ACU Senate: Don't make staff pay for ACU's overspending

To The Chancellor, The Hon. Martin Daubney AM KC and the members of the Senate of the Australian Catholic University

This petition of members of the Australian Catholic University and other interested parties draws to the attention of the Senate that:

Disruption, uncertainty, and job cuts have come to characterise ACU under the leadership of Vice-Chancellor Zlatko Skrbis. Since he was installed, ACU completed 31 change plans (2021-23) and has proposed a further 3 change plans spanning the breadth of the university. The latest changes seek to cut an estimated 150 full time equivalent jobs and follow the loss of more than 80 staff including voluntary and involuntary redundancies (May-July 2023). In addition, the Vic-Chancellor’s Advisory Committee has approved the suspension of undisclosed numbers of courses that were marketed to students at Open Days across all campuses and are currently accepting enrolments.

Staff have been told that the proposed changes are explicitly motivated by the $38 million deficit forecast for ACU in 2023, the further deficits predicted in 2024 and 2025 of approximately $24 million each year (reported to the Staff Consultative Committee 24/8/2023) and reflecting the $8 million deficit from 2022 (from the Financial Statement). However, we note that ACU surpluses were reported to staff in the Recovery Budget as $10.5 million in 2020 and $22.3 million in 2021 (actually: $45 million in 2019 and $31.4 million in 2020 as reported in the Annual Reports, and the audited Financial Statement to $47.3 million in 2021) which means ACU should be well-placed to weather the current financial situation if the Vice-Chancellor and senior management could be relied on to manage a budget.

Even if the financial circumstances were dire, it is impossible to understand how job cuts (and the immediate financial implications of these) will address the financial challenges. Rather, the latest iteration of change proposals, atop an intensive period of staff reduction, now puts the university’s ability to offer quality degrees, conduct research and research training, and engage with community and industry at risk. In addition, this management-created crisis causes stress and distress for staff and students, undermines the confidence in and capacity of our institution, and increases already excessive workloads.

In addition to management’s failure to properly manage finances, senior management cannot accurately describe the work of academics at ACU. Their academic workload model documents both extensive use of excess (and unpaid) work and also fails to capture huge amounts of core and invisible work. Nonetheless, they cut jobs in 2023, the unforeseen consequences of which have included reduced course offerings and accompanied a massive move of units online despite explicit desires of students to learn in face-to-face settings, and a significant shift of administrative work to (hidden) academic workload adding to excess workloads. 

Taken together, we speculate that it is as if, too wary of the challenges of bringing managerial expenditure under control, this university’s leadership prefer to just not run a university of this size and capacity.
We call on the University Senate to compel the senior management of ACU to:

  • Be accountable for excess spending and not use job cuts as a solution to budget mismanagement; 
  • Ensure ACU has an accurate workload model that guarantees delivery of core ACU work (e.g., all teaching and supervision supported and delivered, research and engagement targets met);
  • Protect the future of ACU by demonstrating Mission-aligned leadership.

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