Monday, November 1, 2010

Running for UTAS University Council 2010

Running for UTAS University Council 2010

Why I am standing for election
The role of an elected council member
Difficulties of being a council member
Sitting Fees

Why I am standing for election
After careful consideration I have decided to contest this year’s UTAS Council Elections.

All the senior positions of the University Executive (Vice-Chancellor, the two Deputy Vice Chancellors and the Executive Director Finance) have only been recently filled. Whilst this new leadership team offers significant opportunities for renewal and invigoration it also requires a University Council with a full range of experience and capabilities.

I was a member of the University of Tasmania Council from 2003-2006. Reflecting upon that four year period I now have a better awareness of what the role of a Council member entails (especially during the initial period of a new Vice Chancellor) and would like the opportunity to contribute to the leadership of UTAS over the next 2 years.

My first period on Council was marked by a willingness to ask critical questions and to ensure that proper procedures and planning had been undertaken before final Council approval.

My academic speciality, the successful completion of the AICD Company Directors Course and interest in transparency and accountability equip me with a set of valuable skills to deal with issues of governance and oversight of the University Executive.

The role of an elected council member

The University of Tasmania Act Section 8 (3) states “A member of the Council is responsible and accountable to the Council rather than to any constituent body by which he or she was appointed or elected.”

This makes it difficult to campaign for election or to offer any particular platform because once elected I cannot represent any particular constituency.

What I did between 2003-2006 and can do even more effectively after that experience, is to play the role of an informed and critical participant. This involves a willingness to ask difficult and hard questions of management and sometimes simply ensuring that proper processes have been followed.

Difficulties of being a council member

Elected members face a degree of difficultly in performing this role.
The non-elected members are appointed for 4 years, and often reappointed, so their insider and corporate knowledge is generally more extensive than elected members.
Elected members don’t tend to be appointed to the major committees so their involvement in council activity is limited to the immediate period before the next Council meeting.

Generally the papers for a Council meeting only arrive 7 days before the meeting. These are a few centimeters thick and there is a tendency to present members with a variety of updates and extra papers (sometimes unimportant but often crucial) at the start of each meeting.

Most of the key members of Council have been involved in the preparation of key matters and decisions leading up to the meeting. This leaves elected members in the difficult position of having to master a wide variety of information quickly and often having their queries met with ‘that was discussed in the last Finance Committee meeting and that Committee was reassured….”

Often interventions or questions raised by elected members are placed in the context of “this decision needs to be made urgently and this …. (your question/concern) will cause (insert appropriate word – delay, terminate, cause unnecessary concern or yes a good point which we will ensure happens next time)….”

Most of the decisions by Council, associated paperwork and information, are confidential (especially prior to the meeting). See This imposes extra difficulties on elected members (and to a lesser degree appointed members) to work out what questions to ask and to determine whether the proposals are the best options or whether more information etc is needed.

During the period 2003-2006 the processes, procedures and information flow of Council improved dramatically. It is my understanding that these have further improved since that time. However the decision about sitting fees for Council Members (discussed below) is an example of why further improvement is needed.

I am ready and keen to once again be an effective member of the UTAS Council.

Sitting Fees

If elected my Dean has offered to direct any sitting fees to the University Foundation to support bursaries and/or scholarships.

I recently asked UTAS Legal and Governance about sitting fees for Council. The reply was:

“Yes there are payments to Council members now - but for the elected staff Council members the amount (2010 amounts are $12000 for members who are not on any committees, $18K if on a committee, cpi'd for 2011 onwards) is directed back to the budget centre from which the member comes, the idea being that it is compensation for the time for which Council duties take the staff member away from normal duties within the budget centre.

I understand that some staff members have managed to do deals with their budget centre as to where the money will be directed (eg Foundation) but that is up to the individuals.”

I asked the question because a NTEU FOI request, during the EBA process, revealed that in it’s December 2009 meeting the UTAS Council, after receiving a report from its Remuneration Committee, approved the payment of sitting fees. The existence and level of these fees (nor the accompanying report) has not been made public by the Council or by UTAS.

In my view it would have been better for the Council to ask for its legislation to be amended to allow the payment, and determine the level, of sitting fees.

The Remuneration Committee report (or discussion paper) and the decision of Council (and the level of fees) should have been made public.

1 comment:

Ponting said...

All of the details that you share about the University is useful to see and main thing about the four year period I now have a better awareness of what the role of a Council member,is great to read that they are doing remarkable job for the past of the time and mainly facilitating every one.A good platform for the students.
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