Kingston Uni pioneers new cheese-roll culture

Feeling peckish? Hungry after a lecture? In need of a meal? As well as its Clown House and Future Ill’s programme, Kingston University is pioneering another ‘sector-leading’ strategy to make its rivals blue and green with envy: quick-bite cheese rolls and ‘transformative’ vending machine drinks to help enhance your Future Skills.

When two scientists recently took a visitor for a coffee in the Picton Room at Kingston University’s Penryhn Road campus, they were surprised and clearly disgusted to find that the popular ground-floor meeting and eating room had been closed. In an announcement quietly slipped out on 27 April, and hardly noticed by staff at first, the Uni suddenly revealed radical changes to KU’s catering and hospitality provision, not just at Penryhn Road but across the whole Uni. The Picton Room was closed the very next day.

While the announcement said that other Pen Road outlets ‘continue to be available for food and refreshments’, the now former Picton Room will be incorporated into the money-gobbling ‘Main Building Transformation Project’, which has left the campus looking more like a permanent building site since the middle of 2023, and is part of the VC’s ‘legacy’ big-build projects he loves to spend millions on. Trying to sound enthusiastic, the message added: ‘To complement the existing catering outlets at Penryhn Road, the Transformation Project will add new vending machines offering quality hot drinks and snacks as well as a kitchen space with microwaves and sinks providing more choice for students’. So that’s alright then. Staff will be able to use super efficient ‘vending machines’ to obtain ‘quality hot drinks and snacks’ for themselves and their guests (such as External Examiners), while students will be able to eagerly cater for their own catering needs with a few microwaves and even some sinks to wash up in.

No doubt all this was sold to the BOG (Board of Governors) at their January meeting as ‘ground-breaking’, ‘sector-leading’ and ‘transformational’, all the usual managerial BS terms so favoured by Steven ‘Two Jobs’ Spier, KU’s Vice-Admiral and a true legend in his own lunchtime. Never mind that serious money was invested in the creation of the Picton Room when it was first opened, and that the local connections to former Black slave Cesar Picton were exploited at length in Uni marketing campaigns. After all, it’s only money.

The Picton was a good alternative to sitting in the main and noisy canteen at Pen Road, and was also a rare space where staff could arrange to greet and meet, relax over a meal or coffee, or arrange to host external visitors. No longer. The message is now, er, ‘hard cheese’. Use a vending machine.

But it gets worse. From 15 April, KU staff found that the Town House cafe at Pen Road now closes at the radically revised time of 6.00pm. Think about that. When it was first opened, the Clown House, which cost over £4m, was proclaimed by Spier and his gang of overpaid Silver Leadership Teamsters as the new ‘jewel in the crown’ of Kingston Uni. Glossy images of the building, shining brightly in the evening, with happy staff and students active and busy on all floors, were a core part of the expensive marketing of the ‘award-winning’ project. The cafe, they said, was a ‘pioneering’ new public space, which would help ‘transform’ the image of the Uni, exemplifying (quote) a ‘refreshing and imaginative design culture’ that would (quote) unite ‘town and gown’ and leave visiting dignitaries in awe.

There was more to come. In more penny-pinching blows, the Knight’s Park Bar will now no longer open on Mondays or Tuesdays during term times. Kingston Hill library cafe will now close at 7pm instead of 8.30pm during term time, and will no longer open outside of term time (which is surely a big and surprising middle-finger to all those Management and Business Studies students who study at the Hill, especially parents and time-challenged part-timers who work in central London and have to commute and juggle their studies carefully). But wait! There’s even more. Kingston Hill Costa/Shop will now close at the earlier time of 4pm on weekdays and no longer be open on Sundays during term time and at weekends non-term time. In other words, staff and students at Kingston Hill, in need of a purchase or essential bite to eat, will now find themselves in the University catering services equivalent of a ghost town campus. No doubt the answer will be yet more lovely ‘vending machines’.

