Notes from the VC’s Desk: Direct from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brigid Heywood this week

Published On May 1, 2020 | By Alana | General News, Latest News, News, Notes from the VC's Desk
Incredible to me that it is May 1st already; with so much going on the passing of time has not registered quite as much as it usually does or perhaps the context of it is somehow different when so much is now spent on one’s own with just a monitor for company. The ANZAC celebrations last weekend created poignant comradeship and allowed us all to remember that we are part of something bigger.

Instead of focusing quite so much on the functions of an institution in lock down, my mind has turned to the detailed planning of how we ease back to a new ‘normal’ mode of working once lifting of restrictions occurs. Given we all know that whilst the prevention and containment protocols have proven a strong defence, the risk remains high for a spike (indeed more than one) in community transmitted infection if appropriate control measures are not maintained. UNE, in common with other universities, has to resolve how to ensure the optimisation of interactions on each of our campuses, as well as sustain the wider public health requirements.  We are working through the various scenarios to be explored over the coming weeks and months. In the meantime our collective focus must be on supporting our amazing students as they progress through the final few weeks of what has been a very challenging period in their studies. Their resilience and engagement has signalled a very strong commitment to both progress and success – it is very important that we maintain the very best levels of support for them.

The Red Hill 1944 by Walter Placing.
Part of my week was spent on the front lawns of Booloominbah filming some packages for presentation to the various groups in our community as well as updates for the local media. Under normal circumstances we would have been gearing up for the May graduation ceremonies and celebrating the achievement of UNE 2019 and 2020 graduates. With the cancellation of the December graduation events because of the bush fires crisis, there are now many students who have had to defer their celebrations – here again, we have been planning through the options for later in the year. In the meantime I know that a number of academic departments have found ways to host virtual gatherings of some kind to acknowledge the achievements of UNE students. 

After the brief respite from Zoom, I returned to my temporary Dixson Library office and opened up the connection portals again so that I could progress with the business in hand. The rhythm of the week is now pretty well established in terms of including budget review sessions, updates on the completion of key ITD tasks underpinning our delivery of academic offerings and support, dialogues with colleagues in the sector, conversations about how to manage animal research under the COVID-19 imposed conditions, confirm ethics considerations are being appropriately resolved for our researchers and ensuring we communicate across the different layers of the organisation as effectively as we can.  Thanks to the great feedback from our staff and students, we know what works and where it could be better. 

Boilerhouse by Isabelle Devos
Academic Board was one interesting feature of this week with the virtual canvas being expertly managed by the Chair. Council subcommittees consumed another block of the diary as we presented recent Audit and Risk reports and the Finance Committee considered in some detail the most recent information about both our underlying financial position and the emerging challenges authored by COVID-19. A big focus of the week has also been pulling together all the policy and development work for course design criteria, assessment policies and role development, which will underpin the modelling needed to develop our new Academic Workload conversations. I am very excited by the gathering energy of this design work and the emerging opportunities to resolve some of our long standing structural issues. 

I have also been caught up in the analysis of our current marketing campaigns (which are generating very positive results) and a review of new launch materials to promote our short course offerings. In common with many institutions we have agreed to support the Commonwealth agenda designed to try and offset some of the downstream impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on those whom employment has been affected by the various operational constraints that have been introduced. The opportunity to upskill and re-skill for a future job market has always been a task of high value during an economic downturn; UNE plans to continue as a provider of valued education at a time of need.

In the spaces between all these meetings I did take a few mental health breaks and walk up the hill to stretch my legs and grab a coffee. As always there were a few other human beings walking briskly across the concourse who shouted out “hello” and “how goes it?”.  Thank you. This week I also met a number of our younger citizens from Yarm who were out enjoying the sunshine; some were drawing on the pavements – what consummate fun to be given a box of coloured chalks and allowed to express oneself artistically. My contribution is below. 
My week will close with a virtual UNE in Conversation to update you all on our current progress and open up key conversations.  For those unable to attend this morning, please keep an eye on the UNE in Conversation webpage as it will be loaded very soon.

Our mutual enjoyment of the blue skies and tapestry of autumn colours was brought to an abrupt end by the dramatic front of torrential rain bringing with it hail, high winds and huge drop in temperature – time to light the log fires and cuddle up with a mug of hot chocolate. 

I have a jigsaw to finish, must complete my virtual 1000 laps and after the arrival of a gift box, I plan for some leisure reading – my book of choice this week is Weather by Jenny Offill. (Here, I would add it was not my intention to run a ‘book club’ but really enjoying the engagement and discourse). My current go to music choice is choral cappella prompted, of course, by the impact of both distancing and memories of the comfort and joy of being part of a choir. Listen to the delicious ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ by Morten Lauridsen and what has been described as the Dylanesque character of ‘Lilacs’ by Waxahatchee.

Before closing I could not resist adding a learned quote borrowed from Agent K “There is always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this ‘miserable’ little planet, and the only way … people can get on with their happy lives is that they do not know about it” [Men in Black] before reminding you to check the COVID-19 updates webpage

After the closure of the first UNE sponsored Creative New England competition, judging is now in play across the 107 photographic entries that were received and the next competition (short stories) is already underway.  There are also other online activities available on the Creative New England website and Facebook page. Enjoy.

Sincerely,

Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO

UNE

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