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A captive workforce? A short reflection on the reality of academic work in Aotearoa-NZ

 Mike Grimshaw, Sociology & Anthropology

One of the more important assets any worker can have in the current workplace is mobility.

That is, are they able to relocate to where the jobs are? This can be a relocation to another workplace in the same city, relocation to a different city or relocation to a different country.

The limits to mobility are many; qualifications, skills, economic and social/family needs and demands. Or, in the case of many academics, a shortage of viable options elsewhere.

While there are those academics who, because of areas of expertise, reputation, skills and /or career status, are mobile, the reality is that most academics are far less mobile than many other highly-qualified workers- especially those within that banal catch-phrase ‘knowledge worker’.

This is especially so in the small, dispersed academic market in Aotearoa- NZ.

Most academics would find it very difficult to relocate to another academic job elsewhere in Aotearoa-NZ, because there are very few options. Most academics would also find it difficult to gain a similar-level job elsewhere in the world because of the limited number of comparable positions across the tertiary sector. The growth is in low-paid contract labour- in short, a model of neo-liberal outsourcing.

In areas that are seen to be globally constricting in jobs and/or opportunities, such as the Humanities, the situation is particularly problematic and visible. But the reality is that this situation is it is not restricted to the Humanities- either here or elsewhere.

The issue is that most academics are stuck where they are with little chance or hope of finding a similar job elsewhere. This is especially so once they have families and/or partners or they start to move up into that grey-zone between ‘cheap to employ’ lecturers and professors.

The outcome of this situation is that university management has in effect a largely captive workforce with few real options. Or at the very least, a workforce who feel they have few real options.  Most staff understandably take the path of least resistance, they complain and grumble privately at management decisions, cuts, impositions and restructurings, but do not speak up publicly or challenge these because of the fear of being ‘on the radar’ and then being targeted in myriad ways. Most recently, we see the effects of such a situation being experienced at Otago university: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12314949

For students of history and politics the situation is very similar to those populations who find themselves under autocratic regimes with little chance of leaving the country. There are a few dissidents and there are widespread private complaints, but there is also a culture of fear, distrust and what can be termed induced and enforced compliance. That is, we do what is demanded in the hope that we will be left alone and not noticed – and hope that if something happens it happens to someone else. We exist in what can be termed a negative status quo where the lack of widespread public dissent and critique is taken to signal that ‘most people are happy’.

I suggest that this is closer to the reality of tertiary life than most in management wish to believe.  Yet time and time again, we hear academics across the country say that while they  will complain and speak out privately, they are concerned or even fearful to do so publicly because of what they believe will be the consequences. 

In autocratic regimes and autocratic institutions, a captive, compliant population /workforce can be created through the exploitation of a widespread sense of a lack of options. You would think and hope universities would not pursue such options- and management likely will say they do not seek to do this. However, the experiences increasingly evident in the tertiary sector, here and overseas, would signal the rise of the autocratic university enabled by a captive workforce who feel they have few, realistic options.

The Gender Performance Pay Gap in New Zealand Universities

Ann Brower and Alex James

Evidence from all NZ universities suggests PBRF scores do not explain away the gender pay gap in NZ universities. From 2003-12 a woman’s odds of achieving the rank of Professor or Associate Professor were half a man’s, even controlling for PBRF score and age.

This creates a difference in lifetime pay for two people with similar research performance. We call it the gender performance pay gap. In science fields, it averaged NZ$200,000 – about 40% of an average Christchurch house. In medical fields, it’s a whole house.

In sum, we found 3 gender gaps:
1) an average lifetime pay gap, not controlling for age or PBRF score, of about 80% of an average house,
2) a performance gap in which women score about 50 points (of a possible 700) lower on PBRF on average, and
3) a lifetime performance pay gap of nearly half a house.

Soon we will be able to analyse the 2018 PBRF data, to see if anything has changed. Stay tuned. And our study is in an open access journal. Check it out: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0226392

Where there is reward there is work

Jack Heinemann

Promotion. The tool used to focus us on what the employer wants done. The reward for doing a job well. An incentive to not leave.

Academic promotion at UC is based on achievement in three main categories: teaching, research and service. For many promotions, certain thresholds of high achievement must be met in either teaching or research along with performance in at least one other category. Elevating success in teaching to the same status as success in research has helped to better balance the academic role of teaching and research in the minds of many academics. However, it further distances service from our minds.

Service is a grab bag of activities. Many of them are ones that have little to do with most academics’ primary motivations. That is, it has lots of administration in it. Adding service to the menu for promotion is the employer’s way to get us to do the work we are least likely to want to do. Service is in general the least visible but often the kindest contribution we make to colleagues and students. However, most administrative duties are routine, requiring no particular specialty or scholarship to perform. Therefore, the service category is bolstered to include service to our specialty discipline (e.g., organising important research conferences, reviewing papers and grants, outreach) which does provide for a range of evidence beyond the ordinary.

Service, teaching and research are categories with significant overlap (Figure 1). As discussed elsewhere, supervision of postgraduate students engaged in research is credited toward teaching in the workload of some academics (for example, in Biology), while joint outputs with those same students is credited to research accomplishments in promotion. The same is rarely if ever true of our teaching of undergraduates. This has systematic effects that ultimately transfer the proceeds of some kinds of teaching to ever more career flexibility and research opportunity, even institutional power.

There is a gradient of ‘service’ in service. That is, some service comes closer to self-less than does other service. Serving as the head of a research unit whose outputs contribute significantly to your personal portfolio of research outputs and funding is not the equivalent of serving as the head of an academic department, or undergraduate advising, where the proceeds of a job well done are generally shared around.

In contrast, some forms of service are as special, rigorous and defining as any research activity. Placing them in the service category discounts them. By taking them out of research, an academic may not have the grunt in their application in either category of teaching or research despite having done the same work as those with recognised research outputs. Colleagues that are serving on especially intensive national and international bodies, like technical expert groups for international agreements such as the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where their input requires them to apply their research skills and knowledge to policy relevant outcomes, are in no way less verified as spectacular academics than those who publish their work in a prestigious journal (Figure 2). Indeed, one can have a career publishing incremental work in solid journals and more easily move up the academic ladder than can someone who makes fewer but significant insights and applies them at the governance level.

