Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Repositioning La Trobe University

The Green Paper Repositioning La Trobe University written by new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Johnson, was released yesterday.

It is discussed in this morning’s Age and Australian newspapers. The Age continues its campaign to denigrate LTU with a totally negative report – it never misses an opportunity to do this. The Australian’s discussion is more positive and helpful.

The main ideas of the Green Paper - as discussed in the press - are to consolidate courses and to cut teaching time by 25% by cutting out small enrolment units. Also teaching only positions would be available thus releasing staff to do more research. Moves to promote more graduate level programs across the whole university will be accelerated.

It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the content of the VC’s report in a public forum – it’s only a discussion paper at this stage anyway - but I am impressed with the way he is addressing himself to the issues faced. He is promoting discussion throughout the university and even talks about starting an in campus blog.

The university faces some tough choices but having a VC who is intelligent and active provides a sense of renewed optimism.


conrad said...

It seems to me that he is just suggesting something that is not dissimilar to what the Melbourne Uni guys are implementing now. However, there are three problems which I presume La Trobe will have

(1) My bet is that they won't be able to get good staff to do the teaching only positions in many areas -- especially those areas where you have competition from private industry for the same staff. Who is going to do a crappy job in a university without the lurks and perks of research? It might work in the short term by using the guys that can't get jobs elsewhere, but once these guys are gone, its hard to think of where replacements will come from. Freshly minted PhDs? I realize it works in the US -- but their university sector looks much different to ours.

(b) I very much doubt La Trobe has the type of full-fee paying graduate pulling power that Melbourne thinks it has -- especially because all universities want to expand into this area.

(c) Given that La Trobe (and Melbourne also I believe), are getting up all the tables people love so much based on research done in their Arts/Humantities faculties, deleting them is going to cause a completary drop down the list. This is going to be worse for La Trobe than Melbourne, since La Trobe is not going to attract good postgraduate research students from elsewhere that might have otherwise come based on the weird little subjects they did that they couldn't do elsewhere.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

I havent seen the report. But did it contain the radical suggestion that university employees should actually work for a living like the rest of us?

hc said...

fxh, The students I whom teach what 'elasticity of demand' means often earn a 50% premium to my salary. So there needs to be some non-pecuniary element to an academic's compensation.

Most academics work very hard. Its a cheap shot to suppose otherwise.

conrad said...

I find most people work quite hard too (some exceptionally hard). FXH -- if its so easy, you should get a job in one, or even better, find some candidates for all the universities that can't get staff.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

It was a cheap shot. A cliche. A soft shot. A small joke. Not all that funny. Depending where you sit.

lucy tartan said...

Conrad, I work at La Trobe, and I would just about chew my own hand off to get permanent a teaching-only appointment. I love teaching and I am very good at it. What I find almost impossible is teaching well and being a productive researcher at the same time.

The problem though is that if you do no research at all your teaching stagnates.

hc said...


Sometimes you can do both. One way to learn something new and do research is to teach.

I knew a mathematician who employed this strategy. Every time he wanted to master a new area he would teach a course on it.

Teaching something very cut and dried (e.g. financial mathematics) might make this difficult but in a field like English literature can't you research while you teach?

I wish you well in getting a permanent position.

lucy tartan said...

'One way to learn something new and do research is to teach.'

That's the method which has worked so well in my department over the last fifteen years. It might be harder to sustain when more exploratory, less tried-and-true subjects are not allowed. I guess we're going to find out.

For the last two years I've been teaching two or three new units each semester and the pace is not conducive to substantial research though it's possible to squeeze in a couple of articles in the nonteaching periods. Three units in a semester basically means thirty novels in thirteen weeks. I imagine this is the sort of pattern a permanent teaching-only appointment would follow.

I guess what I'm saying is that the type of teaching which is compatible with real research and not merely the publish-or-perish kind might not match the type of teaching which processes more students in less time.

lucy tartan said...

Anyway, I just wanted to suggest to Conrad that teaching isn't a 'crappy job' to everyone.

conrad said...


I know some people who want these jobs to, but until all universities have them, then what it means is that teaching only staff are only ever going to get promoted at La Trobe. This means you have to (a) trust La Trobe; and (b) only work at La Trobe (or move to the US, where these positions are common). Its not like staff turnover (and hence job oppurtunities) is exactly high in Australia (quite the opposite in fact). The only exceptions to this I can think of are people that run specialist centres, who can get promoted and not do research (I'll assume you don't have a clinical degree).

Also, at least in the area I work, there is no chance I can learn stuff in my research area by only teaching -- I would think that those areas are the minority, not the majority.

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