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OPINION: An open letter to Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell and Dean of Arts Russell Goulbourne

Dear Prof. Duncan Maskell and Prof. Russell Goulbourne, We are writing to you in your capacity as Vice Chancellor and Head of School to try and resolve a grievance issue in the Faculty of Arts and the University itself. We are hoping that by raising this complaint with you informally, you will be in a position to consider the best outcomes in a timely way. This is consistent with s 5.4 of the University of Melbourne Student Complaints and Grievances Policy (MPF1066).

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Professor Duncan Maskell, Vice-Chancellor
9th Floor, Raymond Priestley Building
The University of Melbourne
Victoria 3010 Australia

Professor Russell Goulbourne, Dean of Arts
Ground Floor, Old Arts
The University of Melbourne
Victoria 3010 Australia


Dear Prof. Duncan Maskell and Prof. Russell Goulbourne, 

We are writing to you in your capacity as Vice Chancellor and Head of School to try and resolve a grievance issue in the Faculty of Arts and the University itself. We are hoping that by raising this complaint with you informally, you will be in a position to consider the best outcomes in a timely way. This is consistent with s 5.4 of the University of Melbourne Student Complaints and Grievances Policy (MPF1066). We are writing to you as a united group of students in the Faculty of Arts, as well as others in support from other faculties. 

Specifically, this grievance relates to our bitter disappointment with the treatment of staff at this university. Our education is being compromised because our lecturers and tutors simply cannot perform at their best under the subpar conditions that they are currently experiencing. We fully support the industrial action that has been taken this week, and we blame management for the disruption to our tuition. 

We are raising a joint complaint under section 4.5 of the University’s Complaints and Grievances Policy (see below) as we have all been affected by the treatment of staff which led to the industrial action.

4.5. Students may raise joint complaints or grievances where more than one student has been affected, in which case the matter will be considered as one issue. In these cases, all students who have agreed to be party to the complaint or grievance must be named. If two or more complaints or grievances about the same matter are submitted independently, they may be considered jointly by agreement of all parties concerned.

 

I, as a student, feel morally obligated to show solidarity for my teachers who are fighting for job security. I could not, in good conscience, take the valuable knowledge my tutors and lecturers are imparting whilst also knowing that they may not have a job next year. ” - Tyler Davey, Criminology & Politics

 

“Teaching staff deserve job stability. Many of my tutors have been working at the university for 5 or more years have still not been able to apply for a permanent position that guarantees they will have work the following semester. This prohibits their ability to mortgage a house or make any big purchases. Staff are also paid for inadequate time for marking our work, which negatively affects our learning. I support reasonable working conditions and fair pay, which will mean staff are happier at work, able to dedicate themselves to their jobs, which results in better learning outcomes and student satisfaction.” - Ildi Clemens, Politics and International Studies

 

“ I would like to prevent further disruptions from occurring, especially as an International student whose fees are extremely high, and would like to see my tutors and those employed treated with the respect & benefits they deserve.” - Ariel Zhang Yao Yong

 

 

The history of the grievance and attempts to resolve it


During the week of the 28th of September, numerous classes of ours went on strike. For many of us in the Faculty of Arts, all our classes were cancelled due to the strike action. This strike would have been completely avoidable if management had negotiated in good faith with the NTEU. Instead, management left the bargaining table thus eliminating any chance of negotiation. Currently, we believe that staff are not being treated with the respect that they deserve as hardworking members of this University.

 

“Poor teaching conditions = a poor learning environment” - Bryda Nichols

 

I support the staff strikes because I have heard from many staff members as well as my dad who has previously worked as a lecturer, the unacceptable conditions that Uni staff have to endure. ” - Mieke Crighton, Politics and International Studies

 

Staff's conditions are our learning conditions. The more overworked and underpaid our tutors and lecturers are, the worse education we are getting” -  William Roumeliotis, Science

 

“The student experience has been devalued largely due to the university overworking and underpaying staff. Staff are forced to recycle materials and cannot provide the support that a quality university should demand. There is a shortsighted focus on research which might provide profits in the short term, but in the long term the university's reputation will suffer.” - David Jeisman

