Employment authority rejects Otago Uni’s use of confirmation

Posted By TEU on Apr 12, 2012 |

Tertiary Update Vol 15 No 11

TEU has just won a significant employment authority case that challenges the use of confirmation at Otago University.

The employment authority found yesterday that the University of Otago breached Dr Jane Millichamp’s right to natural justice and its own duty of good faith when it failed to confirm her as a lecturer after ten years on a fixed-term employment agreement.

Dr Millichamp began as a Psychological Medicine lecturer at Otago University in 1998 but was subject to confirmation – an employment agreement where academics go on long-standing trial periods while the university assesses the academic’s suitability for the position. TEU has long argued that confirmation is an unfair and illegal use of fixed-term-employment trial periods. Confirmation is currently only used at the universities of Auckland and Otago.

Dr Millichamp’s department was in disarray during her confirmation period because, among other reasons, her head of department, Dr Colin Bouwer, murdered his wife. There were a number of workload pressures that meant her teaching load grew significantly. The university extended her confirmation period several times, until 2007, at which point the university chose not to confirm her because it did not believe she had published a sufficient quantity of research. Instead, it offered her the choice of dismissal or going from being a lecturer to a teaching only fellow.

Dr Millichamp appealed but the university rejected her appeal.

TEU then took a case for her through mediation and then to the Employment Authority. The authority finally heard her case in 2010, but the authority member who heard the case resided in Christchurch, and the files for the case were lost in one of the earthquakes.

The authority has recently retrieved its files and finally found in favour of Dr Millichamp. The authority found that the university failed to follow its own appeal process by referring her appeals back to the original review committee rather than a new independent appeals committee. Added to this, Dr Millichamp was not permitted to appear before the review committee to give evidence on her research and was not told about two people who gave evidence against her, nor was she given a chance to respond to their allegations.

TEU deputy secretary Nanette Cormack said the case is an important win for academics on fixed-term agreements.

“Confirmation is unfair – it is not fair to employ people on trial periods that can last up to a decade with no employment security. In addition, it is also unfair to decide people’s futures and make judgements about them without first giving them a chance to tell their own story and respond to allegations that others have made.”

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. Turia quiet in tertiary education role
  2. Member’s bill to extend paid parental leave welcomed
  3. Lobbying bill could end secret tertiary education lobbying
  4. Domestic students staying loyal to CPIT

Other news

A student coalition has formed to oppose the cuts to University of Canterbury programmes. “You Are UC” condemns the consultation process, as university management has still failed to release to students the details of their proposed changes – You Are UC

The Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust has issued its spending priorities for the next three years. The trust distributes up to $3 million per year by way of grants from a $70 million investment fund, to encourage growth in the agri-business sector. Chairman Jeff Grant says three-quarters of that funding traditionally goes to Lincoln and Massey universities. But the bulk of the funding will now be directed to commercial ventures, focused on market access – Radio NZ

Since the 1970s, a radical shift has been occurring in higher education, as growing numbers of institutions turn to contingent (or adjunct) faculty to cut costs, while keeping pay as low as possible for the support staff who keep campuses running. Students suffer, as the number of available services are reduced, class sizes increase, and educators are less able to provide direct assistance and mentoring to the students they are there to teach. Now, employees in higher education are fighting back, and facing real challenges from administrations when they do – Salon

Tertiary education, science and innovation minister Steven Joyce today announced the appointment of three new convenors to the Marsden Fund Council. The new appointees are Dr Ian Ferguson, who will convene the Cellular, Molecular and Physiological Biology Panel; Professor Jari Kaipio, who will convene the Mathematical and Information Sciences Panel; and Professor Robert Hannah, as convenor of the Humanities Panel. The minister has also appointed Dr Grant Scobie for a second term as Convenor of the Economics and Human and Behavioural Sciences Panel – Hon Steven Joyce

An unholy alliance is slowly forming between traditionalist defenders of the university as an “ivory tower” and market-obsessed modernisers determined to transform higher education into a consumer good. Both have come to the – mistaken – conclusion that the idea of the public university must be abandoned. For very different reasons, of course –The Guardian

A Texas community college district’s move toward standardised and electronic textbooks has raised the hackles of faculty members, who say the process threatens academic freedom and instructor autonomy because individual sections will be limited in their ability to have individual book requirements – Inside Higher Ed


Tertiary Update is our weekly bulletin about news in the tertiary education sector from the perspective of people working in the sector.

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