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Massey University Senior Management Dysfunctional

Massey Management Sapped By Empty Positions And High Turnover


Senior management dysfunctional; staff alienated
Matt Russell
Chaff 3/3/06
Chaff is the Massey University Students Association Newspaper

The high turnover of key senior management staff is pointing to an increasing level of dysfunction in the power structures of Massey University. The continuing failure to fill the vacant positions or adequately consult staff on new appointments is also causing widespread disquiet throughout the University’s academic community.

Last week, Chaff revealed that Vice Chancellor Judith Kinnear is currently in negotiations regarding the contractual terms and conditions of her exit from the University. As no formal decision has been made on the termination of Professor Kinnear’s contract, her future at Massey remains uncertain.

A similar uncertainty is rife throughout the University’s senior management team.

There is growing controversy about the continuing failure to find a Pro Vice Chancellor for the College of Business. Business has been without a permanent head for eighteen months since its former chief, Keith White-Hunt, left the position in September 2004, less than a year after his appointment by Professor Kinnear.

An email sent to Business staff by Kinnear on 3 September 2004 claimed that his departure was “in order to allow him to become more personally involved in international business and academic opportunities and at the same time, to be more conveniently located for increased access to those members of his family still in the United Kingdom.”

However, it has since been widely publicised that White-Hunt left in the shadow of an unprecedented 84-0 (with seven abstentions) vote of no confidence by Business staff. A letter to White-Hunt sent by Business academics shortly before the vote of no confidence outlined their deep dissatisfaction due to the “lack of consultation”, a “management style marked by a confrontational approach”, and concerns that “there may be undisclosed agreements and appointments which have been made without due process being followed”.

According to senior Business academics approached by Chaff, White-Hunt had attempted to secretly negotiate a controversial teaching deal with a Hong Kong Polytechnic without informing either his staff, College Board or Academic Board. At the same time, White-Hunt was developing a plan for a major restructuring of the College without consulting his staff.

Professor White-Hunt continued to receive the support of the Vice Chancellor throughout his clashes with the College’s academics, and personal reasons are still the official explanation given for his departure by the University.

Since White-Hunt’s departure the University has proved unable to appoint his successor and the College of Business has been run part-time by Professor Barrie MacDonald, who combines this job with his now also part-time position as Pro Vice Chancellor of Humanities and Social Sciences.

A recent article in the 24 March National Business Review revealed that the latest attempt to replace White-Hunt was abandoned in late 2005 because of a lack of candidates judged acceptable by the Vice Chancellor. Chaff has since learnt that in coming to this judgement Professor Kinnear refused to accept the recommendations of both the College Board and the Appointments Committee. Her decision to unilaterally block the appointment has frustrated many within the College.

During this period it is understood that Massey may have lost the equivalent of some 300 full-time business students from its Palmerston North Campus alone.

The Business school has also been faced with the highest average student to staff ratios of 27:1 (equivalent to 216 undergraduates or 108 postgraduates per academic). This is comparative to the sector average in other New Zealand universities of 17:1.

The attempt to replace White-Hunt continues and in the meantime Massey’s two largest Colleges remain in the hands of a part-time manager. Moreover, problems with the staffing of senior positions extend even further into University.

Another unfilled position that is causing considerable concern among academic staff is the role of Assistant Vice Chancellor Academic. Having only filled the post for ten months, Professor Luanna Meyer resigned as AVC Academic in December 2004 and since then the position has been filled on a part-time basis by the Assistant Vice Chancellor Research, Professor Nigel Long.

Although the combination of these two roles has been explained by Massey as an interim measure until a new AVC Academic can be found, it has been rumoured that the Vice Chancellor and senior management are considering a major restructuring that permanently collapses the two positions into one appointment.

Chaff can confirm these rumours.

We have acquired a copy of the Extramural Students’ Society (EXMSS) monthly committee report to University Council. In this publicly available document, EXMSS President Liz Hawes notes that committee members have “expressed concern that we still do not have a leader for the College of Business, which has a high proportion of extramural students. Members fear that opportunities may be lost due to lack of leadership”.

The report then goes on to state that EXMSS members, “also expressed concerns at the prospect of combining the AVC-Research and AVC-Academic positions. Members could envisage a conflict of interest in combining the two roles, particularly in respect of teaching and research”.

Chaff attempted to contact the University Council Academic Board Representative for comment on these concerns. We were informed that the position was currently empty due to the retirement of Professor John Codd late last year.

We managed to contact Professor Codd at his home address, and asked for his comment on the combination of the two senior roles.

Professor Codd said that while he was not aware of any formal decision to combine the two positions, similar fears had been raised when he was on the Academic Board.

“During my time as Academic Representative on Council I saw an increasing tendency for important academic matters to be decided by management without being considered and debated by the Academic Board. Since AVC-Research is responsible for the approval processes for academic policies through Academic Board, it is highly disappointing to think that the role is being restructured without proper consultation with the Board.”

“Teaching and research are the core functions of the University and both require strong leadership. Merging these responsibilities in a single portfolio carries the risk of diminishing the importance of both as each position requires distinctive skills, knowledge and experience.”

Since last week’s story, a number of academics have approached Chaff to express concerns about what they describe as the weakening and increasingly ineffective leadership offered by Massey’s senior management.

There seems to be considerable disquiet about the office of AVC Research, focusing in particular on what one academic described as the “continuing fiasco” of the University’s management of the current Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) round. Given the growing importance of PBRF to the University’s status and finances, it was claimed, senior management’s response was “both bumbling and scandalous”.

Concerns about weakening leadership have been compounded by the failure to quickly appoint a new University Registrar. Since Adrienne Cleland left the position in late December last year, the Vice Chancellor has appointed Stuart Morris as acting Registrar and the position has yet to be advertised. An article in the Manawatu Standard 6 December last year quotes Professor Kinnear stating it could take up to twelve months to fill the position.

Meanwhile, Chaff has recently learnt that the Director of Human Resources, Sheryl Bryant, is to quit the University after only a year on the job.

ENDS

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