Lost in Music

Does the SMT think itself omniscient? In Plan20-things-to-do-before-you’re-sacked, our mismanagement opines on the music provision at Kingston, although none of its members are music specialists. According to them, KU has been duplicating the work of the conservatoires. Really? The purpose of the conservatoires is to produce concert performers and future leading composers in classical music. True, some have an interest in jazz too, but with the best of wills, Kingston was never in this game. There has always been an emphasis on music tech at Coombehurst with a broader outlook than the classical colleges of music.

So last summer the Dean decided it was time to turn Kingston’s music school into a factory of pop. Needless to say, this is motivated by Music’s league table position and will be executed with cuts to staff. Music is low in the tables, but so are other departments in FASS (Psychology, Sociology and Criminology). Furthermore, there are 60 postgrads in Music bringing in substantial income. So why was Music, at very short notice, told to turn pop, on pain of closure, threatening the jobs of staff who have classical backgrounds? This blog understands that applications for the new popster courses are low, thanks in part to the usual lack of advertising by the hopeless senior management. Cheaper and easier just to shed the long-serving teaching staff, the agenda that underlies the ‘business-minded’ outlook of the SMT and governors.

But all this raises the question of what universities are for and the standards of academic activity. Is pop music really a legitimate subject for a university to offer? There are university courses that include the musicology of popular music, but that is something different. It has been suggested that Kingston needs classically trained staff with experience of pop. They are fairly rare animals:  not too many potential academics spend years studying classical only to hit the rock stage. Anyway, are classically-trained musicians incapable of teaching pop music, given its musical limitations, a few exceptions aside? Certainly it takes little time or expertise to teach three chords, the basis of many simpler pop songs (and four chords cover many more). The basics of rhythm and chord progessions is standard stuff, though perhaps our classical musician does not have the insight into what makes a hit record, nor probably the interest.

From the other point of view, how many successful pop musicians had a university-level education in music? Very few indeed. One famous exception who went to conservatoire is Rick Wakeman, though he never finished his course, preferring to work as a session musician and going on to become an icon of prog rock. A more recent singer, KT Tunstall, studied music at university, but few if any of the most innovative rock and pop stars of the past such as Lennon & McCartney, Brian Wilson, or even the avant-garde Don van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) received a higher education in music. Ed Sheeran, master of the bland, who went to a minor music college, is not much of an ad for a higher music education, at least not for music originality. Is Kingston to be another training ground for all the Sheerans and Taylor Swifts of the future? Not very appealing to serious musicians.

Sniffiness about pop music aside, there is certainly a case for music tech and production techniques, a highly skilled area which Kingston can and does offer a great deal. And skilled session musicians are always in demand to compensate for the inadequacy of the “stars”, but it is unreasonable to discard academics who happen to lack experience in, musically speaking, an unsophisticated genre. If Kingston really wants to go down the lightweight road that’s given us X-factor and that Canadian kid, one might speculate that we will soon be offering BAs in Popular Fiction with modules on the work of Dan Brown. Dumbing down in this way might just draw in a few more students, but will only hasten the decline of Kingston as a serious university.

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Why Kingston will never be a top research university

Under Clueless Julius, Kingston got ideas above its station. Not content with undermining the University’s core strength, which is to offer higher education to those otherwise excluded — the students who miss the HE boat through policies like the Tory’s proposed grammar school scheme — he entertained fantasies of Kingston reaching the research capabilities of the redbricks.

Staffspace often proclaims stories of Kingston staff’s glamorous ventures. This blog’s attention has recently been caught by three of these. In no particular order of unimportance, they are the professor who spent a year being David Bowie; a “research” project into the use of drones for crowd security; and an appearance on a reality “art” TV programme. Now this is not to criticise any of the staff involved in these activities. We should be able to pursue our own scholarly (and not so scholarly) interests and practice; and the original polys were always more applied. But so often we are not talking about research and scholarship likely to lead to an original contribution to knowledge and understanding in the subject, or by any means likely to make it into the “highly cited journals” or satisfy the other metrics the SMT constantly bangs on about. Yes, there are pockets of this level of work around the University, but not on the scale of the old institutions with a long research reputation. If there were, Kingston would not brag about this headline-catching kind of thing.

