Floody Hell: KU has that sinking feeling again

What is cold, wet and very unwelcome? Your first answer will no doubt be the VC and self-annointed Gold Commander Steven ‘two jobs’ Spier. But it might also be the news that there has been another flood in the EM Building at Pen Rd, much to the disgust and anger of staff. It happened late on the evening of 9th January, and staff returning to their offices and labs on the morning of 10th January found a soggy mess waiting for them and their access to rooms and offices, in a number of cases, completely barred.

So successful have KU managers been in keeping quiet and covering up the incident that many staff across the University have remained blissfully unaware of it, and do not even know it happened. But for those staff and students who were affected by it at Pen Rd, it has had very serious consequences. Not only were various staff offices flooded and books and other equipment ruined, but sports science facilities and forensics work were also seriously damaged. Some of the lab work had to be junked (and some of the forensics work, by the way, was being carried out for outside contracts held by Kingston). So this latest embarrassment has cost the Uni a considerable sum of money.

What has been so shocking for staff in the EM Building is that this is the second serious flooding in 3 years. The previous incident (linked to the JG Building right next to the EM block) occurred over a Christmas break and was not discovered for a long while because there was nobody in the building at the time and, for some reason, security staff seemed to be asleep on the job. Predictably, lots of big promises were made at that time by KU’s Senior Lack-of-Leadership Team (‘it won’t happen again’, ‘it’s a one-off’, and so on). Yet here we are again. And, remember, this has also had serious consequences for the work of students, especially final year ones, who have just entered their vital second semester.

So, the next time you hear Vice-Admiral Spier boasting yet gain about all the millions that was lavishly spent on the Clown House, and what a great achievement it has all been, winning awards and meeting his ‘vision’ etc, etc (yawn), just remember how that building has sucked up mountains of money while other parts of the Pen Rd campus were crying out for repairs, crucial maintenance and renewal. The latest flooding in the EM Building illustrates this perfectly, and is a tragedy that could so easily have been avoided. As ever, though, KU’s senior managers have been caught out again, utterly failing to anticipate maintenance issues that could have been dealt with had they been doing their jobs properly. The current Estates team are clearly inadequate, but ultimately the buck stops at the top.

And if you want to ask Spiersy any questions about this or other matters and put him on the spot, you are out of luck. His latest meeting with staff, to be held in his personal cathedral to extravagance, the Clown House (where else?), will see him take questions from staff – but only ones that have been submitted and vetted beforehand. The Gold Commander is so frightened of being thrown a difficult question that he is ensuring, yet again, complete control over the meeting. A free and frank discussion? No chance. What do you think Kingston is – a University?

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Reflecting on 2021: A message from your Gold Commander

Dear Peasants Colleagues,

As we come to the end of the year I wanted to write directly to you and note your hard work and determination throughout 2021, despite all the terrible doubts you have had about my leadership and strategy. Even our new KU mascot, Pollyversity the Parrot, seems pleased.

I admit I had very much hoped that many more of you would give your wise VC and my wonderful Senior Team more praise in the recent staff survey, and I am disappointed about the levels of misery I have created across the institution again this year. I must say some of you wrote some very rude things about my leadership, but fortunately this will not be available to the wider public or parents of potential applicants. So there.

Unfortunately, we are once again entering a period of some uncertainty and must be prepared to adapt as necessary. This means I will, once again, be blaming the pandemic for all the poor management you have experienced (yet again) in 2021. In the meantime, you can all contribute to the mission and journey that I have set you.

I have made available via the main website a short set of slides, a snapshot consisting of just 500 images which describe many of my successes and achievements. Despite the continuing pressures of the pandemic, it has been a very rewarding year for me in many ways, and I am grateful for all the money the institution has paid me. You can be very proud of all that we have achieved together.

We kept our research and teaching going despite the challenges and chaos created by my latest round of course and subject closures, and we have supported many of our class of 2021 to graduate in the knowledge that they have managed to gain a Degree in subjects that we will never teach again. I am especially grateful for the concern and support shown to our students as they have had to adapt to a new wave of job losses and the disappearance of many of our best lecturers. My message is simple: adapt, or wallow in misery. The choice is yours.

