Keeping the ‘U’ in KU: An interim appraisal

How has the KU senior leadership coped with the Covid virus emergency since last March? Dissenter has deliberately kept quiet over the last few months in order to give managers fair space and to see whether they would perform and deliver according to their grossly inflated pay. Dissenter was not confident. Past experience suggested Spiersy and his gang would not live up to the challenge, but we were prepared to give this hapless and overpaid bunch the benefit of the doubt. However, we are sad but not surprised to report that most of the senior leadership have failed their interim appraisals in a most spectacular way. They have remained determined to keep the ‘U’ in KU – ‘Useless’. In fact, useless and clueless.

Let’s start at the very top. Much to the embarrassment of some of his senior team, the VC decided to approach the emergency as if he was some kind of tinpot General making a dogged last stand in the Holmewood Bunker. He set up a ‘Command’ structure, with a Gold Command, Silver Command and Bronze. Labelling himself – predictably – as the Gold Commander, he spent the first few weeks issuing daily orders and emails to his Silver Command and their PAs, and also instructed his senior managers to set up five special ‘Task Groups’. After an initial burst of activity, though, Mr. Bland (as his admin staff still call him behind his back) quickly ran out of ideas and it soon dawned on his Silver Commanders that the VC had delegated much of the more difficult decision-making and hard work to others i.e. to the Silvers and ‘Bronzes’. Spiersy could not even be bothered to respond to messages or requests for meetings himself, and has used his ever-faithful bagman Dave ‘Mack the Knife’ Mackintosh as a human shield, basically to fend off anything uncomfortable or urgent – such as requests for greater transparency in decision-making over health and safety, or clear guidance on having the right equipment for staff working from home, or even a helpful plan of action for the autumn term. Mackintosh seems to have become the VC’s private secretary, filtering out anything that might involve the VC being more accountable or coming to a firm decision. Any query deemed ‘Health and Safety’ is directed towards the University’s sole Health and Safety officer (yes, even after the onset of the Covid emergency, there remains just one, who is expected to still cover the whole University and all its sites). The ‘Task Group’ structure soon became confused and disorganised, with too much overlap between Task Group ‘Commanders’, and, according to info given to Dissenter from multiple sources, the original five groups have now been shrunk into just four. Their new brief is to cover – 1. digitally enhanced learning, 2. students, 3. physical estates and ‘people’, and 4. teaching/learning. But the Task Groups have met very few times and, when they do, their members seem to spend far too much time going over previous ‘action points’ and just catching up. ‘Task’ Group is the wrong description. There is genuine confusion over who is responsible for what, and one of the Silver Commanders is said to have closed down one of their online meetings early, fed up with all the hand-sitting and indecision coming out of the Holmewood ‘Bunker’. Spiersy was even compared by one of the Union of Kingston Student reps to being like an ‘absentee landlord’. You don’t say! Shockingly, while some limited representation to a group has been allowed from the Union of Kingston Students (Spiersy remains keen to placate students and fob them off), word is the staff Unions have been denied any input into the groups. No change there, then! In contrast to its rivals, KU is said to be woefully behind on many of the essentials still needed for the emergency as we approach September, especially training staff for the brave new world of online teaching delivery. More soon.

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