Transcript

The Dean Series: Law and Management

Carol AdamsCarol Adams
Email: c.adams@latrobe.edu.au

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Transcript

Matt de Neef:

Hello and welcome to the La Trobe University podcast series. I'm your host, Matt de Neef, and joining me today is the Acting Dean of Law and Management and Professor of Accounting and Sustainable Development Strategy, Carol Adams. Professor Adams, thanks so much for joining me.

Carol Adams:

Cheers.

Matt de Neef:

So as I mentioned in the introduction there, you're the Acting Dean of Law and Management. Can you give us a bit of a sense of what's involved in your role on a day-to-day basis?

Carol Adams:

Lots of meetings. [Laughter]

Carol Adams:

A lot of things done by meeting. We've got six schools in the faculty, the heads of schools do a lot of work with the staff. The academic staff report to heads of schools. At times they'll need support.

And I guess my role is to provide some direction for the faculty as a whole, to get different areas in the faculty working together on projects where we need to, to support the heads of schools and associate deans, and to make sure that what we're doing really fits with university strategy. They would be the key things, I guess. [Laughter]

Matt de Neef:

So as Acting Dean, as opposed to just the Dean, does that excuse you from any of the responsibilities or does this still all fall to you?

Carol Adams:

It could excuse me if I let it. I started at the beginning of the year and I knew at the time it was going to be a long spell. There were some things that I felt needed to be done and wanted to see be done. And I guess I've just been getting on with it.

Matt de Neef:

So what sorts of things did you want to see done?

Carol Adams:

We've been looking at a number of things. I wanted to get stronger links with businesses in the profession. So each school has now set up an external school advisory board so that they can discuss research opportunities and their programs with those boards and get some good advice from external people about what kind of things will work in terms of courses and whether our research opportunities and possible research funding. So really helping to build those links with the external world.

Another thing we've been looking at is different options for a common first year, for a number of reasons really: to give students some options if they didn't get the grade for the degree that they wanted to study, to give them some options to transfer into later, to give them some flexibility of choice if they don't quite know what they want to do yet, and to assist the regional students also in doing what they want to do where campus size doesn't allow us to give a huge amount of choice.

And the other key thing I've been keen to work on is looking at what we offer in terms of sustainability and social responsibility in our subjects, making sure that the different schools aren't developing things that overlap because sustainability is a multi-disciplinary area, really, and there's a tendency often for disciplines to go off and work in silos and develop subjects covering similar themes but from different perspectives.

So I've been working with heads of schools to get people to work together to look at where we might develop future courses around that.

Matt de Neef:

The Vice-Chancellor Paul Johnson has described this period at La Trobe as a period of growth. Have you noticed that within the faculty of Law and Management in terms of student enrolment levels?

Carol Adams:

We have, and we've been very busy the first part of this year recruiting around 40 new academic staff to help us to cope with that. We've been very lucky in that we've attracted some very good academics who will assist in developing our research, which is another area we've been really focusing on building up in the faculty over the last couple of years.

Matt de Neef:

So the La Trobe University's strategic plan is called "Vision 2015" and it's all about helping the university to ensure its place in what they've described as "a changing higher education landscape". Where do you see the faculty of Law and Management being in five years' time?

Carol Adams:

Well, I would like to see it being really externally engaged, running courses which students find attractive, offering some flexible delivery modes, giving students the skills they need out in the workplace, making them attractive to employers.

I'd like to see the faculty really focusing on research which addresses real world problems and policy issues, offering some multi-disciplinary approaches to solving some very real problems that we're facing.

I'd like to see it continuing La Trobe tradition of critical engagement by looking at the link between organizations, society and the environment, and recognizing that organizations do have an impact on the wider society and the natural environment, too, and looking at how the future leaders that we're developing as a faculty can be more responsible in the way that they lead with regard to the people that they lead and the way that they run the organizations they're involved in.

Matt de Neef:

For students that are looking to get into areas of Law and Management here at La Trobe, what are some of the courses offered by the faculty?

Carol Adams:

We run the traditional courses that you'd expect in a faculty of Law and Management. We run courses in accounting and economics and business and law. But we also run some exciting industry-based programs around issues such as hospitality and tourism management and sports management and financial analysis. You know, some really applied degrees.