This has also been another year in which Kingston has continued to improve its academic performance but undermine its reputation. We went up in most league tables, including in the teaching of Politics. However, we decided that Politics was still surplus to requirements, full of nonsense about ‘human rights’, power, policy, accountability and other such irrelevant things, and therefore not in touch with the market or the real world of ‘making things’.

Doing in action

Indeed, I have placed ‘doing things’, ‘making things’ and ‘creative skills’ at the very heart of KU’s mission, with my Future Skills campaign traumatizing dazzling all who are exposed to its make-do message. My campaign has highlighed the supreme importance of ‘creative education’, not just the creative and cultural industries but all sectors of our declining post-Brexit economy, especially those bits that can supply the skills for innovation that my wise vision says we need. Staff will notice that I have put my own creative skills into action throughout 2021: I have created, for example, loads of misery, uncertainty, poor staff  morale, cynicism and a great deal of negative feedback in the staff survey.

In the next exciting stages of my campaign, I intend to build on this creativity and roll out these achievements across the whole institution. As we move away from the outdated ‘University’ model and create a new kind of glorified technical college, I will continue to work with our partners (all three of them) to champion an education system that will leave all in awe at the sheer supremeness of my strategic leadership and make-do philosophy. Even Pollyversity the Parrot has acknowledged my leadership skills and squawks in excitement every time I chair a meeting of the Senior Lack-Leadership-Team. I take that as the ultimate vote of confidence in my VC-ship.

Looking Ahead

Our Polyversity University and English higher education face no shortage of challenges, not least further unnecessary strike action by that miserable bunch of wasters in the so-called lecturer’s Union, but there are also lots of opportunities for us (well, O.K., for me, anyway) to pursue continuous innovation and make-do initiatives. At my initiative, we are starting to discuss our future, and I have spent the whole of the autumn semester visiting each and every one of you to listen to your views and answer all your questions, even though you may not have been in at the time or were perhaps between classes. Although I cannot remember the names of many of those I visited and became a bit lost in some of the campus buildings, I can assure you that there will be further opportunities in the next ten years or so for all colleagues to contribute to this process.

There are also, of course, specific and local plans – not least some further savings and economies that can be made by junking some more of those irrelevant ‘traditional’ subjects. In order to make, we need to do. In order to do, we need to make. Lack of making will not do. More do-do can make do. Common sense, really. An innovative and make-do approach will therefore inform all my decisions.

My next staff address on Wednesday 26 January will provide further opportunity for discussion and to raise issues, and I promise I will not quickly disappear this time before you can pose your questions. Please submit your questions in advance to my PA and I will select the best ones for the benefit of my make-do wisdom.

So, thank you, staff-types, for everything you do and have done for me this year. It has been another demanding year with no sight of a meaningful pay rise for the majority of you, but my second job has managed to see me through the year once again and you will no doubt be relieved to hear that I will be at your service once again after the festive closure period. Chin, chin.

With best wishes,

Steven.

Professor, Vice-Chancellor, Gold Commander, the UK’s leading architect, and the world’s foremost expert on Swiss Cheeses.

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The Kingston Carol

To be sung to a Medieval management tune

Bullshit, bullshite, thou little tiny mind
Bye bye, bullshit, bullshite
This Christmas tide you may well find
Bye bye bullshit, bullshite.

Spiersy the king, in his ageing
Waffled he hath this day
His team of shite in his own sight
Lacketh good words to say.

Bullshit, bullshite, thou little tiny mind
Bye bye, bullshit, bullshite
Long the time he had resigned
Bye bye bullshit, bullshite.

That woe is we, poor staff to see
These jesters our workplace blight
Their Christmas gift, a sackful of shit
Bye bye bullshit, bullshite.

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More Spin from Spier

How did KU’s so-called Gold Commander Steven ‘Two Jobs’ Spier view the recent strike action by UCU members? With contempt, of course. On the very first day of UCU’s action, Spier gloated to a local Kingston Councillor that Kingston University had seen ‘a small number of staff picketing on Penryhn Road and Knights Park campus’. That tells you all you need to know about the man. Spiersy has had a long history of ignoring the Union, dislikes the current chair, and has not directly met any UCU reps for over two long years. Instead, he sends his ever-faithful lapdog, SEC Dean Dave ‘Mac the Knife’ Mackintosh, to any meetings held with UCU reps.

