Review of committee reporting lines (2000)


The 1999 review of the University's Mission, Goals and Strategies stated that the University 'must continually seek to improve its structures and processes for management, policy formulation and decision making.' Subsequently, Senate and Council approved a review of committee structures and processes as an operational priority for the period July 1999 - 2000. Responsibility for the review resided with the Vice-Chancellor and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic). This review has covered central committees, leaving Faculties and Departments to carry out any necessary review and reorganization in the context of Faculty and Departmental planning.

The review process began with the presentation of an earlier draft of this paper to the Vice-Chancellor's key issues meetings in January and to the senior management retreat in February. In April a focus group of academic and general staff made comments and suggestions. The paper was made available to the wider University via the University web-site on 22 May. Staff were advised of this in an e-mail from the Vice-Chancellor and by notices in Next Week. Hard copies were made available on request. Forums were held at the City, Tamaki and Grafton Campuses to provide an opportunity for staff to discuss the document. A presentation and discussion was also held at a general staff managers' forum. Staff were invited to submit comments to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) by 21 June.

The Management and Organisational Structure, May 1996

In May 1996, following a consultancy report by Professor Ken McKinnon and discussions within the University community, the University adopted a management and organizational structure, which involved major changes in the senior management team, greater devolution of responsibility and powers to Faculties and a re-organisation of central committees.The 1996 Management and Organisational Structure Report made two points about the future:

'First….some matters and particularly some matters of detail will have to be left for later determination…. Second, it is in the nature of enterprises such as this one that there will be a need for subsequent review and adjustment in the light of experience, changing external circumstances, etc.'

Four years later we have had sufficient experience to enable us to see where adjustments to committee structures and processes might be made. It is accepted that the organizational structure of the University is dynamic and will change as the needs of the institution shift and as we learn different ways of carrying out our activities. However, this report does not propose a major restructuring of committees, such as was carried out in 1996. Rather it seeks to build on the changes made at the time, to rethink the purpose, functions and membership of some committees, and the manner in which committees operate. It is proposed that some committees are disbanded, others are amalgamated or reshaped. Following the 1996 report, the University made significant structural changes to its management team. It is not proposed to make further changes in this regard.


Under the Education act of 1989, the University has the independence and freedom to make academic, operational and management decisions consistent with the nature of the services it provides, the efficient use of national resources, the national interest and the demands of accountability. It has committed to doing this in an open, transparent, responsive and accountable manner, to ensuring that University organizational structures and processes provide high-quality policy advice and timely decision-making, and to ensuring appropriate and effective participation in policy and decision making.

The principles which underpinned the 1996 organisational and management structure were:

  • the need to protect collegiality while increasing accountability and efficiency
  • the recognition that resource allocation and academic planning must be linked through a strategic approach to institutional development
  • the need for the establishment of a management team appropriate to the size and complexity of the organisation
  • the desirability of a management structure which is as flat as possible
  • commitment to the principle of maximum devolution consistent with the maintenance of overall University policy
  • commitment to budget transparency at all levels
  • commitment to an efficient, simple and responsive management structure
  • commitment to principles of equity and equal opportunity.

Most of these principles are still relevant, although experience might provide some different perspectives. The University has struggled with the principle of maximum devolution consistent with the maintenance of overall university policy, as it has tried to find the appropriate balance between central and devolved activities. Collegiality, accountability and efficiency are values the University has recommitted to in Mission, Goals and Strategies but, with devolution, it is as important that these are achieved at Departmental and Faculty level as at the University level.

Today we might restate the principles underpinning our organization and management structures and processes as:

  • the need to protect collegiality while increasing accountability and efficiency
  • the recognition that resource allocation and academic planning must be linked through a strategic approach to institutional development
  • commitment to devolution of decision-making to the appropriate level of University structures
  • commitment to budget transparency
  • commitment to an efficient, simple and responsive management structure and processes
  • commitment to principles of equity and equal opportunity

To these principles, we might add others derived from the current planning cycle.These would be:

  • the need for Committee structures and processes that support the mission, goals and activities of the University
  • the need to provide the University with high quality policy advice, good information flows, and sound and well-timed decision-making
  • the need to maximize activities that add value to the teaching, learning, research and creative activities of the University.

The current Committee structure

The University has three types of central committees:

  • Council committees
  • Senate committees
  • Vice-Chancellor's advisory committees

These committees deal with 5 areas of activity:

  • teaching
  • research
  • people: staff and students
  • finance and capital development
  • compliance

In each area of activity there are committees concerned with policy and planning. This is as true at the Departmental and Faculty levels as at the University level.

It is sometimes said that we have too many committees and that too many people spend too much time at committee meetings. In fact, a review of the central committee structure of comparable Universities shows that the University of Auckland is quite lean in its committee structure. Certainly the structure established in 1996 was minimal. Some important committees disappeared and the University has suffered from the lack of central policy discussion in these areas. Other committees found that they had to create new sub-committees to carry out essential functions that had been overlooked in the new structure. In some cases reporting lines or the mix of functions have proved to be inappropriate.

The Council, the Vice-Chancellor and Senate have different statutory functions and their committees are related to these functions.


Under the Education Act of 1989 and its amendments, the Council has the following functions:

  • appoint a chief executive
  • prepare and negotiate the University Charter
  • approve the statement of objectives
  • ensure that the institution is managed in accordance with the charter and the statement of objectives
  • determine the policies of the institution in relation to the implementation of its charter, the carrying out of the statement of objectives and, subject of the State Sector Act 1988, the management of its affairs

The Council is required, when performing its functions, to fulfill various duties. These include:

  • ensuring that the University attains the highest standards of excellence in education, training and research
  • acknowledging the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi
  • ensuring that the University does not discriminate unfairly against any person
  • encouraging participation, especially by under-represented groups
  • ensuring proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest and the well-being of students
  • ensuring that systems are in place for the responsible use of public resources.


