Earlier in February, Professor Ian Young announced his intention to leave university administration in 2016 at the end of his tenure as the ANU’s Vice Chancellor.
While VC at the ANU, Ian Young has undermined the ability of ANU staff to support each other as colleagues in their work at the university. His corporate restructures have produced uncertainty of tenure for academics and increased the casualization of the ANU’s teaching staff. The Chancelry have serially ignored complaints over systematic bullying and discrimination within the School of Politics and International Relations. Such complaints were exposed in a series of articles written by the Education Action Group’s Jason Andrews, and published in both Woroni and the Canberra Times. The Chancelry has refused to comment on the issue.
Ian Young’s track record as VC at Swinburne University mirrors his choices here. Just as at the ANU, he ruthlessly cut back department budgets and staff numbers, introducing fear and uncertainty for teachers and straining their abilities to educate their students.
Outside the ANU, Ian Young has been one of Australia’s loudest and most influential advocates for fee deregulation. As Chair of the Group of Eight, Young has campaigned long and hard for allowing universities to charge students whatever the ‘market’ dictates. Such campaigning was only marginally slowed when the Go8 directors realized that Christopher Pyne’s vandalism of the HECs/HELP system was much more than they’d bargained for. When confronted by students over their concerns about changes to university funding, Ian Young has been condescending and impassive. He has mostly refused to talk to students at all without the barriers of official process (the ANUSA President in Council) or the benefits of a press appearance around him.
More than anything else, Ian Young’s legacy at the ANU will be the gutting of the ANU Music School. This bleak moment in the ANU’s history revealed the arrogance of the university’s administration team. The Chancelry ignored concerns about the effects of the School’s partial closure held by academics, students and the wider community that the university serves. This closure not only broke one of the ANU’s most important connections to the Canberran community, but forced world-famous composers such as Larry Sitzky into leaving. Instead of a “world class” (to use Young’s jargon) musical college and performance venue, we can look forward to the new conference centre planned for Llewellyn Hall.
If all of this sounds like naïve leftie-posturing – where was the money going to come from? Isn’t efficiency important? – It’s also important to look at the effects Young’s changes have had, as well as what other options he explored first. Sure, efficiency is theoretically better than inefficiency, but only to the extent that your efficient process produces what you actually want. ‘Efficiencies’ like cutting back tutorials and sessional budgets for employing tutors have meant that lecturers are having more and more labour piled onto their plates, such as essay marking and tutorial preparation. This makes it harder for them to maintain teaching and research standards. If the teaching is worse, the research is rushed and the actual academics are stressed beyond use, exactly what has a strictly financial ‘efficiency’ gained us? Moreover, despite numerous opportunities to engage students in productive dialogue about how we could co-operate with the Chancelry to secure more money for universities, Ian Young has consistently shown disdain for the idea that voters might actually care about university education – something that the last 10 months have soundly disproved.
The EAG is happy to see the back of Ian Young. He has shown no interest in preserving what makes the ANU special among major Australian universities – its small, tight-knit community. However, we managed to rally together last year against Ian Young on fee deregulation; we showed Young, the Chancelry and the University Council the strength of our commitment to each other as a community of scholars, students and workers. If we have to, we’ll do it again.
Vale, Ian Young. All the best in your future endeavours. We definitely hope that you don’t disappear down one of those deep-sea oil wells you research so passionately.
Editor’s Note 19/08/2015: An earlier version of this article incorrectly implicated Jeffrey Karp in a series of allegations regarding a culture of bullying during his tenure at the School of Politics and International Relations. The article has since been amended to correct this. We apologise for this error.