Nepotism, or clear and transparent merit-selection processes?
Recently the NTEU heard about a selection process that sounded rather dubious.
The Branch Office was advised that a Head of School advertised several jobs. One job’s position description seemed to have been written specifically with a particular person in mind (a relative of the Head of School). The jobs were advertised briefly – for a week rather than 2 weeks on the intranet - and not at all externally.
Not all prospective candidates were told the jobs had been advertised. However, the relative of the Head of School was among potential applicants that were told they had been, and they and others were able to get a head start on preparing applications. Then the remaining prospective applicants found out the jobs had been advertised, but they had far less time to complete applications before the closing date for applications. The Head of School was to be on the selection panel.
After receiving this information, the NTEU requested the exercise be suspended pending clarification of the concerns raised, however HR would not agree to this request. Instead, HR said applicants would be sent an email the following day (the day of the interviews) advising if they felt they had been disadvantaged they could delay their interviews. HR also said the HoS wasn’t on the panel and never had been. HR provided no answer to the NTEU’s question as to whether some prospective candidates received advice that the positions were advertised ahead of others.
When the NTEU followed up on this last question, HR’s response was “The University has clarified the process was consistent with the recruitment and selection procedures. If you have an issue regarding a particular staff member/applicant please let me know the details and I will look into it.”
This shows a very inadequate understanding of HR’s obligations to ensure that selection processes are transparent and merit-based.
If HR has investigated the processes and can demonstrate that all prospective applicants were advised the jobs were advertised at the same time, they should be willing to provide that evidence to the NTEU, so the NTEU can dispel members’ concerns about that aspect of the process. The fact that the email sent on the day of the interviews advised a change of panel membership from that advised to staff earlier shows that members’ concerns were well-founded in relation to their concerns about who was on the panel.
The issues raised by members are not trivial - they cut to the heart of merit-based selection. The University, as a publicly-owned organisation, has an obligation to employ staff on merit. Where doubt that merit has been the basis for filling a job exists in a workplace, the ramifications are instantaneous and long-lasting – it affects morale – not only other applicants, but staff more broadly, so HR’s idea that the NTEU should provide the details of those who are aggrieved in the situation is a nonsense. Even staff not directly involved in the selection process lose faith in both HR and management because they form the view that management has manipulated the process, and HR (supposedly there to make sure University policy and procedures are complied with) is seen to have colluded with that manipulation. It creates toxic workplaces that can remain so for years, as members can attest.
A person who “wins” a position in such circumstances comes into the position under a cloud. Even if they would have won the position on merit in a clear and transparent process, the fact that they won it in a process that other staff consider was flawed and based on favouritism means they come into the position with little of the credibility genuinely transparent merit selection processes provide. Management credibility is also protected in transparent selection processes – staff can see that the successful applicant really did win the job.
The NTEU is not confident that the University’s policies and procedures have been complied with in this instance, and is now considering referring the matter to Ombudsman Victoria with a request that it be considered for investigation into whether this is the case.
However the NTEU is aware that this is not the first instance where staff have had concerns that the University’s policies and procedures for staff selection may not have been complied with – if you know of other recent situations (within the past 12 months) where this has occurred, please contact Liz Schroeder by email to email@example.com or post details to the NTEU Monash Branch Office Room G02a Building 19, so the NTEU can look at whether other cases should also be referred on.