Posts Tagged ‘higher education’

Another note on academic decline.

datePosted on 15:48, February 2nd, 2021 by Pablo

Recently my partner and I were discussing the absence of collegiality in many contemporary academic departments. She is an academic and knowing my experience with a certain NZ university, she mentioned that it was perhaps best that I had left that profession, however under duress. Her point was that academic Taylorism (of which I have written about before on these pages) has now well and truly been entrenched in the halls of higher education, and that an old school professor like me would simply not survive in an atmosphere were students are “clients” with many rights and few responsibilities, pass/fail standards are dictated by managers rather than merit (e.g. a certain percentage–as high as 80 percent–of students must pass a course if it is to continue on the books), in-class discipline is non-existent (for example, with regard to use of cell phones and attendance), and even bibliographies and test questions are monitored and often dumbed down by bureaucrats who do not have degrees, much less higher degrees in the subjects in question (this actually happened to me before I departed the hallowed halls).

The precipitant for our discussion was two-fold: the breaking up of the Political Studies Department in my former employer and its dilution into a larger school that included dispersing political scientists throughout the campus. This removed any collegial centre of gravity, even a common room, for people who study politics and left them atomised and isolated in their far-flung offices. Sure, they can still communicate by phone and email or arrange to meet at a campus cafe, but the days of casually and spontaneously congregating for morning and afternoon tea is gone, which in turn removes the direct interpersonal discussions that often serve as catalysts for an exchange of ideas, intellectual collaboration and which underpin the very notion of “collegial” behaviour.

My partner’s employer chose to solve that problem, or perhaps did not even think of the situation at all, when it renovated the physical space in which she works into an open plan arrangement where people conduct their business in assigned small cubicles in a large airtight room. Although intellectual labour can be done anywhere (for me the best time to mull over ideas and plan classes was while running), the employer expects the academic staff to be on campus as much as possible and requires people to take annual leave if working from elsewhere (beyond the mandatory holiday leave already on the books). That forces people onto campus even if they do not have classes, meetings or student office hours. The problem is that office time in academia is a mix of bureaucratic paper-shuffling and make-work for managers, some writing or reading, some grading and marking, lots of emailing, some supervision meetings with students, regular administrative meetings of various sorts (also known as gab fests), and way too much student counselling by people who have no training in mental health or any other sort of counselling (i.e., since when is a Ph.D. in Political Science a license to counsel students on personal matters? And yet that is an expected part of the job).

That makes the open-plan arrangement a bit fraught because there is little privacy afforded by the scheme and the ambient noise levels generated by 30 or more people conducting business at the same time makes it very difficult to actually get any constructive work done. But since the managers who order the renovations conduct their business from the privacy of individual offices and do little if any face to face counselling of younger people or intellectual work, that is not their problem. I have a feeling that it will be after the new look is put into practice.

As I said before, I have previously written on KP about the pernicious affects of academic Fordism and Taylorism, so there is no point in beating that dead horse. But the discussion with my partner brought up what is one of the most embarrassing professional memories of my days in academia, which upon reflection points to a long-term downward trend in the quality of political science education in this country.

Let me explain. When I arrived in NZ in 1997 I was sold a bill of goods that my new employer was akin to “the Harvard of the South Pacific” or some such nonsense. As a University of Chicago alumni that was familiar with Australian universities, that claim did not impress me but I knew what the recruiters were trying to convey. And indeed, in those days most of the political science staff had degrees from elite, first tier institutions in Europe, North America and Australia. This led to a proliferation of older white male academics trained at such places, although by the time I arrived women had been successfully incorporated into the department and much of the post-colonial mindset was removed from it. During the 1990s Asians and Maori were brought in as well, a trend that continued while I was there.

The university was ranked about 100 positions above what it is today and the Political Studies department was actually ranked in the top 50 Political Science departments world-wide. I was hired to teach and research on civil-military relations and interest groups (in my case, labour unions) as well as Latin American Studies as part of a proposed expansion of area studies and political science offerings. For a brief while, that seemed to be a viable plan.