What I’m trying to say is that work should be related to reward. The column in the promotion ledger used to credit outcomes of our work should also be where our work hours are counted in the workload formula. Those academics who do not reduce their undergraduate teaching workloads by counting their supervision of research students as teaching hours have less time available to them to achieve research outputs counted in promotion. While this kind of disparity in accounting persists, it shifts more and more research time to academics that achieve a high number of postgraduate students at one critical time. If I intend to co-author work done with a graduate student, that supervision time would be counted as research time. If I expect my graduate students to publish independently of me, then that supervision time would be counted as teaching. If my research centre exists to grow my research productivity, my administration of it should be research time rather than service. If I serve a research centre without significant linkage to my own research, say by advising graduate students who work in that centre, then that is my service, not research time.

Similarly, if the outcome of my scholarship is a trade-off of publications in journals, books or book chapters and speeches at conferences for more high-level contribution to the policy-research interface, that trade-off should not incur a penalty by being called service. It is applied research applied in real time. Being effective in a role at the interface of the highest levels of policy and my academic subject matter requires enormous dedication and achievement. Therefore, such scholarship is no easier to do well than any other form of applied research that lives to be read or ignored in a prestigious journal. It even may be far more important than a lifetime of work which may be cumulatively large, but built up from incremental steps and yet to be reviewed in the fullness of time.


What counts as teaching time should not be rewarded as research achievement anymore than what counts as service work should be rewarded as research or teaching achievement. Service that is applied research at the highest levels of impact, such as in the meeting rooms of government or international government meetings, should be seen as at least the equal of applied research published in journals. Importantly the service that counts as a benefit mainly to others should be better recognised, if not through promotion, then in the workload formula. The time for service that produces disproportional benefit to those doing the work should be counted as (usually) research time. To not do so only further subsidises the time available for research for a select few. The time needed for self-less service should count toward service hours in our workloads. That kind of distributed service is how others have time for their research and teaching, or creates opportunities for them to do more with the time they have.

I invite colleagues to imagine what a promotion system that rewards citizenship through service, and normalises accomplishment with available time, would look like. Make these ideas visible and inspirational to those who have the mandate to create such a system.

Figure 1.  Venn diagram of the three main categories of activities measured in academic promotions. Yellow, green and orange activities should be counted to research achievement and the time for them be part of the research time for academics. Blue and red activities should count toward the working hours for teaching and service, respectively.

Figure 2. Parking is reserved for Nobel Laurea­tes on the University of California-Berkeley campus (left). Recipients of the IPCC when it received the prize requested that the mark of respect not be reserved for parking a motor vehicle (right). But look which laureate showed up for work! Photo by author.

I am the customer

Jack Heinemann

Looking through an old pile on my desk, I found a piece I wrote for the UC student newspaper in the 1990s which I paraphrase as: “Why you don’t want to be my customer.” The terminology of ‘students as customers’ was taking firm hold back then. Now, though it is still contested, among a large proportion of academics at universities the language of business is part of the culture and its bias unconscious.

I still think that students don’t want to be my customer and that they are not my customers. They may be paying fees (and they are far from the only generation to do so), but that doesn’t mean that they are right. Paying fees does not make you a subject expert or the best judge of the pedagogy that produces the best learning outcomes.

The research on this point is already clear and covered elsewhere. As quality teaching measures became de facto synonymous with student evaluation of teaching surveys, the learning environment eroded. It continues to do so. The resistance to these trends in the academy has been light. We grumble, but frequently when pressed will make the Freudian slip that we are good teachers, look at my survey numbers!!

Meanwhile, it serves us pretty well to offer learning environments that large numbers of students reward, because they also tend to correlate with lower effort from us. The more I understand my students to be my customers, the less I have to do to make them successful. The upside is that there is competition to make the learning environment more dynamic and fun, which might have some balancing effect. But there is very little, if any, research to demonstrate how much engagement of this kind improves learning outcomes. This is mainly because the introduction of novel experiences is measured by student appreciation rather than its effects on achievement.

This essay, though, isn’t for students. It is for my academic colleagues. My message is that I’m not discouraged or prepared to settle as a teacher, even though my institution rewards me if I do. What I want to say is, despite your employment relationship, you are the customer in your relationship with students.

The effectiveness of me as a teacher will be measured in the quality of the society my former students support. For as long as I am a member of that society, I will benefit from – or pay the price of – my efforts as a teacher. My students are not my customers; I am theirs.

In your future dotage (or now, as applies), when you grumble at the mistakes made by the tax department, the Council, your doctor, accountant, computer helper, parliamentarian, chemist, fellow voters, and articles in the paper (special edition, with larger type), remember how you took your foot off the peddle just a wee bit when you were teaching.

We are the climate-changers: aero-mobility and flight shame

By Malcolm Scott

I’ve been reading Shaun Hendy’s #NoFly (Hendy, 2019)[1] about his experiences as a senior academic who gave up flying for the entire year of 2018 and reduced his carbon emissions from travel from 19 tonnes in 2017 (three times the NZ per-captia average) to just over 1 tonne in 2018, a 95% reduction but he didn’t take a single flight in that year. Hendy was very committed to achieve this and confined his travel to domestic trips only via car/bus/train and explained how missing a year of international travel impacted on his work and career. In an interview with Stuff he was quoted that ‘the most common reason for flying is to see friends and family’ (Macdonald, 2019)[2] but this may not actually be accurate, particularly concerning international travel where about a third is from international tourism (globally 1.13 billion travellers in 2014 and predicted to reach 1.8 billion by 2030, UNTWO).[3] Also consider frequent flyers (typically business travellers) making up a higher relative proportion, for example in France just 5% of the population account for 50% of overall distances covered (Cohen & Kantenbacher, 2019).[4] In 2017 Hendy travelled 84,000 kilometres and that was not a particularly big travel year for him, so it is likely that many New Zealand academics are clocking up 10’s of thousands of kilometres of business travel annually – it would be worthwhile for Universities New Zealand to survey and report on this. Factoring in NZ international student travel, with the universities making up about 20% (23,000 international students in 2017)[5] the overall per capita international travel carbon footprint for the university sector is likely to be well above the 7.4 tonnes per capita NZ average.[6]

