Category Archives: Rethinking the University

Spare a thought for the white man with a gun

Jack Heinemann

Academic freedom is the right of academic staff and students to express unpopular or controversial ideas that society, or those with power, should hear. It is coupled with the legislated role of the university to be critic and conscience of society. I ask: while the academic community demographic mirrors social majorities, or power structures, can it ever truly be the critic and conscience of society?

“This here is the fundamental challenge to academic freedom being practiced in universities from the way it was perhaps conceived: can an already privileged cohort…be relied upon to use another privilege (academic freedom) to benefit the less privileged?” —Garrick Cooper

Below is my parody of events that transpired in the media in the last week or so. It is the demographic whose voice New Zealand universities are being taken to task for not defending with their academic freedom. It is a voice also within the academy.

It is easy for women, indigenous peoples and people of colour to get all wrapped up in their own problems and lose sight of what troubles the white man with a gun. This person more likely has property, and property of greater value than any of you. And he always has to be on guard defending that property. Therefore, he also has to be eternally vigilant to ensure that the bodies of looters fall forward through his double-glazed window. This is the burden of planning he alone bears just to avoid any questions about his use of lethal force against those that anyway should be committing suicide because they are demands on his largess.

How did he get that property? He worked for it. He had to buy it himself using only what was left to him after Government taxed his generally higher pay rate, or he had to use the intergenerational transfer of wealth from his father’s lifetime of work for generally higher pay. It could even be that he had to use his education to get that job, an education that he may have had to partially pay for by dipping into his own personal privilege.

With the few hours left in each of his grueling days devoted to bettering the human condition, he worries about how many stupid people there are, why disease and poverty are good for them, and how through his ingenuity we could have more stuff for less money.

Academic freedom may technically extend to such messages when they come from within the academy, but as I’ve argued before, unpopular or controversial opinions that align with majority interests or with power are not the kind that academic freedom was invented to amplify through protection.

Academics and students who express opinions harmonised with current power and privilege can do so by accessing free speech protections. Using the limited capacity of the academy for messages that serve the least vulnerable is to fail to use it fully on the messages that serve the most vulnerable. 

Academic freedom is a privileged right. If you have the privilege of working or studying at a tertiary institution such as a university, then you have the right of academic freedom. If you have academic freedom, then you have a privileged platform dedicated to your use. Therefore, society also has a right to expect that it will be used, and used for social good.

Let me be absolutely clear: the social good is where an unpopular or controversial opinion preserves the dignity of those in society who are at risk from the opinions of those with differential access to privilege in Aotearoa, such as white men with, and without, guns.

It is widely agreed that academic freedom is essential for universities to fulfill one of their five defining mission purposes – to serve society as its critic and conscience. Parliament recognised the need for the country to have independent voices informed by deep scholarship and practice, on a wide range of issues (i.e. be influenced by the ‘universe of ideas’), to bring forth viewpoints that can make a majority uncomfortable.

Parliament wasn’t seeking a form of entertainment through gratuitous expressions of opinion by a favoured slice of society. It wanted more than just active and visible users of academic freedom – tanga tū, tangata ora – too, if this just means aligning views in existing power structures. Parliament codified academic freedom so that it could expect to hear what it can’t know. Because academic freedom is a right that confers privilege, it is also more important than ever that the university community has academic staff and students who have the ability to perceive arguments with which the majority are not automatically familiar.

For a university to be effective in its mission as critic and conscience of society, it cannot be content with only being a demographical mirror of society. The future of academic freedom arrives when the least empowered in society speak through it under the protection of the university as their employer. Universities will have to be enriched in number and perspective with those who are minorities, or those who disproportionately need the protection of the university to be heard.

