Trust Me

This page written circa 10 January, 2018.

There are programmes it is hard to watch. Especially when they are British, and there is a decent chance that there is no happy ending around the corner. They seem to have nice names like Utopia and Trust Me.

At work, the VC has ordered the dean to balance the EE books, meaning to make 4 of the 9 EE staff redundant. This might be an opportunity to remove staff who are inappropriate, but the quality of the outcome will depend upon who goes and who stays. The risk is that EE will be no fun for those remaining, irrespective of who stays. Even if all the remaining staff teach 3 papers each (that is about the limit that NZ employment precedent would permit given the existing custom and practice), there will be not quite enough manpower to cover sufficient undergraduate papers for an EE degree. I estimate we will be 1 paper short. It also means no 500-level papers are taught, so no taught masters degree. The 300- and 400-level, 20-point papers will disappear in 2019, and be replaced with 15-point papers in accordance with the curriculum enhancement project. Thus there will be more papers to convene, and so more teaching effort. EE may implode. Making 3 instead of 4 redundant would be workable if you wanted EE to survive, 2 if the promised masters students actually arrive.

If the staff that remain have the spread of skills, we might get Bill to teach ICs, and so cover all the EE undergraduate papers. A risk is that they will fire people based on research incomes rather than capacity to teach the EE degree.

A more global view of EE observes that in NZ and Aus the income for teaching EE students is too low to do the job properly; this leads to larger universities lowering entry standards to increase numbers, starving smaller university EE departments. This is the expectation garnered from conversations at the recent Engineering Education conference that I was attending when the announcement letters were sent out. Massey closes their Palmerston North school this year, some EE departments in NSW have already gone. Others switch to soft options such as Mechatronics or Power Electronics. Colleagues at Auckland found they were teaching classes of 1000, without anyone having warned them to expect a surge. This Antipodean crunch suggests that EE numbers will continue to slowly decrease at Waikato. We have known about this decline for some years. It might be mitigated by means of a schools program or advertising but such schemes were rejected by the previous administration and ignored by the current one. Auckland and Canterbury both advertise their engineering degrees here in Hamilton! Despite such interventions, Canterbury is struggling to hold up EE numbers. I am told they have chosen to cross subsidise.

Rumour has it that cross subsidies are not uncommon. Some years ago a certain Australian VC sought to close his EE school, but it was felt that the embarrassment of losing the discipline core to the largest companies in the world and responsible for the greatest corporate revenues of the 21st century might be hard to explain away. The national good and the university reputation superseded the university's bottom line. I look at that decision and I know where that VC's priorities lay. Had the decision gone the other way it would have been ``rm -r EE'', everything unlinked and gone by tomorrow, clean and quick. As Macbeth reasoned, if it is to be done, ``then 'twere well it were done quickly''. Here at Waikato, Physics was quietly squeezed to death over a couple of years, by progressive rationalisation.

Not a particular concern for EE, but the university is going about the redundancy process clumsily. Layoffs through which I lived in California were handled with dignity and honesty. Here the mantra is secrecy and a lack of respect. A recent story in the Waikato Times claimed that the ``university was in consultation with engineering staff''. This is clever spin or unjustified assumption that someone is handling the process properly; as of the day that letters were sent out to staff inviting volunteers for redundancy, the engineering staff being consulted were not the same staff as those under threat of layoff, none of whom had been consulted at all. This appears to be a clear violation of the employment agreement, so there will be some sort of fuss. Nevertheless, that alone is likely only to delay proceedings and further sully Waikato University's reputation in employment-law circles.

What has kept EE companies on their toes and made them economic power houses? Could be the willingness of EEs to jump ship when they don't get a good deal. The average EE does not work for a company in The Valley for even 3 years. If the company does not deliver, EEs move to one that does. This explains much of why it is hard for universities to recruit and retain EEs as staff. Trust Me, this may be The End of the Fucking World.

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