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When Patrick Geddes first promoted the ‘think locally, act globally’ concept over a hundred years ago his perspectives were doubtless bounded by his awareness of the social geography of the early 20th century and fruitful discourse with Huxley, Darwin and colleagues. I was reminded to reflect on his words and ideas as we struggle with the local consequences of an extended pandemic, the realisation that modern medicine will not offer a ready off the shelf solution for some months yet (if at all!), that a herd immunity strategy will demand difficult social and community decisions and that cultures around the planet are being re-landscaped.  

The fourth group of UNE staff returned to the Armidale campus this week and, of the many I met over a carefully choreographed coffee, the main sentiment expressed was a gladness around being back on campus and re-engaging with colleagues.  Our Sydney staff are still beset by the rumbling challenge of pop up clusters and the anxiety which attaches to managing personal and community safety issues. The last WHS report indicates a slight increase in applications for UNE Employee Assistance and signals the needs to have a care for each other and to look out for those who are perhaps struggling with the complex geometry of life during these challenging times. 

As I am sure is obvious, much of my time is currently devoted to thinking about the Time for Change programme. The process of gathering data is not a trivial one and is ongoing; the poor state of our business systems being revealed over and over again. I appreciate the amazing support of our design teams who are cheerful, engaged and determined. Thursday’s UNE in Conversation TfC webinar attracted over 600 participants and much of last night and today has been devoted to answering the 90 odd questions that were posted. The fact that nearly 20,000 discrete engagements have been logged through the TfC website portal also signals wide engagement. We will be working flat tack next week to finish the assessment of Phase 1 VR EOIs and evaluate the potential impact of the aggregated VRs across the organisation so that we can put forward an informed plan for open consultation. 

At this juncture, the plan is to publish both Phase 1 VR outcomes and the TfC workplace change proposals the week of 21 September, followed by a lengthy consultation and review process. I would offer here my warm thanks and appreciation for all those staff who have come forward with advice, comments and feedback. Whilst as a community we are still learning to manage respectful, open conversations, the overall experience is one of mature measured debate and engagement. The quality of the questions is genuinely helping to highlight potential deficiencies in the communications and give line of sight of possible lacunae in the presentation of information. I am also grateful to the chocolate lovers of UNE who have opened up a healthy dialogue about the relative merits of Crunchie versus Maltesers; research is ongoing so keep the comments and questions coming…

In the middle of trying to resolve a twenty odd million budget deficit and looming anxiety over the budget for 2021 given emerging load uncertainty, it is also quite interesting to note the fascination of many with the work being done to keep the physical estate running and manage our cultural and heritage responsibilities. For example, many questions again this week about the Trevenna repair works programme. To be quite honest – I gave up when the dry rot invaded and the rear wall of the house started collapsing. I could also wax lyrical about the condition of the 1930’s bathrooms, the plumbing and sewage, etc.  A team of people are now busy restoring one of NSW, if not Australia’s, signature historic buildings that has been sadly neglected and it is my hope that we can have an open house event before the end of the year.  I will also admit that I am glad we have been able to offer employment across New England as part of our regional responsibility, when many bigger projects that we had hoped to launch were deferred as part of the budget savings. 

Through all of this I have come to a new and different understanding of the challenges associated with communicating decisions and of the many varied opinions (expert and other) which emerge in a time of crisis on how to manage capital and operating budgets in the short, medium and long term as part of overall financial and wider business sustainability. The team developing the UNE21+ portal have been challenged to make our business processes more visible as an element of the new site when it launches next year.

And life is not all doom and gloom. Joyful meetings with UNE students, as well as some great one on one meetings with staff and various stakeholders, and a couple of feedback sessions around recent Tamworth, Taree and Moree events also provided a better sense of where we can be of greatest value.
My office is full of the fragrance of spring flowers – a gift generous from a colleague to brighten the day against grey skies. The cherry blossoms are still showering us with soft petals and despite the cruel hand of natural selection, the UNE 2020 duckling cohort is growing big and strong as they harvest the largesse of warmer spring days. My planned weekend is a mix of community meetings, reading and then social engagements. Perhaps not yet back to normal but pretty good. 

Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO