Suspicions of subsidence in new Town House

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Lessons from Lynch

The RMT, trade union for train company staff, including drivers, has been in the news lately. Its leader Mick Lynch has gained a reputation for competence and skilful handling of the media, much like his predecessor but one, the late Bob Crow, as well as leading effective strike action. This is why the average train worker salary is £44,000, and just under £60,000 for drivers. Compare this with the average academic salary of about £40,000.

To be a lecturer requires a minimum six years in university education. A train driver needs GCSEs. Driving a train is of course a highly responsible job, but I imagine most lecturers feel they are underpaid in comparison. The trade union for university academic staff, the UCU, has not been very successful in negotiating real pay rises for university staff. Our pay has declined over the decades. The latest pay offer is 3%; inflation, in case you haven’t noticed, is running at 10.1% (CPI). This comes after frozen pay from 2010 for two years, and 1% rises between 2013 and 2017. Last year was zero.

There have been several periods of industrial action organised by the UCU over the years, yet university pay has slipped further in real terms. Why has the RMT been so effective with strike action compared to our union? The principal reason, other than Lynch, is because strikes are well supported by RMT members. Of course, loss of train services has far more impact on the country than academics withholding marks or cancelling lectures, but the truth is lecturers are very bad at looking out for themselves. UCU membership is under 50% and support for industrial action lower still. Picket lines outside university entrances are often a handful of people, especially at Kingston. I’ve heard several excuses for not supporting strikes. The most frequent is worrying about the students, though action is usually so brief there is really no long term damage to their education. Most lecturers say nothing and keep their heads down.

This is a poor show from the staff. In the face of aggressive university management, which has adopted the harsh right wing policies that afflict the country, pay and conditions are now in such decline that academics are more likely to leave than suffer the indignity of declining pay and being undervalued. It would make more sense to stand up for ourselves collectively and stay with the job we like. But I can already see the heads going down. Watch Mick Lynch on TV and weep.

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Big buildings, small minds

 

What is it about big buildings that gets Vice-Chancellors so excited and creaming their pants in ecstacy? A number of Uni bosses across the land have been axing staff and departments with shocking zeal and terrible consequences for the employees concerned, but at the same time are more than happy to spend zillions on lavish and poorly conceived vanity projects.

Dissenter has described recently the KU Vice-Admiral’s sad obsessions with architecturally grandiose vanity projects, the latest, of course, being the Clown House at Pen Road, which hoovered up millions and opened well behind schedule (with no penalties for the builders concerned). ‘Two Jobs’ Spiersy’s big buildings ego trip has seen him busily instructing members of his SLT (Senile Leadership Team) to cull whole departments and subjects, such as Politics and Human Rights, citing the need to ‘restructure’ Faculties and save on budgets. At the same time, though, as the contact-lensed one has turned a blind eye to the devastating consequences of these cuts for his loyal and hard-working staff, he has been more than happy to lavish Uni capital on big building projects with wild abandon. The self-proclaimed ‘Gold Commander’ and Chinese Polyversity fan seems to think that big shiny new or revamped buildings, such as the disappointingly bland Mill Street building, the ‘refurbished’ Holmewood House (new sofa anyone?), and the giant aircraft hangar known as the Clown House, will somehow lead to masses of new students all fighting each other to desperately get into Kingston Uni. It won’t.

The idea that new applicants and their parents will be eager to crowd into the Clown House to get selfies next to a few bits of rusty old industrial leftovers posing as sculptures on the ground floor is a sad delusion, and the product of Spiersy’s increasingly desperate ‘Courtyard’ imagination. The recent Open Days held in the Clown House have not exactly been huge successes. And woe betide any hapless student who gets too close to the ‘sculptures’ – you must ensure they have ‘space’ around them. Or you will get told off. Or forced to view one of the VC’s vlogs.