It seems to me that reducing business and tourism aero mobility is a simple way to make really significant CO2 emission reductions – could business travellers realistically reduce their air travel by 50% and still get the job done, in most cases this may be so. And for tourism – instead of taking an annual overseas holiday (as some may do), a bi-annual holiday might also reduce air travel emissions by up to 50%. My intention is not to blame frequent flyers, ‘flight shaming’ (Harper, 2019)[7], also referred to as flygskam a Swedish term for ‘flying shame’ (Beddington, 2019)[8] but I do believe we all have a shared responsibility to reduce unnecessary air travel. In Sweden domestic air travel dropped 8% in the first quarter of 2019 (ibid.), something worth celebrating. However, if you think purchasing carbon-offsetting credits makes everything okay (and less than 10% of travellers do)[9] this doesn’t mitigate for the damage caused to atmospheric ozone from jet engine nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions – one of many secrets the airline industry would rather the public did not know about:

  • At airliner cruising altitudes, above 12,000 metres, NOx persists in the atmosphere for about a year and contributes to the breakdown of atmospheric ozone, below 9,000m it does not;
  • The aviation industry has known this for three decades (Egli, 1991)[10], but refuses to lower cruising altitudes and will not self-regulate.
  • In addition to the CO2 and NOx loading above 12,000m ‘artificial cirrus clouds formed by aircraft exhaust’ traps heat that has added to increases in Earth surface temperatures since the 1970s (Freeland, 2018, p.72).[11]
  • Airline complicity with covert aerosol geoengineering operations using chemical and nano-particulate jet fuel additives and modified pylon dispersal systems (ibid. p.51-71), that pose a threat to public health (Whiteside & Herndon, 2018)[12] and are subject to continuing civil litigation (LASG, 2016).[13]

The only way to mitigate the effects of these emissions at altitude is to either reduce airliner cruising to below 9,000m, or reduce the number of planes flying – by choosing to fly less.  For example, a NZ-UK return flight of 38,000km emits a carbon equivalent of over 7000 Kg per passenger which is about four years of private motor vehicle driving for the average New Zealander. By forgoing just one overseas flight we can make a bigger contribution to our individual effort to reduce planet heating emissions than years of cycling or walking and leaving the car in the driveway (but these are also good to do for lots of other reasons too). Personal trips to visit family and friends overseas are not the main drivers of aero mobility growth – it’s mostly tourism and business travel.

We have an opportunity to change this – the University of Canterbury travel policy is due for a scheduled review in January 2020, its first scheduled review since September 2017.[14] Any staff member, or student or member of the public for that matter, could make a submission about ways the university could be more environmentally responsible about air travel. Some options for consideration:

  1. Choose airlines offering a carbon emissions off-setting scheme in preference to airlines that do not.
  2. Require the traveller to use an emissions calculator to estimate their total air travel carbon footprint, and plan an itinerary that keeps emissions to a minimum.
  3. Factor in carbon emissions off-setting fees in estimating overall cost of travel.
  4. Reward ground-travel options (bus/train) with carbon-credit that can be put toward future unavoidable air travel.
  5. Where suitable ground travel options exist – decline requests for air travel.

The final point (5.) might seem a bit extreme for some, but just how bad does the global climate change emergency (Ripple et al, 2019)[15] and spiralling ecological crisis[16] have to get before we as a university begin to ‘walk-the-talk’ (literally walk, or ride a bus), on making meaningful institutional and individual behavioural change toward reducing the staggering emissions profile of air travel.

[1] Hendy, S. (2019) #NoFly: Walking the talk on climate change. Wellington. Bridget Williams Books.

[2] Macdonald, N. (2019). Physicist Shaun Hendy maps the lows, highs and sleepless buses of a no-fly year. Stuff. Retrieved from https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/116310946/physicist-shaun-hendy-maps-the-lows-highs-and-sleepless-buses-of-a-nofly-year

[3] UNTWO. (2015). Tourism highlights. https://www.e-unwto.org/doi/pdf/10.18111/9789284416899

[4] Cohen, S. A., & Kantenbacher, J. (2019). Flying less: personal health and environmental co-benefits. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, https://doi.org/10.1080/09669582.2019.1585442

[5] Ministry of Education (2018). Retrieved from https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/193474/EEL-Annual-Report-201718.pdf

[6] Ministry for the Environment (2019). Retrieved from https://www.mfe.govt.nz/sites/default/files/media/Climate%20Change/snapshot-nzs-greenhouse-gas-inventory-1990-2017.pdf

[7] Harper, J. (2019). How many tourists will be too many? Stuff. Retrieved from https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/117653086/how-many-tourists-are-too-many-tourists

[8] Beddington, E. (2019). A-Z of climate anxiety: how to avoid meltdown. The Observer. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/08/a-z-of-climate-anxiety-how-to-avoid-meltdown

[9] Ritchie et al. (2019). Effects of climate change policies on aviation carbon offsetting: a three-year panel study. Journal of Sustainable Tourism. DOI: 10.1080/09669582.2019.1624762

[10] Egli, R. (1991). Air traffic and changing climate. Environmental Conservation. 18: 73-74 Retrieved from https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/85218723.pdf

[11] Freeland, E. (2018). Under an Ionized Sky: From Chemtrails to Space Fence Lockdown. Port Townsend WA. Feral House. ISBN 978-1627310536

[12] Whiteside, M., Herndon, J. M. (2018). Aerosolized coal fly ash: risk factor for COPD and respiratory disease. Journal of Advances in Medicine and Medical Research, 26 (7), 1-13.

[13] LASG (2016). Legal Alliance to Stop Geoengineering:  Notice of Intent to File Citizensʼ Suits Pursuant to Federal Clean Water Act and Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Retrieved from http://www.stopgeoengineeringlegalalliance.com/news

[14] University of Canterbury Travel Policy, retrieved from https://www.canterbury.ac.nz/about/governance/ucpolicy/general/travel-policy/

[15] Ripple, W.J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T.M., Barnard, P., Moomaw, W.R. (2019). World scientisits’ warning of a climate emergency. Bioscience, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biz088

[16] Locke P. (2019). UC Must Recognize The Ecological Crisis. Retrieved from https://blogs.canterbury.ac.nz/univoice/2019/09/03/uc-must-recognize-the-ecological-crisis/

Climate Strike in Christchurch, Oct 5, 2019

For seven years, I’ve been actively involved in research on climate crisis and media, as well as active resistance to fossil fuel pipeline expansion. During my four-week Visiting Canterbury Fellowship, I was delighted to have the chance to participate in the September 27th School strike for the climate here in Christchurch. Below is a slightly revised version of my in-the-moment field report that I posted to my Greening the News blog at rabble.ca.

