Collaborating with Ghosts

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Collaborating With Ghosts
By Giles Pickford*

This paper was nearly given at the New Zealand Branch Conference of the Association for Tertiary Education Management on 6 July at 2.00 pm. The only trouble was that the author thought he was on at 3.00 pm and was preparing himself for delivery by wandering around the exquisite gardens of Massey University. While his audience waited, he was being entranced by the fronded gullies and winter flowering plants of Massey in July. It was strangely appropriate that a paper called 'Collaborating with Ghosts' should be conducted in a profound silence of bowed heads as the material world grappled with the world beyond.

Anyway, here is the paper that should have been. It discusses the ATEM Ghosts and the ANU Emeritus Faculty, both of which comprise people who have retired but who believe that they can still contribute to the institutions that they helped to create.

1. The Thesis: and Supporting Statistics
The central thesis of this paper is that the present generation of retirees is about to change the previously accepted understanding of retirement to suit itself, and its offspring.

The old concept of retirement was that the previous generation stopped work in order for their children to have a work-space to step into. The emerging concept is that the older generation wishes to remain active and useful, and enjoy watching their children and grand children find their footing in life. Doing this means parents must avoid vegetating their way into senility. They must be able to contribute something other than their jobs to future generations. Therefore they must take on tasks that could not otherwise be paid for. They must become pioneers again, creating a job, or part of a job, which otherwise would not have existed. They can usually do this because they are free of debt, free of care and quite often free of delusions about themselves.

Dr Don Anderson of the Higher Education unit of the Australian National University has kindly assisted me with illustrating some facts about the changing nature of the world, as the bulge in the python (the Baby Boomers) reaches retiring age. He says:

"Birth rates peaked in the boom years after World War II but by the 1970s had declined by 50 percent. The result is a demographic bulge now aged 50 (plus or minus) which will be entering the retirement phase of the life cycle in the coming decade. As a result of education, life-style changes and advances in preventative medicine this age group is more skilled, fitter, more motivated and potentially more productive than any that preceded it."

"Zen enriches no-one. There is no body to be found. The birds of appetite may come and circle for a while in the place where it is thought to be. But they soon go elsewhere. When they are gone, the 'nothing', the 'nobody' that was there, suddenly appears. That is Zen. It was there all the time but the scavengers missed it, because it was not their kind of prey".

- From 'Zen and the Birds of Appetite' by Thomas Merton

This passage from one of Merton's best works was an inspiration to a member of the Association for Tertiary Education Management (ATEM) who was about to retire, but who yearned for some sort of continuing involvement with the ATEM tribe. He could not see why retirement needed to end his tribal activities. He understood that he was about to suddenly become insubstantial or ghost-like: a wraith whom the birds of appetite (all of whom have useful jobs) would suddenly no longer be able to see. And yet he knew that Ghosts have the power to move mountains and change the course of rivers.

So he suggested to the ATEM 2000 Group in 1998 that members who retired, or who left the profession, should be given a vehicle through which they could continue to contribute.

The end result was that the following terms of reference for the ATEM Ghosts were adopted at the 1999 Annual Conference in Wellington, New Zealand.

1. ATEM will maintain an Association Chapter which will consist of members who are no longer actively engaged in the management of tertiary education, but who wish to retain contact with ATEM and each other. This Chapter will be named The ATEM Ghosts. The Chapter will be established as a Chapter of the Association, but members will also operate within a Branch.

2. The aims of the Chapter will be:

2.1 to allow members to continue to be involved with the operations of the Association by providing information about Branch and Association activities; (NOTE: there are currently 19 Ghosts who have taken up this opportunity. The figures are Canberra 13, NSW 1, Victoria 4, Western Australia 1. Ghosts provide office support services at Association level, and in the News South Wales Branch)

2.2 to undertake appropriate voluntary work for ATEM and ATEM Branches from time to time; (NOTE: in practice some of the work is voluntary and some receives remuneration, but only if the organisation is profitable. That is, if there are no funds there is obviously no pay. Ghosts can exist almost indefinitely without pay).