As Estates will confirm in increasingly exasperated tones, the VC’s ‘vision’ for Pen Road now includes a giant new glass-style front entrance (think Kew gardens greenhouse but much less attractive), for which a huge load of loot has been approved and work has already begun. Spiersy seems to think this will further entice and impress new applicants into Kingston Uni, all stunned and in awe at the sheer scale of his ‘developing new strategy’.

Big buildings syndrome combined with money-saving cuts seems to be the new philosophy among the UK’s VC class. The latest edition of the satirical magazine Private Eye (1 July) has also now noted these disturbing trends for course cuts combined with huge Estates spending in Britain’s post-92 Universities: ‘Arts, languages and humanities courses are taking a hammering at universities, with staff cuts and course closures announced this month as vice-chancellors claim to be feeling the postpandemic squeeze’. The Eye added: ‘More than half the academic staff at the University of Roehampton have been told they are at risk of redundancy, as it carried out a brutal cull of entire subject areas’. The Eye continued: ‘Roehampton bosses claim the “restructuring” will mean a shift towards “skills-led” vocational studies’. Sound familiar? Well, read this as well: ‘Eye readers will not be surprised to learn that the university recently completed swanky major building projects, including a £13.7m remodelling of the former library into a new multi-media building, after spending £35m on a new library in 2017′.

It’s the same at De Montford Uni, Leicester. The staff were reassured by the VC as recently as 2021 that while the sector was struggling with job cuts, “We’re not going to do that. We’re in a good financial position’. In fact, during 2021, De Montford gleefully pushed ahead with opening a deluxe dubai campus and still has extravagant plans for ‘DMU London’. But now the Uni has confirmed it is looking to cut 58 jobs. Sound familiar?

Spiersy’s obsessions with giant new buildings to match his ego has already gobbled up the pounds in lorry-loads and, hilariously, he has now even come up with a brilliantly original new name for his ‘transformative’ vision – it’s called the ‘Town House Strategy’. Yes, you read that correctly: the TOWN. HOUSE. Strategy. He’s actually selected a name for his corporate ‘mission’ that is so mind-numbingly bland he might as well have termed it the ‘Garden Shed strategy’ or the the ‘Spare Cupboard option’. The image of the Vice-Admiral and his SLT lapdogs patting themselves on their backs at the adoption of such a stupid title for their ‘vision, mission and strategy’ just about sums up the emptiness of the drive to convert Kingston into little more than a glorified technical college.

To add insult to injury, when Spiersy’s second ‘Future Skills’ report was grandly launched at the House of Commons recently in front of ‘Business leaders, MPs, policymakers and local stakeholders’, the publicity sheets dished out at the event to those who had the misfortune to have to sit through the VC’s speech included a list of KU’s ‘proud’ achievements in the REF2021. This highlighted Units of Assessment that scored above the sector average for impact, and ‘Politics’ was included. As one of the MPs present commented, that’s a pathetically bold claim given that Kingston has just axed Politics.

Not everybody at the top is happy with Spiersy’s obsessions with big buildings and ‘Town House’ skills. A source has leaked to Dissenter that a number of voices have privately complained behind Spiersy’s back that they think his ‘vision’ is hijacking everything, warping all the medium- and long-term strategic decisions that are being made. The trouble is, the Vice-Admiral does not tolerate any dissenting views on this. And those who have disagreed with him in the past have felt his revenge. Dissenter can reveal that the previous Dean of KSA, Colin Rhodes, who suddenly resigned, was not just eased out because he was ‘handsy’ in the Morgan-Wortham tradition. Rhodes clashed with Spiersy over what the KSA Dean wanted to do with the area covered by Middle Mill. Rhodes put forward a highly ambitious plan to develop and transform the area into a spanking new buildings complex with state-of-the art KSA lecture theatres, meeting areas, new studios, new offices, and other facilities. The trouble is, this seriously clashed with Spiersy’s expensive ‘vision’ for Pen Road. When Rhodes excitedly put forward his plans, the VC made sure it was rejected outright. Rhodes was humiliated.