The fact is academics focused on a high-level research career avoid places like Kingston if they can. We have broader academics who have a genuine interest in teaching; they don’t treat it as something that stands in the way of research. You won’t hear Kingston lecturers say they hate teaching, as some academics do elsewhere.

Yet Queasy McQuillan, who always looks as though he’s just swallowed something unpleasant, persists with this misguided belief. What he hasn’t worked out is that you cannot get people to do creative and original things with his ugly threatening mug looming over their shoulder. Worried for our jobs, we struggle to work at all, thus undermining teaching as well as research.

It’s not as though the SMT is populated with high-flying researchers setting an example to us all. Dadoo Ron Tuninga’s very limited collection (a single journal paper on the citation databases) hardly qualifies him for his professorial position, never mind his incompetence as a manager. Queasy manages a couple of pages-worth of essays (cited zero times). The majority of our leaders don’t match up to the researchers of the old universities; they would not work at Kingston otherwise — other than as a pre-retirement home (a nice pension boost for the likes of SEC’s, Mike ‘The Axe’ Sutcliffe). So who are they to demand we become a research university? They live in the clouds of the cuckoo-clock land admired by Spier, who incidentally has only a handful of publications himself (also cited zero times). And yet these people demand publications and international impact from the grade 10 staff!

Shaw’s dig at teachers, often misquoted (“He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches”) is surely ripe for fresh expression — He who can, does; he who cannot oppresses. This encapsulates the type of individual that makes up Kingston’s management. Not especially competent at research themselves, and grossly incompetent at management, they make unreasonable demands on the staff they are supposed to be supporting and motivating. Far from encouraging good research, they bear down on us. Like so many arrogant types of very modest abilities, they adopt a vindictive and oppressive attitude towards others — the attitude of the bully.

One might speculate that Kingston could perhaps become a research university in time. That would require the conditions that allowed the old universities to thrive: a long stable period through which academics were supported and allowed to get on with it, secure in their posts, without fear of the sack from some petty manager running a checklist over them. That’s not going to happen with Kingston’s leadership, fixated on cuts to staff and destroying any last vestiges of cooperation as we are forced to compete against one another. That’s even happening at the old universities now, so what hope for Kingston?

What do the Governors make of all this? Well, they don’t make anything of it. Like the bankers, the carrot of huge “research profits” will, they no doubt reason, reflect well on their tenure. Any blustering VC talking big will go down well with them. But we know what happened to the banks. There the parallel ends: Kingston is not too big to fail.

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KU Sports University

Kingston is to undergo a branding exercise with some attendant changes to the business model and workforce.

Following the underperformance of many departments offering dated courses unsuited to our dynamic economy, all are to be closed. A new Warehouse Faculty will be instituted.

New courses on offer will be

Sports Science
Sports Science with Fine Arts
Sports Science and Nutrition
Sports Science and Performance Pharmacy
Sports Science with Business
Sports Science with Team GB
Sports Science for Nursing
Sports Science with Pop Music for Headphones in Gyms

These courses will be offered on the KU Sports Direct website. Students will be able to take advantage of offers such as buy one course, get another half price.

All academic staff will be reclassified as unskilled labour and placed on flexible (zero hour) contracts at a rate commensurate with experience (but below minimum wage).

All will be given a safety jacket in KU blue (cost deducted from wages) and will queue to clock-in on arrival and departure.

Three warnings for employee infringements such as talking, eating and drinking, going to the toilet will lead to summary dismissal.

We are sure staff will welcome these exciting new developments and the management look forward to supporting you in your new careers.

Toby Diked (consultant)

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Stoned again

Another resignation from HR, this time the boss himself, Dean Morleys-Ghost. Either he was pained at the treatment the management required him to mete out to staff (unlikely), or he saw a lot of work coming up as the mismanagement’s Plan 20-Sackings-Per-Month kicks in. All that wrangling with the Union, all the concocting of specious legal arguments on why the University can do what the fuck it likes — all a bit much for the Dean of Expendable Human Resources.

