Weak and wobbly leadership

We will all be surprised (and most of us relieved) at the result of the general election. Although the Tories are still in power, just about, the horrifying prospect of the Nasty Party having a large majority has been averted. The empty “strong and stable” slogan intoned by the Maybot throughout the campaign now seems even more ludicrous than before last Thursday. What will happen over the next few months is not entirely clear, but a second election must be on the cards, and perhaps Corbyn, who has revealed hitherto hidden leadership qualities, can win.

Some of us may see some parallels between the antics of the Conservatives and those of our leadership, the Senior Mismanagement Team. The SMT has certainly adopted the neoliberalism, without reservation, that has characterised the Tories for some 40 years. The damage inflicted by Weinberg is not dissimilar to that of Theresa May’s on her ability to govern. After shooting the whole country in the foot, following her predecessor’s lead, she has now done the same to herself. Likewise, our ex-VC took a relatively healthy Kingston University and methodically cut the legs away.

Mrs May’s remaining time in office looks likely to be short. Our Chief Architect, Spier, will no doubt outlast her incumbency. But there are similarities between the two. Just as May has talked much about delivering a one-nation Britain, without actually doing anything towards that, Spier has promised more respect for the staff but done nothing in support. He has also proved equally keen on hollow slogans. But isn’t that neoliberal leaders all the way? Keep telling everyone how good you are, how well things are going, deny everything when it goes wrong, and ignore any awkward questions. Wobbly as she goes, Captain.

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Cheesy Steve

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Message from the bogs

A rare visitation descended upon our inboxes last Tuesday — a message from the gods. Well, the Board of Governors, who do tend to behave in mysterious ways. In their wisdom they have made our Chief Architect Spier the permanent VC, following “rigorous selection”. Not that the missive could easily be inscribed upon a tablet of stone. The windy managementese would be more suited to a scroll of BoG roll (geddit). Apparently Spier impressed their lordships with his “strengthening of the student experience” (eh?) and “streamlining its professional and support services”. That’s cuts to you and me. Bearing in mind that they allowed Clueless Julius to run amok for six years, one questions the BoG’s judgement in these matters, while they prepare themselves for any number of nice little well paid non-exec numbers in future. It’s great to be a director.

Still, look on the bright side; well, try anyway. If not our Swiss big cheese, then probably some other psycho with an axe to grind on the heads of the long-suffering Kingston staff. And, let us not forget, Swiss Steve is supposed to recognise the failings of the leadership, and that staff are not so bad as the SMT likes to think. Trouble is we really have yet to see any concrete evidence of this. Perhaps the BoGs themselves could issue a commandment from Sinai: Thou shalt not shit on thy staff.

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Universitas adminstratoris

It’s perhaps as well that Kingston has no Classics department, or the grammar of the above title might be challenged by a Latin scholar. For those whose grasp of Latin is on a par with Dissenter’s, the contention is that Kingston is no longer a community of teachers and scholars but one of managers. Indeed, we may longer be a university at all. We cannot be teachers and providers of student satisfaction, as measured by NSS scores and, soon, TEF ratings; we cannot be scholars when we have no freedom to think, to try things out, to fail (as will often happen), when the management is threatening many of us with job loss and demotion. When you are sick to the pit of your stomach you cannot be a scholar.

Phase 1 of the cuts is done. Geology and classical Music are going, Economics and Politics are shrinking, the School of Performance and Screen is merging with Humanities, apparently with much chaos thanks to the Dean Penny (not such a bright) Sparke fobbing off reasonable objections to new course structures. Human Geography stays for the time being and enough staff in this area have opted to leave voluntarily, so no redundancies. Not so for Politics; staff there are being thrown into the arena of “limited competition”, an unseemly and abusive treatment of loyal employees. Music lecturers not sufficiently in the groove for the new pop courses are taking voluntary severance. So more valuable staff thrown out with the violins. Further cuts are to come.

The fragmentation of Kingston into a conglomerate of higher education is most starkly illustrated by the renaming of FADA to the School of Art, returning “to its origins”. This is perhaps the clearest evidence of the breakdown in collegiality at Kingston. Of course it is in the new school’s interest to distance itself from the rest of Kingston, an institution of declining student numbers and reputation. Indeed such a move could be considered sensible positioning: if the rest of Kingston collapses, the School of Art is ready to become an independent college once more. Who knows, it may do so sooner.

Ghastly as the situation is at Kingston, we are not entirely unique. The Guardian published a piece the other day on low morale at UCL: ‘ “Staff morale at all-time low! UCL is being run as a business and not as a university” ’, runs a comment from the UCL staff survey. Yep, sounds familiar. David Colquhoun, honorary fellow at UCL and blogger , who has commendably criticised places like Imperial for bullying, has so far not commented. He describes the behaviour of management at these institutions as cruel. And cruelty is the best work to describe the total disregard and contempt for the staff, their welfare and their careers.

It may be a comfort to hear we are not the only ones subject to institutional bullying, but Kingston is more vulnerable. A radio programme the other night talked about the vapidity that creeps into governments’ pronouncements in times of decadence, Orwellian language intended to veil all in sticky candyfloss. Staffspace records Chief Architect Spier’s comment, “I am confident we will be able to move swiftly to improve our academic performance in these areas …” One very much doubts Spier is confident at all. He might think the SMT is moving swiftly. To the rest of us it looks like the headlong stumble of a lame horse wearing blinkers.

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Changes to the management

Readers of the Pollyanna missives on staffspace will have noticed that there are a couple of personnel (resource?) changes to the senior mismanagement. Hilton, the University Secretary, whatever that may be, is going after two and bit years. Most of us may be forgiven for wondering who he is; after one or two appearances on staffspace he rather faded from the scene. What little he has contributed has been either negligible, or, according to some reports received here, incompetent. No surprises there. Are any of the managers competent?

The other change is the educational guru. Following the demise of Eales-Reynolds, her place has been taken by Clarissa Wilks. Quite what her claim to management expertise might be is unclear. What is clear is her educational research record, which, as with her double-hyphened predecessor, consists of two publications.

What of the future? Well, keep an eye on Mad Mike Sutcliffe, SEC’s hapless dean. Stories of his unsuitability as a manager have spread throughout the University. In fact he is so bad this blog understands that his probationary period has been extended. By the high standards of management incompetence at Kingston, this sets a new bar of awfulness. Could a new dean at SEC be in the offing?

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For believers in the status quo

By the fantastic rockers Too Scared to Rock the Boat. Sing along to the link below.

When I’m at work all day I’ll go to a meeting
We’re under review our jobs are at risk may get the sack
Teaching’s okay my feedback is good I’ll be all right
Get somebody else as for myself I’ll stay on my back
Roll over lay down it won’t happen to me
Roll over they won’t sack me you’ll see
Roll over lay down it won’t happen to me
Roll over lay down

When I’m at work I’ll have that one-to-one meeting
Show them my skills, a list of my scores in their hand
Maybe I’ll bang my head on the table
Or run out the door bury my head in the sand
Roll over lay down I got no clout
Roll over gonna help the bosses out
Roll over lay down I got no clout
Roll over lay down

When I’m at work don’t think much of my colleagues
Keep my head down keep my mouth shut as before
Later at night drink myself under the table
Reckon I’ll lay back down on the floor
Roll over lay down the UCU
Roll over they’re a foreign country too
Roll over lay down the UCU
Roll over lay down

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