2.3 to continue to promote the activities of ATEM, both locally and internationally;

2.4 to arrange social gatherings and other events for its members from time to time, particularly in conjunction with the Annual Conference; (NOTE: the Ghosts hold an annual lunch at the time of the Annual Conference. In Canberra they also sponsor the End-of-Year Party of the Canberra Branch).

2.5 to produce and circulate an annual Newsletter containing news about its members and about ATEM at large which will be published on the ATEM web site. (NOTE: the Ghosts endorse the idea that nothing is written on anything as substantial as paper. Rather, they use the spirit medium of the Web Site to communicate through their own Chat Room and publish their activities on the ATEM Ghosts' Page).

3. The Chapter will maintain a membership register that will be available to ATEM members via the ATEM web site. The Chapter will elect a Convenor at a meeting to be held during the Association Conference. (NIOTE: The membership can be derived from the database by the Secretariat on demand. All members can use the Ghosts Chat Room to talk to each other).

4. The Association will set fees annually, and fees will be paid to the Association Secretariat. The Convenor will manage the Chapter and liaise as needed with the Secretariat, but particularly about communication within the Chapter. (NOTE: In practice the Ghosts pay half the normal fee as a donation to ATEM: That is, although most pay, the payment is voluntary).

5. The Chapter will report annually to the September meeting of Council and the AGM. (NOTE: The Ghosts hold their annual lunch after the Council Meeting and before the AGM. Thus, the Secretary's idea of what the minutes might contain is tabled at Council, and the actual minutes are tabled at the AGM. Last year the two sets of Minutes were identical).

6. ATEM Ghosts members will be eligible for member rates for all ATEM activities, including the Association Conference.

7. Members of the Chapter should be involved where appropriate throughout the Association but not on Council, Executive or Branch Committees. Members do not have voting rights in ATEM elections or referenda. (NOTE: The Ghosts are very happy that voting is not compulsory)

8. In the event of a dispute between the Chapter and Council, the will of Council will prevail. (Amen)

The Ghosts' Lunch
The ATEM Ghosts only hold one meeting a year and an account of the first one is recorded below as a contribution to our social history.

"Seven Ghosts gathered at the Long Table, Walter's Wine Bar on Melbourne's Southbank on the Monday of the 2000 Annual Conference. They were Colin Plowman (Canberra), Jim McLauchlan (NSW), Arthur O'Neill (Victoria), Bob Speechley (Victoria), Kevin Silberberg (Victoria), Giles Pickford (Canberra) Peter Scardoni (Canberra).

The minutes were tabled as follows:

Colin Plowman was elected unopposed as National Convenor.
$500 was raised by raffling a Crock of Brown Bros Very Old Tawny Port. This money was given to the Conference Organisers as sponsorship of the pre-dinner drinks for the annual dinner of ATEM.

Having passed the minutes, the Ghosts set about getting through an exquisite three course meal which was rated Triple A. Eleven excellent bottles of red were passed around and the cheeses reeked of quality. Having done that, the Port Raffle was held. The raffle had been underwritten by J B Were and Sons. However, the $500 was reached without any difficulty so the underwriting facility was not needed. The winner wanted to open the Port then and there, but Mine Host objected that he did not have a BYO Licence, so we sang a number of songs from World War II to console ourselves.

The meeting ended harmoniously at 5.00 pm and some of the members adjourned to the Kelvin Club for a game of Snooker.

Colin Plowman will convene the next Ghosts' Lunch on Monday 8 October 2001 at 12.30 pm in the Stanner Room, University House ANU".

The business of running ATEM nationally had been attempted as a full-time career position for 18 months prior to the Ghosts involvement. When the original appointee elected to move back into the mainstream of University Administration, the ATEM Council agreed to try contracting some Ghosts to take the load. 'So far so good' as the bloke said when he fell past the 13th story window. It is still a work in progress, and only time will tell whether or not this was a good idea.

"Why should we give him any special consideration? He's well past his use-by date".

Uttered in the hearing of a number of reliable witnesses by an incomprehensibly influential middle ranking official, speaking about one of the ANU's greatest founding academics who during his illustrious career reached the rank of State Governor

In 1995 Professor Eugene Kamenka of the History of Ideas Unit at the Australian National University died. Professor John Molony was present at his funeral. Looking around amongst the retired 'greats' of the ANU, he noted that there were enough people there with the quality to start a great University from scratch. And yet most of them had retired.