Robert Hackett


Fairly or not, Christchurch is reputed to be one of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s more conservative and least diverse cities, and it’s been through a lot in the past decade – devastating earthquakes in 2010/11, killing hundreds and leaving many thousands homeless and traumatized (in many cases, still) and earlier this year, the mosque massacre that occurred on the same Friday as a climate strike.

So notwithstanding the city’s ongoing recovery and its ‘hidden’ history of radical activism, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the September 27th School strike for the climate. My partner Ika and I joined about 300 students and a handful of staff members on the University of Canterbury campus in the morning, to walk towards the downtown square next to the devastated Cathedral (which we understand that, after much debate, is to be rebuilt). Three hundred students I thought – not bad – relative to enrollment, that’s like 600 at my home university – Simon Fraser in Vancouver. We walked en masse through suburban back roads and the peaceful Hagley Park, rivalling my hometown’s Stanley Park in size if not wilderness. Energetic young people set a surprisingly vigorous pace for such a large group, and we supportive seniors brought up the rear.

So when we arrived at the square, the throng was already gathered, and its size was a welcome surprise – about 6,000. One group of students from suburban Lincoln University had started walking at 6 a.m. to cover the 22 kilometres on foot. And more than a smattering of elders, such as the man whose placard displayed two youngsters, presumably his grandchildren.

I made a note of the placards, to see what kinds of claims are being made, what structure of feeling is being mobilized. Some clever ones – “For the Greta good”. Anger and frustration, but also joy at such a coming together. Not a lot of specific policy demands (a few references to divestment or ending oil exploration), and I could not see one sign out of hundreds that referred to a carbon tax. But rather generic environmentalism – “Save the planet”, and demands for drastic action – of some kind – now. “This is survival, not politics” said one sign.

But perhaps it’s a demand for a new kind of politics, which these young people are helping to invent.

On the one hand, demand for rapid and radical action based on principles more far-reaching than most politicians are contemplating. One of the most vocalized chants was for “Climate justice” – not a slogan I’ve heard often at anti-pipeline rallies in BC, which often focus on regional environmental threats and Indigenous rights. I wonder if climate justice is a concept that resonates more down here, perhaps because of the proximity of the disappearing Pacific island nations and their climate refugees?

And on the other hand, a politics that connects social change and personal life choices. Some elements in the crowd did call out specific institutions as a source of emissions – not fossil fuel extraction as in Canada, where it is a major contributor to increasing GHG emissions, but meat-producing animal farming. And the solution offered combined the personal and the political – “Go vegan”. Judging from the t-shirts and pre-printed signs, veganism is a definite movement here.

And it turns out that the (remarkably young) national climate strike organizers do have concrete policy demands. Parliament should declare a climate emergency. All parties should support the Zero Carbon Act. End fossil fuel exploration and extraction. Invest in a just transition to a sustainable economy. Support Pacific island nations and inhabitants by actively honouring Paris climate agreements and providing a dignified pathway for climate refugees.

A trio of aging curmudgeons stared balefully at the crowd, clustered around a sign claiming “Man-made climate change is a hoax”. They were cheerfully ignored. Outnumbered 2,000 to one and doubtless swept away by a tide of reality, they soon left.

Local TV news covered the event sympathetically, as a kind of carnival, emphasizing generic “let’s do it, we’re all in it together” emotion rather than more politically charged claims.

Across New Zealand, in various towns and cities, a reported 170,000 people took part. That’s about 3.5% of the population – one of the largest protests in the country’s history, and proportionately equivalent to the nearly one million Canadians who took to the streets.

Well done on both sides of the Pacific!

Sustained political opposition from just a heavily engaged three percent of the population was sufficient to overthrow authoritarian governments in eastern Europe during the 1980s and 1990s. That was a rather different political and historical context. But a determined and persistent three percent can be a tipping point in the era of planetary emergency – especially if it’s the generation that must bear the brunt of its consequences. As one senior woman said, the youth are no longer the future leaders; they are the leaders.

Robert Hackett
Professor Emeritus
Simon Fraser University
Visiting Canterbury Fellow, Sept. 2019

UC leadership needed for the climate emergency

By Malcolm Scott

Since April this year sustained collective action by Extinction Rebellion (XR) and other environmental groups that disrupted London, and coinciding with the School Climate Strikes, convinced the UK parliament to pass an historic motion to declare a climate emergency (Locke, 2019)[1].  In May Greenpeace called on the New Zealand Government to declare a ‘climate and environmental emergency’ following the precedent set by the UK,[2] and soon after followed resolutions by Environment Canterbury,[3] and the Christchurch City Council[4] and as Locke (2019) notes, more than 900 other local governments in 18 countries, as well as 7000 colleges and universities have already declared a climate emergency.

In his article UC Must Recognize The Ecological Crisis, Locke makes three main recommendations including following Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) in joining the Climate Leaders Coalition. On 4 September 2019 UC did follow VUW in taking an historic step toward recognising the global ecological crisis and climate emergency, in an announcement by the VC Professor Cheryl de la Rey that “UC recognises the School Strike 4 Climate NZ on Friday 27 September.”[5] This followed a RNZ interview on 3 September with VUW Vice Chancellor Grant Guilford.[6] According to RNZ Victoria University had joined Lincoln University in endorsing the strike by school students planned for the 27 September, and that they were  encouraging their staff and students to take part, and neither will need to take annual leave nor explain their absence if they do so. On behalf of VUW Guilford said:

“We feel it’s very important, it’d be irresponsible not to support them, we do a lot of work on climate change and are very clear that the consequences of life as we know it from climate change are grave and irreversibly set in motion unless we rapidly de-carbonise the world energy supply so it is the adults that are being irresponsible risk takers not these young leaders.”

Guilford’s comments, and commitment to allow staff and students to take part in ‘civic action’ set a precedent and a challenge for every New Zealand University VC, that was immediately adopted for UC by de la Rey: “We understand that many of our staff and students will want to stand with the School Strike 4 Climate NZ in calling for a more sustainable future and we have made allowances for them to take leave to attend the event.

However, Guilford also introduced another challenge, the relevance of academic curricula in the face of the global ecological crisis and climate emergency:

“The idea that you can just go to school and learn your arithmetic and your English and life’s going to be fine in the next twenty, thirty, forty years is an abject nonsense. These kids are taking charge of their future, we need to support them in doing so.”

This leads back to another of Locke’s (2019) recommendations for UC:

“Our graduate attributes represent a charter for the skills, knowledge, and capabilities we think our students need as 21st century citizens, surely then it would be negligent not to include the ecological crisis.”