Spiersy remains determined to leave his mark on KU. Expect more big buildings to come to house the spacious emptiness of his ‘Town House’ philosophy.

 

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Kingston joins the PEF

Here’s something we suspect will not be mentioned at any University Open Days or be put in press releases sent out by the Uni’s Comms team. But (big drum roll here) Kingston’s self-annointed ‘Gold Commander’, Admiral Steven ‘Two Jobs’ Spier, can now boast of another world-beating achievement: the University has joined the PEF.

What’s the PEF? You have heard of the REF, TEF and KEF. Now your employer has added a new category to the University’s C.V., although Spiersy will not refer to it in his latest VLOG. Staff union UCU have announced nationally that Kingston has joined the Punitive Employer Framework (PEF). This is a list of Universities that are threatening 100% deduction in pay if any of their staff support the UCU campaign for a marking boycott.

The list (currently) is: Sheffield; University of Leeds: QMUL; Cardiff University; Ulster; UAL; University of Brighton; SOAS and – now – Kingston.

Not only are UCU members in the firing line: non-UCU staff who refuse to mark other colleagues’ work who are participating in the boycott will also be penalised by their line-managers and Deans, even if it’s just one single essay (yes, you read that correctly). It is a classic punitive divide-and-rule tactic, designed to make non-UCU staff turn against their UCU-membered colleagues. It comes straight out of all the grubby Guides to Bad Management so lovingly adored by the latest generation of spineless technocrats who have now hijacked the top managerial levels at many of the post-92 HEIs, including Kingston.

Spiersy’s hardening of tactics should come as no surprise. Ever since he became VC he has refused to deal directly with UCU, regarding them as a pain in his greasy backside, and as a potential road block on his vision to convert the University into no more than a glorified technical college. As Dissenter revealed in a previous blog, Vice-Admiral Spier recently told his admin staff that UCU’s ‘action short of a strike’ policy was ‘damaging to’ Kingston’s public relations (which conveniently ignores all the damage he clearly has done himself). Dissenter also noted how Spiersy gleefully boasted to the local Council’s new Chief Executive, Andreas Kirsch, that UCU staff picketing at PR and KP campuses were ‘small’ in number.

Dissenter has been informed that the ever-miserable VC has also been in secret close discussion with some other VCs, and two zoom meetings have been held in recent weeks to coordinate a common strategy over the UCU marking boycott. Well, well.

Another influence on Spiersy has been his new HR director, Emma Bunton, who was appointed in 2020. Boynton came from Kensington and Chelsea Council, where she developed an unpleasant reputation among her workforce and boasted she had ’embedded new behaviours’ there. Boynton has apparently been egging Spiersy on to take a more hardline stance towards UCU at Kingston (it is worth noting that her confrontational style was also one of the things that impressed the VC when the former Spice Girl was interviewed for the KU HR job).

It gets worse. Another member of the SLT (Senile Leadership Team) has also, according to our sources, been urging Spiersy to ‘break’ UCU. We won’t name the individual concerned (we are saving that juicy bit of info for a rainy day) but the (male) SLTer has a remarkably stupid habit of making mobile phone calls around the back of Holmewood House, where he thinks he’s out of earshot of the admin office. Whoops. What’s even more pathetic is that the individual concerned has also slagged off Spiersy in the past, but in recent SLT meetings has gone all out to massage the VC’s ego and criticise UCU.

As Admiral-Commander ‘tinpot’ Spiersy pilots the S.S. Kingston further on to the rocks, squinting desperately through his contact lenses, he’s obviously persuaded himself that Uni staff are solely to blame for everything, especially those tiresome UCU members. While he lashes out with a new round of punitive measures against UCU, he remains completely unable to face up to the fact that his own pisspoor VC-ship is the real problem. His BOG knows it. His SLT also know it. Many Uni staff have known it all along, including those who once had the misfortune to suffer him as Dean of KSA.