It all makes a mockery of Aramark and ‘Eat Central’, and adds insult to injury by the Uni’s SLT daleks. As Kingston University staff speculate about who will be axed in a new round of redundancies, all these short-sighted ‘economies’ are yet another sign of the deplorable financial mismanagement of the institution overseen by ‘Sir’ Steven ‘Two Jobs’ Spier, Kingston’s Gold Commandant, who is also an expert on Swiss cheeses and the world’s leading architect. It will further demoralize both students and staff. Hunting down some decent food and drink at Kingston Polyversity in the future will be the only ‘Future Skill’ needed. Home-made cheese-roll, anyone?

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Ten years old

Ten years ago today (16th April 2014) the first two posts appeared on Dissenter’s Blog. Who would have expected it to lasted so long? The anonymous originators of the Blog have long moved on to, one trusts, better things, along with many other Kingston staff, some through choice, some with little choice. For many on the academic staff, aside from family and other personal considerations, there are too many alternative employment fires out there to risk the leap from the Kingston frying pan. A university career has even worse prospects than a decade ago, especially for the arts and humanities as the moneymen and a hostile government get going with their philistine scythes. Philosophy is the latest discipline under threat at KU.

Needless to say, Kingston management has improved not one jot. Naturally the University is constrained by government underfunding, falling student numbers, especially international students, and now cuts to widening participation in HE, always a Kingston selling point. Yet the alacrity with which management pursues the numbers game means it is held in widespread contempt by the staff, not a good recipe for any well functioning institution, let alone a university.

Recently an old-school academic, Peter Higgs, died, a theoretical physicist famous for his predicted eponymous particle, since discovered, the Higgs Boson. He expressed doubt that he would be able to do such work or hold down a job in today’s paper-churning academic environment. Indeed, he learned that Edinburgh would have sacked him but for his prospect of winning a Nobel prize, which he eventually did. Such work could never be done at Kingston, nor Higgs believed, anywhere. Perhaps there are a few pockets in the system left but in general no university is prepared to accept the risks of supporting real research of this kind, preferring to keep the churn going with an eye on league tables.

So, there is still scope for a blog like Dissenters, the only place where you will find true academic freedom. If there are any current Kingston employees who feel they would like to contribute, please leave a comment below with a contactable email address (anonymous of course). As long as you do not use an email already used to comment, your message will not appear below.

Many thanks to all the readers who follow this blog. We trust it has offered amusement, solace and some enjoyment over the last decade. We also trust it continues to annoy the management and remind them all what academia should be about.

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The Axeman Cometh Again

To axe or not to axe? To spear or spare? Is Spier about to do a ‘University of Kent’ style hit-job and ruthlessly spear Philosophy staff and their subject specialism, or will he spare them?

If there is one thing you can be certain about in the ‘Brave New World’ wannabe technical college (AKA Clownsville) that is being created by Vice-Admiral Sir Steven ‘Two Jobs’ Spiersy and his SLT lapdogs at Kingston Polyversity, it is that the Clown House strategy, with its inept pseudo-business Future Skills BS, will demand ever more ‘efficiency savings’ and economies – and this will always come at the expense of core teaching staff. We have now seen it again and again, through ill-thought out VS schemes or nasty compulsory redundancies. Every time a Faculty at KU announces a ‘review’ or ‘consultation’ in relation to a subject, it’s a sure sign that termination orders have come down to a Dean from the Gold Commandant and his Silver Daleks in the SLT (Senile Leadership Team), orders that mean more cost-savings must be made. Senior Admin staff at KU, many of whom loathe Spiersy behind his back, have been indulging in some grim humour in recent days: they reckon the Vice-Clown’s pet Future Skills project should be renamed ‘Future Kills’.

So it was no surprise to see that KSA is in the Dalek firing line yet again, and this time Philosophy is being targeted for either radical overhaul or complete destruction. Whatever is eventually decided, it is highly unlikely that KSA’s Dean, Mandy Ooer, the former motorbike showroom sales assistant and least qualified Dean in the University, will put up a meaningful fight. She is completely subservient to Spiersy and his gang, and insiders say that her contributions carry little weight in SLT meetings. After previous rounds of brutal cuts to courses in KSA, she did not so much as lift a single finger to protect her staff. Even Spiersy’s ultra loyal bagman, Dave ‘Axejob’ Mackintosh – the oldest man in the University, if not the Universe – who was given the task of trashing courses in 2020-21 (and even secretly received a special financial bonus from Spiersy for doing so), was quite surprised that Dean Mandy went along so meekly with the course closures.

