This is just a rant about the recent proposal
The university’s investment in Media and Communication has always been weak, and the staff in that discipline have been asked to carry excess teaching loads to support two offshore programs as well as their UG and PG programs – which are among the most successful and efficient in the university despite this lack of investment. The proposal for change does not recognise and reward this success but punishes it. And that makes no sense whatsoever, which is why I suspect that sections of this response document that deal with Media and Communication are redacted.
Despite being the most understaffed and junior discipline in the school (at around 35 SSR and a staffing profile composed mostly of Level Bs at the time of this proposal) Media and Communication staff have also taught into non-synchronous offerings in Singapore and Hong Kong since the discipline was established (from 2006-2015 and 2006-present respectively). This has meant that discipline staff have been relied upon to deliver an excessive amount of teaching. In my own case I delivered 36 extra units offshore on top of an always overloaded teaching load at Crawley. Other staff would have delivered more than this. As well as the second largest UG major in the School, our 5 or 6 staff also deliver the large and profitable PG Masters in Strategic Communication.
As a result of this ‘teaching intensive’ workload, defined by the university, Media and Communication staff have ‘relatively underperformed’ in terms of attracting external research funding. Of course, low research performance has previously been used as an excuse to deliver these staff higher teaching loads, prevent career advancement and, in the case of one staff member who has been serving the discipline with distinction since 2009, as a justification for no permanent contract. These conditions have created a ‘vicious cycle’ undermining research in the discipline group.
As a further result of being so short staffed there is a heavy requirement for ‘service’ within the discipline – personally I’ve spent 6 of my 11 years as Level B in discipline chair/Major Coordinator roles, which is a significant amount of leadership of the second largest major in the school for a Level B. Beyond that, being a small discipline with a lot of students means that things like supervision, dissertation marking, marketing and promotion, event attendance and general pastoral care fall to a very small selection of people. Delivering a major to 200 EFTSLs with 5 or 6 staff presents major challenges to the ability for staff to concentrate on their grant applications. Every hand is needed all the time and there is no flexibility to arrange teaching schedules to block out some research time as there simply aren’t the staff to take up the slack. But we have soldiered on for our students.
In response to this issue the discipline has submitted repeated business cases to the university for extra staff. These have always been rejected on the basis of the school’s SSR being too low. It has been galling, in this respect, to see continual appointments made in other, less understaffed disciplines. But we have soldiered on for the sake of the school and our colleagues.
Let’s be clear about this – the Media and Communication staff have always produced a significant profit for UWA. We have always carried the heaviest teaching loads in the school, we have always delivered courses in the most efficient structure (8 unit majors) and we have been successful at everything we’ve been asked to do. We are NOT the source of the budget deficit and we continually have the best student outcomes in the state, if not Australia.
And as the discipline within the school with the most junior staff and the highest staff/student ratio, we lost a Level D appointment at the end of 2019. The university’s refusal to backfill this position in the most understaffed discipline in the school is emblematic of the lack of investment in our discipline. This level D was the closest thing we ever had to a ‘research appointment’ and of course, in a discipline defined by the need for more staff, the loss of that position definitively impacted our ‘externally funded research’ figure used in the proposal. The fact that this refusal to fund us was then used to compile evidence that Media and Communication wasn’t performing in externally funded research exemplifies the fact that university leadership had already decided to defund our research by early 2020. And yet I’m sure consultation on the proposal was ‘genuine’.
This decision flies in the face of the fact that despite these structural impediments, we have a discipline made up of highly respected and productive researchers. In my own case I have supervised 8 PhDs to completion, I have a H index of 7, and I am a CI on more than $400,000 of grants. I have four articles published this year, with another 2 due out before Christmas and another 2 currently under review. I lead a team of international researchers on game studies and we have been extremely close to securing those ‘large external funds’, our project will be successful in getting these funds – just maybe not at UWA Social Sciences. My performance outstrips most other Level B academics in the school and has been achieved in a situation of structural disadvantage and immense service load – and yet I am to lose my teaching/research balance without any substantive justification. My research covers issues such as fake news, democracy, online radicalisation and COVID communication, which apparently lies beyond the purview of our school’s ‘vision’.
The university has treated Media and Communication as a cash cow and refused to fund our area in a way appropriate to the growth of our discipline and the requirements of our students. University management is now using their own failure to manage effectively as a justification for undermining the future of the Media and Communication discipline. This doesn’t just fail to acknowledge and reward our good faith and excellent performance, it also enshrines a culture of punishing efficiency and commitment to students.