The Act entrusts the Chief Executive Officer (Vice-Chancellor) with the management of the academic and administrative matters of the University. The Vice-Chancellor is the employer of all staff.


Senate's statutory authority derives from the Education Act, which empowers Council to establish an Academic Board (in the case of this University the Academic Board is called Senate) to:

  • advise the Council on matters relating to courses of study or training, awards, and other academic matters; and
  • exercise powers delegated to it by Council

A meeting of Council, 18 February 1991, delegated a number of functions to Senate.Council delegated to Senate the power to appoint standing or special committees and to delegate its powers and duties to those committees.

Guidelines for Review

This review adopted the following guidelines in examining the current committee structure and in making its proposals:

  • committees must be aligned with University processes
  • the functions of all committees must be clear: they will be advisory, policy making, decision-making or operational or a mix of these functions
  • a parallelism between Faculty and University committees is desirable: parallelism implies that a) where appropriate, there are Faculty committees to deal at a Faculty level with issues that University committees deal with at a University level, b) there are Faculty voices on University committees and c) effective linkages between Faculties and university committees are best achieved when Faculty members of University committees hold relevant Faculty responsibilities
  • all committees should be clearly necessary and have discrete functions
  • meeting schedules should fit with University process timetables and be appropriate to the business of the committee
  • decision making should be as efficient as possible
  • committees should have an appropriate mix of members, which may include academic and general staff, and students, and all members should be equipped to contribute fully to the work of the committee
  • delegated authorities should be identified and assigned
  • the most efficient and appropriate reporting mechanisms should be used.

Committee membership

The University has committed in Mission, Goals and Strategies to valuing the 'participation of all staff in academic and institutional life and empowering all members of the University community to exercise initiative and responsibility'. This includes participation in Departmental, Faculty and University advisory, policy and decision-making structures. The following proposals continue our practice of bringing elected members, Faculty representatives and ex officio members together to serve the University. However, where appropriate, the principle of 'parallelism', outlined above, has been applied more fully than in the past.

It is also proposed that the procedure for electing sub-professorial members of Senate committees by sub-professorial staff be followed in the election of professorial members. With increasing Faculty representation on Senate Committees, the numbers of sub-professorial members of Committees have increased. The proposal is intended to ensure that Senate Committees have an appropriate professorial representation.

It is proposed that the practice whereby a representative of the Equal Opportunities Committee may attend meetings of other committees as a participant-observer be continued.The appropriate administrative officers should be in attendance at all meetings to provide information and advice. Committee Chairs should determine, in consultation with the relevant administrative officers, who these persons should be.

Although student representation has been continued on committees, Auckland University Students Association has asked that there be a special consideration of student representation on all committees. The Vice-Chancellor has agreed to this review, which will take place in the second semester.

Council Committees

Council has requested that this review consider Council committees. Council has a limited number of committees. Some of these, such as ethics and safety committees, act under authority delegated by external agencies and are required by statute or regulatory guidelines to report to Council. Other committees act as checks and balances within the system.

Vice-Chancellor's Advisory Committees

The Vice-Chancellor's Committees are advisory to him in his capacity as manager of the University's academic and administrative matters. A number of Vice-Chancellor's Advisory Committees were established in 1996 and others have been created as particular needs have emerged.

The Vice-Chancellor is advised on policy and planning by the senior management team, including the Deputy Vice-Chancellors, the Pro-Vice-Chancellors, the Deans, the Registrar, the Director of Administration, the Director of Human Resources and the Director of Planning. It is the practice of the senior management to discuss policy and planning with the wider University. Examples of such discussions have been the review of the University's Mission, Goals and Strategies in 1999, the decisions to enter alliances with Auckland University of Technology and Manukau Institute of Technology, the 2000 Budget and this review. In all such cases decisions have involved reference to and discussions with Senate. Senate remains the body that advise Council on all academic matters.

Principles governing the role, functions and membership of Vice-Chancellor's Advisory Committees are as follows:

  • the Vice-Chancellor's Advisory Committees should provide advice on the management of the academic and administrative matters of the University, financial, employment, and statutory responsibilities of the Vice-Chancellor
  • the membership of the Vice-Chancellor's Advisory Committees should be structured to include members appropriate to the Committee's function e.g. professorial and sub-professorial staff, general staff, and to reflect the gender and ethnic diversity of the University community
  • the Vice-Chancellor's Advisory Committees should report to Senate on matters that affect the academic activities of the University and to Council on financial matters and statutory obligations.

Senate and Senate Committees

The 1996 paper on Management and Organisational Structure did not address the composition and function of Senate, stating that it was open to Senate to institute a review of these matters in due course. Over a number of years there has been considerable discussion of Senate, mainly off the floor of Senate.
On the one hand, it has been argued that Senate has become a rubber stamp for committee decisions, that there is no longer any debate at Senate, that the membership is too large and that half the members never attend.

On the other hand, members value the opportunity Senate provides to access information, either through the papers or through the Vice-Chancellor's report and debate, it provides a forum for raising issues, brings senior members of the academic staff together with representatives of other academic groups and students, and as the body advising Council on academic matters, plays a major role in University affairs.

There is no immediate proposal to amend the constitution of Senate. However, in view of the discussions on the operation of Senate, the Vice-Chancellor has asked that a Taskforce be established to report on models of Academic Boards and their operation to the October meeting of Senate. This report will be the basis for Senate to determine whether there is any advantage to be gained by consideration of change.