So, things do not look good with this latest news. The question many in KSA and elsewhere in the Uni are asking is, why have they now turned on Philosophy? There are a number of reasons. One big reason is that the subject and its staff no longer has any special protection. It’s a long story, but worth retelling. The Philosophers were previously housed at Middlesex University, but Middlesex decided to close the subject down. Much to their surprise, the staff team and their subject were saved from destruction at the last moment by the intervention of the Dean of (what was then) the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) at Kingston, Martin ‘Sleezy’ McQuillan, who stepped in and offered the Middlesex Philosophers a new home and special place at Kingston. The Philosophers were given a nice big room by Dean McSleezy on the 7th Floor of Pen Road Tower Block, complete with armchairs, a microwave oven and brand new PCs, much to the resentment of other FASS staff. But when it was discovered that, after a year, the room was hardly being used, they were then housed in a similar room on the second floor of the main Pen Road building. McQuillan also stirred further resentment when he appointed a number of ‘Anniversary Chairs’ in Philosophy, spending money that FASS could ill-afford and bypassing the normal HR rules over new staff. McQuillan, you may recall, is the man who eventually left Kingston Uni himself after he was found to be engaged in embezzlement of research funds (a scandal of epic proportions, but covered up by the SLT), and was succeeded as FASS Dean by his close friend and collaborator Simon Morgan-Wortham. When McQuillan was FASS Dean, he and Simon Moron-Worthless had set up a murky off-site operation called the ‘London Graduate School’, and used Kingston’s Philosophers as part of this secretive project.

After McQuillan was kicked out, and the scandal covered up through use of NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements), Moron-Worthless became the new protective shield for the Philosophers at Kingston. As Professor of Sleeping Studies (yes, you read that correctly), Moron-Worthless gave some guest talks for the Philosophers, including one on the ‘philosophy’ of sleeping which was so stimulating it made many in the audience sleepy. But, Moron in turn wrecked his own credibility with the SLT when it was discovered that he was having, er, physical ‘relations’ in his Pen Rd EM office with his PA (when his wife found out, she kicked him out and forced him to drop the ‘Morgan’ bit of his double-barreled name). In a scandalous decision, which made a mockery of MeToo concerns, his PA was forced to leave KU but Prof Leg-over was allowed to keep his job. However, it seems that part of Moron’s light-touch punishment was that he was given an office next to the gents toilet in the newly refurbished Holmewood House, very close to the VC’s own office. According to the senior admin staff, this was so that Spiersy could keep a close eye on the Worthless but ‘handsy’ Prof who, as a graduate of Sussex, had ensured he lived up to the ‘sex’ part of his old Uni. It’s known that Spiersy also became pissed off when he heard that Moron-Worthless had been boasting that he could do a ‘better job’ at being VC than the Gold Commandant.

Why was Moron-Worthless kept on and not sacked? It was partly because he could speak the kind of vacuous business talk claptrap that so impresses Spiersy, and the VC could often rely upon Moron to supply lots of KU22+ and ‘Town House’ strategy rubbish (much of the ‘Future Skills’ nonsense has, in reality, been secretly shaped up by Moron). In what was seen as a particularly sick joke on the VC’s part, especially given Moron’s zipper history, Spiersy also made Moron-Wortham take on the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion portfolio for a time. The Promiscuous Prof was also given the task of restructuring FASS, and part of this involved slimming it down and transferring various subjects to KSA. This included Philosophy. In its new Faculty, under a new Dean, Philosophy seemed to thrive – for a while at least – especially through its ‘Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy’ (CRMEP) (or ‘CRAMP’ as some in KSA quickly christened it). In fact, as one of the six research centres in KSA, CRMEP – under its squeaky-voiced Director – had the strongest identity and research profile, while the other KSA research centres (such as art and design history) seemed lost and in need of emergency help.