He continues to bore everybody senseless about his pet ‘Future Skills’ campaign, but the overpaid Professor Dimwit simply cannot see he has zero skills himself. He should place himself under PEF, and forgo a few of those nice top-class hotel stays he is so fond of.

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An Easter Message from your favourite VC

Dear peasants staff types,

As I once again take a well-earned break at this very special time of the year I thought I would write to you all personally in the knowledge that you would all appreciate an update from your Gold Commander on how the Polyversity University has forged ahead during the weeks since Christmas, and especially since my last speech to staff in the University’s flagship and award-winning Clown House near the beginning of Semester 2, which (as I am sure you will agree) was a truly memorable highlight in the institution’s 2021-22 academic calendar.

I am sure you will also all agree with me that it has been another world-beating few months in the story of my VC-ship and my strategic mission for the University. I feel truly privileged to remain as your Vice-Admiral and overall senior managerial executive, and I have many more exciting plans in the pipeline for Kingston’s workforce to help push the University’s entrepreneurial and innovative Forward Operational Model (FOM) even further forward than previously, with lots of new initiatives concerning new forms of knowledge exchange and transfer, and plenty of innovative suggestions to enhance our strategic development and meet the changing needs of industry and outside firms and businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Doing in Action

As you all know, or at least those of you who can be bothered to read my messages or watch all my special video talks, I have placed ‘doing things’ and ‘making things’ at the heart of Kingston’s creative skills mission. The SLT (Senile Leadership Team) and BOG (Board of Governors) have all been briefed regularly and completely agree with me that Kingston has developed a growing reputation as the sector leader in making useful things in an innovative, creative, blended and interesting way. The next Away Day for the BOG, for example, will introduce them to the ancient art of origami, the first step being to make little paper hats for the lunch break during the day. This is the kind of positive ‘can do’ attitude I feel should be rolled out across all parts of the University. It is ‘doing in action’, shaped in a strategic ‘make do’ philosophy of which we can all be justly proud. I was also inspired in this by one of my many business trips to Hong Kong on behalf of the University, where I also picked up other skills in picture-framing, decorative pen-writing and self-directed massage.

Looking Ahead

As part of my Big Conversation with the workforce and all staff-types, and at my last speech to you all in the Clown House, I invited all of you earlier this year to send me suggestions about any exciting new ideas you may have had about how we can put even more ‘creative skills’ at the heart of my vision and mission for the University. I am very pleased to announce that we had a fantastic response to this. When my PA had filtered out all the abusive messages from staff (probably from members of that so-called staff union YUKU, the moaning minnies), she was able to show me at least one positive suggestion from Dr.—–, a Senior Lecturer (fixed-term) in Business Studies at Kingston Hill. He made the brilliant point that we need to make more of the University’s two main corporate colours, grey and blue. He suggested that greater use of the two colours at every opportunity and throughout the University’s buildings would enhance Kingston’s sense of common creative identity and cross-interdisciplinarity. I completely agreed with this forward-thinking idea, and he will certainly be promoted asap. It is precisely this kind of genius strategic innovation that I have banged on about endlessly for many months now, as the BOGsters and SLT will confirm. Firm colour schemes with clear identities can also be blended in new synergies, leading to greater collaboration across Faculties and new creative insights.

Grey and Blue

I am happy to announce that, after commissioning a lengthy 2-page report from my favourite outside consultants PwC, they have recommended that I adopt a brand new initiative. Based on their findings, I will set up three Workforce Taskforces on this colour-themed idea, which will devote time to identifying all the ways where the University’s two colours can be better utilised in an innovative and blended, er, way to forge a much greater sense of corporate identity and, er, wayness, and instil the necessary business skills and creativity that are so important for the success of my Future Skills vision/mission in the next planning round.

