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I am minded this week to share my thoughts about the enduring challenges of being purposeful and polite around the matter of correspondence; a daily burden that challenges me. As I write, my iPhone sits to one side advising I currently have over 7,000 messages in the many, many applications which store my emails. 

As I’m sure you can imagine (if you have ever thought about it, possibly not) the message portal of a VC’s office is filled on a daily basis with notes, comments and queries from students, staff and the community. Replies must always be managed through the corporate veil no matter how personal the issues being communicated. Early on one realises you cannot please everyone, no matter how hard you try to evidence the application of both listening and hearing muscles alongside that of knowledge and experience. Those who complain do so because they are passionate about particular issues, unhappy about specific actions or energised about one topic or another, and quite determined that their views will prevail. 

Clearly, it is a known fact that no VC ever considers matters of importance carefully enough (or at all) before making a decision; obviously decisions are made with no reference to statutory, assurance or compliance standards and definitely with no respect for governance. Apparently, the power to be derived from crowd sourcing the wisdom of experts and the community is not one a VC ever chooses to embrace. There is no accepted defence for one’s alleged lack of knowledge and experience of academic life, higher education, corporate or business matters more generally, despite all evidence to the contrary… most certainly we are an illiterate bunch… I think you get my drift. No matter how carefully crafted the response, or how respectfully one addresses each concern, there are not enough cheeks on one human-being to offer in the face of the persistent, determined, antagonistic communicators.  

Yet another dimension is the correspondent with selective hearing loss. A small group who communicate with frequency and in such detail across many pages about the minutiae of a matter which has caused upset in some form. For some it appears to be a full time job. Any response here, again no matter how carefully edited, is (mis)elevated to the status of a commandment chipped into stone and publicly shared to secure advantage with others. The key messages are often discarded. Bluntness is not appropriate but why do people so willfully exploit constructive but determined engagement…?

11.30am Monday 19 April: 2021 Update

Staff can join the webinar via Zoom (password 768882).
The webinar will also be recorded and loaded to the UNE in Conversation webpage for those who cannot join live.
During the session staff can type questions in the Q&A area. Staff can also submit questions, comments, observations, etc. ahead of time via email.

In this midst of requests of information, demands for reports, details of new policies and a myriad of calls for submission to industry inquiries and consultations, there are the snippets of information about new opportunities, shared news of success and some sad stories about colleagues, friends, alumni and partners. Here again each missive requires attention and the careful planning of responses – every item is important – at so many levels and the need to balance personal perspectives with institutional positioning is yet another of those challenging pivots. The agency of the ‘track change’ function in modern desktop tool kits is both a blessing and a curse; the temptation of reverting to old fashioned hard copy with a red pen looms large some days.

Surprising in number and frequency are the ‘sent to small apparently random group’ emails which identify an issue – I am guessing this showering of information approach was conceived to raise the alert and broadcast the need for a call to action (tick). The work required to unpick the critical issues, design an action and offer a response being abdicated by the sender. I am lucky to have a team with quality forensic skills who have well-honed responses to this kind of memorandum.  It is like playing Scrabble; we collectively pride ourselves on efforts resolving the who, what, why and how.

Luckily, each week there are also communications which bring joy and pleasure across many frontiers. Feedback and encouragement, messages of congratulations and commiseration – all welcome support in many different forms. Staff who want to share their ideas and reflections. Students who want to make comment on the generosity of a staff member and the professionalism of the teams supporting them. Community members who want to reflect on the value of their partnerships with UNE. Strangers who have been touched by the actions of UNE in some way and are moved to comment and share their appreciation.

My notes were and are intended to give the UNE community a glimpse into the life of a Vice-Chancellor. I hope on this occasion you are reassured that I consider the process of communication to be a key part of the role. How we connect with each other is deeply important at so many levels. 


Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO