What is it about big buildings that gets Vice-Chancellors so excited and creaming their pants in ecstacy? A number of Uni bosses across the land have been axing staff and departments with shocking zeal and terrible consequences for the employees concerned, but at the same time are more than happy to spend zillions on lavish and poorly conceived vanity projects.
Dissenter has described recently the KU Vice-Admiral’s sad obsessions with architecturally grandiose vanity projects, the latest, of course, being the Clown House at Pen Road, which hoovered up millions and opened well behind schedule (with no penalties for the builders concerned). ‘Two Jobs’ Spiersy’s big buildings ego trip has seen him busily instructing members of his SLT (Senile Leadership Team) to cull whole departments and subjects, such as Politics and Human Rights, citing the need to ‘restructure’ Faculties and save on budgets. At the same time, though, as the contact-lensed one has turned a blind eye to the devastating consequences of these cuts for his loyal and hard-working staff, he has been more than happy to lavish Uni capital on big building projects with wild abandon. The self-proclaimed ‘Gold Commander’ and Chinese Polyversity fan seems to think that big shiny new or revamped buildings, such as the disappointingly bland Mill Street building, the ‘refurbished’ Holmewood House (new sofa anyone?), and the giant aircraft hangar known as the Clown House, will somehow lead to masses of new students all fighting each other to desperately get into Kingston Uni. It won’t.
The idea that new applicants and their parents will be eager to crowd into the Clown House to get selfies next to a few bits of rusty old industrial leftovers posing as sculptures on the ground floor is a sad delusion, and the product of Spiersy’s increasingly desperate ‘Courtyard’ imagination. The recent Open Days held in the Clown House have not exactly been huge successes. And woe betide any hapless student who gets too close to the ‘sculptures’ – you must ensure they have ‘space’ around them. Or you will get told off. Or forced to view one of the VC’s vlogs.
As Estates will confirm in increasingly exasperated tones, the VC’s ‘vision’ for Pen Road now includes a giant new glass-style front entrance (think Kew gardens greenhouse but much less attractive), for which a huge load of loot has been approved and work has already begun. Spiersy seems to think this will further entice and impress new applicants into Kingston Uni, all stunned and in awe at the sheer scale of his ‘developing new strategy’.
Big buildings syndrome combined with money-saving cuts seems to be the new philosophy among the UK’s VC class. The latest edition of the satirical magazine Private Eye (1 July) has also now noted these disturbing trends for course cuts combined with huge Estates spending in Britain’s post-92 Universities: ‘Arts, languages and humanities courses are taking a hammering at universities, with staff cuts and course closures announced this month as vice-chancellors claim to be feeling the postpandemic squeeze’. The Eye added: ‘More than half the academic staff at the University of Roehampton have been told they are at risk of redundancy, as it carried out a brutal cull of entire subject areas’. The Eye continued: ‘Roehampton bosses claim the “restructuring” will mean a shift towards “skills-led” vocational studies’. Sound familiar? Well, read this as well: ‘Eye readers will not be surprised to learn that the university recently completed swanky major building projects, including a £13.7m remodelling of the former library into a new multi-media building, after spending £35m on a new library in 2017′.
It’s the same at De Montford Uni, Leicester. The staff were reassured by the VC as recently as 2021 that while the sector was struggling with job cuts, “We’re not going to do that. We’re in a good financial position’. In fact, during 2021, De Montford gleefully pushed ahead with opening a deluxe dubai campus and still has extravagant plans for ‘DMU London’. But now the Uni has confirmed it is looking to cut 58 jobs. Sound familiar?
Spiersy’s obsessions with giant new buildings to match his ego has already gobbled up the pounds in lorry-loads and, hilariously, he has now even come up with a brilliantly original new name for his ‘transformative’ vision – it’s called the ‘Town House Strategy’. Yes, you read that correctly: the TOWN. HOUSE. Strategy. He’s actually selected a name for his corporate ‘mission’ that is so mind-numbingly bland he might as well have termed it the ‘Garden Shed strategy’ or the the ‘Spare Cupboard option’. The image of the Vice-Admiral and his SLT lapdogs patting themselves on their backs at the adoption of such a stupid title for their ‘vision, mission and strategy’ just about sums up the emptiness of the drive to convert Kingston into little more than a glorified technical college.
To add insult to injury, when Spiersy’s second ‘Future Skills’ report was grandly launched at the House of Commons recently in front of ‘Business leaders, MPs, policymakers and local stakeholders’, the publicity sheets dished out at the event to those who had the misfortune to have to sit through the VC’s speech included a list of KU’s ‘proud’ achievements in the REF2021. This highlighted Units of Assessment that scored above the sector average for impact, and ‘Politics’ was included. As one of the MPs present commented, that’s a pathetically bold claim given that Kingston has just axed Politics.
Not everybody at the top is happy with Spiersy’s obsessions with big buildings and ‘Town House’ skills. A source has leaked to Dissenter that a number of voices have privately complained behind Spiersy’s back that they think his ‘vision’ is hijacking everything, warping all the medium- and long-term strategic decisions that are being made. The trouble is, the Vice-Admiral does not tolerate any dissenting views on this. And those who have disagreed with him in the past have felt his revenge. Dissenter can reveal that the previous Dean of KSA, Colin Rhodes, who suddenly resigned, was not just eased out because he was ‘handsy’ in the Morgan-Wortham tradition. Rhodes clashed with Spiersy over what the KSA Dean wanted to do with the area covered by Middle Mill. Rhodes put forward a highly ambitious plan to develop and transform the area into a spanking new buildings complex with state-of-the art KSA lecture theatres, meeting areas, new studios, new offices, and other facilities. The trouble is, this seriously clashed with Spiersy’s expensive ‘vision’ for Pen Road. When Rhodes excitedly put forward his plans, the VC made sure it was rejected outright. Rhodes was humiliated.
Spiersy remains determined to leave his mark on KU. Expect more big buildings to come to house the spacious emptiness of his ‘Town House’ philosophy.