Some questions that arise:

  1. How does a UC degree prepare our students for the future of climate change?
  2. How will UC incorporate environmental values and climate change into its graduate profile?

And finally,

  • What does a ‘climate emergency’ actually mean?

All of these questions (and others) are crucial for UC and the rest of the university sector to be engaged with. The point of declaring an emergency is to create a situation of urgency, which according to the IPCC[7] appears to be the case.

But there are also risks and uncertainties for democracy when a government declares an emergency that could allow enactment of emergency powers. This could this lead to executive orders that by-pass due democratic or legislative process. For example, could dangerous environmentally destructive technologies such as aerosol geoengineering[8] be deployed for climate change mitigation under emergency powers despite widespread controversy[9] and no universally accepted governance structure or suitable environmental legislation? Since 2010 the NZ Government has repeatedly denied the existence of aerosol geoengineering operations in New Zealand,[10] yet thousands of New Zealanders have called on the government to cease geoengineering operations allegedly underway (change.org).[11] In an interview with Marc Morano, former US Republican insider, Morano discusses an alleged UN agenda for removal of civil rights and global depopulation under the auspices of a global climate emergency.[12] Discursive interpretations from sociology, politics, and law, as well as the environmental sciences, about what a climate ‘emergency’ actually means are imperative.

There is no doubt, for me at least, that the planet and humanity are facing an environmental and ecological catastrophe[13] and that the public are calling for urgency from government to respond to this. Universities as public institutions mandated to the role of critic and conscience have an obligation to demonstrate leadership through research and teaching, environmental sustainability, and ensuring our graduates are informed and prepared for their future in which “life will not continue on this planet as we know it” (Guilford, Vice-Chancellor VUW).

So far UC leadership has shown some initiative by assessing its investment portfolio and adopting a policy of ‘less than 1%’ of investments in fossil fuel industries, and in October 2018 stated its aim was to “cut its carbon footprint by 45% with a low carbon energy strategy that will significantly reduce its coal-based heating provision”.[14] However, UC focus on international growth means emissions from international air travel by increasing numbers of students and staff travelling internationally or more frequently means that the carbon footprint from air travel is likely to far exceed any reductions achieved by the low-carbon energy strategy. Further, aircraft damage to atmospheric ozone[15] cannot be mitigated by carbon offsetting. Clearly a more comprehensive approach and policies concerning emissions reduction by UC will be needed, including reducing staff air travel, and offsetting travel by international students recruited by UC since we cannot expect their country of origin to carry their carbon offsetting for their attendance at UC. Perhaps international student fees could include a carbon offset component.

Environmental advocacy groups, municipal councils, and the general public are calling climate change an emergency. UC’s response requires leadership and engagement with students, staff, and our local and national stakeholders. What will be our collective response?

[1] Locke, P. (2019). Univoice. https://blogs.canterbury.ac.nz/univoice/2019/09/03/uc-must-recognize-the-ecological-crisis/

[2] 2 May 2019, https://www.greenpeace.org/new-zealand/press-release/nz-govt-must-follow-uk-and-declare-climate-emergency/

[3] 16 May 2019, https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/112758855/environment-canterbury-declares-a-regionwide-climate-emergency

[4] 23 May 2019, https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/112932350/christchurch-city-council-declares-climate-emergency-to-protect-future-generations

[5] 4 September 2019, https://www.canterbury.ac.nz/news/2019/uc-recognises-the-school-strike-4-climate-nz.html

[6] 3 September 2019, https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/2018711572/universities-show-solidarity-for-striking-school-students

[7] https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/

[8] 23 November 2018, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/geoengineering-treatment-stratospheric-aerosol-injection-climate-change-study-today-2018-11-23/

[9] Robock, A., (2008). 20 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 64:2, 14-18.

[10] Ministry for the Environment correspondence: 27 May 2010, (Letter; ENV4443); 3 Feb 2011 (OIA191); 10 March 2011 (ENV6401); 14 April (ENV6749); 5 Dec 2011 (ENV7876, 7936, 8004); Minister, A. Adams, 4 July 2014 (ENV12110); 29 Feb 2016 (OIA 16-D-00142); Minister, N. Smith, 11 April 2016 (OIA 16-O-00321); Minister, D. Parker, 16 May 2018 (COR1477).

[11] 15 Oct 2018, https://www.change.org/p/zane-o-neill-ban-geo-engineering-weather-modification-in-new-zealand/u/23422478?cs_tk=AYWoQ85ITtZhIYOByFsARvwaATghEpKNexUz1XKBLw%3D%3D&utm_campaign=5dcc4a1c2bd64aba991ee71ceb00d265&utm_medium=email&utm_source=petition_update&utm_term=cs

[12] 12 August 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpxAIYrtGLw&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR3fM-qPIHJD4C_c31OKEV__M9bOl6dooDrseUyEqcyRmxKo0zIOqLBopc0

[13] 6 May 2019, https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/

[14] 25 October 2018, https://www.canterbury.ac.nz/news/2018/uc-aims-to-cut-carbon-footprint-by-45.html

[15] New Scientist 1994, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg14219232-100/

UC Must Recognize The Ecological Crisis

By Piers Locke

In October 2018, after a meeting held here in Christchurch in March, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report that gave us 12 years to implement radical change to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees[1]. After more than three decades of obstruction, denial, and inaction on climate change[2], this seemed like the urgent wake-up call our governments needed to hear. Shortly afterwards Extinction Rebellion (XR) emerged, an activist movement advocating non-violent civil disobedience to force governments to declare a climate emergency[3].

In April this year it culminated in sustained collective action that disrupted London, capturing the UK news cycle. Coinciding with the School Climate Strikes[4], a well-timed David Attenborough documentary on climate change on the BBC[5], and Greta Thunberg’s invitation to speak to a coterie of top politicians, the UK parliament then passed an historic motion to declare a climate emergency[6]. Ireland has followed suit[7], as have France and Canada[8]. Here, as the NZ government prepares its Zero Carbon Bill[9], Nelson City Council[10], Environment Canterbury (Ecan)[11], Christchurch[12], Auckland[13], Wellington[14], and Dunedin[15] city councils (and more[16]) have all declared a climate emergency, as have more than 900 other local governments in 18 countries![17] Furthermore, 7000 colleges and universities have already declared a climate emergency, with a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2030, mobilizing resources for action-oriented climate change research and skills creation, and increased delivery of environmental and sustainability education.[18]

These are important symbolic first steps, but of course, they must serve as the basis for coordinated action.[19] Furthermore, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has recently released a highly significant report that alerts us to the biodiversity extinction crisis and the threat to the ecosystems upon which organized human life depends[20]. In short, the environmental consequences of human activity and our industrial economy now pose an existential threat to civilization as we know it. This requires nothing less than a transformation of our values, our thinking, and our political and economic systems, as well as a reorientation of our technological endeavour, and much greater ecological appreciation of the impacts of human activity. Business-as-usual is no longer tenable and transformative change is imperative, as contributing authors to the IPCC and IPBES reports acknowledge.

