Quick! Issue an S.O.S. Or, better still, call 999 and get the emergency fire hoses. The SS Spierland is all at sea, badly listing. More accurately, it is stuck on a Thames sandbank with a mutinous senior crew. Inside observers on shore report that the rusting hulk is now on fire and seriously leaking, with holes down below the waterline and growing panic on the Bridge.
As usual, KU’s very own pound-shop Admiral (sorry, ‘Commander’) Steven Spier has been blaming everyone but himself for this navigation fiasco. But the Chief Mismanager also knows that rearranging the SLT deckchairs on the sinking Kingston Steam Ship is merely risking a repeat of the SS Titanic disaster, and will not bale him out. Even a change of contact lenses has not worked. The Spierster remains marooned in a murky fog of his own making.
What’s brought about this sorry state of affairs? Emperor Nero, as he is often called by his own staff out of earshot (yes, it’s true!), has been fiddling again while his University burns and takes on more and more salty water. And the more the ship takes on water and sinks slowly in the sand, the more the self-designated ‘Gold Commander’ pumps thick and steaming dollops of bland glob out from the funnels and portholes, scooped from the very bowels of Holmewood House and his own personal DIY press-release kit. The message is always the same: trust the Commander, all is well. KU appreciates its ‘hardworking staff’.
But take a good, hard look at the main University website, or re-read the VC’s dull blandishments in the latest emails to staff. Not a word, or even a mere hint, about what is really happening across the institution, with staff livelihoods at stake, their jobs under threat, and whole departments earmarked for closure in key Faculties. There is Spierland, and then there is the real world.
But wait. The real world is stirring. Dissenter is very reliably informed that all is not well in the main cabin of the SS Spierland. Disarray has set in. And the Board of Governors (BOG) are not happy passengers. Some of them have finally woken up and are sensing that the Admiral’s stewardship of the University has steered the old Steamer on to very dangerous rocks, not just a sandbank. Spier should be worried. The massive pay he has been trousering since he became VC could even be placed in jeopardy. That nice little pension pot may be getting cracks.
Admiral Spiersy is very fond of proclaiming that the student and staff voice ‘is at the heart of decision making’, but all of the events of the past few weeks show, yet again, this is utterly untrue. The word ‘consultation’ has been given a whole new meaning in the Spiersland Dictionary. What it really means is: ‘We say, you obey’. The wave of negative publicity that has resulted from the closure of the Politics, International Relations and Human Rights undergraduate provision in the Faculty of Business and Social Sciences has been duly noted by the BOGsters. The axe that is now hanging over the staff, and the shocking incompetence with which the ‘consultation’ on this is being mishandled by the FBSS Dean and other members of the SLT, is now making certain BOGsters question the VC’s business and managerial competence again. To add more woe to the fire, there has been further unwelcome publicity over the ‘consultation’ being rolled out in KSA, too.
Shockingly, staff in Politics are still in the dark about the ‘Business Plan’ that was promised. No full documentation has been supplied, and the University and FBSS have not followed the correct (and legal) procedures. In meetings with staff, the Interim Head of School could not answer many of the most important questions raised by Politics staff about their futures. And when the FBSS Dean, Jill Schofield, finally agreed to meet staff (after repeated requests), all she seemed interested in really doing was to complain multiple times that there ‘must have been leaks’ to students. The implication was that staff were bringing the University into ‘disrepute’, which is a very serious allegation and a truly disastrous approach to managing staff. To add insult to injury, ‘the Schof’ repeated her view that too much teaching and time has been devoted to Human Rights, and that students ‘are not really interested’ in such subjects. So there!
This is not good for Spier, however. As any competent CEO will know, when one of your own managers loses their cool in a meeting with staff and starts lashing out (and shows clear evidence of prejudice against certain subject-areas), and when your own Board of Directors (the SLT) start squabbling among themselves, and major stakeholders such as the BOG begin to lose faith in your management, it is surely time to reconsider your position. Is Spier listening? Is he heck. Far from being a competent manager, the Spierster’s approach to management relies on hiding behind others, and instructing them in the dirty work he wants done, while maintaining a careful distance. The devious clown wants to leave a ‘legacy’ before he goes, and is still determined to get this, no matter what the price or how many staff he has to throw overboard. Schofield, whether she likes it or not, is merely a useful pawn, who is keen to please her boss but is also just as expendable as any other staff.
You think we exaggerate? Consider this. Big clues to what was in the pipeline were around in 2018-20, when it became clear that Plan 2020 had not worked. The SLT were told a new and more radical ‘plan’ was required, termed a ‘Future Organisational Model’. And the BOGsters should have seen the proposed bonfire of courses, and the subsequent PR disaster it is leading to, coming down the track (or the Thames) at breakneck speed. Dissenter has been told that major clues about what the Gold Commander was really planning came at a BOG dinner held on 24th June 2020, when Spier let slip to some of the BOGsters that he admires what he calls the ‘Polytechnic University’ model, and would like to see Kingston adopt this structure. He pointed to the Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver in British Columbia, in Canada (a country he knows intimately), and also to Hong Kong Polytechnic University (where he has been a visitor on so-called University ‘business’ trips in the past). A skeleton staff, a slimmed-down Estate, a big shift to online delivery (to save on classroom and lecture theatre costs), with STEM and mainly vocational Degrees, it seems, will be the only game in town after the latest Spier wrecking-ball has finished its callous work and a ‘Poly-Uni’ emerges.
Spiersy will, of course, vehemently deny all this, and stay silent. He refuses to engage directly with staff Unions, and rarely sets foot on campus. When he does so, he remains holed up in the Holmewood Bunker. Despite the damage to KU’s reputation, and the serious private reservations of some of his own senior staff, Spier thinks he can just sit tight and sweat it out, and the Union of Kingston Students and the BOGsters will be pliable. And he will overcome any staff opposition by simply having less and less of them. His dismissive attitude remains as it has always been: ‘Suck on that, plebs’.