But academic managerialism soon struck in the form of a new VC. From then on it was a slippery slope or rush to the bottom to put “bums in seats” in order to secure EFT (Equivalent Full Time) funding. Managers began to interfere with what used to be purely departmental and classroom decisions. Research funding contacted and was subject to generic competitive models that did not account for disciplinary specificity. The union-busting project against the house collective bargaining agent for staff began in earnest and accelerated thereafter. People with research and teaching talent began to leave and boot-licking academic driftwood began to pile up. Promotion and tenure decisions were revised so that quantity rather than quality of research output and publication became key criteria for advancement.

This led to a rush towards “crony collaborations” in which academic friends produce edited collections in local or profit-oriented publication outlets and publish articles in journals edited by each other, without the scrutiny normally undergone by the peer-review process required by internationally-recognised publishers (say, in my discipline, World Politics, International Security or the International Political Science Review or Cambridge or Princeton University Presses). What used to be the norm when it came to research output rapidly became the exception to the “quantity over quality” rule ( I got a taste of this when I was advised to list my editorials and media appearances on the contrived and biased PBRF reviews required to justify departmental funding).

Towards the end of my tenure and afterwards, newer hires were increasingly recruited from non-elite graduate programs and paid at comparatively lower levels than during my first years in residence. Their PR and self-marketing skills became as or more important as their contributions to original research in the discipline. The employer demanded that courses generate a profit and, once the STEM disease set in, that they prove relevant to the Science, Technology, Economics and Management priorities of the tertiary funding model. “Non-profitable” departments like Classics or Indonesian Studies were soon eliminated.

Fees-paying foreign student enrolments increased under diminished admission standards. Existing degree requirements were lowered and “certificate,” “diploma” and other types of shallow qualification study programs proliferated. Flash buildings were built and more acquired (including a former brewery and a mansion for the VC), non-academic middle managers (many in PR) were hired by the bucketful and academic staff were told to limit photocopying, ration A4 paper and assume more administrative duties previously done by secretaries. Besides turning Ph.D.’s into clerical workers, among other things this move to “corporatise” academia along profit-oriented lines prompted PR flak-inspired suggestions in my former department that the Introduction to International Relations course for first year students be re-named “War and Peace” and that my course on Revolutions be renamed to have “9/11” in the title.

The larger point is that academic managerialism has destroyed the very concept of the academy, which if anything should be one of the last refuges from the profit motive because it rewards discipline and merit as it imparts knowledge, both conformative and transgressive, for knowledge’s or humanity’s sake rather than for money.

As the Taylorist pathogen took hold, more of the good people in the department left or retired. I was asked why I stayed and in my naivety I simply answered that it was about lifestyle and personal relationships. My partner and I had met in the late 1990s and were getting more serious, and my lifestyle out on the west flank of the Waitakere Ranges was ideal for my purposes at the time. Under an pre-existing research leave policy that was covered by my original contract I did take a couple of semester-long research leaves during those first ten years, once to the University of California San Diego and the other to the Portuguese Institute of International and Strategic Studies. Then the old research leave policy was terminated, and shortly after that, I was as well.

Before that happened, this did: In 2006 I was contacted by Guillermo O’Donnell, arguably the most famous Latin American political scientist of his generation, if not of all time. Don Guillermo, as I called him our of formal respect, was a mentor of mine from my Ph.D. days at Chicago. Along with Adam Przeworski, Philippe Schmitter and Lloyd Rudolph, he sat as an ex officio member of my Ph.D. dissertation committee. He took an interest in me because I was raised in Argentina, had participated in some political action and done human rights work there and was writing a dissertation on the Argentine State. He found it intriguing that an American guy was “so Argentine” down to my Buenos Aires accent and attitude. Later on, when he was Director of the Kellogg Institute of International Studies at the University of Notre Dame, I was awarded a residential research fellowship there in order to help finish a book I was writing at the time. Although he remained as a mentor, we became friends.

Many years later my future spouse got her Ph.D. in Political Science from Notre Dame and herself was a student of Don Guillermo even though her speciality is in European Politics and Political Economy. But like so many people trained at elite institutions, she well knew back then that exposure to a wide array of ideas and views is what makes for a good scholar, so she gravitated to him while studying there.