Universities are torn between their obligations to be critic and conscience of society and their growing financial dependence on those who may be offended, or harmed, by the judicious practice of it. Governments use the autonomy of universities as evidence of democracy and a tolerant society, but conspicuously fail to resource it. While these things are threats to institutional autonomy, neutralising them would still not be enough. Now I am wondering whether universities ever could comply with their statutory obligations to bring forth unpopular and controversial ideas across a reasonable spectrum of society while at the same time not being composed of an internal community that massively overrepresents vulnerable and minority populations.

Challenging authority and perceived wisdom is a job that will forever make the academy prickly and a little unpleasant, both inside and out. When this is achieved by a university community that is the inverse of the demographics of society, the dividend is the greatest good for the greatest number.

AFRICA: Women's War of 1929 - IbomTourism Ng
Image of centograph outside of the Women War Memorial in Nigeria

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:

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:

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.

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 ([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.

[2] 2 May 2019,

[3] 16 May 2019,

[4] 23 May 2019,

[5] 4 September 2019,

[6] 3 September 2019,


[8] 23 November 2018,

[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,

[12] 12 August 2019,

[13] 6 May 2019,

[14] 25 October 2018,

[15] New Scientist 1994,

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

Media representation and our relationship with LU

In December 2018 the University of Canterbury and Lincoln University (LU) presented a joint partnership proposal to the Minister of Education for consideration[1] having already signed a joint MOU in August to allow UC and LU to ‘explore partnership and merger options’ about which former VC Rod Carr commented “any new partnership or arrangement must bring additional benefits to both universities”.[2] Speculation by one media outlet reported that LU ‘could be governed’ by UC: “Lincoln University is likely to keep its name, degrees, assets and academic staff – but answer to University of Canterbury (UC) bosses under a yet-to-be-confirmed “partnership” proposal.”[3]

So which is it to be – ‘partnership’ or ‘merger’, or neither?

At the time that the UC/LU partnership proposal was being formulated Lincoln and AgResearch were also progressing a proposed $206 million joint facility “considered central to Lincoln’s future and financial sustainability” which was subsequently scrapped: “[Lincoln] university is heading back to the drawing board because AgResearch, its partner in the beleaguered project, will build its own facility”.[4]

Both UC and LU are awaiting advice from the Minister Chris Hipkins about the December 2018 partnership proposal, but the scrapping of the LU/AgResearch joint venture may change the entire partnership game plan and give UC a convenient ‘exit strategy’ from a proposal that may not now ‘bring additional benefits’ after all. With the LU/AgResearch joint facility now sunk the 200 million dollar questions for UC are:

  1. What are the ‘additional benefits’ to UC from any type of partnership arrangement?
  2. Will potential benefits outweigh both the costs and the risks?
  3. How will we, as a university community, answer these?

As a general staff member and student of UC I’m most interested in question 3. The partnership proposal was formulated by selected governance members and senior managers from both institutions and then presented to each university council for approval. It was considered in public excluded session by the UC council without being socialised within the wider university community, although it was discussed by Academic Board. If the minister accepts the proposal, or even indicates the likelihood of considering a subsequent version of the proposal, a sequence of processes could be set in motion that could potentially change the University of Canterbury in its entirety – constitutionally at governance level, senior management level, and operationally at every level of the university, administrative and academic.

Given that LU had been reported to be ‘underperforming’ and that “it would fail to survive another event like the global financial crisis of 2007-08” any kind of partnership arrangement should be viewed with a high degree of caution, but most worryingly according to a media report from 2017 former LU Chancellor Steve Smith was quoted: “if the Lincoln Hub is successful then the university will be successful”.[5] With the LU/AgResearch joint facility scrapped the potential for success of the

Lincoln Hub has to be re-assessed, and with that a re-assessment for UC about any possible future partnership with LU.

In March a new UC academic strategic planning process was initiated – E Tū, Kia ora.[6] Described as “an exciting opportunity for staff to help set the future academic direction of UC” and asking “What kind of university do we want to be when we turn 150 years in 2023?” If the UC/LU partnership proposal submitted in December is accepted by the minister, or approved for further development, then the ‘kind of university’ UC will be by 2023 may largely be defined by its relationship with LU.