The Workforce Innovation Taskforce 1 (TWIT1) will look at and consider the greater use of the colour grey. The Workforce Taskforce 2 (TWIT2) will look at and consider the use of the colour blue. And the Workforce Taskforce 3 (TWIT3) will explore how the two colours can be combined and blended together in a more creative and innovative way. Each TWIT will be chaired by a member of the SLT and will report directly back to me. A paper advocating action and a phased implementation plan will then be tabled at a future SLT working-party, and a Business Case will then be considered in more detail by the new pro-VC for Innovation, Doing Things and Knowledge Transfer, who will then write a report with a series of Action points for my approval. Capital for this exciting new project will be redirected away from Faculty teaching budgets and made available via an internal competition, with bids invited from any member of staff at Professor level and above who can demonstrate 40+ years of service. It is anticipated that the new approach will be put in place during the summer of 2022 and I will monitor all bids from my beach sunbed while abroad.

Some great ideas have already burst forth from preliminary meetings of all 3 TWITs, such as having nice little new staff I.D. cards in an interesting grey-blue colour scheme, painting all corridors in either grey or blue, and having all University letterheads rendered in either grey or blue shades, or in a pre-tested mix of the two to help convey to all external contacts what a creative, shady and dynamic place the University has become.

As you all know, our academic gowns at all graduation ceremonies already embody our grey-blue colour scheme, but I would like us all to think of even more creative ways that we can make innovative and best use of the two colours throughout the Degree ceremonies and at all such events. One idea from Dean Dave ‘the knife’ Mac, which I am particularly enthusiastic about, is to have all staff ushers at the Degree ceremonies wear smart gloves in either grey or blue, with shoes also in either grey or blue, or one shoe of each colour. To push things to even greater levels of creative innovation, all Degree scrolls, instead of being in standard parchment yellow, could be produced in a variety of grey-blue colours. Instead of red ribbons around the scrolls, they could be in grey or blue, or even a checked pattern of the two shades, perhaps with grey or blue polka dots. This is precisely the kind of make-do creativity I am keen to encourage throughout the University and at all levels of our strategic operation; it can be an invaluable part of the KU ‘story’ that I wish to convey to all potential employers, to our strategic partnerships, to all stakeholders and outside businesses in our drive for innovative knowledge transfer and exchange.

If the right colours are in place, the rest will follow: market-leading and world-beating creativity delivered directly from the very heart of Kingston, in glorious greys and blues, all driven and shaped through the sheer brilliance of my leadership.

Finally, a last piece of exciting news for you: as you all know, at my behest, the Polyversity University adopted a new mascot in 2021, Polly the grey parrott, whose image will soon appear on all University mastheads, signs, cups and cutlery. As part of our drive for a singular grey-blue corporate image, I have decided to purchase a partner for Polly – a blue parrott. His new blue companion will help keep him company at SLT strategy meetings and at the Degree ceremonies. It has also been agreed by BOG that both parrotts will be taught to sing a new Kingston University song, which will be composed over the coming months by yours truly, with advice from our Music dept (what’s left of it). The words ‘grey’ and ‘blue’ will be part of the lyrics. This song will be premiered in time for the 2022-23 academic year. I am really looking forward to sharing this innovative and brand new initiative with you all.

Enjoy your Easter eggs. I know I will.

Toodle-pips,

Steven.

Vice-Admiral and Professor Steven ‘Two Jobs’ Spier, top architect and a leading expert on Swiss cheeses.

 

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Your Pay vs Their Pay: the reality

This image has been a big hit on social media, so Dissenter felt duty-bound to share it. While KU staff made huge sacrifices during the pandemic and kept the place going, the Silver failures on the SLT (Senile Leadership Team) were rewarded handsomely by their so-called Gold Commander. And, remember, one of the VC’s close mates on the SLT was given a secret extra financial bung recently for taking on a new Deanship. You couldn’t make it up. Trebles all round.

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