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Aus Higher Ed

Where Have All the Innovative Thinkers Gone? Resignation 2016 Down Under

13 July 2021: I have so been admiring courageous academics resigning their posts to demonstrate their own self-determination. We must know our worth. Those in charge will continue to change the rules to suit their narrative and status quo — it’s how they’ve maintained power all along. I wrote the below mid 2016, in what was a very different life — living in Canberra, Australia, where my son was born, where I nearly died, where I connected with the land and the Ngunnawal. My job was ending, my two-decades long marriage ended in separation (being a partner to an academic is quite demanding) and there was so much unknown. I had just survived a breast cancer scare on my 40th birthday — an experience that has prioritized, still, my son, and now that my partner and I have reunited, the three of us over work.

Work where you are respected.———————————————————————————

As I prepare to leave my paid work at the close of my contract 1 July, depart a country I adore and move on into the unknown, having no fixed address until I find work for a January/February 2017 start, I have many mixed emotions! I have been reflecting on many experiences, have written about a few of them even. My vocation is a part of my identity and I accept that. As a result, I have to come to certain conclusions when the environment in which I work is toxic. I have reached my level of toxicity and feel compelled to exit stage left. Below is a letter I crafted with the help of a few wise souls, to read aloud to the board of power, of which I am a twice elected faculty representative — low woman on the totem pole I am. This is speaking truth to power at my finest. It is by far not perfect, but I do hope that ears will hear, that some might even listen and that a seed of change is planted somewhere upon my departure.

Again, when we work against each other, rather than with each other, results are not favourable. Hence my insistence that we are better together.
I must go find my tribe.

Farewell.___________________________________________________________

Dear Colleagues,
In my 6.5 years here as an Assistant Professor in Education, I have had the pleasure of teaching some bright undergraduates, determined Masters students and tenacious doctoral candidates. I have worked across faculties and in the schools sector and have enjoyed many aspects of my work here.

The ad to which I responded in October 2009, stated “We are seeking innovative, futures-oriented thinkers to join our visionary team. This position will make a significant contribution to the attainment of the Faculty’s Strategic Goals.”

The call of the ad was clear. If I was up for 7 years to Associate Professorship-track, which I was, I would join a University that planned for its “bold vision” around “growth and renewal”. They needed “ambitious academics” and I would be able “to contribute significantly to the Faculty’s Research Centres and programs”.

As an added bonus, I not only would have been putting the past five years of work and experience to use, but the decade previous, where I was a classroom English teacher, Union delegate, teacher trainer, Department Chair and Literacy Coach, all in economically disadvantaged schools. My prior experience would be advantageous since the position called for a “strong commitment to maintaining effective university-school partnerships…and a strong social responsibility ethos.”

This position could not have fit me more perfectly. I anticipated long hours developing relationships with schools in order to research and write, adding value to the faculty, university and public schools in Australia. I anticipated the annual academic work cycle, the highs and the lows, the busy times and the busiest times, the teaching, the students, the collegial conversations and debates, as I had observed this in my own professors with whom I worked as a Research Assistant during my PhD preparation.

As I have previously written in the book Dignity of the Calling (in press) on the early years in Academia, my first year here in 2010, however, proved to be a challenge, and a good indicator for the remainder of my employment, which ceases at the end of my contract on 1 July 2016. This is by choice; I have been offered an extension, but I have flatly rejected it.

In my capacity as Assistant Professor for 6 years and 5 months, I have overall been disappointed at my experience as an academic in this institution, which indeed, has a “bold vision”. The strategy is even clear at the forest level. But the governance structure is dysfunctional, and in the midst of it, the losers are ultimately the students and staff who are not part of the decision making. Because governance functions in the way it does, some staff in these roles seem to be more concerned with maintaining their interests and positions over that of anything external beyond compliance and ranking.

Working here, for nearly 6.5 years, under poor management has highlighted the importance of governance structures that explicate the difference between the management and leadership, join them where they are necessary, or even more radical still, get rid of Managers and the managerial mindset, and let those “innovative, futures-oriented thinkers” get to work realising the “bold vision” whether under the VC I had the pleasure to serve, or the incoming VC to which you all will have the pleasure to serve.

I challenge the call in the ad for “innovative, futures-oriented thinkers” who have a “strong social responsibility ethos”.

Working here, for nearly 6.5 years, with mostly a lack of support, lack of caring, an inconsistency in decision-making, repression, suppression, bullying, and at times harassment, has forced me to become better, not bitter. Already resilient when I arrived, working here has forced me to develop at even deeper levels because of the pain, sense of injustice, and sadness around the lack of ethical behaviour in the workplace and the lofty lip service we pay to having a “social responsibility ethos”, or doing the right thing, rather than doing things right, which is the concern of management, not leaders. Leaders do the right thing.

It is my hope that this University flourish in the future. This will be possible if upper management display courage and set an example in modelling the shared values of a rigorous scholarly community. When we staff feel taken care of, we will perform at the highest levels and that performance is sustainable.

On the other hand, in my time here, I have felt exploited, under appreciated, overworked, de-professionalised and bullied. Where I formerly was asked to be creative and innovative in my teaching, lately, I have been required to adhere to rules and models of teaching that serve economic efficiencies over the needs of the students.

I have been managed with sticks rather than led with carrots and the truth that this style cannot sustain a successful organisation is already emerging. Data from students demonstrates that they are not satisfied with their experience. Data from other academic staff, not executive level staff, suggests the strain is showing and indeed, the pace and current work environment cannot be sustained.

So through all that I have observed and been a part of in my 6.5 years here, I know it is time for me to walk away. And that is exactly what I am doing, leaving at the close of my contract, which also means I must leave a country I have come to love and that my son calls home. I have the courage to leave here because going off into the unknown is a better option than remaining employed here.
I leave here with my head high, dignity still intact, despite how I have been treated, knowing that I have tried to bring about positive change within my faculty and at the university level.

May love and kindness find you all,

me

___________________________________________________________________

#BetterTogether #BuildYourTribe

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