Celebrating 25 years of service

Published: Thursday 16th April 2015

As ACU celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, so too does Dr Dianne Cullen from the Faculty of Education and Arts, who this week reached 25 years of service at the University.

She shares memories of her time at ACU:

Di Cullen 

"In April 1990 my teaching career took a new direction when I began lecturing at the Institute of Catholic Education, Victoria. The Institute comprised three campuses, Christ at Chadstone, Aquinas at Ballarat and Mercy at Ascot Vale. At this time, the only courses offered on the Mercy Campus where I was employed were teaching and nursing. My speciality was Teaching English as a Second Language and most of my lecturing was in the Bachelor of Education and the Graduate Diploma of Education (Multicultural Studies). Some years later, and after much angst, 'multicultural studies' was changed to 'TESOL', a title which remains today.

Historical reflections are often influenced by comparison to the contemporary period and this is indeed the case when I reminisce on my days of lecturing on the Mercy campus. Two particular memories of this period stand out for me.

The first was my concept of what was called the 'jumbo lecture'. How sorry we all felt for those staff who had to cope with these lectures which consisted of seventy students. Little did I know then was how my conceptual understanding of the term 'jumbo lecture' would change radically in the future! The second memory is that of the camaraderie among the staff. Everyone, including lecturers, ground staff, administration and secretarial staff, would sit around the large staff room table and those not doing the daily crossword would be sharing stories and engaging in lots of laughter.

In the 1990s, during the period of the Hawke Labour Government, the then Federal Minister for Tertiary Education John Dawkins refused to fund any tertiary institution that had an enrolment under 4,000 students. This decision heralded a period of institutional amalgamations throughout the country, and meant the Institute of Catholic Education had to either amalgamate or perish. Concerned with future staffing of Catholic schools and Catholic hospitals the Bishops along the eastern seaboard of Australia put their heads together and decided to merge all the Catholic Colleges of Advanced Education. This manoeuvre gave them their numbers to remain viable and resulted in the birth of Australian Catholic University.

The three campuses in Victoria remained physically separate until the year 2000 when Mercy and Christ campuses were closed and the new premises was developed in Victoria Parade, Fitzroy. Since this time, new faculties have been established, student numbers have exploded and a corresponding increase in lecturing staff has occurred.

Many of the changes that have taken place at ACU mirror developments in wider society; the fascination with technology, user-pays ideology, growth and having to do more with less, these are concepts that are interwoven within the broader political, social and institutional changes.

Change is inevitable.

So how have I changed as a lecturer over the past 25 years? Today I engage in online teaching and learning. I am addicted to email. I rarely go to the library as I can find most information on the computer. I attend teleconferences. I complete online HR questionnaires on a regular basis and I now enter all my marks myself, using the computer! And for all the names for which I award a grade, alas I know so few of them.

Perhaps more interesting is the question of how my students have changed. My 'jumbo lecture' now consists of 470 students, who unlike in the past, get bored in lectures as they busy themselves with online shopping, emails, texting and Facebook activities, while pretending to be taking notes. The first question asked at lectures usually is 'What time will we be finishing?' The second, 'Is attendance compulsory?' Next follows the predictable statements, 'Sorry, I have to go to work.' and 'Oops, it's my mobile.'

Indeed, over the past 25 years there have been massive changes in all spheres of Australian life and all institutions; including the tertiary sector. As a university lecturer reflecting on how these changes have affected me as a professional working in a Catholic university, I search for answers to the new challenges which I face. How can I change the tech-head student into an engaged learner? How can I pass on to my students a love of teaching when chances are they might never get a teaching position? What can I do to make my relationships with both colleagues and students less abstract, in order to revive the sense of camaraderie I experienced in the early years of my lecturing career? To what degree does a Catholic institution accept uncritically broader social change? And at what stage does a Catholic university choose to be counter cultural when the dignity of the person is compromised?

While I consider pondering the aforementioned questions as important, perhaps there are more immediate questions. How can one survive in the chaos that is now university life and what coping mechanisms have enabled me to survive 25 years working in a university?

First, a belief that it is people that make institutions, not buildings! Second, the role of the teacher is not about being popular, but imparting knowledge which challenges students' thinking and behaviour. Third, an attitude of not worrying about the continual crises that arise: they always manage to blow over! Finally, learn to laugh and laugh often."