Mackintosh is one of the only members of the Senior Lack-of-Leadership Team who does not slag Spiersy off behind his back (well, most of the time). Known in SEC as the Oldest Man in the World (possibly because he struggles to stay awake in meetings), the always loyal Mackintosh has built up quite a reputation for carrying out Spiersy’s dirty work, such as implementing major course cuts based on meaningless ‘consultations’. On top of all this, given the disastrous decision by St. George’s to effectively split from Kingston Uni due to Spiersy’s useless leadership, Mack the Knife has also agreed to oversee the dissolution of the joint Faculty.

Why did Mackintosh agree to this nasty little task? Simple: a new job was dangled in front of his eyes. Frightened that Mackintosh was thinking of retiring, and keen to keep him in the fold, the Gold Commandant decided to give old Macky a brand new Dean role – in January 2022 he will become Dean of Health, Social Care and Education, propped up by a ‘co-Dean’, Prof Rachel Allen. This ‘reward’ appears to have worked and held off (for now, anyway) Mackintosh’s growing desire to go. He obviously views his new role as a nice little earner to see out his final years at KU. According to sources in SEC, the devious VC has also secretly smoothed the path for this new role by ensuring that the Uni’s Remuneration Committee will give Mackintosh a substantial one-off bonus on top of his normal Dean’s salary. Talk about rewarding your mates! But this is Kingston remember, where sleaze and spin are essential weapons in Spier’s toolkit. We wonder if Rachel Allen knows about this grubby little deal, and realises what it will lead to (as, no doubt, she will end up doing much of the real work)?

And who was the local Borough Councillor on the receiving end of Spier’s latest dose of nasty spin about UCU? None other than the new leader of Kingston Council, Lib Dem Councillor Andreas Kirsch. Well, well, well. Spier apparently briefed Kirsch on all the latest wonderful plans he has for KU, including the repositioning of the Uni as a Polyversity that will ‘champion’ creative education and ‘innovative’ business skills, instead of all those useless ‘traditional’ subjects such as Politics, English Lit, Mathematics etc, etc. According to sources at the Guildhall, the Gold Commandant laid on huge dollops of spin to the new RBK leader and all the usual Spier favourites were on full and tedious display again: how the Clown House has won a prize, how the VC appeared on a Radio-4 programme, how the Uni has played a ‘crucial’ role in the Borough’s pandemic response (we kid you not), and how a new ‘Strategic Partnership’ has been agreed with the South Thames Colleges group (Spier’s pisspoor replacement deal to try and make up for the hugely embarrassing loss of St. Georges). Kirsch is said to have listened to it all ‘politely’. Spier should surely know by now that seasoned politicians quickly see through his spin. But Professor Dimwit will never learn.

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Desperate VC woos his BOG

It has not been a good year for Kingston University’s self-annointed ‘Gold Commander’, Professor Steven ‘No Mask’ Spier. In his own estimation he is the world’s foremost modern architect and a leading Swiss cheese expert, but to others he is otherwise known as Britain’s most useless Vice-Chancellor. Even the new Polyversity mascot has been squawking its unhappiness.

An online meeting with the Minister of State for Universities early in 2021 left Spiersy looking especially stupid, after he insisted on giving one of his notoriously boring speeches about KU’s ‘industry skills’. Then his heavily publicised and much-trumpeted ‘VC and SLT staff address’ in the Courtyard of the Town House to all staff on 14th July was embarrassingly poor and sparsely attended, and he scuttled away very quickly without answering any staff questions, despite promising he would do so (a now familiar pattern with Spiersy). A wave of negative media coverage over Kingston’s farcical ‘consultations’ and the resulting savage cuts to Humanities and Social Science subjects saw the University’s already battered reputation nose-dive even further. The VC’s brief appearance on a BBC Radio 4 education discussion programme, which he seemed to think was a ‘success’, in reality drew widespread criticism when he dismissed ‘arts’ subjects as traditional fields that, he said, should be left to other Universities. Jaws nearly hit the floor. It was a great big blatant vote of no-confidence in his own hard-working staff, delivered on national radio, much to the evident disgust of some of the other guests present on the programme.

