A proposal to convert faculties to academic divisions has been the subject of some discontent, with speculation about legal action or walkouts being discussed.
Vice-Chancellor Neil Quigley has submitted a proposal to the Academic board that would see the establishment of a new divisional structure within the University, with all of the current faculties being merged into four divisions with Pro Vice-Chancellors reporting directly to Quigley.
“Both of the last two Vice-Chancellors have had the view that we shouldn’t have as many individual faculties as we’ve got... so it’s been one of those things that have been on the agenda for quite a while,” said Quigley. “It’s about providing greater strategic coordination rather than bureaucracy.”
The four divisions to be established would be: Division of Health, Sciences, Computing and Engineering; Division of Education; Division of Arts, Social Sciences, Māori Studies and Law; and the Division of Management.
All of which in an effort to reduce the bureaucratic system that students, and University Management, face when coordinating papers for a degree spread over multiple faculties. According to Neil Quigley, “it’s about providing greater strategic coordination rather than bureaucracy.”
However, the proposal has not been met with universal appreciation, with some faculties voicing opposition to the mergers. Including rumours that the Faculty of Law is seeking legal avenues to block the mergers, and the Faculty for Māori and Indigenous Studies has agitated for greater autonomy in any potential divisions in which it might be incorporated.
Despite this, Quigley has stated that he has “talked with a group of senior staff in law at the beginning of the year, and interestingly while a lot of people thought they should go with management their view was that they wanted to go with the social sciences – and that’s an interesting choice.”
“I think it is quite a strategic choice for us because a key strength we have is law in context. So we’re not quite as ‘black letter’ in our teaching of the law as other law schools, but we provide a lot more contextual stuff.”
The University also has to walk a fine line between keeping the Māori voices and academic success structures that are in place, and creating a structure in which the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous studies could possibly lose some of its autonomy.
“This university has got two areas of strength, one is the School of Māori studies, and the other is the fact that we’ve got a lot of Māori staff spread across the whole university – and I wouldn’t want to lose either. But I think encouraging the hiring of Māori staff across the whole Uni is important because our Māori students are spread across the whole university, and so you know they need to see Māori staff in as many places as they can.”
However, in recent submissions on the proposal, staff members in the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies were expressing significant concerns that this would lead to job losses, or a Pro-Vice-Chancellor appointment who didn’t understand the Faculty. We asked Quigley if he was aware of the submission and whether he was open to considering changes.
“I have addressed the issues that they’ve raised in quite a substantial way in the document that I will release today [the current proposal]. But I’ve considered the things that they’ve said carefully.”
“So what I’ve said in the case of Māori studies is they’d be a part of the social sciences division in terms of reporting line but I want them to run a separate board of studies, and to look at a way to constitute that board of studies so all Māori staff across the Uni can be a part of it, rather than just the staff from FMIS.Which I think is potentially a plus, in the sense of giving us a strong Māori voice through the academic board structure.”
“... every argument that you can imagine could be introduced in this respect has been. So the proposal that comes out today [the current proposal] does continue with the idea that they should be part of the Social Science division but gives them some greater recognition of distinctiveness in that structure.”
“By bringing all of the Māori staff together to talk about issues, rather than just FMIS, that stuff in relation to Māori studies will probably continue to be the most controversial elements of the proposal, and I suspect most of the rest of it will settle down reasonably well.”
A second contentious issue seems to be Faculty of Law, with concerns being raised to Nexus by students who feel their degree would lack the same international standing if it is seen as part of an “Arts Division.” In the words of one 4th year law student who we asked what is your issue with it “Fuck FASS!”
While that response wasn’t super productive. It is more than we have been able to get from the faculty itself, with Dean of Law Wayne Rumbles stating that “Consultation regarding the divisional restructure is ongoing and Te Piringa staff have fully engaged in the process and formulated collective and individual responses to the proposals which have been submitted to the VC for consideration.”
Further that “it would not be helpful to critique a document that will substantially change”. Concluding that once the final document is released, he would be happy to comment on the position of Te Piringa: Faculty of Law.
This is an issue Quigley believes he has already addressed “some of the law students we met with were a bit concerned about whether this might impact upon the credibility of their degree, and the answer is we’re making sure that doesn’t happen.”
The biggest litmus test for the new structure will be the impact it ultimately has on students, and that is something the Vice-Chancellor seems definitive on.
“We’ve just recently been contacted by some students saying ‘oh well you know it sounds like the world is about to change’ and ‘why weren’t the students consulted’ but we don’t really see it as having big implications for students, in the sense that there is no changes in degrees, and no changes in staff numbers and student support, or anything like that. There may be down the track some reorganisation of some of those things, but all of that is for subsequent consultation.”
“So I guess why I didn’t think it was necessary to ask WSU to run a big consultation for it was because it seems to me to be pretty much administrative, therefore it wasn’t going to affect students very much.”
“As a result of those meetings, and a few people contacting [WSU President] Candra, we’ll make sure that the students see the paper that is going to be released late today [last Wednesday], and then if they have any concerns they can contact their academic board reps.”
“So between seeing this in Nexus and the fact that it will be discussed at academic board next week and there will be student reps there if there are any concerns they can let us know through those channels.”
“I think it will certainly not harm and I hope it will improve it. Partly because there will be an opportunity for the division, or level, to look at some things like student advice, and student learning support, and things that we’re currently doing.”
“At the moment, all I’m doing is changing some peoples reporting lines, and doing it prior to doing administrative reorganisation. But it’s a change proposal of the type where no positions are being disestablished. One new position is created, that’s all.”
“With so many small faculties it’s hard for us to know about the level of support for students that’s being provided in the number of different areas, and it’s hard to coordinate that, so part of the job of the PVC in their divisional offices is to make sure we’re on top of those things.”
“So I hope we’ll be better coordinated on some of those things and it will be all the same people doing the same job so hopefully nothing will get worse.”