Entries tagged with “governance”.
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Wed 17 Nov 2010
It will surely surprise none of you that I’ve been thinking a lot about democracy this year. There are a few particular reasons I’d like to share for my musings on democracy:
- I’m an elected President of a national organisation.
- I was deeply uncomfortable with the word ‘democracy’ before this year.
- I was involved in the establishment of a new peak body for international students in July.
- I have the honour of being an Ambassador for Aung San Suu Kyi through the Burma Campaign Australia.
- I’m an elected member of my children’s primary school council.
I’ve taken my roles on various councils very seriously these last five years – some might even call me a governance junkie (I do).
I understand democracy to mean a system where people are free to speak their views, insofar as they are not harmful to others, and to vote for elected representatives who will do their utmost to work in the direct interest of those they serve. When the constituency’s views are not well understood, democratically-elected representatives will do all in their power to survey the population to ensure they are truly aware of majority views. They will also ensure that minority views are well understood and their needs met.
Let me begin though with my second point – I was profoundly uncomfortable with using the word ‘democracy’ until this year. There is a fairly simple reason for this, which is that I was raised in the United States and swung heavily to the left during my undergraduate years at UCSD, whereupon I first heard Chomsky’s famous line that “America is the most brainwashed nation in the world”, as I protested the 1991 Gulf War. I won’t expound at length here on why I think democracy in America is broken, but essentially, I have thought so for a long time.
But stepping carefully away from that Big Conversation, let’s jump to this year. I’ve now been on a number of governance bodies, all related to the education sector, and so obviously believe in the system of democracy. I believe in the importance of voice, and of using it well. Having a voice is a privilege, and not one I take for granted. I’ve often been called a ‘squeaky wheel’, and it’s true, I usually get the oil. I’m quite proud of this fact, especially given I use my voice regularly and resoundingly to help others.
So in July there we were down in Hobart, having managed to get about 100 international students from all levels of post-secondary education to a three-day forum, which resulted in the establishment of the Council of International Students Australia (CISA). As the chair for the three days, I was constantly amazed and impressed as I led the democratic process. And I had the opportunity to reflect on the many students present who had never participated in democracy. It was exhilarating when the constitution was adopted, and inaugural office bearers elected.
Perhaps what heightened my awareness of the diversity of political experiences of those present at the International Students Forum was that in June I had the great honour to be invited by the Burma Campaign Australia to be an Ambassador for Aung San Suu Kyi. The primary role of the ambassadors has been to ‘use our liberty to promote Burma’s’ – to use our voices to bring attention to the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese people. Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house detention on the 13th of November 2010, having spent 15 of the past 21 years imprisoned in her home by the military dictatorship. The elections held just days before her release saw the UNDP maintain power in a process widely regarded as rigged. Democracy does not exist in modern Burma, but Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), intend to keep fighting for it. And in my limited capacity, I’ll keep using my voice to raise awareness of Burma’s plight.
I’ve learned a great deal about democracy these last few years, and I’m now able to comfortably say I believe in it. Even in America, where the system is limping along, people have a voice, if they would only use it. A weak education system certainly does not enable a healthy democracy, and nor does a failure of the state to look after its people’s health or ensure they all have safe housing. And yet the right to speak and to vote still exists in real terms, which must surely give one hope for a brighter future. In Burma, such rights are at best limited and at worst subverted by unscrupulous so-called leaders.
Aung San Suu Kyi perhaps best summed up the people’s essential role in democracy during her speeches after release:
“Please don’t have the attitude that politics do not concern you. […] Everything is politics. Politics is not just coming here and supporting us. The housewife, who is cooking at home, also has something to do with politics because she is struggling to feed her family with the money she has. Struggling to send children to school is politics. Everything is politics. No one is free of politics. So saying that politics does not concern you and that you do not wish to be involved in politics is a lack of awareness of politics.”
Hear hear. Every purchase you do or don’t make, such as buying green power, is a political act.
I’ll close, predictably, with a reflection on the impact of so-called Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) on student voice. Some of you may have seen today’s article in The Australian about my organisation, the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) closing down our offices in Trades Hall due to lack of funds. The article highlights the decline of our members as their funding dried up, even in cases where universities have tried to support them by diverting money from teaching and learning funds.
I must reassure everyone that CAPA will continue to lobby at the national level, continuing our 30-year history of transforming national policy for Australia’s 270,000+ postgraduate students. We’ll just work from home. In fact, even with our limited financial resources, we’ve just released our Benchmarking Report on Minimum Resources for Postgraduate Study 2010.
There are many who supported the VSU legislation in 2005 based on the fallacy that the Amenities Fee only supported radical student politics and free beer. In fact, the fee paid for many essential services on campuses, as well as independent representation and advocacy.
Who cares whether there are student reps on university committees, some may wonder? Well, if coursework postgrads are worried about the quality of your degrees as class sizes increase, who would you like to voice that concern? Perhaps you’re a research student with supervisor woes and no office space? In more dire circumstances, maybe your supervisor is wrongfully trying to claim your IP?