 

 

We have taken previous action to submit formal individual complaints and in the responses received from the University no commitment was made to change action (Attachment 1). In the responses received, we were told that the University was negotiating with the Union in good faith, however, this cannot be the case if management were prepared to walk away from the bargaining table prior to the strike. Further, the current offers to staff do not address secure work concerns and instead offer wage increases that do keep up with inflation (Attachment 2). The demand for 80% secure work is not only reasonable but essential, as we believe it is shameful that the University does not provide its academics with secure work. Casual work on short-term contracts does not reflect the University’s respect for its staff and leaves those who are already struggling with the cost of living crisis without secure work. 

In our response to our initial complaints, we were told that our complaint did not constitute a complaint under section 4.2 of the complaints policy. However, section 4.2 reads as follows:


4.2. Students may raise complaints or grievances in relation to administrative decisions, including but not limited to:

(a) decisions by administrative staff affecting individuals or groups of students;

(b) administration of policies, procedures and rules of the University;

(c) standard of service received through the University administration; or

(d) access to resources or facilities.


We maintain that as students we are raising a complaint in relation to the administration of the University not to negotiate adequately with the NTEU. As such this has had an adverse impact on the standard of the educational service that we are receiving from our degrees. Additionally, we were told in our complaint response that the University was endeavouring to make up for education loss by providing different avenues such as keeping the LMS accessible. However, any material that is made available to students by striking teachers is a breach of the strike. Further, it is inaccurate to presume that keeping the LMS open is enough to make up for the lost lectures and tutorials. We are paying for what has been ranked as the best education in the country. However, the best education in the country is reliant on the best staff in the country. If staff are not adequately compensated and not treated fairly then they cannot provide the best education possible. Therefore, we maintain that our complaint does constitute a complaint under section 4.2, and that management is single-handedly responsible for the loss of education. 

Moreover, we were told that our complaint did not meet the grounds for a complaint under section 4.7:


4.7. Grounds for complaint or grievance include, but are not limited to:

(a) a student being affected by a decision made without sufficient consideration of facts, evidence or circumstances;

(b) a student being affected by a failure to adhere to appropriate or relevant published University policies and procedures;

(c) a penalty applied to the student being unduly harsh or inappropriate;

(d) a student being affected by improper or negligent conduct by another student or staff member; or

(e) a student being affected by unfair treatment, prejudice or bias.


However, under section 4.7(a) our complaint does meet the grounds for a complaint as a managerial decision was made not to meet all NTEU demands and to walk away from the bargaining table which led to the week long strike. This decision was clearly made without sufficient consideration of circumstances as the need for union demands to be met are due to the circumstances of immense pressures placed on staff. This has had an immense impact on us as students as we are not able to learn effectively from staff who are not treated fairly. 

Furthermore, if the University maintains their position that our complaint does not actually constitute a complaint, I urge the addressee to consider the University’s commitment to student learning conditions and the opinions and experiences of the students. We believe that the response received thus far does not demonstrate commitment to our learning experience or our entitlements as fee paying students.  

 

“Bargain in good faith with the NTEU to secure stable jobs and fair pay for staff.” - Joel Duggan

 


Therefore, as students, we wholeheartedly support the staff strikes and hold the University responsible for the lackluster education we are receiving as staff cannot teach and work in such subpar conditions. 

 

“Our staff deserve better. I go to this university [because of] the incredible staff, and without them I wouldn't be here.” - Jack Doughty, Music

 

“Staff working under precarious and unfair working conditions impacts so heavily on the quality of our education, I support the staff strikes because I support staffs ability to provide an adequate education (and, of course, their right to work that is able to provide them a safe and stable living)” - Lucy Beltrami, Arts

 

“Everyone who puts in work, and contributes to the betterment of society has a right to feel secure in their employment. No self-respecting person should sit by and allow university staff to live precariously, not knowing if they will have a job next semester. ” - Thomas Hofer, Politics and International Relations


 

Reasons for the Determination


 

“Our teaching staff are behind our #14 world ranking as an institution. The staff work tirelessly to give us the best learning experience and they put in so many extra hours that are not acknowledged.” - Adele Roeder

 


Our relationship as students to the University is through the staff. We know that our teachers and academic services, Stop 1 and library staff are all hardworking and dedicated individuals. They have been mistreated. Not only have they had their wages stolen from them, not only are they underpaid for marking and for overtime, but they are clearly not valued by the University. 