But there were problems ahead for Philosophy. Already tainted by the serious reputational damage done to the Uni by McQuillan and Moron-Worthless (it was discovered that the devious pair had been exploiting Kingston Philosophy’s special collaboration with the University of Paris 8 to rent a secret flat in the French capital for ‘research trips’), Philosophy at KU found itself under extra close scrutiny. It was forced to drop the special collaborative arrangements with their French colleagues at University of Paris 8, and it became clear that some senior staff in KSA resented the fact that Philosophy taught only postgraduate courses, with no undergraduate programme. There were claims that Philosophy remained elitist and untouchable and was still being given special exemption in the Faculty.

A red warning sign also came in the RBI review of Centres of Research Excellence, undertaken across the the University in November, 2018. Its report to the VC and his Silver gang, delivered in April, 2019, did not make for pretty reading. Reliable sources in the know have told Dissenter that the review made some damning comments about the 120 or so ‘research centres’ across the whole Uni, including those in KSA, such as CRMEP. Not only were Heads of School and Deans accused of having ‘limited engagement’ with the various research centres throughout the University, but research centre activities were viewed as unproductive and ‘restrictive of collaboration’. Unfortunately for the Philosophers, in its assessment of KSA, the RBI review said that CRMEP membership was heavily skewed towards senior staff and no ECRs or mid-career academics were represented. There was ‘limited engagement’ by CRMEP and the Philosophers with the KSA Faculty or across the University, and most of CRMEP’s key activities did not even take place at Kingston but at UAL. Philosophy had only generated ‘small amounts of external research income’ and the sustainability of the Centre was seriously questioned by the external reviewers. It was unclear whether CRMEP could even arrange a meeting of all its members at Kingston, as many of them held other University contracts and were based overseas.

Another self-inflicted mark against the Philosophers, which really pissed off Spiersy and his cronies, and embarrassed Dean Mandy Ooer, came when all the Philosophers put their name to an Open Letter and petition drawn up by staff in KSA objecting to the closures proposed by a ‘Portfolio Review’, which came not long after staff had already gone through previous waves of ‘Plan 2020’ cuts. Dean Ooer suspected that the Open Letter had been the idea of the Philosophers. Creating the Letter and petition was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, of course, but in the long run it also placed huge targets on the heads of the Philosophy staff, and senior managers have been itching to get their revenge ever since.

In the last year projected income in the KSA Faculty in general has been deemed by the SLT to be below the previous financial plan and this reduced the ‘expenditure envelope’ (to use their jargon) available to the Faculty. Research and other income also remained ‘static’. Difficulties over student recruitment numbers now seem to have given them the opportunity to sharpen their axes and cull ‘loss-making’ disciplines in KSA such as Philosophy. Over the last two years, it has become clear that Philosophy has been struggling to meet its PG recruitment targets. In 2023-24 it did not meet student number targets for any of its courses, and this has not been helped by the piss-poor leadership of the current Dean and her senior managers, who have provided no help or support to subjects like Philosophy and the Humanities more generally, and seem completely unable or unwilling to invest in imaginative student recruitment strategies. But there is one thing Dean Ooer and her managers do remain keen to do – engaging in Dalek arsliksan to please the VC. This is already causing pain. Since it was revealed that KSA was undertaking a ‘review’ of Philosophy, it has emerged that the Philosophers have had to suspend taking on any more PhD supervisions. In an effort to limit and close down any negative publicity about the review, the Philosophers have also been quietly warned not to talk about the review. Membership of the review panel has also been kept secret from the wider University staff.

All this follows a familiar and depressing pattern, which we have seen time and again at KU. In order to appease Spiersy and the SLT and their desire to prioritise spending on shiny new buildings and empty-headed BS such as ‘Future Skills’, Deans and managers across the Uni have come under more and more pressure to engage in salami-slicing of courses and subjects.  The Vice-Admiral and his SLT are shit-scared of negative publicity, so they seem to think they can get away with this approach to cost-savings if they do it slowly and bit by bit, sneaking past such cuts when they think very few on he outside are looking. We are now coming towards the end of Semester 2. Philosophy students have been told the Review will take six weeks, and this is already demoralising them, creating uncertainty and resentment. Moron-Worthless, who acted as a shield for Philosophy for a long period, but is no longer a Dean, is now much less powerful than he used to be, his standing diminished in the eyes of his resentful SLT colleagues. As he is now more concerned with retaining his own job, he will not be able to ride to the rescue.