This was the beginning of an idea about an Emeritus Faculty for the ANU, which finally won acceptance in 2001 when the ANU's 10th Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Chubb, took up his post.

The reason why it took so long is that the University was going through very turbulent times in 1995 and they continued throughout the tenure of the 8th and 9th Vice-Chancellors. The presence of some of the movers and shakers for the Emeritus Faculty amongst various protest groups at that time resulted in great unease amongst the University's ruling elite. Fear is a debilitating emotion and it gets in the way of anything new coming through and winning acceptance. The fear evaporated in January 2001. Incomprehensibly influential people lost their grip on the jugular, and the ANU was able once again to be creative about itself and take off in new directions.

During 2000 a Provisional Committee met under the Chairmanship of John Molony and his Deputy Beryl Rawson. Both had retired and both were active as Visiting Fellows in the life of the University. The Master of University House took an active interest as Treasurer, and your unworthy servant was Secretary. ANUEF decided that the scope of its likely interests would be as follows:

Academic Programs
Assistance with lectures and tutorials when called on by areas of the University
Collaboration in the laboratory work of areas of the University
Contribution of publications to the University's research record
Occasional lectures, seminars and conferences
Participation in consultancies
Supervision and examination of postgraduate students when called on by areas of the University

Advisory Roles
Advice on curricula when called on by areas of the University
Advisory roles in cooperative research ventures
Assistance with industry liaison
Assistance with seeking private funding and supporting the ANU Endowment for Excellence
Opportunity for individual voices to be heard on policy formulation in the public sector
Opportunity for individual voices to be heard on the development of the Higher Education sector.

Outreach Roles
Being well informed ambassadors for the University
Collaboration with other bodies such as the University of The Third Age
Participation in Convocation activities
Participation in the University programs of outreach, extension and professional refreshment, including summer schools for teachers

A constitution, incorporating these goals, was adopted by the 1st annual general meeting of ANUEF in December 2000.

Negotiations were held at an early stage during 2000 with the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), for there was an implied conflict in the idea that volunteers might take over paying jobs in the University to the detriment of younger staff.

It is stated in the opening paragraphs of this paper that it should not be the role of retirees to rob the next generation of their jobs. To do so is against the interests of both parties. The ANUEF readily agreed that it would not intrude into the work place.

It's role is to take on the impossible project, to pioneer new work, or to rescue good projects that have failed in the course of events that sometimes conspire to kill off good ideas and promote bad ones.

The NTEU expressed its worries and concerns about volunteerism and then took us on faith. We keep an open line of communication between us and are ready to consult whenever needed. So far it has not been necessary.

The projects that the ANUEF has become involved in to date are listed below. It is clearly not a lunch club.

Monthly lecture series followed by optional dinner
Interactive ANUEF Web Site with search engine
Summer School for Science Teachers
Summer School for Humanities Teachers
Sponsoring the 2nd meeting in a series about 'Why Universities Matter'. The proceedings of the first meeting were interesting enough to be refused publication by the University of Melbourne Press. Eventually they came out in 2000 under the Allen and Unwin imprint.
Assisting Volunteering ACT (a community organisation) to edit its Journal
Collaborating with the University of the Third Age (a community organisation)
Collaborating with the Centre for Continuing Education (a unit in the ANU)

The individuals within the ANUEF all have many other interests outside those listed above. The range and depth of talent and interests is enormous and the impact of all this collective and individual effort is of great value to the academic and general community.

Staff who have helped to create a great university have a right to take part in its future even though retirement has provided a momentary interruption to their union with the institution they love. They have as much right as Alumni, whose ownership of the University they graduated from, has long been recognised in University Acts across the globe. Retired staff need an organisation to represent their interests, especially when they are threatened by officials who do not have the wit to understand the difference between the exercise of power and the exercise of care (see the opening quote for section 3).

Universities, and organisations like ATEM, have nothing to lose from collaborating with Ghosts.

*Giles Pickford has worked as a general staff member in the AVCC and six universities in three States and one Territory. He retired on 8 May 1998 and currently works as a contractor for ATEM, and for various parts of ANU. He works for ANUEF and the ANU Drill Hall Gallery as a volunteer.

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