Betriebsrat für das wissenschaftliche Personal
New Personnel Development Plan
After a long phase of consultation and discussion, the new Personnel Development Plan has now been adopted. This is a particularly important strategic document for WU employees. For this reason, the Academic Staff Council (Betriebsrat für das wissenschaftliche Personal) was intensely involved in providing its input during the drafting of the document in the weeks before its publication; on April 10, we held a general staff assembly to discuss the cornerstones of the new Personnel Development Plan. Despite certain modifications compared to the previous approach, some problem areas can still be identified, especially in the question of permanent positions and permeability.
The new Personnel Development Plan is both differentiated and comprehensive. It focuses not only on traditional faculty positions, but also on positions intended primarily for research or for teaching.
The Plan is for the most part a continuation of the university’s human resource policy to date. That is particularly noticeable in the clearly- stated commitment to maintaining an appropriate balance between fixed-term career positions and permanent, i.e. tenured positions. Wherever possible, a 50:50 ratio is desirable. However, given the fact that a large number of highly qualified, tenured faculty members are scheduled to retire in the near future, the Rector’s Council (Rektorat) has recognized that the permanent staff is in danger of eroding further. The Rector’s Council apparently wants to apply soft governance to achieve the desired personnel structure.
As before, the aim is to ensure the greatest possible clarity when starting off in an academic position at WU as to whether the position is fixed-term or tenured. However, permeability between the job categories remains very limited.
Nevertheless, the new Personnel Development Plan does provide options for a certain degree of flexibility, for example by allowing tenure track positions to be filled prematurely. This means that flexibility refers less to the individual contract than to the treatment of specific positions within the context of the general personnel structure.
We would like to focus here on a few selected aspects of the new Personnel Development Plan:
Maximum and minimum numbers of tenure track positions: So far, the discussion has focused on upper limits for the percentage of tenure track positions. A positive aspect of the new Personnel Development Plan is that it does not recommend falling well below the standard number of career positions. It is suggested that in the event of a repeated refusal to advertise potential tenure track positions, instead replacing them with temporary positions, supervisors could be required to provide a justification for their decision. This is at least a step in the right direction towards setting minimum standards for the number of career positions. Much will depend on monitoring and also on practical experience.
Precarious teaching jobs: The number of precarious jobs in teaching is particularly high, a problem that is not addressed in the new Personnel Development Plan. An increase in the number of senior lecturers with system maintenance functions would be a possible option here. Demand varies from area to area. As discussed at the general staff assembly, these positions would then ideally be filled by people with a particular interest in teaching.
Job descriptions: Job descriptions generally refer to research, teaching, and administration. Interestingly, research-led teaching is not mentioned in the new Personnel Development Plan and is also not defined. This is problematic because it is one of the key differences between universities and universities of applied sciences. With regard to senior lecturers, it should be explicitly discussed how they should keep up to date on the current state of research.
Evaluations: Evaluations are an important management instrument. The Strategic Plan states that evaluations are a negotiation process intended as an orientation tool for employees’ behavior, and should not be oriented towards one-sided control. In addition, they should consist of a combination of self-evaluation and external evaluation. Different requirements and conditions should also be taken into account. It is sufficient to distinguish between evaluations that are carried out at a certain point in time with certain consequences (e.g. fulfilment of development or qualification agreements) and those that are intended to encourage personal or professional development at the university.
Permeability/life planning models/risk management: Employment conditions are stated clearly in the Personnel Development Plan. The problem of interruptions in academic careers, however, is not addressed. This particular problem played a major role at the general staff assembly on April 10. In an academic career, the period immediately after obtaining a doctoral or PhD degree is often particularly challenging. From an anti-discrimination perspective, it is especially problematic that when applying for a permanent position with a qualification agreement, work experience abroad is a prerequisite. This shows not only a lack of appreciation for a career at WU or in Austria, but can also indirectly discriminate against applicants with family responsibilities (i.e. mainly women) and those with chronic health or psychological limitations.
The Personnel Development Plan is very comprehensive and addresses some of the problems associated with changes in the personnel structure and requirement profiles. On a positive note, the Plan recognizes the danger of further erosion of the permanent staff due to the imminent retirement of highly qualified tenured researchers and provides for both cautious flexibility and soft intervention measures in response. The degree of flexibility has to reflect the fine line between dealing with individual problem situations and the resulting increased complexity of the personnel structure. The proposal to publish the number of tenure track positions per department may provide a better overview. This increased transparency and the soft governance measures already mentioned above are, in our view, important steps towards obtaining and maintaining a minimum number of permanent positions.
In addition to greater transparency with regard to personnel structure in the individual organizational units, the Academic Staff Council believes that it would make sense to establish rules for the minimum number of permanent positions in larger organizational units, and also to increase the number of senior lecturers.
The Academic Staff Council summarized its assessments and requirements for the new Personnel Development Plan in detail in its comprehensive statement (in German). The statement included suggestions that go beyond the contents of the Personnel Development Plan. As staff representatives, we had the opportunity to engage in an intensive dialogue with the authors of the Plan, and we feel that these discussions have further raised awareness of problem issues, also among those responsible for managing human resources at WU.
A document like the Personnel Development Plan plays an important role in determining the course of future action in personnel matters, and we will be following the implementation of its basic tenets with interest. At the same time, we will continue tirelessly in our efforts to identify and eliminate possible inequalities in the existing systems, to achieve a fair distribution of work across all employee categories, and above all, to ensure that the work of WU’s faculty is appropriately recognized.