Malcolm Scott

1 VC’s report to UC Council, Feb2019, 2.3 Partnership Proposal with Lincoln University;

2 Lincoln and Canterbury universities sign MOU;

3 26 Oct 2018,

4 13 Feb 2019,

5 21 Nov 2017;–report

6 29 March 2019;

2018 an eventful year for freedom of expression

The rights of the public to freedom of expression, and the privileges and responsibilities of academic freedom have been put to the test in 2018 by several high-profile events that attracted national media attention. First there was Auckland Mayor Phil Goff’s decision in July to ban Canadian far-right speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux from council owned venues.1 Goff was criticised by Don Brash for infringing the public right to free speech in a legal motion by the Free Speech Coalition that aimed to “force Mr Goff to recognise he is in breach of the Bill of Rights and the Human Rights Act”.2 For a short while Don Brash became the ‘public face’ of the Free Speech Coalition, and then in an ironic twist of events found himself the subject of a ‘speaking ban’ when in August Massey Vice-Chancellor Jan Thomas ordered his visit to the Massey Manawatū campus be cancelled “over fears the event could lead to violence”.3 While it could appear the decision by Jan Thomas crossed a line between the public’s right to freedom of expression and the rights of university students and academics to academic freedom (since Brash had been invited by a student society) this is not necessarily the case since Massey had “no obligation to provide infrastructure for Brash to espouse his views”.4 However, public condemnation of Thomas’ decision was wide-ranging and included commentary by at least one senior Massey academic who viewed it as “unequivocally wrong”.5
Then in September e-mails obtained under the Official Information Act revealed that Thomas had “misled the public” by claiming her decision to ban Brash was for ‘security reasons’ which led to calls for her resignation.6 Thomas’ decision to ban Brash, and attempt to justify it for security reasons, set a worrying precedent firstly as a possible infringement on the rights of students and academics to academic freedom as defined by the Education Act (1989)7, and secondly to conflate subject matter that may be controversial with public safety inferring that any controversial topic of discussion ‘could lead to violence’.
In October an entirely different sequence of events unfolded concerning public freedom of expression, and the responsibilities of academics to the privilege of academic freedom. On 2 October RNZ (Radio New Zealand) reported on an Auckland billboard that had been up for one day and then removed by the billboard operator following a stream of complaints. The billboard featured a poster by a public advocacy group called WAVESnz8 depicting a man holding a young baby with the caption: If you knew the ingredients in a vaccine, would you RISK it? The poster was professionally produced and contained no offensive or defamatory images or information, yet attracted more than 140 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority in a single day. A spokesperson for the billboard operator Ad-Vantage Media said “[he] did not fully understand the controversy that a billboard questioning the efficacy of vaccines would cause”, and presumably ordered removal of the poster for commercial or reputational reasons as there was no legal compulsion to do so. In this case the decision to infringe upon the right to freedom of expression of WAVESnz was made by a commercial operator exercising ownership of the billboard under (or in breach of) whatever terms and conditions the advertising contract with WAVESnz allowed. Later that day a line was crossed concerning academic freedom when John Fraser of the University of Auckland was interviewed by RNZ. Dr Fraser claimed the billboard was “underhanded and deceitful” and “almost organised terrorism”.9 How something can be ‘almost’ terrorism is in itself a bit perplexing (either it is, or it is not), but what was really concerning was the use, or abuse, of academic freedom to characterise a group or organisation as ‘terrorist’. There is wide-ranging controversy concerning vaccine safety, it’s a controversial subject, but that doesn’t give academics the right to defend their expertise or opinion by attacking opponents with allegations of terrorism. This was not the first time Dr Fraser had characterised an activity or group as ‘terrorist’. In May 2017 RNZ reported on the film Vaxxed, an investigative documentary concerning the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) where officials allegedly ordered vaccine research evidence destroyed. The film was touring New Zealand, an activity Dr Fraser described as “the same as terrorism”.10 These comments characterised the film and its tour organisers as terrorists in an incredibly divisive and dehumanising way. When questioned about this University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon stated in an e-mail “[he] is a world-leading expert in infectious diseases and I would back his opinion on these matters any day of the week.”11
The issue here was not a question of Dr Fraser’s academic expertise but rather of his extreme use of divisive, and possibly defamatory, language toward an advocacy group which McCutcheon failed to address. The use of terrorism, where it is deliberately implied as a tool to supress freedom of speech has been condemned by the United Nations12 and should not be tolerated by the wider academic community.
Critic and Conscience Responsibility
The privilege of academic freedom comes with a responsibly to act respectfully towards the views and positions of others. The right to ‘state controversial or unpopular opinions’ (to which the public also have a right) does not imply that slander, defamation, or outright verbal abuse is ever acceptable. Thomas’ decision to ‘ban’ Don Brash might be seen as an infringement on the academic rights of students and staff at Massey, and McCutcheon’s unwillingness to admonish Dr Fraser’s extremist language is at the very least disappointing. Vice-Chancellor Thomas could be said to have failed in her duty under the Act “for the maintenance by institutions of the highest ethical standards” (s161, 3 (a), Education Act, 1989). However, in the situation concerning Dr Fraser it is up to individual academics to moderate themselves in their exercise of academic freedom.
In September this year the University of Canterbury reviewed and revised its policy on academic freedom, renaming it Critic & Conscience of Society and Academic Freedom Principles and Policy.13 The policy confirms and protects all of the rights of academic freedom under the Act, but goes much further by providing guidance to all members of the university engaged in scholarly activities (and as a guide to university management) and explicitly states it does not allow a member to “defame others, intimidate or discriminate against those who hold dissenting or non-conforming views or opinions, either within or beyond the University”. The policy only applies to members of the University of Canterbury, but in the cases outlined here, and for the wider academic communities of New Zealand, this policy sets a standard by which we as scholars, and the public at large, can all benefit.

