Wednesday, 16 December 2020

For whom the OfS bell tolls

THE ironically-named Office for Students is taking an advent-calendar approach to publishing a slew of disturbing documents reinforcing their Ayn Randian approach to learning, and faced with choice of marking or reading them, I made the wrong choice on every level. 

While the image of a Vice-Chancellor being rousted from his bed in some agreeable college mansion at 4. a.m. by jackbooted goons appeals on an atavistic level, I was actually quite disturbed by the discovery that the organisation that tried to hire Toby Young and makes your average Vice-Chancellor look clever and altruistic has 'powers of entry and search'

All I can do is turn to fiction. 

The clocks had just struck thirteen when the door splintered and finally gave way under the weight of a ram. In poured the OfS in their tight black uniforms. 'OFS! Get on the f***ing floor!' screamed a voice familiar from a million Spectator podcasts. 'And make yourself decent'. The confused VC grabbed a mortar-board to hide his shame before being dragged out of the grace-and-favour lodge, across the manicured lawn (in contravention of college by-laws restricting access only to those with a congratulatory first) and thrown in the back of a Black Maria of the kind that haunted the dreams of SMTs across the land. He'd known this day would come. If only he'd taken the job at Bristol or Chester - he'd have made it across the border and into the warm embrace of HEFCW given a few minutes' head start. 

Hours later he was hauled out of the van in a dingy basement under the OfS Lubyanka. Through the hood he could dimly perceive the received pronunciation sobs of others like him - clearly Gove, Williamson, Barber and Dandridge had decided on a Night of the Long Knives, egged on by their lickspittles in the Mail and the Telegraph

 What do Air Bud, a Comma & a Police Interrogation have in Common?

Eventually he found himself standing in a harshly-lit interview room, its sole decoration a portrait of Nigel Biggar, foot resting on a suppliant native. Without warning, the hood was pulled off and a bucket of cold water thrown over him. From behind, a voice whispered in his ear. 'You knew you'd end up here, eventually. It's not like the old days. Back then, you could rely on Vice-Chancellors to behave. Both of them'. Our VC blinked in the glare and choked back tears. 'But…what have I done? I've read the memos. I made the medieval Latinists promote employability'. He paused. His voice broke. 'I even made the quantum physicists take an entrepreneurialism training course. I had the ceramics people throw NSS bowls and made the glass makers etch their TEF score in crystal'.

The educated voice sounded sympathetic. 'I know', it soothed. 'You did what you could to drag your 'university' into modern times and make it customer-friendly. But it's my friend Market here. He's not convinced you really mean it'. The speaker moved round into the prisoner's line of sight. He had a weaselly, hungry face and the eyes of a man determined not to let ignorance shake his self-belief. This was a man who knew that Britain was 'better than the Belgians'. A tarantula sat on his shoulder looking slightly friendlier than its owner. 'We've been through the stats' said Williamson, silkily. 'Did you know that not one of your graduates has founded a hedge fund in the past three years'?

The dishevelled VC pulled himself together. 'I know. I'm sorry. But we've been working on social mobility and access. Look at the nurs…'

But before he could finish the word, Williamson had given a slight nod and his unseen colleague smashed a cosh into the poor man's kidneys. 'If you dare cite demographics, my friend here is going to be very angry. And he went to Durham. You don't survive the LARP club hazings up there without learning a thing or two about pain'. The other man stepped into the light. A woolly cap covered a balding head. Stubble spread like fungus across the Mekon-like face. He appeared to have dressed himself in the dark from the Fat Face bins. The VC blanched. He knew that smell. 'Shut tha' face', said Dom. 'I know your sort. I've re-edited more blogs about the Woke Blob than you've had cosy dinners down the Lodge with building contractors'. The face pushed itself into the VC's. 'Now tell us: where are you hiding the cultural Marxists?' 

By now his victim was on his knees and sobbing uncontrollably. Another brutal blow to the head reestablished his attention. 'I DON'T KNOW!', he screamed. 'We closed Women's Studies. We fired the sociologists. Modern Languages went years ago. What more do you want?'. 

'I want to know about this', hissed the notorious disruptor. 'And you'd better talk fast: Priti's outside and she's been looking at your Tier 3 visa licence. You don't want to be left alone with her'. He shoved a print-out into the poor man's face. It was an email chain with certain words circled in red: 'Thunberg'. 'Climate Emergency'. 'Honorary Degree'. For a moment, the hapless chap felt a moment's relief. He could explain. 'Oh, that. We were quite pleased with that. The students asked for it, and you always tell us to listen to the Student Voice. A bit of paper, some friendly local media coverage and a meaningless statement about possibly eventually getting recycled loo paper in the executive suite. Ticked all the boxes'. 

A moment of silence ticked by ominously, broken eventually by the crunch of steel-tipped Bullingdon brogues on chancellorial genitals. 'You listened to the wrong students, pal. Big mistake. We know you hid the bust of that slave trade thought leader who endowed the business school bogs. We heard that history professor talk about the 'discursive turn'. You slow-walked your KEF engagement. Ferguson applied for a job in Finance and wasn't even interviewed. Do you know what we found in the English department?'. 

His victim shrugged. He'd forgotten they still had one. 

'No Spenser. No Blyton. No Hemingway. Not even Roth. Kipling was filed under "Colonial Voices". We found Fanon. Equiano. McBride. Adichie. Eddo-Lodge.' the hapless bureaucrat just stared. He'd never heard of any of them. It had been years sine he'd read anything other than a balance sheet. Besides, he was cured. He loved Big Dom. But it was no good. The other man shook his head. 'It's too late for you. You're for the Long No Platform now'. And with that he turned away, pausing only to spit in the tired man's face. 'Take him away. Sell the buildings to a private provider. And send in Gopal. She's been getting uppity'. 

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Happy Christmas, VCs everywhere. Sleep well.