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May 3, 2015 | by  | in VUWSA |
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Yarn With Zwaan

The cost of silence

On Tuesday afternoon last week a lot of your money was pointlessly wasted.

Academic Board, the body legally responsible for ensuring the academic integrity and quality of this university, met to discuss, debate and approve a raft of proposals for new masters, programmes of study, changes to statutes and various other things.

Except there wasn’t really a discussion or debate. Instead 50-odd university academics, Provosts, Pro Vice Chancellors, heads of schools, other managers and staff filled in and sat quietly. During the meeting only a handful of people actually said anything. Student reps who spoke up passed on serious concerns with two 180-point engineering masters proposals which had been raised—but not addressed—by a previous meeting of Academic Committee.

Similar to question time in Parliament, the legitimate concerns were whitewashed by non-answers from those trying to push the proposals through. However, unlike Parliament, no standing orders were present to compel actual answers. Instead, the Convener of the meeting shut down any further questions when he felt like it was straying too close to an actual debate.

Rather, a vote was taken and a smattering of people supported the motion to endorse the proposals while we opposed them. The majority present stayed silent.

At the end of the meeting, academics approached us and quietly applauded us for the points we raised. While we very much appreciate the sentiment, it would be far better if they built up the courage to express it in the actual meeting rather than allowing the Board to approve the proposals without any rigorous test for academic quality.

The notes will reflect that the many who did not express an opinion supported the decision through their silence. However, last time I checked, silence doesn’t mean assent.

So what is the cost of this silence?

$2,700.00 alone if we conservatively assume the 50-odd university staff who sat in a room for two hours are paid the average New Zealand salary.

But the true material cost of such meetings is far higher when you account for the hours of preparatory work that go into the papers presented, let alone the people present actually reading the 255 pages of papers before the meeting.

However, more worrying, and harder to quantify, is the long-term material impact of our masters programmes being of questionable quality. The Academic Board needs to have genuine debate and discussion on such proposals and academics should partake—otherwise it’s a rather costly silent rubber stamp.

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