The review group, made up of ‘senior KSA colleagues and wider University staff’, have been tasked with looking at the current market position for student recruitment and ‘trends in Philosophy as a subject area’. Quite what qualifications the panel’s members have to do this and make judgements on Philosophy is unclear. Dissenter doubts hardly any of them have any real sympathy for Philosophy as a discipline, may see the University of Kent as a role model for how to make ‘savings’, and will follow Kingston’s usual market-obsessed Spierland philosophy – an approach which only knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

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The brutality of stupidity

If you ever wanted to see a synthesis of the ideas expressed in the fiction of Kafka and Orwell, you need look no further than the Post Office and this government. Kafka’s protagonists, accused of non-existent crimes by a brutal bureaucratic behemoth, a ministry of lies, have escaped the realm of dark imagination and become reality. For the poor sub-postmasters, only just beginning to emerge from their nightmare, there are encouraging signs that justice will be served, and hopefully adequate compensation paid; and the guilty, especially the egregious Paula Vennells, will be brought to account and punished for their malice and dishonesty. You’d think that the Post Office and the many other organisations who behave badly were run by daleks, but no, human beings are in charge. But instead of acting like humans, they are prepared to cause immeasurable harm to others to protect a ‘brand’, keep the big salaries and bonuses flowing and cover their arses. They knowingly made false accusations which led to financial ruin, imprisonment (a pregnant woman in one case) and the suicides of at least four who could not bear the stress.

Are there any parallels in UK universities, especially Kingston? Yes, of course there are. It’s a question of scale. Staff have not been illegally prosecuted in their hundreds, nor been victims of cover-ups of seriously flawed software (though Kingston staff have had to put up with plenty of dodgy IT). But at least one academic has been driven to suicide at Imperial. And the non-disclosure agreements that Kingston pinched from dodgy companies always suspend the threat of court action over the signatories. Universities around the country, including Kingston, have harried and bullied their staff, delivered summary sackings (see some past Blog posts), generally made our lives a misery. Who can forget the principal lecturer abuse in which they were made to reapply for their jobs, or those forced to reapply in a forlorn effort to save their livelihoods when management shrunk schools? Certainly not those who suffered under such a brutal regime. Think of all the bullying heads of faculty we’ve had here — Tuninga in Business, Edith Sim in Computing, to name just two, both long gone thankfully. You will no doubt have your own bête noires in mind. And what do the faceless ones on the Board of Governors do? Like the PO’s board — nod everything through and look the other way.

As with the Post Office, money and reputation are at the forefront of the machine minds of Kingston’s management. The stupidity of it all is that they, like the PO managers, think they can get away with their dalek contempt without causing long term damage to the organisation’s function and reputation. Too many times in the past dodgy people have moved on, leaving the ruins of their actions behind them. In the case of Vennells her past looks set to catch her up, a priest about to feel the flames of her diabolical actions. Spiers and co. may be too low profile to face the disgrace they deserve. We can but hope.

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Reflecting on my achievements in 2023

From: Vice-Clown Professor Sir Steven ‘Two Jobs’ Spier

Sent: 14 December 2023

To: All remaining staff and other peasants

Dear Colleagues and Fans,

As I approach the festive break, I wanted to take a moment from my enormously busy schedule (holding down two jobs is very tiring, you see) to reflect on some of my many excesses this year and to grudgingly acknowledge your contributions to my amazing achievements during the past 12 months. I think you will all agree that I have made further amazing progress in the transformation and reshaping of the institution, and that our reputation for innovation, entrepreneurship and speaking in long words has left all other VCs simply green with envy. I am regularly bombarded with messages from other VCs, who are desperate to know the secret of my success, and I have now employed a new PA to deal with all the fan letters I have been receiving on a daily basis.