I mention this because in 2006 he and his wife–a sociologist who had been a colleague of mine at the Centre for the Study of State and Society in Buenos Aires in the early 1980s and later at Notre Dame in the late 1980s–were on a Ford Foundation-sponsored world tour that included lectures at several Australian universities. They contacted me to say that they would love to visit my partner and I in NZ and that all they needed was an invitation from an academic institution to do so. The Ford Foundation would pay all costs. They were particularly keen to come because Don Guillermo was an avid rugby fan and lifelong supporter of the Pumas and an admirer of the All Blacks.

In spite being given O’Donnell’s resume and biography, my department Head at the time (specifically appointed by the managerialist regime over better-qualified people)) refused to write the invitation letter. He claimed to not even recognise who O’Donnell was and did not care that the department would not have to put any money into inviting him (this Head was appointed by a very recently departed VC and his then political science minion/Dean of the Arts Faculty, who remains in a high managerial position to this day). By that time the managerial stamp had been imposed on the department, including shoulder-tapping recruitment attempts and mid-level bureaucrats from the Arts faculty sitting in on staff meetings as monitors of what was being said and done.

Chastened by the lack of collegiality and professional courtesy, I arranged to invite them as guests of the Latin American Studies Centre because even though the Latin Americanists at the Centre were not social scientists, they knew who he was (the O’Donnell family in Argentina are prominent in the arts and politics so it is a well-recognised name).

O’Donnell and his wife arrived and enjoyed their stay with us. As part of that stay, I organised an informal talk and meet-and-greet between him and my Political Studies colleagues in the then-departmental staff room. Nothing major, but a chance for the academic staff and students to interact with an actual luminary in political science (among other things, O’Donnell coined the phrase “bureaucratic authoritarianism” to describe a specific form of late 20th century capitalist dictatorship). I publicised the event across campus in student and university publications and email networks. I put up posters and spread the news by word of mouth.

When the day came, it was a debacle. I paid for the sandwiches, wine, cheese and crackers out of pocket and figured on 30 people attending. Instead, about six of my students, two of my Latin American Studies colleagues and just a single Political Studies academic staff member attended. Just one. With my partner, I and the O’Donnells, there were around a dozen people there at 4PM on a mid-week afternoon.

Maybe the time was not right and people needed to rush home or were in class. Perhaps the academics were working on Nobel Prize-level research projects. But I think not because when I asked several of them over the next days the majority stated that they did not know who he was, or he did not do what they are interested in (that from political theorists), or they were simply busy. Neither the Head or Deputy Head, both of whom ostensibly worked in the field of comparative politics, deigned to attend.

O’Donnell was gracious but perplexed by the slight. In Australia his lectures had hundreds of people in attendance. In Europe and Latin America large halls needed to be used to handle the SRO crowds. In North America his university appearances were sold-out celebrity events. In NZ, he was a nobody. He found that to be oddly ingratiating mostly because although provincial in the extreme it allowed him to relax when in the public space in measure that he was not used to. He got to visit the NZRU officess as a walk-in after getting out of a taxi.

I relate this anecdote because it shows that the decline in academic quality, at least in Political Studies at one university, began when academic managerialism took root in that university. Although there are always exceptions to this trend, the rot has now spread to other universities and runs deep into the academic fabric throughout the country. Entire “academic” programs are built around the Taylorist money-making model (I mean really, how many terrorism and/or conflict studies programs does one small country need and what the heck are non-disciplinary “autoethnographic”-based graduate degrees?). What was then, is now even more so.

It is time to call things for that they are in NZ today: the profit-driven managerial destruction of academic institutions as independent bastions of impartial truth and objective and subjective knowledge dissemination. Under the current tertiary sector leadership and mindset, I doubt that the impact of the pandemic will make things better.

