Planning ahead

Published: Wednesday 11th January 2017

A message from Canberra Campus Dean Associate Professor Patrick McArdle: As 2017 unfolds – just prior to getting into a gallop – it is time for some planning. No doubt many have made New Year resolutions, some will already have dispensed with some of these resolutions. Planning for 2017 requires a little glance to the past prior to developing steps for this year.

For the University this year brings much of the same: further capital works on each Campus, increasing work on cementing our burgeoning research record, appropriately balancing the tensions inherent in our matrix structures. Above all it means continuing to serve our respective communities, principally our students, with all the resources at our disposal. It is very clear that there is a symbiotic relationship between universities and their students but at ACU it is more than a mutually agreeable and mutually beneficial relationship. Here we seek to transform lives – those of our students and staff directly and, through them, the wider communities in which they will work.

In 2017 we will articulate our brand in new and innovative ways – the results of the work undertaken thus far indicate that we will be not so much projecting an aspiration of some future utopian image of ACU but rather reflecting to others who we already believe ourselves to be and then inviting others to join us on a journey.

At the end of last year in a reflection on Christmas for the Signadou community, I made the following comments:

Pope Francis designated 2016 a Jubilee of Mercy to bring greater recognition of our universal need for mercy and to encourage each of us to be more merciful. Throughout the year Pope Francis continually drew parallels between our technological prowess and economic success and increasing levels of sadness, loneliness, depression and despair in our world.  He is neither a luddite nor a wowser, but is contrasting these too often lauded measures of accomplishment with what are the true hallmarks of human excellence – our capacity for generosity, celebration and compassion. These are not only witnessed in the actions of each of us when we rise above the demands of work and making a living, they are embedded in our art and culture, in the way that Dickens can evoke such joy and horror at the vicissitudes of Victorian England or Titian can enable us to recognise the profound damage done to each of us by violence against the vulnerable (like in the Rape of the Sabines). The Jubilee Year called on us all to make special effort to renew our recognition and acceptance of our deep human dignity.  It has been an important reminder for the Church and for other believers; it may even have had some impact on those who do not share this faith framework. However, it will be rather limited if it is restricted to a single year.

So it is, as I plan my professional (and, for that matter, private) year I am trying to start with thinking about how best to reflect who we are at ACU and prioritising human dignity in what I do and how I act. There are obvious questions to ask to get this underway. How do I ensure that what I do and how I act enhances the dignity of students and staff and, above all, never diminishes this intrinsic dimension of each of us? What steps need to be taken to ensure I reflect on what I am doing and how I am acting to make sure that I am placing human dignity as paramount?  Such questions are useful but need to be made practical as well.

In my role at the Signadou Campus three major priorities will take substance in 2017 – so how will the priority of human dignity be illuminated in each of them?

Firstly, as with the rest of the University we will be proclaiming the new brand and all that goes with it. In this area the promotion of dignity will cover not only the brand but the communications, the imagery and the interactions with staff, students, prospective students and key stakeholders. The brand of this University can never be simply an advertising ploy – it has to be lived out daily and in our routine relationships with those around us.  Giving life to the brand will take place in the simple and everyday activities in which we all engage as we serve our community.

Secondly, and in common with other Campuses, we will be involved in significant capital works.  One of the ironies of these improvements is that many of our students have been hearing about them for a year or two, they will live through the inconvenience of working around a construction site but will have limited use of the new facilities prior to their graduation. Our neighbours and stakeholders, many of whom have a 50 year old image of how they want the Canberra site to look, and are less than thrilled to have something they regard as "theirs" changed visibly and dramatically, need to be encouraged to see the University as a resource. Any concerns these key players have are legitimate but the developments will take place. This is a key area where our interests in human dignity are put to an acid test: while undertaking the necessary and the inevitable how do we communicate with people in a timely and sensitive manner?  People will communicate their frustrations and annoyance in ways which will demand of us consideration and kindness as well as understanding. Above all keeping central that I am a participant in human relationships, not the automated recipient of de-identified data sets, will help to promote dignity.

Finally, at Signadou we will be seeking to promote and embed new, recently added or existing academic programs.  As a regional campus we can see very clearly the difference an ACU education makes for so many of our graduates – their lives are transformed and the lives of their communities.  Politicians and employer groups are frequently fond of saying that there is an over-supply of graduates of a particular profession (currently teaching is the punching bag). Even when there is some statistical evidence this is true (ie there is an oversupply of surfers in Byron Bay) it is almost never true in regional Australia. Nearly every one of our graduates at Signadou has employment in their field on graduation. We are constantly requested to increase our portfolio of courses or the number of students being admitted because employers know that those who receive their education in regional locations are much, much more likely to stay in those areas as professionals. This, in itself, is an exercise in the promotion of human dignity – striving to ensure that those who live more than a stone’s throw from metropolitan areas can also access the best, the brightest and the most able practitioners.  Beyond that our work here focuses on human dignity because it promotes hope for those in regional Australia that they will not be left behind, that they do not have to say a permanent farewell to their children in order for them to be successful and to live fulfilled lives.

Planning for this year is important – planning to keep dignity and relationships at the heart of all we do is essential.

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