AgResearch plans prompt blogger to ask: is this the way to reorganise science?

The latest reorganisation of AgResearch has brought back unpleasant memories for Ken Perrott, blogging at Open Parachute.

In his time with the CRI, about 600 jobs were based at, or related to, the Ruakura Research Centre’s AgResearch campus in Hamilton. Under the new plans about 180 “roles” will transfer from the Ruakura campus – leaving it with only about 90 “roles” remaining!

Perrott writes:

I really feel for AgResearch, and particularly Ruakura, staff at the moment. I have memories of the stress and emotions landed on staff in previous reorganisations – and those reorganisations were smaller than this.

Unfortunately, this sort of upheaval – together with diversion of energy away from research into stress, emotions and cynicism – has been a regular feature of scientific research since the reorganisation of New Zealand science about 20 years ago.

At the beginning, after the initial staff losses there was the intense ideological pressure to think in terms of “profit” instead of science. I remember being jumped on when I tried to point out that no commercially sensible corporation would want to buy our research capability of our science was not good. “Science” became a dirty word.

Then, at regular intervals with each change of CEO, board composition and reallocation of research funding we faced another round of uncertainty, staff losses and staff relocations. These sorts of reorganisations always cause a loss of staff morale, and I was particularly struck, and concerned, by colleagues who actively discouraged their children from following a science career. That seemed to say a lot to me about the negative effects of bureaucratic decisions.

Perrott says he does not have enough contact now with his former employers and colleagues to evaluate the current plans.

He concedes:

There could well be a lot of sense in concentrating research staff closer to the universities (although why continue to ignore the potential of AgResearch-Waikato University links?)

But why do we always have to be so brutal about such restructuring?

The blog post has been reproduced at Sciblogs.

The rest of his arguments and comments from respondents to them can be found here.

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