Key achievements

A real highlight for me this year was the award of an overall rating of Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), as well as securing Gold for student experience, student outcomes and student debt. I have been working flat-out to achieve this award on behalf of yourselves and it has enabled me to spend a very welcome wad of thousands on nice big signs and banners placed around the PolyUniversity celebrating my our achievement, including one hung on the railings of the small car park at the back of Pen Road, a banner which has been seen by thousands of passing pedestrians, leaving many in awe (I could tell from their tears). We are only one of 26 institutions across the whole country to achieve TEF Gold across all three categories and the only University in London to do so which, in my humble estimation, more than reinforces my reputation as the most dynamic VC in Great Britain, if not the world. I began to title myself the ‘Gold Commandant’ during the Covid crisis and it is now more than clear that this was a future insight worthy of Mystic Meg, and the TEF Gold award has now confirmed my destiny. It is a foregone conclusion that I will also soon be made a ‘Sir’ in a future New Years Honours List and I have taken the liberty to begin to use this title in anticipation of the inevitable announcement that will surely take pride of place in the esteemed pages of the Daily Telegraph, the University’s paper of choice. Just you wait. Rising directly from TEF Bronze to TEF Gold reflects a tremendous amount of hard work by myself in the Holmewood Command Bunker, assisted by Moron-Worthless, our esteemed Professor of Sleeping (around) Skills, and you should be extremely pleased my commitment to myself and my future skills has at least been recognised.

A major step towards delivering the Clown House Strategy came in September with the rollout of our Future Ills Skills programme across the whole first year undergraduate programme, despite the fact that no member of staff has an earthly what these skills are. But they sound good, don’t they? This was a millstone accomplishment, which will hang around many staff member’s necks for years to come as we begin to deliver a progressive model of education that will be the envy of the whole world and will help ensure that every student, whatever they are studying, is equipped with the essential seafaring skills they will need to navigate the high seas and oceanic uplands of a post-Brexit globe, flying the Kingston Uni flag in all corners of the world (and further increasing my chances of a Knighthood).

The initiative has been informed by the back-of-a-fag-packet research of our sector-leading Future Skills campaign (not Future Ills, as some of you have so unkindly commented) and, just last week, we saw the launch of our third Future Ills Skills report in a hired room at the House of Commons (always looks good, doesn’t it?). Those who attended were given a personally signed copy of the report by me, printed on high-quality and gold embossed paper and full of lovely pictures of smiling models students. Even the local MP, Sir Awkward Edward Gravy, attended, which was a big surprise given he was too fearful to even set foot in the Uni for many years after the Lib Dums hiked student fees and he was worried he would be lynched. He has now regained his confidence, and was most pleased to get his photo taken, as he has been having a tough time of it lately as leader of his, er, rather low-profile party. He was pleased to have my sage advice whispered in his ear, but sadly refused my offer to enrol him in my Telegraph supporters club. Silly man. As well as Sir Gravy, it was evident that there is now significant and visible business and cross-party political support for my campaign to become a ‘Sir’ so I can be just like Sir Gravy. I had a very nice telegram from UKIP in Wales, and the Independent residents group on Hove Town Council also sent a nice postcard calling for more Future Skills instruction in making sand castles out of discarded pebbles.

We have also progressed with the development of the Knowledge Research and People Institutes (KRAPIES), which are a key pillar of the Clown House Strategy and, in fact, without this key pillar the whole Town House would collapse into Pen Road and become a major embarrassment to my growing reputation as the world’s foremost VC (and renowned expert on architectural design, as well as Swiss cheeses). We have already held a series of events bringing together those academics who still have jobs with guest speakers to explore thematic issues and to acknowledge the divineness of my wise leadership skills. This year we have generated a number of large-scale funding pleas and recently secured some funding from a weird foundation nobody has ever heard of to support research in to Future Ills Skills, including how learning gain and impact can be measured using one of those little tape-measures you get in Christmas crackers.

We continue to deliver on our Sustainability Plan, whatever that is, and work on this agenda has been recognised with the student engagement award at this year’s Green Gown Awards. From now on all staff at Graduation ceremonies will be required not only to sing the new Kingston University anthem but to wear our newly designed Green Gowns, recycled from weeds and other vegetation found in the local Hogsmill stream (sewage permitting). Now that’s what I call innovative and world-leading.