Daunting as this may be, it follows then that we must also rethink the University to meet the extraordinary challenges of the 21st century- a time when the global scale of ecologically transformative human activity has proven sufficient to propose a new geological epoch- The Anthropocene. The University is making positive strides with a new Sustainability Plan and an advisory group for its implementation (of which I am a member), but greater integration of research and teaching with operational planning remains a gap to be filled (although another working group has been formed to address this). What should we do then to make ourselves fit for such purposes?

Here are three modest suggestions:

– The University of Canterbury is already a CEMARS-certified[21] institution measuring and reducing its carbon footprint. Perhaps then it could consider following Victoria University to join the Climate Leaders Coalition, participating in the Climate X collective to steer New Zealand toward a zero carbon economy?[22] It would make sense to formally plug-in to this initiative as an institution since the University is home to manifold expertise on diverse aspects of the climate crisis (including a member of the IPCC).

– If our graduate attributes represent a charter for the skills, knowledge, and capabilities we think our students need as 21st century citizens, surely then it would be negligent not to include the ecological crisis. While some of us may have experienced the implementation of the graduate attributes as little more than a matter of bureaucratic compliance, that does not mean they cannot become meaningful for staff and students as they are increasingly integrated into teaching practice (although I note that most of my students still seem unaware of them). Proposing an additional, distinct attribute may not be the most desirable approach to take since the predicament we face today is at least partly a result of failing to integrate environmental consideration with thought and action in the domains of society, politics, economics, and technology, i.e. treating the environment separately is a key part of the problem.

Bearing in mind the institutional effort the attributes have required, perhaps then it would make greater sense to modify the existing attribute of global awareness than to implement a whole new one. My suggestion then is that it be adjusted to consider planetary as well as global awareness (since the former suggests the biophysical materiality of the life systems upon which we depend, while the latter suggests the social dynamics of an increasingly inter-connected world).

– Finally, I think we should make a concerted, institutional effort both to encourage more inter-disciplinary collaboration and to reconfigure our curricula to make them better suited to the challenges of these extraordinary times. Our disciplines can sometimes seem like territories to be defended, especially in the age of audit, which has pitted them against each other in competition for student enrolments. This has sometimes deterred us from exploiting complementarities and working across disciplines (although corrective initiatives are now afoot in this regard).  Disciplines are neither eternal verities nor discrete islands of knowledge, but rather configurations of knowledge and practice subject to change and hybridization. This is acutely pertinent to the global ecological crisis as a multi-faceted phenomenon, which exceeds the reach of any one discipline and the all-too familiar boundaries between the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences that have been integral to the structure of the modern university[23]. To address the crisis, disciplinary knowledges either need to be put into  more rigorous conversation with each other or integrated into hybrid forms, both of which are occurring with renewed urgency[24].

The education our students need then, is one that prepares them for a world of tumultuous change that may be more logistically, sociologically, and psychologically challenging than any generation has previously had to confront. Indeed, climate grief and ecological anxiety do not just represent novel topics of enquiry, but something at least some of our students are experiencing now, reminding us that a disinterested understanding of global ecological processes and the role of human activity is insufficient. Surely then, we have a moral responsibility to ensure we equip our students with the skills, knowledge, and dispositions with which to exercise meaningful agency in averting social and ecological catastrophe.

[1] For a summary of the IPCC report see: https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/

For commentary from Professor Bronwyn Hayward, a member of the IPCC here at UC, see: https://www.canterbury.ac.nz/news/2018/new-ipcc-report-marks-end-of-magical-thinking-about-climate-change—uc-expert.html

[2] For the story of the political struggle among scientists, activists, politicians, and corporate lobbying here in New Zealand, watch the documentary film Hot Air: Climate Change Politics in New Zealand. http://www.hotairfilm.co.nz/

[3] Beginning in London, UK it has also spawned chapters active here in Aotearoa, New Zealand. https://rebellion.earth/

[4] https://www.schoolstrike4climate.com/

[5] https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-47988337

[6] https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-48126677

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/10/irish-parliament-declares-climate-emergency

[8] https://www.climatechangenews.com/2019/06/24/four-countries-declared-climate-emergencies-give-billions-fossil-fuels/

[9] https://www.mfe.govt.nz/have-your-say-zero-carbon

[10] https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/112774585/nelson-declares-climate-emergency  

[11] https://www.ecan.govt.nz/get-involved/news-and-events/2019/environment-canterbury-declares-climate-emergency/

[12] https://ccc.govt.nz/news-and-events/newsline/show/3614

[13] https://ourauckland.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/articles/news/2019/06/auckland-council-declares-climate-emergency/

[14] https://wellington.govt.nz/your-council/news/2019/06/climate-emergency

[15] https://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/dcc-votes-declare-climate-emergency

[16] https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/113747732/councils-declare-climate-emergencies-but-will-it-result-in-any-real-change

[17] https://climateemergencydeclaration.org/climate-emergency-declarations-cover-15-million-citizens/

[18] https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-emergency-colleges-universities-2639161884.html?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2

[19] https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/22-07-2019/so-youve-declared-a-climate-emergency-now-what/?

[20] https://www.ipbes.net/news/ipbes-global-assessment-summary-policymakers-pdf

[21] https://www.enviro-mark.com/what-we-offer/carbon-management?gclid=CjwKCAjw5pPnBRBJEiwAULZKvoTGxYFTNNm7WrVnGeC0DTUVaV7Br1ea5ckwrW_5oiUbe3r2kcZSyxoCb9kQAvD_BwE

[22] https://www.climateleaderscoalition.org.nz/

[23] For instance, here’s a recent article arguing why science needs the humanities to address climate change: http://theconversation.com/why-science-needs-the-humanities-to-solve-climate-change-113832

[24] In my own Anthropology teaching on the global ecological crisis for example, I combine earth system science with sociocultural anthropology, human geography, and environmental history, introducing students to discursive fields where academics talk across and beyond disciplinary boundaries.

