Why did you decide to run for Council two years ago?
It will come as no surprise to those that know me that I have a lot of opinions! I feel strongly that playing an active role in the governance of the institution is one way to be a key part of the conversation and to have a voice in its future direction. I believe that it is incumbent on all of us at the university to understand the environment in which we work that consumes so much of our lives.
I wanted to be part of making UNE a stronger place – and enjoyed the opportunity to work across the university at a variety of levels – from students to the senior executive. I like joining the dots and Council was an amazing opportunity to do just this.
Did the experience meet your expectations?
Being given the opportunity to serve as the academic representative on Council exceeded my expectations in every way, however, if I am being truly honest, I really had no idea what I was getting into! I know now that I had absolutely no understanding of university governance or of working as part of a ‘Board of Directors’. I feel so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to learn many new things over the past two years – in fact, looking back I have learned more in this short period than the entirety of my time in universities (which is now c.30 years!)
What were the stand out moments? Both good and less than ideal?
The opportunity to take part in the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) Foundations of University Governance training was amazing, as was the opportunity to make decisions that will affect students for years to come. More importantly, however, was the chance to meet and work with some wonderful people. My fellow Council members have all taught me so much – especially the other elected representatives Jane Schmude and Emma Welham. Their friendship and support is something I hope will continue well beyond our time on Council. I have also benefited tremendously from the mentorship of the Deputy Chancellor, Jan McClelland and the sincerity of the Chancellor, James Harris. Working with everyone has been an absolute privilege.
On the less positive side, most of my term was spent in Zoom land and I experienced first-hand how difficult it is to cultivate new relationships on screen. I hope I can use this to be a better educator.
The bigger disappointment, however is in the sheer volume of misinformation and misunderstanding around the university – and town. A big part of my role was listening to the concerns of staff and students, and I was often dismayed at how many hold Council in a negative regard. I think we can all readily accept that bodies have their faults and face challenges, but I genuinely believe that the members hold UNE’s best interests at heart.
Can we do better? Absolutely. I want to believe that I am leaving Council with some things to ponder. I have been a strong advocate for the need to discuss more and for Council to have a better understanding of the climate among staff and students. I hope to see this continued, and I know my successor, Gabriel Donleavy, will work hard to ensure this happens.
What did you learn from the experience?
Just how much I don’t know. Governing a university is an incredibly difficult task with an infinite number of moving parts that are constantly changing. I had no idea just how reactive universities are to changes in government. I saw firsthand the need to prioritise and agree on common goals, and the importance of having measurable milestones. I also learned about risk – it’s a constant – and we must learn better ways to address it. Importantly, I learned volumes about finance and the challenges of running a large university budget. Sadly, I also saw firsthand that most staff have little idea how university governance works – and fail to appreciate the importance of it. If I could change one thing, it would be that staff take an active interest in this area.
Would you do it again?
Absolutely! It has been a lot of work and a steep learning curve, but an absolute honour to be the academic staff rep for the past two years. In fact, I think I speak for all of the reps when I say that we all wish our terms were longer as we feel we are just now getting the hang of things 🙂
Any advice to other staff who may decide to stand in future?
Serving as a Council rep is incredibly rewarding, but also incredibly time consuming!
There are months when we have had c.700 pages of reading to get through at short notice, difficult decisions to be made and unpopular sentiment faced. You really need to be across not just what is happening in the university sector, but also on the ground. You need to be a jack of all trades and be prepared to learn. You must be a good listener, and approachable. As a Council member, your duty is to act in the best interests of the university – and this must take precedent over all else. This sounds simple, but in practice is not always the easy path. More often than not, what is in the university’s best interests may not be that which is perceived best by staff.
I have often felt that being a Council member was strangely like being a parent – decisions need to be made that will not make everyone happy and will not be fully understood.
I would like to highlight that any member of staff can request to attend an Open session of Council – and I strongly encourage all to do so. What happens in every corner of the university affects us all. There are numerous opportunities for us to become involved, to have a voice, and to learn more. A university is its people – and so I would hope to see more of us putting up our hands to be a part of the decision-making at UNE.