Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Education Faculty Update & How We Got Here

Monash University’s Education faculty has plans to jump ship before Monash University leaves Berwick.

On Tuesday 15 March, just over a week since Monash announced leaving the campus prior to the end of 2018, the Education faculty has asked students to gather for information sessions regarding the faculty’s “preferred option for Berwick Education courses and students”. Dean Professor John Loughran circulated an email on Thursday 10 March to Berwick Education students, noting there will be two sessions to “maximise student attendance”.

Surely Education’s Dean would know a large number of Berwick Education students are on placement, and that with such short notice, attendance would be minimal?

It’s hard to see it as an accident as they claim. The Education faculty revealed their intentions are to keep the Education cohort together and leave Berwick before the campus closure. This comes despite reassurance from both the faculty and Vice Chancellor a mere seven days ago that the only students that would be affected would be the first year intake of Education students.

There’s no official date set or specifics defined, but Dean Loughran said repeatedly that he’s keen to hear from students about what they want. It’s imperative that Berwick students participate in the consultation period to make sure it’s the best possible outcome given the circumstances. The consultation website is available here.

If Education leaves the Berwick campus, numbers will plummet and the ‘student experience’ that Vice Chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner AO is so concerned about, will only worsen for the 600 remaining students. Monash University has created a self-fulfilling prophecy that the Berwick Campus would not succeed through low enrolments and shifting units. The decisions by the University and the Education faculty to leave the campus will only enable this prophecy further, allowing the university to once again hide behind a set of numbers that they have created.

If there aren’t students on the campus, who could blame Monash for leaving the Berwick Campus?

As the president of MUBS 2014-2015, I’d like to shed some light on the broken promises and manipulation that has lead us to where we are now.

The Leader Newspaper revealed on Friday 11 March that La Trobe MP Jason Wood offered Monash University a form of ‘bail out’ on July 8 2015 in a meeting with the Monash Vice Chancellor.

This was the first time MUBS heard anything of this offering, despite the following communication with our federal member:
  • One face-to-face meeting on 28 April 2014, with no further communication despite numerous attempts
  • An email sent on 22 June 2015, regarding MUBS’ concerns for the future of the campus
  • A response on 23 June 2015, informing us that these concerns would be raised with the Education Minister as a priority
Funnily enough, this prompt response came after we named Mr Wood for his inaction in an article in the Pakenham Gazette in late May 2015 
  • A letter response regarding concerns over campus closure on 15 July 2015
The two-page letter was received a week after the date Mr Wood reported he met with Professor Gardner to offer help or a bail out. However, his ‘bail out’ offer was not mentioned at all in his letter. Here are some key quotes:
“I also remain absolutely determined to be a strong voice advocating in the best interests of the students concerned about the future of the Berwick campus.”
“I have also made representations directly to the Vice Chancellor of Monash University, Professor Margaret Gardner, with regards to the matter you have raised in your letter, specifically seeking that Monash University remain in Berwick.” 
I have two main issues with this supposed bail out: why hasn’t Mr Wood spread the news of his concrete offer to help, and why didn’t the Vice Chancellor ever mention that Monash University was offered this help? 

It wreaks of a cover up and it proves that Monash University has absolutely no interest in helping our region.

Monash University keeps wanting to distance itself from what they did in Gippsland, but their apathy towards students means that simply isn't possible. Putting students first just isn't in their make up, and this is even more evident for smaller campuses. It is certainly the feeling I’ve had in many meetings while sitting opposite smarmy executives smirking at me as I demanded to know the future of the Berwick campus.

Here’s a snippet of the minutes from a meeting on 17 June 2015, written by a university staff member:
“As negotiations are at an early stage, many details are still to be resolved but the Vice-Chancellor noted that immediate transfers to other campuses are not in prospect.   Monash students will complete Monash degrees and the current cohort will be taught by Monash staff and most likely be taught out at Berwick."
There’s a few things to note here. Apparently discussions for the future of the campus began in 2013. I daresay that negotiations weren’t “at an early stage”.

“Immediate transfers to other campuses are not in prospect”. So Education heard this, but decided to jump ship? Unlikely. I’m not sure why campus transfers were even mentioned, given how little control the Vice Chancellor seems to have over faculties and their choices.

Notice how this statement includes “most likely be taught out at Berwick” and how now this similar statement doesn’t include a location? I wonder how long they’ve known.

As recently as 21 October 2015, the Vice Chancellor confirmed they were still looking at options for the Berwick campus and confirmed there was no ‘deadline’ on Monash leaving Berwick.

Consistently, Professor Gardner committed to consultation before a proposal is finalised. At the announcement on Monday 7 March, she clarified the current consultation was purely for how the transition out of Berwick would be handled, not on whether it will happen or not.

I wonder how many times I sat across the table from both Professor Ed Byrne and Professor Margaret Gardner while they lied to my face and in turn, all Berwick students. I wonder how they manipulated information to make the student president from Berwick be quiet. From what I’ve seen, these two Vice Chancellors have not cared about Berwick students. Berwick students have been viewed as lesser than other students and have been tossed aside entirely now.

While Professor Byrne started the move out of Berwick, it is safe to say the Berwick Campus was doomed the day Professor Gardner stepped foot into the Vice Chancellors office. Professor Gardner came in with a clear agenda for which she has succeeded. She has failed Monash Berwick students and future generations of students in the south east. It seems her eyes are set on making Monash University even more of an elitist institution, churning out graduates and papers with little to no care for student experience.

Professor Gardner: If this all comes down to student experience as you say, don’t you think you should consider the impact your actions have on students? Covering them up as faculty decisions just isn’t good enough.

Remember Vice Chancellor, your actions speak far louder than your words. Your words have lost their authority and now mean nothing. Berwick students can’t and won’t trust you any longer. I hope the rest of the university’s students understand that when you say something, to take it with many grains of salt.

How long will it be before you and the University decide its place at Monash Peninsula is no longer viable? Despite reassurances from you the university is investing in the campus, we've seen that at Berwick before. Sadly I fear that staff and students at Peninsula may find their heads on the chopping block next.

Berwick students are left questioning every communication from the university regarding their futures. There’s no trust left. Students have said to me they’re telling their friends how disappointing Monash University is, given their supposed prestige and world-class service.

I said to a journalist in May 2015 that my main concern was that Monash University had already made their decision. The more I reflect, I can see I was correct.

I just hope those who worked hard to get into Monash Berwick will actually see their degrees delivered by Monash staff, unlike Berwick Arts students who have been taught by Federation University.

The legacy Monash University will leave behind in Berwick is one of broken promises, elitist Vice Chancellors and crumbled dreams.

Please view previous statements from MUBS President Tyrone Badar here and here.

Contact details:
Dani Rothwell
Past MUBS President
danirothwell@gmail.com
0414 472 106

Tyrone Badar
Current MUBS President
president@mubs.com.au
(03) 9904 7204

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