contributed to electricity price increases. Power bills are forecast to rise between $182 and $338 a year from July 1.

Mr Foley said the state government had ended bipartisan support for the 20 per cent renewable energy target after calling for the target to be removed, despite adopting the target in its state plan released last year.

"The O'Farrell government has launched a relentless attack on renewable energy, with chilling investment signals sent by the government throughout its first year in office," he said.

"Solar in NSW has been stopped dead in its tracks. The draft wind guidelines are designed to chronically handicap the expansion of the wind industry.

"Renewable energy is already contributing to lower wholesale electricity prices. The Australian Energy Market Commission recently reported that new wind energy projects in Victoria will mean that increases to wholesale electricity prices in that state will be lower than in NSW. Rather than attacking wind farms, the O'Farrell government should require its own planning review to come up with a sensible and workable planning regime for the development of the wind industry in NSW."

The acting chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, Kane Thornton, said it was a "worrying sign that the NSW government would seek the removal of one of Australia's most significant energy policies without considering the impact this would have on investors who have put billions of dollars into clean energy projects in NSW. The renewable energy target is scheduled to run until 2030 and these projects would face collapse if it was removed."

A spokeswoman for Mr Hartcher said yesterday the government supports the increase in use of energy from renewable sources as a key component of its broader energy strategy. She said NSW Labor had set network charges for the five years to 2014 and was responsible for the failed solar bonus scheme.

"Labor and the Greens keep ignoring the truth, which is that green energy schemes are hurting consumers because they all need subsidies - and those subsidies are hidden in their electricity bills," she said.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre said yesterday rural and regional customers would be among the hardest hit by the electricity price rises. It has called for energy rebates that target people most at risk of poverty.

A senior policy officer, Carolyn Hodge, said rebate rates were uniform despite the fact consumers were charged different electricity rates.

"PIAC is particularly concerned about people in rural and regional areas who are paying approximately $600 per year more than the average Sydney household," she said. "Not all of the assistance available to vulnerable people has kept up with power prices."


'Death' crash ambos failed to follow criteria

Tap on the wrist for gross negligence.  One of them was a "paramedic educator"!

Two paramedics who incorrectly declared a car crash victim dead when he was still alive had failed to follow strict criteria at the scene for determining the death of a patient, a review has found.

Ambulance Victoria chief executive Greg Sassella said the paramedics would not be rostered on to work together and one of the paramedics had been removed from his position as a paramedic educator in the wake of the horror smash in Bacchus Marsh in the early hours of April 1.

Crash victim Daniel Huf, 30, was critically injured when his sports car struck another vehicle and flipped on the Western Highway at Bacchus Marsh just before 2am.

Paramedics incorrectly assessed Mr Huf as deceased and those at the scene claimed that up to 90 minutes passed before emergency service workers tasked with recovering his body from the wreckage realised he was alive.

Mr Sassella said today that the review, conducted by Ambulance Victoria's clinical incident review committee with help from the medical advisory committee, had found the paramedics were in error.

"The paramedics involved in the case have acknowledged their error, have been cooperative and are understandably upset by their actions," he said.

"Ambulance Victoria will continue to support the paramedics involved who have accepted that they made a mistake and would have done things differently.

"The service has taken steps to prevent this from occurring again."

He said the two paramedics had not been working together since the crash and in the future would both be rostered to work with senior paramedics for further supervision and training.

"One of the paramedics involved will be removed from his present role as a paramedic educator," Mr Sassella said.

"Ambulance Victoria paramedics have been advised of the requirement to adhere strictly to the guidelines for determining that life is extinct."

He said Ambulance Victoria had discussed the results of the review with Mr Huf's family.

"We reiterated our apologies and our thoughts remain with the patient and with them," he said.

Mr Sassella also said universities providing paramedic education would be contacted so that students could learn from the case.

Ambulance Victoria will make further comment about the case this afternoon.


Music education helps education generally

MUSIC in schools is being sacrificed in the push to improve literacy and numeracy, but a major study shows its importance in improving students' results and attendance.

The Song Room, which funds music programs for schoolchildren, said students were falling behind despite a bigger focus on literacy and numeracy.

And a leading Hobart music teacher said fewer schools were investing in music, despite long-term knowledge that primary schoolchildren in particular benefited from specialised music teaching.

The Song Room report said children who had done its programs had higher academic grades, gained the equivalent of one year in literacy and reading results in NAPLAN scores, and had better relationships with teachers.

"The results show students taking part attend school more often, become more engaged with their studies and schooling and become happier, more well-rounded students," said co-author Professor Brian Caldwell.

Sandy Bay music teacher Annette Stilwell said music was offered less and less as part of school studies.

"The very sad thing is that they don't spend the money in the primary schools," she said. "It's especially important in the little ones. We know it helps their concentration, memory and time management skills.

"Everybody benefits but in particular in primary school, and it should be specialised music teaching."

Ms Stilwell said singing was cheap to teach but also had benefits.

"People talk about the high results in Asian students, and they neglect to mention they have intensive music classes in all their primary classes," she said.

The Song Room offers programs mainly to children who would not otherwise have the opportunity, with the possibility of some this year in Tasmania.

Chief executive Caroline Aebersold said the study showed music and art helped bridge the huge disparities in educational achievement for students from low socio-economic, indigenous or non-English-speaking backgrounds.


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