Failure is something with which I'm long acquainted. I was pretty awful in school and only did well when inspired by decent teachers or subjects I liked. My university reference, written by my headteacher, advised any institutions not to admit me as it would be a waste of their and my time. Many thanks to the University of Derby English department for showing me that at the interview: I may not have chosen to come to you but I've had warm feelings about you ever since. I went to Bangor (via Clearing) and on paper, thrived: got some prizes, a First and an MA but it never felt easy, though it was enjoyable. When it came to the PhD I struggled the whole way and took a long research break afterwards, and still find writing difficult. And teaching. And admin. And talking intelligently to colleagues, managers and students. But I get through. I care about these people and I believe in my subject's importance. I just don't think it's helpful to constantly pressure people with talk of nothing but 4* articles and excellence. There's too much to do in too little time with too little money to be world-class in everything we do. What we can and should do is recognise the limits of what's possible and encourage people to do their best – and I don't just mean that managers need to do better. We all need a little more humanity.
I failed on Wednesday morning. I turned up at my class to discover that the rooming staff had accidentally forgotten to book a room. After a bit of stress we walked over to the other campus and tried again. I was discombobulated and those students who made it to the second venue were distracted too. Very few had read The Duchess of Malfi and I could tell it just wasn't working, so we skipped the seminar afterwards. Definitely a failure, though not entirely mine. Pedagogically though, probably the right decision, and an experience which has given me ideas for improving the lecture's focus and structure next time.
Over in Australia, this kind of banal event's disappearance in favour of the Permanent Revolution is what concerns Kate at Music For Deckchairs:
It’s a strategic move, that demands that we abandon modest efforts and incremental, careful practices; it mobilises us to the barricades of whatever—innovation, disruption, competition—trampling each other as we go.
And in each life lived in these unprecedented times we have to figure out what is enough for us, and enough to give, so that we can get on and survive the encroachments of big claims on our attention, our action, our loyalties to each other’s care. Figuring out what is enough is how we each hold on to the clover of our own values, and protect the thing we’re trying to protect, the small and hopeful thing we came here to do.
I agree. I've long thought that kindness is underrated. I want to see more boring, low-level, humane kindness and empathy. I've long thought that HE 'thought leaders' have inhaled too many 1980s management textbooks and regard we plodders (or is it just me) as enemies of progress. Personally, I work at a university because I'm unemployable elsewhere it's a different, older model of cooperation. We're not chasing profits or churning out product. We have the space to nurture each other, though the walls (of TEF, of REF, of 'competitors', of fees, of metrics) are closing in.
I won't be buried in a mausoleum with a permanent guard and eternal flame. There will be no Voleism, no Vole Prize, no Vole Street or cohorts of eager young hipsters doing PhDs in Mid to Late Vole Studies. But if one or two people are persuaded that they can do what I've done, or a little bit better because I've been kind or encouraging, it's good enough for me.