More cuts and ‘restructuring’ are in the pipeline at KU, including to subjects Spier still regards as ‘traditional’ and therefore surplus to requirements, such as Mathematics and various pure science subjects. Watch this space: nobody is safe in Spiersy’s disastrous ‘Polyversity’ vision, and Dave ‘Mack the Knife’ Mackintosh was recently working on a new round of cuts before he moves on from SEC to his shiny new Faculty.

Even though Spier bangs the drum endlessly about KU’s ‘creative’ skills, the only thing KU has managed to generate under his leadership in 2021 is misery. To add further misery to the misery he has already created this year, KU’s hapless VC has also been unable to prevent St. George’s from deciding to break away from Kingston due to his crappy VC-ship. This was a huge blow. This development alone, in any other HEI workplace, would have led to the resignation of the man in charge. But this is Kingston University, not a ‘normal’ HEI. There is no honour among these mis-managers. On top of this, in the summer, Spiersy’s previously loyal University Registrar, Keith Brennan, gave in his notice, utterly miserable and fed up with the VC’s incompetence.

Back-biting and leaks from his own Senior-Lack-of-Leadership Team have also continued, increasing Spiersy’s distrust of those around him, while some of his own administrative staff have expressed unhappiness over his Boris Johnson-style contempt for wearing a face-covering in meetings or when wandering around the Holmewood Bunker. The recent survey of KU staff is also expected to result in a whole shed load of criticism of the VC and his Senile Leadership Team, and the vote for industrial action by the KU’s UCU branch has merely confirmed what is very obvious: morale across the University under the Gold Commandant’s VC-ship is now at an all-time low. Spiersy, who loathes UCU and refuses to meet them face to face, had been banking on the traditional apathy of KU staff towards industrial action, but he was given a nasty surprise in November. It was a major indication of the discontent many staff now feel about the direction the VC is steering the University in: over the cliff.

All this has not gone unnoticed by some members of Kingston’s Board of Governors (BOG), and we are reliably informed that a couple of them privately voiced their frustrations to outside observers, wondering whether Spiersy is really up to the job and should be removed, and whether he is really value for KU money (according to HESA statistics, the VC has been trousering a tidy £329,000 a year, which makes him one of the highest paid New University VCs in the UK, and that does not include all the claims he has made for ‘business’ trips to Hong Kong, New York and elsewhere). Like your average Tory MP, Spier also has other roles apart from his main VC one, including as chair of the Governance Committee of Rose Bruford College. It seems he has been quietly building some nest-eggs for when he leaves KU or if he gets booted out, whichever comes first. As one of the BOGsters put it, ‘how can he do his main Kingston job properly if he has others on the side? What do we pay him for?’ Exactly: Dissenter couldn’t agree more. There was particular anger when it was discovered Spiersy has been doing his Rose Bruford job on KU’s own time. But it might explain why he rarely appears on campus. To rub salt into the wound, there is also BOG discontent at the way the VC has spent a ton of KU money on expensive outside consultants, such as PwC.

Increasingly under pressure, and tipped off by one of his close SLT mates (who he has rewarded with a new Faculty, no less), it seems the VC became aware of the BOG’s growing unhappiness and, in desperation, has decided to go all out to win over the BOG and reassure the Governors that his new ‘Polyversity’ strategy is still viable, and his FOM (‘Future Operational Model’) will work out wonderfully in the end, rebranding and repositioning KU as a new type of ‘hybrid’ Poly-Uni.

The first sign of this new ‘woo back the BOG’ strategy came with a ‘Board dinner and Away Day’, held on 28th and 29th September. And we have been given a juicy inside account of how this went.

