I've just finished reading one of the most extraordinary reports ever to hit my eyes.
It's the ANU's Managing Change Proposal. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. As an old Canberran I've decided to cry, not just because of the abuse of English language on my senses; as an old health services manager I've decided to shake my head and wonder why this proposal was not thought through more thoroughly; as a consumer activist I cannot fathom the concept of ignoring the ANU's greatest asset - the community at large.
Some news outlets have reported on the decision to close neuroscience research at ANU. The justification is that a number of schools would die a slow and painful death unless some active management is undertaken in the wake of the financial hit from COVID-19.
Anyone who has been impacted by a neurological condition that may one day involve a slow and painful death is likely to have different concerns about the impact of this decision.
Because I am old, I can remember what it was like before the ACT had a vibrant medical school. It was a great decision of the ANU and ACT government to establish one, so that we could grow our workforce to augment the existing clinical services in the ACT and surrounding region. Indeed, the intent of the establishment of the Medical School in 2002 was just that - and it is specified in the agreement between the government and the university (section A, to be precise).
The Managing Change Proposal gives just two weeks for consultation. My copy of the report fell off the back of a truck, and it is not clear to me that consumers - patients and their families - will be involved in the consultation process. They are certainly not itemised as such in the timeline proposed by the ANU.
As an aside, the authors have not used plain English to describe the proposed actions of the ANU. Rather, the word "disestablish" is bandied around, instead of "abolish", "retrench", "sack" or "close".
I suspect that the clever boffins who wrote the report didn't scan the horizon for all of those who may be affected by the "disestablishment" of services and schools.
They have ignored our community, members of which willingly offer themselves when medical students require hands-on experience. They have ignored the wider community, which gives students the opportunity to experience rural and regional placements. They have ignored the entire community of taxpayers, who support the core activities of teaching and research at ANU in cash and kind.
Oh, and whoops, they seem to have ignored section 5(2) of the ANU Act, which reads as follows: "In the performance of its functions, the university must pay attention to its national and international roles and to the needs of the Australian Capital Territory and the surrounding regions [my emphasis]."
I hope that in the coming days, the ANU leadership will see the error of its ways and re-establish an appropriate timeframe for consultation that allows meaningful input from all of those involved in this proposal. That is, if it is indeed a proposal and not already a decision, given the short consultation timeframe.
COVID-19 has had a huge impact on universities. The federal government has behaved appallingly in excluding universities from its support mechanisms. This, however, does not give a university as important as the ANU the right to behave in a cavalier fashion with its own community.
If the ANU is unable to act as a good citizen, I hope the University of Canberra can sharpen its resources, convince the ACT government to move its funding from ANU to UC, and take on the role of a genuinely loved and respected medical school for the ACT and surrounding districts.
- Anne Cahill Lambert AM is a health consumer activist and retired health service CEO.