Commentary by Malcolm Scott, University of Canterbury.


1 RNZ, 6 July 2018,
2 RNZ, 11 July 2018,
3 RNZ, 7 August 2018,
4 Univoice, 21 September 2018,
5 RNZ, 11 August 2018,
6 RNZ, 20 September 2018,
7 s161, Education Act (1989),
8 WAVESnz – Warnings About Vaccine Expectations,
9 RNZ, 2 October 2018,
10 RNZ, 25 May 2017,
11 E-mail from Stuart McCutcheon, 27 May 2017.
12 UN News, 2 January 2018,

2019 PBRF Review

The government has signalled that the PBRF will be reviewed commencing in mid 2019. The ToR have been published the membership of the review committee has yet to be finalised.

The foci of the 2019 review include:

• Revisiting the 4 primary objectives and 3 secondary objectives of the PBRF to determine if they are fit for purpose or require modification.
• To date the individual researcher has been the unit of assessment in terms of the “quality” parameter of the PBRF assessment framework. The review will investigate the merits of individual vs group based quality assessment. The underlying driver here is to boost collaboration between researchers and between researchers and the end-users of the research.
• Investigation of options to maximise the impact of PBRF funded research to stakeholders, including mechanisms to measure impact.
• Engaging in the PBRF process comes with both transactional and opportunity costs. There is a desire to minimise these PBRF related costs and options to achieve this outcome will be investigated. For example, the periodicity of assessment rounds could be lenghtened from the current 6 yearly cycle to a 10 or 12 yearly cycle.
• Investigation to ensure that the PBRF assessment framework is equitable across all types of research.
• Investigate if the PBRF assessment framework is delivering a highly-skilled, sustainable and diverse research capable workforce.

Professor Jonathan Boston, VUW, has narrated a video on the history of the PBRF, he was an advisor to the group that developed the PBRF framework, it can be viewed here

Ray Kirk.


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