Students and staff at the University of Auckland came together last week to stand up against the intensifying efforts of Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon to silence critique of his leadership.
Gathered together for a ‘teach-in’ led by the national president of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU), Sandra Grey, students and staff heard about their right, enshrined in law, to have a say in how their place of work and study is run.
The event sent an important message to all Vice-Chancellors about the need for an open and democratic exchange between all students, staff and the local community about the direction our public institutions are heading.
McCutcheon was invited to participate but declined to attend.
The University of Auckland, for its many dedicated, passionate and highly-skilled staff, is not an easy place to work at the moment. In recent months, McCutcheon has intensified efforts to silence criticism and prevent debate about the direction he is taking the University.
This has included a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals who are critical of his changes. McCutcheon has also imposed confidentiality clauses in some change proposals preventing anyone discussing what’s on the table, unless they themselves are directly affected.
Last week’s ‘teach-in’ was an opportunity to remind students and staff that McCutcheon has no basis in either law or the Collective Agreement to prevent anyone from communicating about and organising against planned changes at the University.
It was also a way to counter some of the frustration felt by the media’s fixation on campus speakers at a time when academics and staff are being prevented from discussing the future of their place of work.
McCutcheon is, for example, about to cut back the University’s Education and Social Work Faculty at a time when New Zealand faces a massive teacher shortage – yet staff are being prevented from talking openly about it.
The Education Minister’s efforts to improve schooling, such as scrapping national standards and reforming NCEA, are welcome. And whilst there are many reasons for the teacher shortage, the Prime Minister’s efforts to address it certainly won’t be helped by McCutcheon’s decision to cut back on the very people we need to train the teachers of the future.
Like anyone, staff at the University of Auckland have a right to discuss and organise in response to changes their employer is proposing. And what’s more, they need to be able to point out when McCutcheon is making it hard for the government to address the issues we face as a nation.