Student representatives canvass a plethora of issues at committees regularly and relentlessly, leading to significant improvements in policy and practice. Advocates working for student associations identify themes in their casework and alert representatives to issues that are not unique, so that they may lobby for change across the system. Where they are not well resourced and not able to work together, it’s difficult to notice themes, let alone take them to central committees. On far too many of Australia’s university campuses five years into life with VSU, there are student organisations barely surviving and unable to maintain a strong voice as their funding has disappeared.
Most of those campuses without independent postgraduate representation have lost their link to CAPA, the peak body, meaning their voices are disappearing at the federal level. Those who have lost their postgrad associations include members of the Go8 – it’s not just small and regional universities who are suffering. (For those interested, you can read all of our submissions to Government on the VSU and current SSAF bill.)
CAPA is aware of instances of postgrad associations being overtly threatened with a withdrawal of funding and/or disbanded by universities because they didn’t like what the student reps were saying about their institution. A return of the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), with a proviso that some of the fee be used to directly support independent representation and advocacy on a per head distribution between undergrads and postgrads, would ensure that such unethical and undemocratic behaviour could not occur.
Again, to quote Aung San Suu Kyi on the day after her release, “Accepting that there can be a difference of opinion is a democratic principle.“
Fri 22 Jan 2010
I only just discovered this on Crikey from the 10th of December – it’s Melbourne University’s response to my resignation from University Council (and paywalled, so full text below) – my responses are in italics:
Christina Buckridge, Corporate Affairs Manager, University of Melbourne writes: Re. “Why I resigned from the University of Melbourne Council” (yesterday, item 15) & “Leaked email: Teach for free? Melbourne uni councillor calls it quits” (Tuesday item 14).It is regrettable that Tammi Jonas has decided to resign from the University Council where, as member elected by graduate students, she could have raised concerns and had them thoroughly and sympathetically considered.
How disingenuous to suggest that the Melbourne Graduate Student Association (GSA, formerly UMPA) had not been lobbying on the issue of exploitation of casual labour for YEARS – well before my time as President and certainly during. You can read blog entries from that period here. And as an elected member of Council I had repeatedly raised these issues, as I did on just about every university committee before that. The response usually takes one of two forms: a) we don’t know what you’re talking about – our policies don’t allow such things or b) tutoring is all part of training, so of course it’s not going to be that well paid. See the uni’s response below for proof.
Ms Jonas is wrong in claiming that the Arts Faculty made a ‘strategic decision’ to stop paying postgraduates.
Have a look at this blog entry on what was going on in Arts in 2008. To my knowledge, it wasn’t official ‘policy’ to stop paying, but subject coordinators were told not to offer any paid positions guest lecturing, and passed it on to their postgrads, who expressed the quandary it put them in.
Dean of Arts Professor Mark Considine says it has never been suggested that graduate students should give lectures or tutorials for free. While Schools within the Faculty experiencing straitened circumstances might have cut back on the number of guest lectures, it is not the Faculty’s policy to ask people to give tutorials/lectures without payment. Postgraduate students are an important — and paid — part of the Faculty’s tutorial program which rolls on as usual.
Again, the company line simply doesn’t match the reality. See my earlier blog post with stories from real postgrads, some of whom had been asked and were giving guest lectures for free. Is the University suggesting these people are LYING?
Of course, some guest lecturers — retired honorary staff, for instance – may elect to present a lecture pro bono.
The email inviting Ms Jonas to take part in the Melbourne School of Graduate Research (MSGR) 2010 programs should not have been sent; no other postgraduate students have been invited by MSGR to teach into 2010 MSGR programs without payment. MSGR does not condone requiring postgraduate students to work without payment. However, some staff, and very rarely postgraduate students, may volunteer to take part in MSGR student enhancement programs but that is their decision alone — there is no compulsion.
My word. Compulsion is interesting, don’t you think? Of course nobody is strong-armed into working for free, but they’re not employed if they don’t work for too little, or in some cases, don’t agree/offer to guest lecture for free. And for those who believe that tutoring is important to developing their career as an academic, surely such exploitative practices amount to compulsion.
The University’s position is that if people are in employment, they are required to be paid in line with University policy.
Can somebody PLEASE pass that information on to the lecturers who are simply grateful when someone will teach for free since they will otherwise need to fund them out of their already limited grant money (if they even have any)?
Current rates for casual tutors at Melbourne are $104.84 ($125.37 with a PhD) an hour for the initial tutorial and $69.90 ($83.57 with a PhD) for repeat tutorials. These are standard for the industry and comparable to other countries. The hourly rate is way above average wages.