Luckily, there was a ready replacement, Kingston’s well paid HR consultant, Simon Stoned. In case you haven’t heard of him, this was the expert dropped in to sort out the Promotions & Progression scandal. His big ideas? The “critical friends” for AP transition whose views were disregarded by the panels, and the “what good looks like” notion. Despite Stoned’s best paid efforts, no one does, least of all the scrapings of the SMT who made these “decisions”.

Oh to be a manager — good money, unaccountable, incompetent as you like.

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New Music course – check it out

Yo, lissen up dudes. Me is da new MC in da tunes dept, wot is officially called Musak. Me name is Prof Phil S Tine. Just call me Da Prof. Yous is finkin, wot happened to the well fit previous main geezer? Somefink to do wiv league tables. Hers NSS scores was rank.

So, bruv, we is startin some serious new courses innit. We aint boverin wiv no Beetroot nor Bark. Me dont dig veg or dogs an stuff, know wotahm sayin.

Ma main man, Prof Spier, who has a fing about cuckoo clocks, wants stuff for the kidz. So we is scrappin everythin and gettin a BA in Hip Hop in da house, and some badass lechurers to learn it em. Students dont need no entry quals, so long as theys good at scratchin and gotta natural musikfaculty innit. So here up the Kingston Hill massive, we is doin heavy shit. Me bruva, me mate Billy Bookah will advize on wicked dressin up as Dave Bowie who him sez was well batty.

So Coolhurst is where its happenin. We is goin to be lit every night an well up da league tables. Respect. Keep it real.

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Sshhhh, it’s the staff survey

Published without fanfare or the usual Staffspace banner, the staff survey is finally out. Grim reading it is too — for the senior mismanagers. Even they can find little to spin from these predictably terrible results. The only good news is the majority of staff find their colleagues a decent bunch overall, and we want to make the University a success. Well, of course we do: our jobs depend on it, and the students depend on us.

The bad news is no surprise to anyone, except perhaps the shower who run Kingston, and probably even they are not that naïve. Only 18% overall believe the SMT provides effective leadership; no doubt the respondents who think they do are the SMT themselves and lackeys like the associate deans. This is a whopping 28 points below the rest of the HE sector, notoriously mismanaged in many institutions. That is remarkably damning of Kingston and must be a huge contributor to our present predicament of declining reputation and student recruitment. The SMT gets bad marks all round — for vision, visibility, involving staff in the big changes taking place. Only 16% of staff believe the changes implemented are for the better.

Across the “teams” of the university, employee engagement is noticeably lower for faculty staff, especially SEC which trails columns of red figures. The disastrous leadership of that faculty has clearly had an impact. Figures plummet all round on the senior leadership questions. DARE holds the distinction of a fat zero for those who think the bosses are effective, but figures are low across the University. Even HR only musters 12%. As noted after the last staff survey, having to dispense the maltreatment of employees on the orders of management has its impact. Finally, an optimistic 34% believe this survey will lead to action. Bearing in mind the lack of action after the last, this is optimistic indeed.

The conclusion of the survey is distressingly clear. The senior management of Kingston are incompetent and a liability. Academic staff have been criticised for poor teaching satisfaction scores. In the last NSS, Kingston received a score of 70%. Even the lowest scoring parts of the University are way above their leaders’ rating of 18%. Imagine what would happen if the NSS scores were that low. HR would go into overdrive: lecturers subjected to competency hearings, warning letters issued, departments closed down.

The coming restructuring aims to cut out the poorly rated departments. Let’s start with the senior management then. Without good leadership Kingston will continue to decline. Who should go first? Certainly the hopeless deans of SEC and Business, and the obnoxious and arrogant McQuillan. Perhaps Spier, new in the post, could be given for the time being the benefit of the doubt, despite his association with Surveying; Dave Mack will no doubt mould himself to the VC. But the majority should follow Eales-Reynolds in a quest for new opportunities, preferably not in HE.

Yet we know what will happen. The SMT will mutter platitudes about improving their communication, or simply pretend the staff survey said something else. They will want to hang on to their high salaries, continue to blame the staff for management failures, and demonstrate the spite of infant bullies. They will reach their (bad) decisions, informed by metrics of choice, then pretend to consult, then see it through anyway. The Board of Governors who oversee them? Well, those non-exec directorships take up quite a bit of time, and there are those other absorbing positions in their personal portfolios. 18% we have. Going down.

 

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