Caroline McMillen

Caroline McMillen: from the VC's Desk

So it's that time of year again – the hunt for car parks, queues for coffee and numbers of anxious students (and staff) looking for their lecture theatre have grown - more than 9,000 new students have been welcomed and oriented, research grants have been written and rewritten by our academics, and the demands of managing core business in a changing institution loom large for many of our professional staff.

Meanwhile, there are changes afoot as we reshape major portfolio areas to support our student and academic activities, and implement the recommendations of the external reviews of our IT and Facilities Management areas. We have welcomed new academic leaders during the break, and we are now carrying out an international search for talented leaders to build capacity and capability in our resources and services areas to support the delivery of the key priorities outlined in our NeW Directions Strategic Plan. During the last few months a group of great people have stepped up into 'acting' roles to provide leadership bringing fresh eyes, commitment and energy to their roles. Institutions such as ours have a responsibility to provide leadership opportunities and 'acting up' can provide individuals with valuable opportunities to test their career aspirations.

So what does this year hold? Last year we made a commitment that the NeW Directions Strategic Plan would not be one of those 'bottom drawer' plans brought out only on Sundays to impress the occasional visiting dignitary. Rather we will translate the aspirations in the Plan into clear priorities in each part of our organisation – together with a set of clear operational plans that will help us focus on what's important in the 'busyness' of our day to day lives. We will hold ourselves to account for delivering what we set out to do - we will celebrate our achievements and understand and commiserate when things don't quite go as well as we had hoped. This year, champions of a number of our core priorities will describe through contributions 'In The Loop' their progress towards realising some of our goals and give us their perspective as they take on the challenge.

In 2013, I am particularly proud to champion a major 'Healthy University' strategy with my colleagues, John Germov and Tina Crawford. This initiative, will take an innovative and contemporary 'whole-of-university' approach to the important area of supporting our individual and institutional health. Evidence from literature and other sectors tells us how important good health and a positive culture are to build a resilient, grounded and productive workplace. The 'Healthy University' Steering Committee has started by recruiting willing colleagues from across the University to contribute to working groups focussed on understanding how we can act to ensure good psychological, physical and organisational health is a focus at UoN. Each working group would warmly welcome members from any part of UoN, as well as from our student body to contribute to this work and I encourage you to send your 'expression of interest' to HealthAndSafety@newcastle.edu.au

An important related initiative is the refresh of our Diversity and Inclusiveness Policy. I know from my discussions with staff across the University that we share a real commitment to building a respectful and collaborative environment in the context of the unique features that characterise our workplace. We are developing 'real world' policies and procedures designed to celebrate diversity, inclusiveness, and positive workplace relationships; recognise and address unacceptable behaviour; and support our leaders build the nuanced skills required to address what are often complex and challenging issues between colleagues. We will strengthen our processes for dealing with conflict in the workplace to ensure that issues can be resolved between colleagues locally wherever possible. An emerging area is the increasing prevalence of cyberbullying, which is growing in concern and importance in the changing world of work and life, and it is important that this is not a 'silent' area of bullying. A package of new resources, support mechanisms and training programs will be available in the coming months.

UoN is positioned for a great year and I very much look forward to working with you and seeing the NeW Directions Strategic Plan deliver. Your feedback is always important – the good, the bad, maybe not the ugly – so please do remember to keep in touch either through newdirections@newcastle.edu.au or by emailing me or the convenors directly.

Best wishes

Caroline McMillen