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An Inquiry into the “Business Improvement Plan” for the re-structuring of MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY

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  • An Inquiry into the “Business Improvement Plan” for the re-structuring of MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY

    Professor Gill H. Boehringer

    An Inquiry into the “Business Improvement Plan” (BIP)
    for the re-structuring of MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY
    A plan based on a $6.5 million consultancy from the USA firm Booz, international purveyor of “off the shelf” plans to the corporate and military sectors.

    Major impact of the BIP: 540 jobs to go; 1600 professional staff made to resign and re-apply for their own positions with re-designed job descriptions.

    Concluding Statement

    by Tribunal Panel member, Gill H. Boehringer
    former head, Macquarie University Law School

    April 2015

    In preparing for this Tribunal I have been reading, inter alia, analyses by a wide range of commentators on higher education such as Raewyn Connell, Marina Warner, Terry Eagleton, Thomas Docherty, Michael Bailey, Richard Hil. It is abundantly clear from their work that Universities have been negatively transformed during recent decades. Such change, always touted to be in the interest of flexibility, efficiency and accountability with mutually beneficial links to the corporate sector , appears to be a common phenomenon in many countries, not least in the Anglophonic “developed” countries such as Australia.

    From the material previously supplied to us, and from the presentations and discussions heard today about the implementation of the BIP here at University of Melbourne, one can only conclude that the implementation of the BIP has been one of the major, and barbaric, transformations in Australian higher education.

    However, as Connell has written in an article in the NTEU’s magazine, ADVOCATE, (November 2012) such transformations have been successful if viewed within the neo-liberal policy framework that is pervasive around the world today. That makes it clear what those of us who value universities for reasons other than their capacity to make money on the backs of exploited staff are up against: the global power of capital and the insane drive to instrumentalize our institutions of higher education (and of course, all other cultural institutions).

    The transformation of our universities, essentially from public institutions for the public good into what the great social historian E. P. Thompson referred to as “The Business University” (in Writing BY Candlelight, 1980); see also “Warwick University Ltd.”, 1971) for private interests, has been achieved against local struggles, but with relatively little effective, organized, resistance. The reasons for that are many and understandable in this age of individualism, hyper competition, fear and mistrust that are common elements in the University sector today.

    Of course, the Grandees who have overseen the projects of transformation, the Vice Chancellors (and their minions and collaborators) having become the CEOs of these intellectually narrowed financially driven enterprises, have benefitted enormously in salaries, perks and status in a society much admiring of money, entrepreneurialism and power over others.

    At the same time, the transformation has brought misery and a work life precariousness in a kind of Hobbesian world of endless surveillance and competition amongst co-workers- formerly colleagues- who, of course, have in the past given so much of themselves, both physically and mentally,to ensure that the university could function as a community. (See on the precariousness of workers under neo-liberalism, and much else, P. Bourdieu, Acts of Resistance: Against New Myths of Our Time, 1998).

    The organisers of this People’s Tribunal, apparently Australia’s first such venture, and those involved in today’s presentations and critiques have together set an audacious precedent: challenging and exposing the brutal and anti-human policies and practices adopted by the V. C., his administration, and what is clearly a complicit Council of the University of Melbourne. Indeed one could call it a conspiracy against the common good, especially if we consider the lack of transparency- no significant or effective consultation, no university-wide discussions as to the appropriate way forward for the University community together. Even a failure to make clear what the BIP contains.

    To their great credit, those who conceived of and mounted this People’s Tribunal have done so not because they have been directly affected by the BIP, but they did so to express their solidarity with their colleagues, the workers in the professional staff, the support staff who, at every university are most vulnerable, least rewarded and largely uncelebrated. As a result of the implementation of BIP and the cruel process it involved, these workers are being treated very shabbily indeed, to put it politely. What the VC and his cohort are doing is really a grave injustice.

    Would that other groups across the University sector, seeing what was being done to their colleagues, the agony of precariousness, the hidden- and not so hidden- injuries being suffered, had had the nous to institute a People’s Tribunal to aid in the resistance to the commodification and privatization of their universities.

    Now one can hope that others across the country, in universities but also in other workplaces and in local communities will emulate the Melbourne group, create more local People’s Tribunals as part of the people’s armoury in resisting the onslaught of neo-liberal policies and practices which are destroying those communities and subverting positive human relationships in the workplace.

    Such local People’s Tribunals, dealing with issues effecting people and communities across the country e.g. polluted rivers, fracking for CSG, destruction of public education, would be an important step in 1) developing a more united voice to people’s concerns for the future of the viability of the country and the future of their children, and 2) providing a public forum for the expression of what is a widespread and growing consciousness that the transformation being imposed on all of us (not the rich and powerful of course) by the wicked policies of neo-liberal globalizing elites must be halted, and then rolled back, and 3) a venue to build the kind of organized resistance which is needed.

    More than having just a hope, we must work to see that the challenge of effectively resisting what is being done to us is taken up, and I suggest that People’s Tribunals should become a common political intervention in the people’s political response to the systemic injustices of our contemporary existence. I believe that the Report of the proceedings and recommendations of this People’s Tribunal will make a significant contribution to that political work.

    More Gill H. Boehringer writings with Shortcut Links

    Last edited by Epsilon=One; 04-19-2018, 06:25 AM.