Tulip Mania

It’s been a while (though not long enough) since the last mad management scheme — the loutish Academic Demotion and Regression wheeze — was imposed on the hapless staff at Kingston. But we wait no longer. Ron Tuninga, new dean at Business and Law, flower-fresh from Holland and clearly anxious to make his mark, has surpassed the lunacy of the last with his “Output Performance Research” proposal. This crackpot idea seeks to award points to academic staff based on their research “outputs,” and demands that we should achieve a total of “15 research points” per year, a “minimum of 45 every 3 years”. These points are awarded for publications ranging from conference proceedings (5 points) to “REF Journals 4*/A ranking” (a bonanza 40 points!).

Leaving aside the fact that there is no such thing as a REF journal, the notion that research can be so simply parcelled into graded publication types shows a lamentable lack of understanding of how research works and how staff are motivated. Research is not a matter of churning out the goods each year but of trying to understand something not understood before, the pursuit of which can take a long time with no results guaranteed. It will surprise no one to learn that Ronnie Barking’s specialist subject is management (how not to): the craziest schemes seem always to come from managers.

But the performance measurement proposal goes further. Staff would be further assessed on “output performance education,” also measured on a points system, scored from student and peer evaluation and an equally vague “admin score”. One wonders how such information would be collected. Students asked to award points to lecturers? Colleagues voting on each other in secret ballots?

What do points make? Well, probation, if you haven’t got enough. Astonishingly a senior member of the University, the Dean of Business and Law to boot, is proposing an illegal change to staff contracts. Perhaps he should have consulted some of his local legal experts before he gave vent to his brainstorm. Staff are then to enter a “mentor program [sic] to ensure better results in the year follow [sic] the unsatisfactory research output.”

Since Tuninga is so keen on points for outputs, it is interesting to see how his own research score might be ticking along. A search of the major citation databases lists a total of 9 publications for him from 1996 to 2009, all book chapters or conference proceedings (only 1 citation for the lot), making a grand total of 66 points, or 3.7 per year. But nothing in the last five years, which makes a 3-year total of nil points. Ron Tuninga, go straight to probation, do not pass the VC’s office, do not collect salary.

Presumably he will now proceed to a mentor programme to address his unsatisfactory research output. Or how about going to Management School? He obviously needs support there.


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