In fact, it could make things worse because the push towards so-called “E-Learning” (video conference lectures and seminars) while continuing to charge the same fees will lead (as it already has) to further reductions in the physical infrastructures required for in-person teaching and promote bigger enrolments in Zoom-like settings (rather than actual classrooms or lecture theatres) where the spontaneous inter-personal dynamic between instructor and students is all but nullified. Although small group seminars can be accommodated by video (“webinars”), I know of no academic who enjoys video conferencing big class lectures, other than those who hate students anyway. Most students do not bother to attend these type of sessions and instead look for on-line power point and lecture notes with an eye towards exams rather than understanding of the subject. Of those who do attend, few engage with the lecturer. Because marking is increasingly done on-line using standardised forms, teachers reduce the amount of essay writing involved in course assignments and instead offer simplified examination options more akin to those in high school. Adding more and more foreign students with limited English language abilities into that mix compounds the problem (should they return once the pandemic is controlled). And so on.

None of this augurs well for the quality of New Zealand university education in the years to come, especially in the social sciences and arts (which are the red-headed stepchildren in the STEM tertiary education model). It therefore behooves those who are responsible for the tertiary sector to understand that the moment provided by the pandemic is also a moment to pause and reconsider the merits and demerits of Taylorist and Fordist approaches to academic endeavour in light of a very mixed twenty year’s experience with those approaches. Only then can moves me made that allow NZ to regain its prior reputation for offering high quality academic degrees and quality research that are competitive on the world stage.

The Road to Academic Taylorism.

datePosted on 20:57, March 11th, 2011 by Pablo

The labour dispute involving the University of Auckland and the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) is the culmination of more than a decade of escalating conflict between the university management and its employees that began during the tenure of former Vice Chancellor John Hood. If Hood, who was VC from 1998 to 2004, was a scalpel designed to eviscerate the union, then his successor Stuart McCutcheon is a sledgehammer focused on bludgeoning the staff into submission. The root of both VC’s hostility to the union lies in their adherence to the so-called “new management” theories that are popular in the private sector (Hood had no academic background prior to his appointment, while McCutcheon was a physiologist prior to being appointed Head of the Department of Animal Sciences at Massey University before holding higher administration positions at that university and later VC of Victoria University). Before arriving at Auckland both men cultivated reputations for being anti-union and ruthless when it came to staff cuts in pursuit of cost savings.

The application of “new management” techniques is nothing more than corporate-speak for imposing modern Taylorist practices on the academe (On Taylorism, see here). The idea is to turn all staff into regulated production units with as little independence and autonomy as possible, in a system where they discharge responsibilities allocated them by the non-academic central management (which has grown significantly at Auckland while the teaching staff has diminished), and in which their “output” is evaluated on spreadsheets and so-called performance based reviews (PBRFs) administered by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) rather than by disciplinary peer reviewers. In this scheme Deans, Associate Deans and department heads become “line managers” for the VC rather than as representatives of their faculties or departments, and staff are made to log in their hours, leave time and generally operate as if they were on an assembly line or phone bank service centre. The primary goal of academic Taylorism is to generate revenue by securing research funding, increasing full time (and increasingly foreign) student enrollments (EFTS) while maintaining or cutting staff levels (thereby increasing staff workloads), and making the university more “corporate-friendly” by encouraging business-related disciplines while eliminating those that are not. Under these schemes, the bottom line of the university is no longer to serve as critic and conscience of society and as a generator of creative talent and broad-based knowledge. It is to pursue the bottom line.

As a result, quality of education and scholarly contribution have now given way as the basis for individual and collective advancement and recognition to quantity of enrollments and research outputs regardless of merit. Be it in admitting unqualified foreign students, lowering academic standards to increase passing rates, publishing shallow edited volumes based upon academic crony conferences or listing magazine articles and media commentary as evidence of “research,” the university has forsaken its charter.

The problem is that the “new management” approach has no understanding of the intellectual enterprise or the nature of academic life. Ideas are not merely “outputs” and are not generated in a cubicle farm setting. New ideas and the resolution of complex problems can be generated on a bus, or during a long run on a beach, or over a cup of coffee while gazing out the window at some pretty greenery. Lectures are not merely a means of conveying power point presentations. Intellectual worth is not reducible to its profit-making potential, and intellectual life is more than being at the service of business or focused on technical disciplines with commodified economic worth. Some creative ventures or disciplines, say modern dance or the Classics, are important not because of their money-making capabilities but because they are expressions and reaffirmations of the human spirit in all of its manifestations. That is what universities are for, and that cannot be quantified on a time clock or spreadsheet.

