Friday, 30 November 2018

Computer Says Again

This afternoon, I am filling in a Course Specification Template to delete a couple of modules and add a couple of new ones. It's 23 pages long. Some of it requires you to write a list of learning outcomes. Then a few pages later it asks you to reproduce that exact list again, in a different format. By Tuesday, I have to do all this again. Twenty times, to cover the joint degrees, the part-time versions, and the versions that come with a foundation or sandwich year.

I have 150 hours in my workload to cover course administration. Each of these forms takes 3 hours to do. So more than a third of my annual allocation will be taken up reproducing the same information on multiple versions of the same form.

150 hours, by the way, is the same allocation I get to produce 3* and 4* REF research outputs - the expectations are the same as at a Russell Group university, but the allocations are, shall we say, rather different.

I am not, you may have detected, in a particularly good mood. The desk opposite me has been empty all week because my excellent boss is off sick – broken by the unceasing demands of a management which has no contact with the worlds of teaching and research, and no interest at all in the health, sanity or lives of their academic colleagues. To them, reproducing the same information twenty times is a perfectly reasonable request, and not at all a waste of anyone's time, let alone someone who is trained (in my case) in the literary qualities of twentieth-century Wales (and fictional cat sex, I should confess). This isn't about administrators versus snobby academics: the work seems, in a very real sense, pointless: the kind of thing a decent piece of software should be able to process, distributing the essential information across the relevant documents. Instead, I need to find 60 hours – between writing next week's lectures, including the sickness cover ones – before Tuesday to devote to cutting and pasting until my eyes bleed.

So there you are: an insight into the modern academic's life. It's not all bad: this week I went to a history seminar on British Army discipline in 1970s Northern Ireland (amongst the many eye-popping facts: the UVF bombed an American navy base because they felt the Yanks were getting too cosy with the local Catholics), taught Flyting and Broadsidess (the Reddit of their day), Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and Popular Culture from Matthew Arnold to Fan Fiction, and the students have been absolutely wonderful. I popped down to Swansea to examine an M.Res, which meant a detailed, fascinating conversation with a new academic and a walk along the beach from Mumbles to the university, and I read the first two novels in the Aftermath series: a bit of a stunt by which the publisher gets various authors to write novels within a serial set in the same world. The first one was Dave Hutchinson's: a bit too military and standard post-apocalypse for me, but the second one is by Adam Roberts, who plays with genre very wittily and knowingly. The only thing that spoiled it for me is the apocalyptic device: to choose a meteor storm is very Wyndhamesque/Silver Age, but it feels like irresponsibility when the real environmental apocalypse is staring us all in the face. I've also carried on with Kiberd's Inventing Ireland and a few other bits and pieces.

Having moaned about being too busy, it's a bit cheeky to blithely list a load of books I've read, but the fact is that I can't sleep unless I've read a substantial amount. I'll happily eat into sleeping time and function on three or four hours rather than cut out the reading.

Must go - forms to fill in.

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