I am sorry that, for many in the University community, the recent break has not been as restful as you deserve. As we resume regular University operations on all campuses after the shutdown period, I want to reassure you the University is here to provide support to you and to the nation as we work through the consequences of this horrendous bushfire season.
Many in the University community have been volunteering in various capacities.
Whether you were directly affected as an evacuee, through concern for your own safety or that of loved ones, or indirectly through avoiding the hazardous air in Sydney, cancelled holidays, or watching reports as they unfold, these events have not been what any of us planned after a year of hard work.
Most seriously, some of you have lost property and some may have lost animals, friends or loved ones, and I am sure the entire University community wants to support you. If you have been impacted by the bushfires in any way, please see your supervisor about making appropriate arrangements to support you at such a terrible time.
Many in the University community have been volunteering in various capacities. I want to commend you for this work and let you know that we will make arrangements to honour those contributions shortly.
Please be aware that if you are a staff member who volunteers with the Rural Fire Service, the University has a policy allowing for emergency services leave. Under the circumstances, this leave may be extended in discussion with your supervisor.
If you are working on other bushfire-related support for our community, please discuss options with your supervisor and we will be as flexible as possible.
If you need wellbeing support, our Employee Assistance Provider (Benestar) is available to all staff online or by calling 1300 360 364.
With many students still on summer break, please take care and we look forward to your safe return for Semester 1.
For those of you joining us at the University, or indeed in Australia, for the first time, please be reassured that although the bushfires throughout New South Wales have impacted regional communities terribly and have caused concern throughout the country and the world, the situation in Sydney is fundamentally safe and we look forward to welcoming you to our community.
If you need wellbeing support, you can contact Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) on (02) 8627 8433 or call the after-hours Crisis Line on 1300 474 065.
The full impact of these fires is not yet fully understood, but we already know there is a role we can play in making sure the University’s expertise is available to governments and communities as we rebuild and attempt to prevent serious recurrence. Many of you will have seen our colleagues already in the media explaining the impact of the bushfires.
We have also started discussions with the Sydney Policy Lab, the Sydney Environment Institute and a range of colleagues across our faculties and schools about how we can bring together our experts to encourage collaboration and improve our collective contribution at this critical time. If you are working in an area which could make a difference, please contact the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Duncan Ivison.
Given the local and global impact of these bushfire events, and their link to the worldwide climate emergency, it is ever more urgent that we step up our efforts to implement a cohesive sustainability strategy that enables us to be equipped as an institution for the challenges that climate change presents to us, both now and in the future.
Many of you were involved in the consultations in the latter part of 2019 to guide the development of our new strategy. New initiatives will start rolling out this year and there will be opportunities for everyone to get involved in its implementation: as an organisation we are committed to doing all we can.
As was communicated before the break, please continue to take necessary precautions to keep yourself safe as the bushfire season continues, including making alternate working arrangements as necessary.
Any further information on campus operations for staff, students and the community will continue to be posted regularly to this page on our website.
We do not yet know the specific needs of our community. If you have any suggestions for how we can help you or what the University could be doing more generally, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will seek to help however we can.
Dr Michael Spence AC
Vice-Chancellor and Principal