 

“Teachers and support staff at the University of Melbourne are truly the driving force and heart behind mine and many others' incredible University experience - and they deserve to be treated with utmost respect. The staffs' demands are reasonable, and I support them wholeheartedly in striking.” - Hayley Marsh, Politics and International Studies and English

 


If staff were valued, they would be fairly compensated for their work and their jobs would be secure. Casual work demonstrates that staff are as disposable to the University as their contracts are. The current state of affairs is ridiculous. This week we have admired the strength of staff to stand up for their rights as workers. We stand by them and we give them our unwavering support. 

 

“Agree to the reasonable demands NTEU has set out: dignify staff with more secure work, recognise the labour of teaching and tutoring by paying adequate wages (and no wage theft!) and invest in the future of the university by providing more time for research. ” - Finley Japp, English

 

“Staff working conditions affect the students to a substantial degree. If Melbourne Uni can be the richest institution in Australia it should be able to share a portion of the profits to its workers.” - Thomas Devonshire, History and Politics

 

“The uni exploits their own postgrads by refusing to pay proper hours for marking work. Having been on both sides of the process, I know that this directly impacts the quality of feedback students receive.” - Erica Giudici, Chemistry 

 


The Resolution Sought

 


Therefore, management must negotiate with the Union in a way that demonstrates a genuine interest in improving the work experiences of staff. This includes agreeing to the Union demands set out in Attachment 3 because “demands such as 80% secure work, a fair pay rise, and no forced redundancies are not only reasonable, but necessary to building quality education at the University.” (Attachment 3). 

Further, we believe that staff and students are owed a formal apology from the University for both the lack of fair teaching conditions and the subsequent inability of staff to deliver the best education possible. We wish for the University management to admit their full responsibility for the missed tuition, as it occurred as a result of their unwillingness to deliver upon the fair and reasonable NTEU demands. We believe that we have suffered a loss in our tuition and education and maintain that the University is responsible for this. 

 

“Management needs to have appropriate and serious negotiations with the Union and staff, make considerable attempts to reach a decision. Poor and lacking offers are offensive and will exaggerate the problem. Management should seriously reflect and notice the message they are conveying to their staff, students, community and the public.” - Aimee, Psychology

 

“Management needs to respect the work their staff does and meet their just demands ” - Ava Wansbrough, Arts

 

“Give staff a pay rise above inflation” - James Gallagher, Geography

 

“Redistribute funds more equitably to protect the livelihoods and well-being of as many staff as possible, and in doing so, create career pathways from the bottom up, that offer enough stability and security to entice the best students from any financial background to genuinely consider a career in academia.” - Eva Matthews, Psychology

 

“Provide job security, show appreciation for the amount of work staff put in, and continue the wage remediation program. ” - Emma Giddens, Politics and International Studies

 

“I hope [management] can be more reasonable, empathetic and receptive to their needs. Tutors and lecturers have families, mortgages, rent, and everything else that makes life difficult to lead if you don't have money. I find it hard to believe that the university making money is more important.” - Cameron Proposch, Psychology & Politics and International Studies

 

“Reduce the number of casual contracts for long-term staff members and compensate the staff more fairly for the work they do beyond their contracted hours” - Katherine Carpenter, Linguistics and Applied Linguistics

 

“Permanent contracts for at least 80 per cent of staff, wage increase in line with the consumer price index, plus 1.5 per cent. ” - Claudia Cunningham, Politics and International Studies

 

“Management needs to come to the table and meaningfully discuss with the striking staff, the outcome of which should be de-casualisation and wage increases” - Theo Purchase

 


We would appreciate acknowledgement of the receipt of this grievance within five working days of its receival.  Notification of the investigation process would be appreciated within 15 working days, as per the indicative timeline in section 5.12 of the policy.

