Where the hell are we going?

It’s nearly four months since Plan2020 was announced and no one is really sure what is going on, other than we can expect staff, departments and courses to be cut, reassigned, closed, or some combination of these. Staff consultation? There hasn’t really been any, other than a few faculty meetings where we are waffled at by some confused dean. The SMT remains as remote as ever. And the BoG — they could all be living on Mars. Although the Governors hold the ultimate power over our jobs, the Kingston staff have no access to them. There is no channel for our collective views to be put across.

The choice of departments to cut has not been justified to anyone at Kingston, not even the staff affected. Same old mismanagement: they make decisions, tell the staff, bang the door shut. This hasn’t stopped us expressing our views and offering proposals for the improvement of the University, but so far there is no response from the senior management. Anxiety over jobs remains. Even the voluntary severance and pension schemes are the usual shambles, offered for a brief interval before anyone knows their position. What a mess!

After a long silence, the Chief Architect has sent round an email with a management-speak title, “Towards a sustainable future”. In it he says he is “grateful for [our] constructive engagement” on the Academic Improvement Programme, and will report back in due course. This does not sound like constructive engagement from the management’s point of view. The idea was they listened to us, who are after all the education experts, and adopted at least some of our proposals. We will see whether this happens. Ominously, Spier refers to the new app given to students which allows them to report class cancellations. A student has already used it maliciously against a member of the teaching staff. Our professionalism is no longer trusted. So much for the touted end to the staff deficit model. It is alive and bearing down on us from all directions.

It’s not only the academics who are under threat. Dave “Dirty” Macintosh has circulated a review of support staff, already pared back a few short years ago. He says the impact on support staff will be “significant”. Looks like IT support and the rest is set to get even worse. Much of the document is waffle. He repeats the blather about “a step change in teaching quality and research”. What does that mean? Is teaching so bad that we need a dramatic improvement, and if so of what nature, and how do we go about it? And how do we produce a step change in research in 3 years? The notion is nonsensical. Reading on further we see that one aim is to produce “the optimal organisation for the future”. So what has the SMT been doing the last few years?

We can see where all this is leading. Nothing has really changed in the SMT’s thinking. There are really only two arrows to their cracking bow. The first is pointed at jobs in the belief that there are a lot of incompetent staff that are holding Kingston back; get rid of them and all will be well. The second is the usual bombast exemplified by this document. Hot air about step changes, optimisation, fitness for purpose and efficiency will achieve nothing. Yet still they persist with their managerialism and their blinkered thinking.

The answer of course is staring them in the face, were they not too dizzy with their inflating sense of self-importance and rapidly rising salaries. The people who really know are all around them, the academics and support staff who do the real work. Listen to us.

In his email, Mackintosh refers for the first time to the staff survey’s results on the quality of KU’s leadership and engagement (i.e. level of demotivation) of the staff. Unfortunately (and predictably) the response is more babble about tackling this head on. He does say leadership and management need improvement and offers here and there a few mollifying words. But actions speak loudest and there is no cause for optimism. So this blog’s advice to the SMT: listen to your staff; stop bullying us; stop kicking around your grade 10s (you wonder why so many have resigned?); don’t threaten to demote or sack us. And if this is beyond your capabilities, resign.

The BoG meets this Thursday. Join the lobby at Kingston Hill. Don’t let them flush us down the crapper.

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