Because of this, the University of Auckland management and its staff have been locked in a morale-sapping struggle over the future of the university. While Mr. Hood approached the union (then known as AUS) in an adversarial manner, he was at least fairly transparent about his intentions and appeared to understand that there were limits to the imposition of Taylorist practices on academic life. Mr. McCutcheon and his senior team, on the other hand, have adopted an overtly hostile scorched earth approach to the academic staff and union, a stance that has seen management engage in extremely dubious and highly unethical practices such as the falsification and destruction of documents, the intimidation, constructive and unjustified dismissal of staff, and the litigation rather than mediation of employment disputes using vast sums of taxpayer funding to pay corporate legal defense fees (from Simpson-Grierson) and PR representation. The Human Resources department and individuals such as John Morrow (Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), who was brought by McCutcheon with him from Victoria), are notorious for their bullying and stand-over tactics, using techniques that often times would amount to serious misconduct and border on criminal behaviour if done by anyone else (note that I am only referring here to a limited range of questionable practices and have not delved into issues regarding management relationship with foreign governments that supply students, senior staff travel expenditures and personal misconduct that goes unpunished).

The reason why the Auckland University management has adopted this approach is three-fold: first, because its intention is to destroy the union, pure and simple. Second, because under the current employment climate and labor legislation, it can do so with impunity. And third, because the tertiary sector union has allowed it to do so by adopting mistaken and now possibly terminal negotiating strategies in the past.

Under the leadership of Helen Kelly, the then AUS preferred to emphasise wage increases in the face of inflation rather than working conditions and academic integrity and autonomy. Year after year the sole focus of union negotiators was on wages, for which the union was willing to incrementally give away staff prerogatives when it came to teaching loads, recruitment and retention, and even the elimination of entire disciplines (such as Russian and Indonesian language instruction). The problem with this strategy was first, it elicited little sympathy from the wider public because as things stand people believe that academics are overpaid and under-worked relative to the “real” world (when I left the university my salary was over NZ$102,000 as a Senior Lecturer 5, so I can see how the public would think that). Secondly, because the union only represents thirty-odd percent of the academic staff (the overall percentage of organized university staff increased after 2009 with amalgamation of the AUS and the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE), which covers university administrative staff, but still does not cover the majority of academic staff), the university management could undercut union negotiations by offering separate wage packages to unorganised staff on individual contracts, thereby forcing the union to eventually relent and accept the same deal as the unorganised staff in exchange for the university retaining the collective contract governing other aspects of the employment relationship not subject–yet–to managerial discretion. This process of stalled negotiations, threatened industrial action and on several occasions strikes themselves did not hinder management’s steady, yearly erosion of the basic terms of employment.

In fact, rather than trade wage restraint for a halt to managerial intrusions into workplace autonomy and research and teaching independence, the union stubbornly clung to the wage/inflation parity fixation. By the mid 2000s, every year it wound up settling for the wages unorganised staff had agreed to and slowly but steadily found itself subject to increased management control of basic working conditions regardless of the specifics of the academic discipline or the nature of research involved. As Taylor would have had it, academic synthesizing was in play.

Ms. Kelley’s mistake was that she sought to preserve the union’s agency by trading incremental wage gains for non-wage concessions when confronting an opponent that was most interested in destroying the union. This was evident in her approach to forced redundancies and constructive or unjustified dismissals, which was to seek monetary settlement rather than go to court even if this meant the end of the union member’s academic career. Since the university has money to burn for such things, this approach played neatly into its hands.

