March 29, 2012

RMIT academics really not happy about having to be happy at work

Universities that compel academics to show a positive attitude risk an ''immediate backlash'', an industrial relations expert says.

RMIT University staff will fight against a new behavioural code that demands they promote positivity and show passion at work.

University of Adelaide law professor Andrew Stewart said it was reasonable for managers in other fields, such as sales, to expect positive behaviour from employees.

But he said the RMIT plan could threaten critical thinking, although he understood managers' frustrations with academics who complain endlessly about their work.

The RMIT staff will campaign against the code, despite a ruling by the workplace tribunal that the university was allowed to introduce it.

Fair Work Australia ruled last week that RMIT had not breached its workplace agreement with staff by introducing the new behavioural requirements. The National Tertiary Education Union has appealed against the decision, but a hearing date is yet to be set.

The ''behavioural capability framework'' requires thousands of RMIT staff members meet a list of expectations, depending on their level of employment.

It says some academic and professional staff must ''promote the positive rather than the negative'' and display passion for the job.

Staff would be required to achieve ''external benchmarks of performance excellence''.

The union's senior industrial officer, Linda Gale, said the framework contained vague and unreasonable expectations. ''Some of it is nonsensical. Some of it is impossible,'' Ms Gale said.

The union has advised staff who sign the framework to write an accompanying note saying they were forced to sign under duress.

Ms Gale said the code threatened the ability of academic and professional staff to carry out their work. ''We're talking about a university community. People are supposed to be sceptical and questioning. That's their job.''

RMIT chief operating officer Steve Somogyi said the university introduced the framework in response to the results of a staff survey conducted in 2010.

He said the survey had revealed a need to improve career development for staff.

Mr Somogyi denied the framework would limit academics' work. He said academics were free to pursue their field of study and promote their findings.

Staff members have until April 13 to sign off on the framework. They are due to begin negotiating a new collective agreement with the university in July.

Senior lecturer Michael Segon said the document contained some ''wonderful aspirational statements'', but was not specific enough and some of it was poorly written. ''It could be interpreted differently across the university,'' he said.

RMIT union branch president Melissa Slee said up to 700 staff members had signed a petition opposing the framework.



Anonymous said...

This is just a stunt to see who the ideological loyalists are, just like "team building" was a decade or so ago.

I put up with something similar in the department I used to teach in. It seemed that my students should have been treated like the children of Garrison Keillor's fictional town of Lake Wobegone. Any hint that I might have thought otherwise often resulted in a severe verbal reprimand, particularly from my main enemies in the department, the head and his flunky assistant, both of whom were looking for excuses to make my life miserable.

Many of my colleagues openly said the same things about the students as I did but I wasn't allowed to, even if I'd had a bad session. Somehow it was permissible for the department administrators to hold me to a different standard of thought and conduct than my fellow staff members.

anonymous said...

I am writing to express my genuine disbelief regarding series of decisions taken by the management of the University of New south Wales since September 2011. Prof. Welsh, my supervisor had created an adverse workplace environment by threatening me verbally via emails with my job. He constantly reminded me that he is my boss and he pays my salary therefore I should do as I was told. I have been disrespected with shouting, accusing, stonewalling and threatening as arsenal of thwarting ploys. He also nominated himself as supervisor to all the students I used to supervise. He never once contributed toward my research work, since he claimed he did not understand basic science. I created all the projects that were running in the lab. He had on numerous occasions made demeaning remarks. Since I felt harassed, disrespected, bullied and threatened of losing my job, consequently left with no option but to make a formal complaint. I submitted a formal bullying complaint to Prof. Michael Chapman (Head of School), against Prof. Welsh as advised by the HR consultant. I had 2 meetings with Prof. Michael Chapman in which he made it very clear he will not take any action against Prof. Welsh and I should avoid coming to work. Thereafter, Prof. Chapman sent me email saying my complaint was unsubstantiated and I should work from home till end of my contract. I replied to him that I couldn’t possibly finish my experiments from home and need access to laboratory. Prof. Chapman handed over the matter to Prof. William Ledger (Head of Discipline). Since filing a complaint against Prof. Welsh my work rights were taken away from me. This is not the first time one of Prof. Welsh’s staff’s has made bullying complaints to Prof. Chapman. I have been made aware that in past 2.5 years of my employment 3 staffs under Prof. Welsh, have resigned expressing their unhappiness with Prof. Welsh’s behaviour and the toxic environment he created. I met with Prof. Ledger with my union representative, he asked me to take a pay out for remaining days of my contract and sign deed of release. Which I refused to take. Also he asked me not come to work without letting him know in advance as if I was a criminal. By this stage, Prof. Welsh had already cancelled my laboratory access. I was given no reasonable explanation concerning my suspension from work. I had a very good performance review from Professor Welsh in March 2011, in which it is demonstrated that I am an asset to the University. No other criticism of my work has been raised at any stage. The irony of it is on one hand I have been denied access to the lab to finish my experiment for publication purposes. On the other hand Prof. Ledger was hypocritical saying there is no value in me publishing work in low impact factor journal. On the contrary he has few publications that are in below one impact factor journal. At Fair Work Australia, the HR manager, Mr. Craig Clarke falsely claimed that the laboratory has been closed. Which is not true since students are still using the lab. The worst part it more than half million was spent by UNSW and foundation money on equipments. I had purchased more than $200,000 worth chemicals and kit to finish the project. None of it can be used anymore as they are past the expiry date. It is such a waste of money when researchers are struggling to get funding. They should bring in stricter law against bullying and get rid of the perpetrator. But with the level of bureaucracy at UNSW and all the perpetrator's supporting each other probably it will never happen.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @1219:

I went through something like that a decade ago. Resources that had been promised me suddenly weren't available. What had been considered acceptable, if not good, performance in the past no longer was good enough. During in-class meetings, my department head openly humiliated me in front of my students while I was there.

My advice to you is to start looking elsewhere and get out as soon as possible. If my experience is any indication, this is one fight you'll never win.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, It breaks my heart to hear that this kind of thing happens over and over again in Academia.
Academia is the present aristocracy with its member mostly self-appointed (clueless as how they got there). Lots of tax payer money wasted on these.