August 2006

Dear Colleague,

This is week 5 and the dust has settled somewhat – the madness of studio and elective choices, the enrolment and withdrawals from courses, and the flurry of emails from all quarters of the university have died down. You are also in the period coming in to work with a better sense of what is going to happen through the day, your students are not complete strangers anymore and you have begun to remember names. The initial anger and frustration of the students has begun to change to a more focussed approach to their course. In fact it is time for a dinner, a chat and a quiet drink with colleagues to say ‘so how is it going’.

I am really happy with how my lot are going – one of them has given up sugar, another her mobile phone and another his showers. This is for the studies class where we are eventually going to end up with a new board game for kids. That is my Friday, and I am discovering that this is a good way to end the week. The rest of my week has a few more BDes involvements – most of them with quite charming episodes week after week – and week 5 is good because I am not all that confronting for them anymore. Each week is different for me depending upon whether it is an odd or even number week – like this is an even number week and so I have a particular set of post grad appointments – and a particular set of senior student supervisions. It is also a week where I meet separately with teachers from the schools and the elective students, to plan for a session on 31st when we will all wander the streets with school kids doing our research for the hometowns project.

This week also has the meeting of the Education Group of the Design Institute at the CUB site. You may have picked up the impact these deliberations are having on our local environment. Some of these are:
1. The adoption of the 3+2 model for undergraduate education in Europe has transformed the nature of Architecture programs around Australia and this has an impact upon our local culture of Masters by Research. We are very aware of the 4 year nature of our program and its implications.
2. The proposal for a Masters by Course Work. We – Mick, Malte, Liam and myself – have come up with a program (MDes: Sustainable Journeys) and this has been discussed at the Program Advisory Committee (PAC). The School has put in the intention to develop and this work is in progress for the program to start in 2008.
3. The Group has discussed the rationalisation and streamlining of the various awards in design at RMIT from TAFE to HE. This can profoundly transform the relationships between the various program and schools. This amplification of the dual sector nature of RMIT has found expression in the pathways typologies that Liam has drawn up and circulated. I would like to take this to the Education Group meeting to show this as work in progress.

We are half year down from the roll out of online enrolments, and the transfer of student administration to the Hub. In this period Brian has taken some great initiatives, in addition to moving into his own office, to make students self reliant. He still does a tremendous amount of student support – but in the main the more progressive students are very independent and use the services of the Hub quite effectively. There are many teething troubles – and our senior students have been slow to adapt to these changes – and we continue to see many disasters. So for some time now it will be a new disaster of a completely different kind – mainly students failing to enrol or missing deadlines and asking for help – every day. But to his credit Brian is coping admirably.

One initiative of Brian’s that had an immediate impact upon my work was the way he set up Academic Advisement at the beginning of the semester. All the students were called in one afternoon and all staff were asked to participate. That afternoon he set it up so that he would send students out to different staff, and I got to meet only the most difficult of cases. This worked really well, and really got the job sharing happening effectively.

Last semester we had our training session on discrimination and followed it up with the chart from Brian on job sharing where each job/task had two people responsible. He sent the chart out on two occasions and got some response. But this wasn’t enough and the chart lay incomplete till two weeks ago. This chart was taken up for discussion in the last staff meeting and I am glad to see that the chart is complete and we can start listing the responsibilities for each role – this is on the agenda for today’s staff meeting.

I began my second term as Program Director on the 1st of July. Two points are significant from my meeting up with Harriet, my supervisor, before I started this term:
1. All projects would be closed: The first phase was orientated towards ‘development’ and one face of this was the ‘projects’ that were set up. That phase ended with my term – and all projects that were initiated between 2004 -2006 are closed –and all staff roles will be in line with the responsibilities of the ‘program team’. This means – If you have been working on a project, like the Learner Centered Project, you may continue with your work and steer it towards a grant application. Liam did this with a Carrick 06 expression of interest. I communicated this to all of you in the mid year work plan meetings.
2. I would focus upon my academic profile: I began this year by saying that I will push all staff to do two things, one grant application and two conference papers, by the end of the year. I then began work on the papers and grant applications. Four applications have been submitted, and teaching has been aligned with these grant application topics. After the mid year discussion the focus shifted just a little – I would concentrate on my projects and collaborate with you when you asked for it. I then sent off a mail to each of you asking you to take the lead in the joint papers we had discussed. I then began to construct my academic life from scratch putting gin only things I would like to do.
This change has made a big difference to me and by week five I am beginning to see the effect on my work and writing. I could very quickly get up a UMAP and New Endeavour Application. I have been able to construct my courses close to my research interests, and have been able to give time to meetings with outside agencies like Diabetes Australia.

We are weeks away from the mid semester exhibitions and drinks. I have some plans to display the work my students have been doing. And am looking forward to share with you things you have been doing.

Until then.

Soumitri Varadarajan
Program Director – Industrial Design