And so it happens that this year McCutcheon and his wrecking crew minions have made their boldest move. After gradually tightening leave requirements, increasing on-site hours and teaching and research (make) workloads, adding administrative chores (such as the endless paperwork associated with the PBRF and Annual Performance Reviews) loosening burden of proof standards in employment disputes and restricting opportunities for academic staff to work off-campus without penalty, the university has proposed to eliminate research and study leave and have disciplinary matters removed from from the collective contract (research leave is now guaranteed for one semester every three years subject to the submission of a viable research proposal estimating costs, itineraries etc., and disciplinary procedures–which have been repeatedly breached by the management anyway–are outlined in the collective contract) as well as remove a number of clauses in the contract governing the non-wage employment conditions of the staff (these include ongoing changes to promotion criteria and guidelines that make it easier for managers to deny or confirm promotions based on on non-standardised assessment measures). In exchange, the university has offered an increase in annual leave from four to five weeks for all staff along with a four percent pay increase. McCutcheon’s attitude is clear, as he has stated to the press that he believes that universities should not be encumbered by employment agreements that constrain management’s ability to dictate policy. Taylor would be proud.

Unlike Ms. Kelly, the new TEU president, Sandra Grey, is an academic who knows the inside of a classroom and the research requirements inherent in academic employment. Finally realizing the real stakes involved, the TEU has responded by asking Auckland members to refuse to engage in the annual PBRF exercises that help determine the amount of research funding that the university receives from the government. The PBRF, which is a glorious time and energy-consuming make-work exercise introduced the early 2000s as part of the new managerial approach to research funding, is considered to be the holy grail for the management bean counters in the Clock Tower and VC’s office, so naturally enough McCutcheon has shown his bully self by threatening that any reductions in PBRF funding caused by staff refusal to perform the exercise could result in dismissals (ignoring the fact that staff numbers are below those of the pre-PBRF days and that enrollments are up, which means that he would have to reduce course offerings and turn away students in the measure that he fires lecturers, or at a minimum replace them with less-qualified personnel). The union has responded with a PR and media campaign and promised more direct action if the VC’s proposal is not withdrawn. At the moment both sides are at an impasse. Truth be told, in the contemporary economic, political and social climate and given its member numbers as a percentage of the overall academic workforce, this is a very risky act of TEU brinkmanship.

It will be interesting to see what will happen if this confrontation continues. But one thing is sure: this is the TEU’s last stand in Auckland. If it loses this battle then it will be destroyed as a credible agent for the interests of the Auckland University staff. And once that domino has fallen, it will not be long before management in other NZ universities will follow suit and adopt the sledgehammer approach towards union branch-busting in the pursuit of academic Taylorism. At that point the notion of “the academe” will have ceased to exist in New Zealand.

PS: Less you think I am off track, check this out from someone who still works at Auckland University  (hence the diplomatic and deferential tone).

Plagarism and Double Standards.

datePosted on 19:07, November 21st, 2009 by Pablo

I was not going to post on the Witi Ihimaera plagarism scandal, having commented under my own name on another blog that covered the matter. But as I compare my summary dismissal for writing a rude email to an unqualified and underperforming student with the lack of even a cursory reprimand for his theft of intellectual property, and then find out that apparently it is not the first time that Mr. Ihimaera has appropriated someone else’s work as his own, I find myself wondering if indeed there is a double standard at play when it comes to our respective treatment by my former employer. Let me explain why, but first point to the one consistency in the handling of both cases.

The University has, as part of its collective contract with the union representing academic staff, a series of procedures and regulations that have to be followed before an academic staff member can be dismissed for serious misconduct. This includes receiving a formal complaint detailing the misconduct, attempting to mediate the matter using the offices of the Ombudsman, handling the matter within the department, issuing two formal written warnings before dismissal is sought…the requirements are pretty detailed and in fact were made even more so after my dismissal precisely because of the controversy surrounding it. Perhaps Mr. Ihimaera is not a member of the union so other procedures were followed, but that usually mitigates against favorable resolution for the employee.

In my case none of the internal procedures were honoured other than as a facade. No formal written complaint was ever made against me, but without getting my side of the story the Ombuds(person) immediately brought the issue to the attention of my department HOD, who without saying a word to me passed it on to the Dean, who after consulting with the student as to what should be done held a series of brief meetings with me and a union rep in which he shrugged off my apologies and assurances, ignored the fact I had no prior formal warnings, and sent me packing. In fact, he and his HR advisors attempted to use a couple of unrelated events from the past (an argument with a former HOD about managerial practices and an email disagreement with a colleague about a grad student who failed to attend a class) to argue that prior warnings had been given. Those were later found to be irrelevant by the ERA.