NB: $104.84 is for three hours work, not one – preparation, contemporaneous marking, student consultation & delivery. That is, it’s the same as the pay for marking at $34.94/hour, and some tutors are not paid for marking. Here’s the text from the University’s Personnel and Procedures Manual:
‘Tutorial’ means any education delivery described as a tutorial in a course or unit outline, or in an official timetable issued by the University. A casual staff member required to deliver or present a tutorial (or equivalent delivery through other than face to face teaching mode) of a specified duration and relatedly provide directly associated non contact duties in the nature of preparation, reasonably contemporaneous marking and student consultation…
However it is important to note that postgraduate study is usually a full-time occupation and tutoring should not be used as a prime source of income.
And yet if you’re fortunate enough to have a scholarship, you’ll be living below the poverty line, and if not, you’ll certainly need to work, preferably in your field… a conundrum? I have heard sympathetic senior academics make the argument to pay tutors better to management: “We don’t want them to have to work in petrol stations, do we?”
In recent negotiations towards a new enterprise agreement, the University has agreed to increase the casual loading, ensure that all casual marking is paid at a separate marking rate (currently $34.94 per hour) and that casual academics have access to University facilities over semester breaks. The University is committed to improving conditions for casual staff during this round of bargaining.
This is good news, of course, though insufficient. What about paying casual academics when they continue to respond to students out of semester? Or attend student academic misconduct hearings? Or respond to online forums on the uni’s Learning Management System? Or attend meetings?
Also where there is evidence that a casual staff member, or any staff member for that matter, is not being paid in accordance with University policy or that there is a mismatch of expectations about the work they are required to do, the University acts to correct it.
It seems to me that the only action the University usually takes is to quickly deny there was ever a problem. If you believe their official responses, whether at Council, on committees, or in the media, academics (both casual and permanent) are just prone to whinging and are seriously misguided about the ‘reality of the situation’. How patronising, insulting and wrong. Until they stop denying there is a problem, what hope is there that conditions will improve? Analogies with national denialists abound here.
Fri 11 Dec 2009
Here’s the article I had published in Crikey on Wednesday 9 December 2009.
Melbourne university post grad student Tammi Jonas writes:
On Monday, I resigned from the University of Melbourne Council in protest against the University’s exploitation of its casual labour force, which is largely made up of postgraduate students. I myself was asked to teach a seminar for free that I had previously been paid to present, and chose to use my own example to fight for the many others who are all too frequently put in this untenable position.
You can read my resignation in yesterday’s Crikey, or else on my blog, as well as the email inviting me to teach for free. The withdrawal of my labour from an exploitative system is a strategic and ideological choice I started to make a few years ago when I opted out of tutoring in the Arts Faculty, where remuneration and conditions are woeful, as they are at so many Australian universities.
So a few facts: casual staff are delivering about 50% of the university sector’s teaching, Data from DEEWR also shows that there are more women than men employed as casuals, which has particular implications for women with children, who we know are still doing the lion’s share of caring for children. Casual staff have no paid leave and no job security, let alone a clear career pathway. As the sector grapples with understanding how it will replenish its ageing workforce, it continues to employ people under casual contracts with no plan to integrate them into the future workforce. Meanwhile, some 60% of Australia’s PhD graduates leave the sector entirely, a figure that has been climbing steadily for many years.
So what does all of this mean to the average postgrad who thinks, ‘great, I’d love to teach!’ There is great disparity in wages and conditions between institutions – I’m assured that Melbourne University is by no means the worst offender.
Many tutors attend lectures as part of their preparation for tutorials, but at most institutions this is unpaid. The Head of the School of Political and Social Sciences at Melbourne has informed his casual staff that “Tutorials are not designed to go over lecture content – they should be capable of standing alone. Where they are merely going over lecture content, they are not doing what they are designed to do.”
This is a total furphy – of course tutorials are designed to support the lecture content, though not to slavishly ‘go over’ it. Would he be happy if the lecture that week was on racism in the media and the tutorial was on feminism in India? This same head of school also asserts that there is no need for face-to-face meetings between subject coordinators and tutors, and that the “LMS [an online space for learning materials, with discussion forums] seems a suitable format in which staff can communicate with each other.”
This is his justification for not paying for meetings – whilst tutors spend MORE UNPAID time on the LMS. Tutors are also often asked to give guest lectures without pay, sometimes ‘lucky’ to receive a bottle of wine. A lecture can take up to a week to prepare when you’re doing it for the first time, so even when it is paid at the rate of 3 hours per hour of delivery, it’s totally insufficient.
Many tutors are not provided with any office space in which to work or consult with students, and those who are must share an office, which can be very awkward if meeting with a distressed student. Those without offices meet with students in cafes or other public places, which is even more awkward with a distressed student.
Many casual staff talk about ‘semester bleed’, whereby they must attend to issues around academic misconduct and students contesting their marks well after their contract has finished. And a number of universities don’t even pay for end of semester marking, which can take dozens of hours to complete. It is unconscionable that institutions whose very raison d’etre is to contribute to the global public good are exploiting their least powerful members. The old ‘we don’t do it for the money’ argument has worn thin.
I say no matter WHY we do it, they’re going to have to pay us.