Peer review of teaching. Do we know good teaching when we see it?

Jack Heinemann

When I was applying for my first academic position I was advised to ask my referees to not say that I’d be a good teacher, because that was “code” for saying I’d never be a top researcher. Whether or not many of us think the way this mentor did, there is some resemblance in this advice to how the research university works.

Your job application to a research university begins and ends with what you have done, and what you plan to do, in research. To get an interview you have to demonstrate your research worth. Even if the interview includes a separate event to showcase your teaching talents, more of your future colleagues will attend your research seminar.

Your future colleagues often think that they can extrapolate your teaching talents from how slick your lecture is. Indeed, most teaching components of an interview process are just mock lectures to hypothetical undergraduates. You have to be pretty diabolically bad for the job to be lost because of this perfomance.

Endemic in our culture is the quest for knowledge through research. That is not a bad thing! One of the characteristics of a research university that makes it different from primarily tertiary teaching institutions and from primarily research institutions is that research is a vehicle of teaching. Students ride this vehicle with mentors whose choice of research questions is (sometimes and hopefully mostly) influenced by how well they align with the capabilities of students to use them to learn to become independent researchers.

This begs the question then about what is evidence of effective teaching. The most common tool of measurement is the SET (student evaluation of teaching) survey. While this tool has value when applied well and for the right purpose—which sadly is almost never[1]—we have few alternatives. Most universities appear to be too insecure to lead the way away from this situation. However, the search is on for more effective measures of teaching effectiveness.

The advantage of survey tools is scalability. SET not only thrives on big numbers of respondents, but the cost per respondent declines as the number of students increases. Thus the cost to using the tool is predictable and minimal, regardless of whether the information is fit for purpose. Alternatives that involve careful measure of student achievement against carefully defined and possibly customised learning goals are not scalable and therefore potentially much more expensive.

Scalability is likely to guide a criterion for auditioning the next wave of SET companions. A tool I hear more often spoken about is peer review/observation of teaching. There is research that supports the efficacy of this tool, again when applied well and for the right purpose.

Notwithstanding that evidence, poor implementation of peer review of teaching could put us right back to where we are now. How will we know when or if peer review of teaching enriches the culture of learning? The tool is particularly attractive if you believe that we know good teaching when we see it. The challenge is to design a system of peer review that does something SET surveys do not do, to make visible previously invisible good teaching.

Challenges include:

  • decades of academics’ defining themselves as good or bad teachers based on SET surveys, a practice that has embedded within the culture the same perceptions of good and bad teaching that students have and which a mountain of evidence has shown can be contraindicative of benefit to students. How will our peers manage, even perceive, the effects of career long SET grooming?
  • assessing whether academics are better at guaging the learning happening in students by watching an academic guiding students through a learning activity. If the watcher has the same bias and ability to observe students as the instructor, and neither have access to objective and independent evaluation of changes in the minds of students, then peer review of teaching could be just correlative with SET.
  • distinguishing between high acheivement in a poor teaching activity from mediocre achievement in a good teaching activity. The difference is important because improvement in the latter has more potential to improve learning outcomes than does improvement in the former. We academics still primarily use the lecture format to both share our research and demonstrate our teaching ability. Why would we suddenly see that lectures are less effective than other approaches by watching our peers give lectures, especially when some of our colleagues could be much better at giving lectures than we are?

I prefer to identify good teaching through evidence of its effectiveness rather than reference to an internal standard of goodness. One source of evidence comes from comparing peer review evaluations with the outcomes of careful measure of student achievement against carefully defined and possibly customised learning goals. Oops, back to the unscalable and therefore unaffordable standard of measurement!

Measuring poorly can possibly cause more harm than not measuring at all especially when the measurement is strongly linked to promotion. The accountability-through-metrics generation will not like to read this. However, the evidence for this statement is now too large to ignore.[2] But I can throw a bone here and will. Measuring well but infrequently might cause more good than not measuring at all.

There are no easy answers to how to measure effective teaching. In part this is because teachers and learners can have different goals, and teachers can have different goals from one another and in different courses with different learners. There is a lot to measure. This might all sound depressing but to me it isn’t. Academics have a selfish interest in being effective teachers. We are dependent on a society that is made competent through our teaching. So good teaching really does matter.

[1] A particularly blunt statement from the research literature: “…our findings indicate that depending on their institutional focus, universities and colleges may need to give appropriate weight to SET ratings when evaluating their professors. Universities and colleges focused on student learning may need to give minimal or no weight to SET ratings. In contrast, universities and colleges focused on students’ perceptions or satisfaction rather than learning may want to evaluate their faculty’s teaching using primarily or exclusively SET ratings, emphasize to their faculty members the need to obtain as high SET ratings as possible (i.e., preferably the perfect ratings)…” Source: Uttl, B.; White, C.A.; Wong Gonzalez, D. Meta-analysis of faculty’s teaching effectiveness: student evaluation of teaching ratings and student learning are not related. Studies Ed Eval 2016;54:22-42.

[2] Braga, M.; Paccagnella, M.; Pellizzari, M. Evaluating students’ evaluations of professors. Econ Ed Rev 2014;41:71-88. http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2019/06/24/relying-often-biased-student-evaluations-assess-faculty-could-lead-lawsuits-opinion#.XRCVPqdRI5g.twitter

An academic caste system?

Jack Heinemann

Disclaimer: Research activities are important in some disciplines to provide society with views informed by non-commerical or governmental experts. In all disciplines research activites are essential to provide a learning space where research is part of the student experience. I am a researcher as well as teacher and chose to be at an institution that prioritises this mix of activity.

Working for a research university is a big part of my satisfaction. A long time ago I left a comfortable gig at a government research institute because I wanted to do research and use research to teach. I found that here.

Nevertheless, I can’t rely on it always being this way. Our sector is rife with incentives and pressures to become more specialised as either teachers or researchers (and either of those or critic and conscience of society). Despite really good work making success and investment in teaching rewarded and respected through the promotions and award systems, there is reason still for academic vigilance over the balance.

This article is about the potential for research for its own sake to dominate academic culture. Unchecked, the imbalance seeps across generations of academics until normal becomes the old extreme. I was inspired to write this by a picture I saw on Twitter that showed the “balance” of political parties purporting to be on the left and right, where the median is now what used to be called conservative.