In Mr. Ihimaera’s case it appears that, upon hearing that news of the plagarism was about to go public, the University rapidly pushed through an “investigation” of the matter apparently involving his HOD, the new Dean of Arts (who was not the Dean the fired me) and Mr. Ihimaera. No disciplinary board with colleagues outside of the HoD and Dean was apparently convened. Mr. Itimaera  gave apologies and assurances, and the case was closed.

What is consistent in both cases is that the lengthy rules and procedures for handling discipline cases involving academics were circumvented, in his case favourably to him and in my case not. This galls me not because I think that Mr. Ihimaera should be fired–I do not, and think that both of us should have received a final written reprimand about our respective transgressions–but because the University argued that I was fired because of the damage I did to its reputation. This line of argument continued after the dismissal was found to be unjustified, then into the settlement agreement by which formal reinstatement meant no actual reinstatement. But what about my reputation? Not only did the leaked email wind up on the front page of the national newspaper and then went global, but the University did nothing to prevent its release or demand its withdrawal when a student newspaper under its authority first published it (even though leaking the email was a violation of the email policy under which I was ostensibly fired). Moreover, the University knew well what the impact of the dismissal would be. As the Dean who fired me said to the ERA, “in a reputation-based business like academia, summary dismissal essentially means the end of a career.” In my case that seems to be proving true, and perhaps it was that knowledge that made for lighter treatment for Mr. Ihimaera–but I suspect not, simply because his association with academia was one of mutual convenience rather than professional necessity.

My major question is, if what I did was so injurious to the University reputation, what about Mr. Ihimaera’s plagarism? Plagarism is the single worst thing that an academic can do. Working in a genre such as historical fiction does not excuse the lifting of other’s words. Plus, being housed within an academic institution means adhering to its requirements on original work, so he was, in fact, more duty bound than independent writers in that regard. Students get failed and often expelled for plagarism. Academic staff get demoted or fired for plagarism. And Mr Ihimaera did not even merit a reprimand? Now, it seems that the case gets worse, as others have come forth to claim that Mr. Ihimaera has plagarised in his previous work. If so, and if the University knew about those previous incidents, then its absolution of the latest episode is even more alarming.

The University and Mr. Ihimaera say that his plagarism was “inadvertent” and thus excusable. Even if that were true–and it stretches credulity to think that a famous author would not know the difference between his own words and sentence structure and those of others– standard guidelines on plagarism, including those specifically used and distributed by the University to students and staff, state that inadvertent or unknowing plagarism is no excuse for it. It is the author’s responsibility to ensure his/her work is original and properly cited, and the crosses all academic fields and intellectual genres.

Some have claimed that because Mr. Ihimaera is Maori, famous and gay, he got off lightly. I initially thought that was ludicrous and that there were other mitigating circumstances at play. But the more I learn about the case and think about the differences in our treatment, the more I wonder as to why those differences. Certainly universal institutional standards need to be upheld over and above the specific identity and interests of any individual. That is what the University claimed in my case. Yet, was what I did worse than plagarism? Did my email to an individual student cause more damage to the University than the discovery by a book reviewer in a national magazine of the as of then unattributed passages in Mr. Ihimaera’s latest book? How can he not even receive a reprimand, and how can the University claim that in both cases its standard rules and procedures were followed to the letter?

The real shame is that it is not my actions or Mr. Ihimaera’s that have tainted the reputation of the University. Instead, it is playing loose with the rules and attempts to “spin” both stories in a way that gives the illusion of procedures being properly followed that sullies the brand. That has a negative impact not only on the managerial cadre that are the perpetrators of the double standard but also the staff, alumni, current and prospective students who share association with the University name. Yet, instead of being ashamed and contrite, University managers continue to obfuscate and bluster, refusing to reveal how their “investigation” of the Ihimaera case was conducted citing privacy concerns (concerns they were not so concerned about when my email went public).  It appears that management are blissfully unaware that the ship is sinking beneath them or else are confident that no matter what they do, they will not be held to account by anyone other than themselves. Since the taxpayers ultimately pay the salaries of all involved, that should be a matter of public interest.