Tales from the riverbank – management’s Newsletter (before tidied by PR)

By now all the principal lecturers out there (except for those who want a pay cut) will have applied for associate professor, the job that looks like a promotion but isn’t. I hope you enjoyed writing your light-touch application of 12 pages to prove what you’ve already proved. We respect our staff that much. I reiterate that this was not a cost-cutting exercise, although we will save a few quid when we demote all of you who don’t make it. Remember, all PLs are grade 10, but some are more grade 10 than others.

I have just been on a jolly in China for a week and it is clear that the Chinese government is interested in developing/growing relationships with us. They like my style over there. We are in negotiations for a consortium between China and Kingston to construct a series of nuclear power stations. Academic staff surplus to requirements (e.g. PLs) will be offered reemployment in this exciting new development. Contract terms will be slightly different as we will be competing with Chinese worker wages.

As well as having fun in Beijing and Shanghai I was attending functions along with Boris Johnson (BULLA BULLA BULLA) and David Willetts as part of a Tory delegation desperate for Chinese dosh. Sixteen fat cats were present at the Beijing event, held in a contemporary art centre where I rode crossbar with Boris on a “Boris Bike”  and caused chaos in a scrum of Chinese journalists.  We held a reception at which we scoffed large quantities of expensive food and gave out honorary doctorates to anyone who might give us money. We really do have worldwide reach.

Long flights to places like China take some getting over, so I took the next fortnight off. The day after I got back we had an SMT away day, the following day another away day, the day after that I was talking at a conference about our academic progression changes which seem to have aroused considerable interest in other universities, especially when I told them how many academics I propose to sack. There are some benefits of long flights (besides a chance to join the Milehigh Club), a long period of uninterrupted time for sleeping. I did spend a little time reading the comments that people had made when they filled in the staff engagement questionnaire. I particularly concentrated on the comments that said I am “wonderful”, which didn’t take very long. Some of the comments were very thoughtful, detailed and thought-provoking, but since I don’t agree with them I ignored them. I would much rather have constructive criticism than apathy, that way I know who to single out for special interest.

One of the main areas of criticism is around communication and senior management. Comments suggested that the SMT did not appear to be very good at anything. I am sure that we can and should do better in trying to ensure that the University is aware of the changes that we are making and why, even though no one can do anything about them. It would be useful to hear what you think should be done differently and better, together with your name and school. Not that we have the slightest intention of changing.

We discussed communication at the recent SMT away day. We recognised that we need to put together some way of convincing staff that what we do is in their best interests so that we don’t have any of this strike nonsense (do email me if you go on strike won’t you). We also recognised that there needed to be more face-to-face opportunities for staff to ask and talk about what was happening.  Unfortunately I cannot have regular meetings with everyone in the University, nor would I want to. So that means that we need to make sure that all the managers in the University waffle and prevaricate even more so that everyone thinks we are doing something.

Some of the messages about change have been poor and have been interpreted as criticisms of what people have been doing. An example is around academic promotion. Our principal lecturers do a difficult job really well, which is why we have made them reapply for their jobs, and the changes were implicitly meant as a criticism of them – especially those who get demoted and are forced out as a consequence, but they’re no good anyway. The intention is to provide more difficult progression routes and more hoops to jump through for the future. The communications around that are obviously going to be obscure and I know we never make mistakes.

The replacement of subject review by the National Student Survey and change in the degree classifications revealed the deteriorating position of other quality metrics. We are now starting to make things worse. Kingston can’t help be at 100 in the league tables when we are cutting funding for each student ― how else can I keep increasing my salary above inflation each year ― and reducing staff numbers and demoralising those left. If we really were a really good university it wouldn’t be me in charge now would it?


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