My picture is an approximation. It is meant to illustrate not how I see the research/teaching balance at UC, but what it might become if left to drift. No particular balance is all bad. Neither is every balance best.

My thesis is that there are incentives internal and external to the University acting on academics which influence the balance. These incentives are differentially more attractive to the research hemispheres of our brains than the teaching ones are to our teaching hemispheres. The boring bits of each are also differentially more powerful disincentives.

My thesis is described in generalities for which there are notable exceptions. But I believe they represent the general rule.

Why research is so shiny Research success is strongly associated with financial success at both the institutional and individual levels. Success is measured by both outputs (e.g. through PBRF[1], external awards, individual association and institutional rankings) and inputs (e.g. grants received, greater personal autonomy to choose your own timetable of what work to do and when). An example of the power of choice is the flexibility of work scheduling that allows you to determine when to write that paper or grant application, attend key meetings or strike up collaborations or recruit postgraduates, or find the resources to travel to those meetings and visit collaborators.

Often, these measures are additive. In promotions and the PBRF, both outputs and inputs are used as evidence to support an individual’s case. In many cases, the number of postgraduates, which can be related to outputs, external funding and the infrastructure available through external funding, is also added to the profile. Often postgraduate supervison time is added to teaching time rather than research time. The benefits of student research are counted as research achievement and the cost of supervision is counted against the total teaching load. Because undergraduate teaching requires adherence to a much more rigid and externally impossed timetable, the effect is to shift even more self-determination away from teachers and to the researcher.

I’ve never personally seen an attempt to normalise these measures. For example, what happens if you divide the outputs by the fraction of time one has to do research as shown in the Table below? Which of these four academics is more “productive”? Which is likely to be percieved as more worthy of promotion based on research accomplishments?

Table. Hypothetical comparison of research active academics normalised by dedicated work times over an arbitrary time period.

Academic Research time Publications Productivity
1 1 15 15
2 0.8 12 15
3 0.4 7 17.5
4 0.2 4 20
5 0.4 2 5

Why teaching is shiny, but looks dull

Undergraduate teaching and the funding for postgraduate completions dwarf institutional income from research. However, excellence in teaching does not deliver the same degree of individual recognition or work flexibility. Indeed, the reward of the accomplished teacher may be more teaching and thus even less ability to organise work time for research pursuits. Course and teacher excellence are recognised, but the impacts of the loss of a great teacher or a great course are poorly measured.

Other courses and teachers replace them without also much impact on the perception of the University from outside or inside, at least over promotional time periods. In short, teaching that is “good enough” is hard to distinguish from teaching that is “great”. That is in part because teaching involves so many of us in activities that are hard to attribute to individuals, unlike the rigors of peer-reviewed outcomes such as publications and grant success.

Boring is an analog function

Academics like to complain about meetings. But meetings and other administrative demands are not the same for teaching and research. Teaching meetings are rarely exciting because the vast majority are teaching administration meetings. (An exception is “Teaching Month” hint hint.) Teaching moves at a slow pace. It takes years to see the legacy of your work unleashed through successful alumni.

Sure, reseach meetings can be snoozers too. Like the budget meetings. However, most research meeting time is talking research old and new in a dynamic schedule that sees outputs measured in months, not human generation times. The disincentives attached to teaching and research are also, therefore, not equal.

Frozen in time

Academics at UC have been fabulously robust. They have absorbed not just the impacts of natural disasters to look even shinier to the PBRF, but they manage the differentially powerful additive forces behind teaching and research too. Mainly they do so at a collective level which changes the proportion of real research time available to any person over different times of their career. This is significantly aided by the overheads socialised from the grants of some of our most successful researchers.

Despite our robustness, we can freeze individuals into career patterns that neither match their talents nor optimise the institution’s perceptions of its own success. Over and over I’ve seen ad hoc funding for those with failed second round Marsden grants only to never see those grants get funded. But the funding could result in other succcesses for the recipients who used it to build their research reputations and retained greater access to the research lifestyle. If you were not in those temporal anomalies, you might see it harder to escape the differential drag of teaching. These policies are overall successful, probably, but at the individual level it becomes when you were there, not who was there.

I’ve had colleagues who took on big administrative and teaching loads when I did not. This certainly helped my research career. And I’ve done, and continue, to do the same for others by sometimes taking on more administration and teaching. It is how we work best together. But we must manage these temporal events better to avoid creating a caste system that divides academics into research and all-the-others classes.

Frankly, I’ve also seen colleagues that benefited from an investment in their research autonomy only to leave for other institutions with the effect of freezing those they left behind in prolonged positions of elevated administration and teaching as they attempt to help establish new replacements. Would such superstars be so if their productivity were normalised to their research time?

The other side of the question is would those who’ve taken a slow down in research benefit from more research time? Sometimes the answer is no. It depends on the person and what they prioritise in their career at any given time. For example, releasing Academic 2 from more non-research activity will not result in much more research gain.

What I worry about is those for whom the answer is yes. Doubling Academic 4’s research time to match Academic 3’s is predicted to result in increased research outputs but the same is unlikely for Academic 5. Normalisation can help us to identify and target those who are time limited for research. Restructing to achieve a level of research activity can take time and might require help. Perhaps it is not as difficult as building a research activity level for the first time, such as early career academics must do, but the challenges are not so different. Only the aids are.


How we think about using our internal resources to achieve the optimal mix of activities has a profound affect on the individual. For example, the institution may by some arbitrary measure be just as “succesful” with a particular proportion of nearly exclusive researchers and nearly exclusive teachers. That model would certainly conflict with what I value about UC and how I percieve the role of public research universities. It is a kind of caste system.

If other academics at UC share my priorities, then we should be able to find a way to achieve an alternative to the model of academic specialistion into either researcher or teacher classes while at the same time honouring our colleagues who have chosen to seek their gratification from predominantly undergraduate teaching and university administration. It requires that we change how we see income and how to redistribute surplus.

As I mentioned above, small changes to how we measure academic productivity could create more flexibility in how we target the small amounts of money available to help researchers from time to time, at all stages of their careers. Beyond this, some of the proceeds of teaching, which are always socialised, could be virtually banked to buffer the troughs of researchers who have taken on a disproportionate load of non-research activity.

Obviously, I am neither smart enough nor have enough time in a blog to flesh out a real solution. But I hope I have established the veracity of my thesis and sparked a fire that makes the question of what balance we seek, and for whom, burn.

[1] Performance Based Research Fund