 


Signatories:
 

  1. Urszula Nowak (Politics and International Studies)
  2. Tahlia McDonald (Politics and International Studies, Spanish and Latin American Studies)
  3. Ava Wansbrough (Gender Studies)
  4. Bryda Nichols
  5. James Gallagher (Geography)
  6. Joel Duggan
  7. William Roumeliotis (Science)
  8. Eva Matthews (Psychology)
  9. Katherine Carpenter (Linguistics and Applied Linguistics)
  10. Harriet Carpenter (Linguistics)
  11. Jack Doughty (Music)
  12. Stuart Pattison-White (Linguistics)
  13. Eugene Soo (Politics and International Studies)
  14. Adele Roeder
  15. Theo Purchase (Politics and International Studies, Criminology)
  16. Olivia de Aizpurua
  17. Rebekah Hopkins (Media Communications, Italian)
  18. Joseph Sadleir (Politics and International Studies)
  19. Lucy Beltrami (English and Theatre Studies)
  20. Finley Japp (English and Theatre Studies)
  21. Prudence Anderson (English and Theatre Studies, Art History)
  22. Molly Anders (Anthropology)
  23. Geordie Kidd (Linguistics)
  24. Erica Giudici (Chemistry)
  25. Grace Wake
  26. Hayley Marsh (Politics and International Studies, English and Theatre Studies)
  27. Isaac Heap (Politics and International Studies, Economics)
  28. Alessandro Rizzo (International Relations)
  29. Harriet Norman (History)
  30. Marlon Toner-McLachlan (Politics and International Studies)
  31. Thomas Devonshire (History, Politics and International Studies)
  32. Evelyn Garcia (Politics and International Studies, Linguistics)
  33. Mieke Crighton (Politics and International Studies)
  34. David Jeisman
  35. Priyanka Hannah Mudali
  36. Isabella Ioannidis (Criminology)
  37. Thomas Hofer (Politics and International Studies)
  38. Catherine Forge (Politics and International Studies, Media and Communications)
  39. Aimee (Psychology)
  40. Niamh McInerney (Politics and International Studies, Literature)
  41. Josh van de Ven (Linguistics)
  42. Sahana Selvendra
  43. Annie Cavenett (Politics and International Studies, Media and Communications)
  44. Cameron Proposch (Psychology, Politics and International Studies)
  45. Caitlyn Sproston (Politics and International Studies)
  46. Tyler Davey (Criminology, Politics and International Studies)
  47. Annabelle Bullock (English and Theatre Studies)
  48. Ildi Clemens (Politics and International Studies)
  49. Mia Ruddock (History)
  50. Alexander Bowering
  51. Aoibheann Mcconnon-Elvins (Media and Communications, Politics and International Studies)
  52. Arthue Duckworth (History)
  53. Tahlia Tannous (Politics and International Studies)
  54. Jocelyn Rowland
  55. Amelie Sims (Psychology)
  56. Lili Way (Neuroscience)
  57. Emma Giddens (Politics and International Studies)
  58. Ariel Zhang Yao Yong
  59. Mary (Psychology)
  60. Felix Clerk
  61. Ishara Tilakaratna (Politics and International Studies, Economics)
  62. Emma Elliott (History and Philosophy of Science)
  63. Sienna Pivetta
  64. Kayla Milliken, (Psychology, Criminology)
  65. Claudia Cunningham (Politics and International Studies)
  66. Tom Alessandrini (Politics and International Studies)
  67. Jasmine Michie (Politics and International Studies, Media and Communications)
  68. Alessandra Ward (Politics and International Studies)
  69. Sebastian Hugh (English and Theatre Studies)
  70. Melissa Hon
  71. Caitlyn Clark (Psychology)
  72. Shaun McMahon
  73. Brendon Henry (Politics and International Studies)
  74. Jesse McDougall (Psychology)
  75. Melissa Zi Yun Hon (Politics and International Studies)                                                                                              

 

 

Editor's Note: This open letter was originally sent to the recipients via email and has been published by Farrago with formatting edits for visual clarity. References to "Attachments" throughout the letter refer to attached files in the original email not republished here.

 
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