Matt de Neef:

Now you mentioned before about sustainability and sustainability reporting, and you've been Director of Sustainability here at La Trobe for a while now. And just as of a few weeks ago you've also been appointed the Pro Vice-Chancellor of Sustainability. First of all, congratulations.

Carol Adams:

Thank you.

Matt de Neef:

And secondly, how will this role differ from the role that you've already held as Director of Sustainability?

Carol Adams:

Well, I'm hoping it will signal that the university's commitment to sustainability is now stronger and more official and that that will make it easier to get things done.

We've got to the point now, through the Sustainability Task Force in 2009, where as a group of senior managers we know what we want to do, we know what we want to achieve. We want to work on embedding sustainability across operations, curriculum and research. We want to establish key performance indicators and targets and collect data and develop a range of activities to improve our performance on really key social, environmental and economic sustainability indicators.

We want to involve staff and the students and get their involvement in developing ways of changing behavior and thinking about sustainability. And we want to do some advocacy work, too, and really work at leading by example and leading other universities and higher education institutions to do more about sustainability.

And I think it's really very important for this sector to be involved in this because we do have the ability to influence large numbers of young people and potential leaders in our society.

Matt de Neef:

As a whole, how does the La Trobe community go in terms of sustainability? Are we sort of on the right track or are we still at a way to go yet?

Carol Adams:

We have a long way to go. I think there's a will there, there's a commitment there, and people want to do something, but people want to work together and want to find things that they could do together to really make a difference.

Matt de Neef:

So what are some of the things that staff and students alike here at La Trobe can do to contribute to a more sustainable university?

Carol Adams:

Well, I guess we've started in that a lot of us now are buying fair trade tea and coffee since we've been a fair trade university. I think some of us are now more aware about switching off lights.

We might need to start thinking about some harder things like whether we need to do as much traveling as we are doing, whether there are other options rather than jumping in a car between campuses or flying around to conferences. We need to start thinking about alternatives to that, and I think those things would be a good start.

Matt de Neef:

In a similar interview in 2008 with Matt Smith, you mentioned that Australian businesses are a bit of a way behind their overseas counterparts when it comes to issues of sustainability reporting. Is this still the case, do you think, or have Australian businesses started to lift their game in the last few years?

Carol Adams:

They have lifted their game in the last few years, but they're still a long way behind European counterparts. And universities are, too, Matt, well behind universities in other parts of the world. So for example, in North America and the U.K., there are lead tables of universities on sustainability performance.

And it will come here. There's already a benchmarking exercise of universities across a range of sustainability indicators, not just about university operations but also collecting data on sustainability governance and sustainability in the curricula, for example. So this will come, and it's a good reason to start addressing it now.

Matt de Neef:

Of course, your own research is focused around sustainability reporting. In the course of your research, have you found that the push for businesses and organizations like La Trobe Uni to be more sustainable, you found that that comes more from people within the organization or from outside, or is it from a governmental level that the greatest push comes?

Carol Adams:

Which one's more important really depends on the sector. But some of the key drivers for doing more are organizations wanting to attract the best staff and the best graduates and knowing from the number of surveys that had been done that staff want to work in ethical and responsible organizations. So the banks in particular, for example, have embarked on this for that reason.

In other sectors, the industry associations sometimes play a leading role in getting organizations within their sector to do more. And often this is driven by a desire to avoid legislation regulation.

Matt de Neef:

So the greatest push at the university level, you think, comes from the students and people within the university?

Carol Adams:

I think there hasn't been too much of a push at the university level in Australia, which is why there isn't a huge amount to sing about at the moment. In contrast, for example, the U.K. government has done a report on sustainable development at universities and has allocated funds for sustainability initiatives at universities.

Matt de Neef:

You mentioned there's not a whole lot of push at the governmental level here in Australia, and we've seen back in April that the Rudd government shelved their ETS until 2013. Do you think that action like this and the sort of lack of consensus about climate change is likely to make big businesses less likely to see the need to act sustainably?

Carol Adams:

Most big businesses have the sense to realize that regulation will come at some point. They also understand that there are risks attached to not acting on sustainability.

It isn't just about climate change. There are other issues, too. There are issues of limited natural resources, issues associated with pollution incidents, for example, in the negative publicity that that brings, and there's been countless examples of that. The big topical one at the moment is BP.

Matt de Neef:

Professor Adams, thanks so much for your time.