Friday, 15 June 2018

Definitely not another allegory of the week

High up in my Faculty's main building perches a nest of vicious, self-interested killers. Motivated solely by their own survival, they swoop down to pick off the weak and defenceless without regard for their victims, the future, the wider ecosystem or the needs of others. They have no predators, appear to be a protected species and float freely high above the busy, insecure and short lives of lesser creatures – like voles – scurrying about in the undergrowth. Their own short-term needs are satisfied without delay and that is all they need to know.

I speak, of course, of the peregrines which roost on the deep concrete ledges of the 7th floor, and not about Faculty management at all. You must all have either deeply cynical mindsets or a keen eye for analogy. Or perhaps both.

In completely unrelated news, our Faculty's restructuring plan has been circulated to everyone except the students and the students' union and it manages to pull off the twin achievements of being more hostile to the values of HE than expected and even more factually incorrect than the previous drafts. It's too much to expect a Dean of Arts to care about the Arts and Humanities, but these failings aren't even compensated by an ability to count. The faculty staff has passed an overwhelming vote of no confidence in our 'leaders': the governors have ignored it and the VC has rejected it, so they now own the situation.

I am used to students crying in my office because we've produced a society and a scholarly atmosphere which imposes unconscionable pressures on them without justification: I am now getting used to my colleagues being reduced to tears and fury not just by management hostility but sheer incompetence and refusal to engage on factual matters. Still, it could be worse: Cardiff University ignored the pleas of one lecturer that he was overworked – including being required to mark 418 exam scripts in 20 days –  and he killed himself. My own employer is finding creative ways to reduce the appearance of overwork by removing time allocations for things like committee membership: colleagues will still be expected to serve, they just won't appear on documents. I was allocated time to write a book this year: 30 hours. I will be judged for not having written said book, but nobody will justify their insistence that 30 hours is enough. Meanwhile my own workload allocation was something like 300 hours over the contractual limit: we do the work because we care about students but my colleagues are being fired because there isn't, apparently, enough work to do. But it's OK: we'll be offered 'resilience training' to stop us feeling bad about a sick and sickening structure.

By the way, in addition to firing dozens of academic colleagues, the university is firing 36 of the 37 student support workers, who are to be outsourced. As you know, outsourcing always leads to secure, supportive employees doing a bang-up job for their clients with all the support they need…

Anyway, enough of this moaning. I've done nice things recently: took the boss for his first trip to Dublin where he thrilled at the graves of Jonathan Swift and Hester, paid homage to the dead of the Rising, and generally appreciated not being in Brexit Britain for a few days. I've read a couple of books (Lethem's Dissident Gardens, Blake's A Penknife in my Heart, Reeve's Station Zero) been fencing and watered the wisteria. I also popped down to London for a meeting of some of the Justice League of Academia, where we had our brains picked in return for a slap-up meal. Picking my brains lasted as long as it took to serve the amuses-bouche but I stuck it out for a couple more courses. Beforehand I strolled through Camden Lock market which was a vision of hell: my bedroom circa 1993 with added banal nationalism. Never again.


Alan said...

How the hell has it got into this state? It used to be renowned for its welcoming attitude to non-traditional students. I was so mature - or at least old - a student (Ph.D. 94-8) that some academics are still there while I'm a pensioner - Darek G, Shirin Housee. Two of my fellow research students ar ealso on the staff - Steve Iafrati and Karin Dannehl. We had our problems - most notably a prof getting sacked, and subsequently doing himself in, after plagiarising his own research student's work, but today's situation sounds bloody horrendous.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, does this make you question what you are doing? Similar situation up at a northern university. I'm certainly questioning: is there any way out? Moving to another university is not necessarily going to resolve this problem (I mean, if it were possible to just up and move)

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