Diddums. We are reliably informed by sources close to the top that the Golden One is not happy. It was to be the highlight of the University’s academic year, and Kingston’s Vice-Commander and very part-time Admiral, Steven ‘Polyversity’ Spier, had proclaimed in his usual boring and parrot-like way that the not-to-be-missed ‘VC and SLT staff address’ would be an opportunity for all his staff to learn more about the new ‘future direction’ he is steering the steamship S.S. Kingston in.
Excited messages were sent to all KU staff about how the one-hour address on Wednesday 14 July would be a ‘hybrid’ event, being both in the Courtyard in the Town House (Vice-Admiral Speer’s favourite piece of architectural legacy) and live streamed for staff to watch remotely. The Gold Commander also claimed it would be the ‘first of other similar style events’ for all staff to lap up in awe via the monolithic £41.3m Town House and its unique ‘space’. You could hear the groans from miles away.
Staff were even invited to ask questions, although these had to be submitted beforehand via a form, so they could be carefully vetted and nothing like a genuine question was posed (what do you think this is? A University?). Everything was set for a golden masterpiece event led by Supreme Leader Spiersy and his Senior Silver Leader Team (SSLT). However, the reality was very different. Predictably, given the useless and inept way KU and its SSLT always operates, the supremely important ‘VC and SLT address’ quickly ran into some hugely embarrassing problems.
Just three days before the event, panic set in among the SSLT when it was realised that hardly any staff had signed up to the event, either to attend in person or online via the streaming service. The number of confirmed attendees was pathetically small, raising the prospect of there being more members of the SSLT present in the Courtyard than staff in the audience. The number of online registrations was also piss-poor. A hasty ‘staff communication’ was issued, sent late on Monday afternoon, desperately pleading for more staff to confirm they would attend: ‘The VC and SLT staff address is just three days away. Thank you to all colleagues who have already indicated their attendance, online or on campus’. It was designed to create a sense that more staff had registered than really had. It only increased registrations by just a small trickle. Given the way Spiersy and his overpaid dogsbodies on the SSLT have treated staff over the last year, it was obvious many had voted with their feet and felt little enthusiasm for the VC’s big talk (or ‘bore-fest’ as one PA described it).
It was good judgement, as the ‘VC and SLT staff address’ was as boring, vacuous and poor as most knew it would be. The Commandant’s speaking style is about as exciting as watching paint dry, with far too many pauses and ponderous ‘ums’ and ‘ers’. No wonder his former students had hated his lecturing style before he became the Gold One. After a brief introduction by the new head of HR, Emily Boynton, the Gold Commandant kicked off proceedings with a few bland words on ‘Our achievements’, which was quickly followed by a short video film of students praising KU to high heaven. This was followed by a yawn-inducing ‘financial update’ from Caroline Harries (who claimed the University was in better financial shape than for years, but also admitted there has been a massive drop in income from overseas students), some forgettable lines on ‘Provost priorities’ from Helen Laville, some boring statements of the obvious on ‘Supporting our students’ from Sue Reece, and some completely unpersuasive and insulting spin on how the Uni ‘supports’ its staff from Emily Boynton, KU’s squeaky new HR head.
It was all rounded off with some comments on ‘Creating our future direction’ from the Admiral, who sounded bored with his own address. If any staff were expecting to find out more detail about the University’s actual future, they were rudely disappointed. Instead, there was some absurd comments from Spiersy on how wonderful and fantastic Plan 2020 had been and how KU22+ was ‘fixing things’. The University was also leading the way in innovative skills, and would be a Uni with ‘a broad portfolio’, points the Vice-Admiral has parroted on the University website already. And the future? Don’t hold your breath. He and the SSLT are going to ‘design a strategy’ in the autumn and have a ‘big conversation’ in the University. As far as Spiersy was concerned, everything is rosy in the KU garden.
It was all empty and lacking in real detail or substance, and clearly left the very few people in the audience (those who were still awake, that is) wondering how he ever became a ‘VC’. The only message that came through is one that most staff knew already: it is all about S.O.S. – ‘Saving Our Spier’. More ‘restructuring’ will happen and sad old Spiersy’s vision really does seem to be to take Kingston back to its old Polytechnic days, a kind of much-diminished hybrid between a hollowed out University and a glorified technical college: in other words, a ‘Polyversity’. As if to reinforce this meagre S.O.S. message, the same day saw a ‘photocall’ on the top of the Town House where Spier announced a new arrangement has been signed with the local FE college. Hardly earth-shattering. There is Spier-world and the real world.
There was nothing, of course, about the huge waste and financial mismanagement Spier and his SSLT have foisted on the University since he became VC, or any apology about all the jobs he has destroyed, or any mention of all the mental trauma he has created through frequent ‘consultations’ and slimlining. The acrimonious split with St. Georges was also conveniently brushed over. By the time the hour was over, those staff who had been foolish enough to attend were crawling up the walls, shell-shocked from the sheer tedium and emptiness of it all. Unsurprisingly, when Spiersy had finished his address, there was ‘no time’ to answer questions from the floor or sent online. Staff were asked to submit them later.
And, to make matters worse, the prestige event had been near unwatchable to those who were trying to follow things via the live stream service. Shortly afterwards, the Uni had to issue an embarrassed message: ‘We apologise for those who watched the live stream and had issues with the videos lagging, this was due to a Microsoft Teams issue and has been noted for future events’. That just about summed up the event: everything Spier touches doesn’t turn to gold, but to crap instead.