Supporting our people

Yes, we do occasionally support our people. Much to my relief we achieved a fantastic response rate of 81 per cent in this year’s staff survey, which also saw our staff engagement score increase from 69 per cent to 73 per cent. Such a high response rate helps us to understand how strongly staff feel about my leadership skills and my enlightened approach to people management and cost-cutting and where we can improve. But I feel, frankly, there is no way I can improve on what I am doing already and clearly many of you completely agree with me on this assessment. As for the 19 per cent of you who did not respond, we shall deal with you in due course.

Looking ahead

As I set out last month, we are operating in an extremely challenging environment, accelerated through the rate of inflation and my determination to allocate more millions for the spectacular new buildings we intend to put up on the Middle Mill site at Knights Park. Our immediate focus is on actions to boost our student numbers and meet recruitment targets. We need to be able to invest in our future. To that end, as I mentioned last month, I have instructed my close SLT mate Dave Mac ‘the Knife’ Mackintosh (fondly known to us all as Axjob) to initiate some further reviews into savings that can be obtained through new rounds of VS and the slimming down of certain subject-areas. For obvious reasons, this has to remain top secret for the time being, but watch out for further notices during the course of 2024.

The challenging national context for the sector really does demonstrate the importance of having an ambitious strategy that will enable me to remain in post and make us an institution that is truly sought after by prospective colleagues who are desperate for work and by students who cannot get places in other HEIs. We all have a part to play in my success, and there is much for you to look forward to in the coming year as we engage in further ‘transformation’ (my favourite word) and move to yet another phase in our endless Future Ills Skills programme, increase our research and my knowledge through the KRAPIES, and further embed my values to help make Kingston an even better place to serve in.

I want to thank most of you for all the hard work and commitment you have shown to raising my profile throughout the past year and hope you enjoy a well-earned break. Make the most of it, and don’t spend too much, as you may need that money sooner than you think.

With best wishes,

Sir Steven

Professor, Vice-Clown and Gold Commandant,

Kingston Polyversity University

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The descent of man

As the year moves towards its close I can’t shake off the feeling that we are looking at the end of times. We know that climate change is hard upon us and we know the adjustments needed to our way of life are not happening quickly enough. Government is in chaos. More immediate, the state of universities, Kingston especially, is not improving and threats to our livelihood are ever looming. Spier and his shower of mismanaging Scrooges are fond of saving the worst threats until December.

Way back in the Seventies, when an academic career was still considered a good one to have, the BBC broadcast a seminal programme, The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski’s personal view of the cultural development of mankind. This was recently shown again and those who weren’t around the first time have the pleasure of watching Bronowski’s spectacles glint at the camera as he delivered his thoughtful analysis of man’s progress, especially scientific. It’s perhaps no surprise that this programme was commissioned by David Attenborough, the last great man of television broadcasting?, when he was Controller of BBC2. Contrast that mighty programme with the current coffee-table offerings.

But Bronowski, as he pondered the future in the final episode of the series, was no starry-eyed messenger. He understood that freedom of the imagination was vital to human progress, but even back then he could sense how the West’s intellectual impetus was in decline — ‘infinitely saddened . . . by a sense of a terrible loss of nerve’. He worried that science so closely linked to and controlled by government would mean ‘the beliefs of the twentieth century will fall to pieces in cynicism’. That seems to me as good a description as any of what is happening in universities today. The notion of research, a form of intellectual play, a unique activity destined to produce far more failures than successes, has been turned into a form of accountancy. At Kingston people who’ve never had an original thought in their lives are made up to professors, and any number of incompetent managerialists have been promoted to senior positions. This is the real crime of Spier and the rest of them. Instead of guardians of academic freedom, the freedom to work without fear or sanction, they have become oppressors of knowledge and understanding. Obsessed with finances and league tables, consumed by the strictures of corrupt government, they preside over decay. Maybe they will eventually reflect on the damage they have done in their working lives, though I doubt it.

Bronowski was ultimately optimistic: even if the ascent of man faltered in the west, it would continue elsewhere. Right now it is hard to see where this will come from. Autocratic China? Russia? Somewhere else in the world? None seems likely. The rise of populism and small-mindedness, the rejection of knowledge in the west may go into reverse over the next few years. If it does not, mankind’s progress may come to a halt for as far ahead as any of us can see.

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