It’s perhaps as well that Kingston has no Classics department, or the grammar of the above title might be challenged by a Latin scholar. For those whose grasp of Latin is on a par with Dissenter’s, the contention is that Kingston is no longer a community of teachers and scholars but one of managers. Indeed, we may longer be a university at all. We cannot be teachers and providers of student satisfaction, as measured by NSS scores and, soon, TEF ratings; we cannot be scholars when we have no freedom to think, to try things out, to fail (as will often happen), when the management is threatening many of us with job loss and demotion. When you are sick to the pit of your stomach you cannot be a scholar.
Phase 1 of the cuts is done. Geology and classical Music are going, Economics and Politics are shrinking, the School of Performance and Screen is merging with Humanities, apparently with much chaos thanks to the Dean Penny (not such a bright) Sparke fobbing off reasonable objections to new course structures. Human Geography stays for the time being and enough staff in this area have opted to leave voluntarily, so no redundancies. Not so for Politics; staff there are being thrown into the arena of “limited competition”, an unseemly and abusive treatment of loyal employees. Music lecturers not sufficiently in the groove for the new pop courses are taking voluntary severance. So more valuable staff thrown out with the violins. Further cuts are to come.
The fragmentation of Kingston into a conglomerate of higher education is most starkly illustrated by the renaming of FADA to the School of Art, returning “to its origins”. This is perhaps the clearest evidence of the breakdown in collegiality at Kingston. Of course it is in the new school’s interest to distance itself from the rest of Kingston, an institution of declining student numbers and reputation. Indeed such a move could be considered sensible positioning: if the rest of Kingston collapses, the School of Art is ready to become an independent college once more. Who knows, it may do so sooner.
Ghastly as the situation is at Kingston, we are not entirely unique. The Guardian published a piece the other day on low morale at UCL: ‘ “Staff morale at all-time low! UCL is being run as a business and not as a university” ’, runs a comment from the UCL staff survey. Yep, sounds familiar. David Colquhoun, honorary fellow at UCL and blogger , who has commendably criticised places like Imperial for bullying, has so far not commented. He describes the behaviour of management at these institutions as cruel. And cruelty is the best work to describe the total disregard and contempt for the staff, their welfare and their careers.
It may be a comfort to hear we are not the only ones subject to institutional bullying, but Kingston is more vulnerable. A radio programme the other night talked about the vapidity that creeps into governments’ pronouncements in times of decadence, Orwellian language intended to veil all in sticky candyfloss. Staffspace records Chief Architect Spier’s comment, “I am confident we will be able to move swiftly to improve our academic performance in these areas …” One very much doubts Spier is confident at all. He might think the SMT is moving swiftly. To the rest of us it looks like the headlong stumble of a lame horse wearing blinkers.