The special dinner held for the BOG took place on the evening of 28th September. The evening kicked off with a special drinks reception at 6.00pm in the Clownhouse (sorry, Townhouse) groundfloor Courtyard, where members of the SLT mingled with BOG members and plied them with booze (sorry, engaged them in conversation). Notably absent from the proceedings were KU’s very own Professor of Sleeping (Around) Studies, Simon ‘Shagpile’ Worthless, who appears to have been told to keep a low profile for now, and Caroline Mawhood. Otherwise, there was a near full turnout of all the usual suspects. However, one BOG member did ask where the University Registrar was (that ‘very nice man Keith’) and an SLT member had to quickly change the subject (Brennan’s resignation, at that stage, was still being kept quiet).

Once everybody was suitably warmed up, a ‘walking tour’ took place at 6.45pm up the stairs of the Townhouse to the 5th floor (something that was apparently the whizzkid idea of Vice-Admiral Spiersy himself). The merry gang were divided up into three groups, led by the VC, Sean Woof (sorry, Woulf) and Connor Wilson.

Then, at 7.30pm, the SLT and BOG attendees were provided with a slap-up multi course Dinner, with waiting-staff table service and plenty more drinks on tap. This lasted two full hours, and Spiersy used this as an opportunity to deliver a verbal report on KU’s ‘return to campus’ and how well everything has been going (according to him). Predictably, he painted a rosy picture of ‘a happy’ University, with all parts pulling together and supporting ‘our SLT journey’. While some of the BOG were all ears and clearly lapped this up, the waiters noticed a couple had zoned out (nodded off, in other words), unimpressed with the sheer mediocrity of Spier’s spin. Oh dear.

When the Dinner was over, some of the BOG were accommodated locally for the night at the Doubletree Hilton (it’s got to be only the very best for our esteemed BOGsters, folks).

The next day (29th) was classed as the BOG Away Day, which took place in the Picton Room (which led one attendee to wonder why they were now ‘slumming it’). The attendees included all the SLT and the BOG members from the previous evening, plus special guest Prof Roger King, a new non-academic staff Governor-designate, Jane Hargreaves, and the new Union of Kingston Students President, Sarim Syed (Spiersy, as in previous years, is especially keen to keep the UKS officers ‘sweet’).

The day’s events started off at 8.30am with a generous breakfast, followed by a brief talk from the BOG’s big chief Francis Small. It lived up to his surname. Then the Gold Commander himself took to the floor again, with a 30-minute talk (it seemed like an eternity) setting out what Spiersy termed ‘a University strategy’. This contained all the usual and tired old Spier spin favourites: ‘Plan 2020’ and its major ‘achievements’, the ‘problem’ Spier is ‘trying to solve’ at KU, and the need for ‘a bold approach’. Then, after the VC had bored everybody into a kind of frozen silence, a special film was screened, which set out KU ‘staff experiences’ and presented the ‘SLT’s journey’. Yes, you guessed it – it was the same films screened during the VC’s embarassingly inept ‘VC and SLT staff address’ of last July. That means that some of the BOG have had to sit through these films twice. Oops!

After the films, the room was then subjected to about an hour’s session on the ‘problem we are trying to solve’ and ‘graduate attributes’, led by Sue Reece. This involved dividing the room into three tables, with three SLT members and four BOGsters on each table. This had been all carefully planned out by Spiersy beforehand, to ensure that the likes of Dave ‘the Knife’ Mackintosh, Jill ‘What’s the point of human rights’ Schofield, Mandy WhoHer?, and others from the SLT would be able to chat to and ‘be nice’ to the Governors. The VC roamed the room, attaching himself to each table to see how things were progressing. Reece had given a brief presentation beforehand on ‘Graduate Attributes’ (which are, apparently, ‘self-belief’, ‘digital skills’, ’empathy, ‘initiative’, ‘adaptability’ and ‘specialist knowledge and competence’ – in other words, all the things the VC and SLT themselves seriously lack). It was clear many of the BOGsters present had little idea of what the hell Reece had been talking about, and some them appeared uncomfortable and puzzled over why they were being treated like students in a poorly-run seminar.

After another generous meal at lunchtime (no expenses spared), the afternoon saw another ‘table session’, led by Helen Laville, on ‘a Kingston pedagogy’, but it was clear that some of those present were itching for the day to be over. After yet another talk by the Gold Commandant (mercifully only 15 minutes long) on Kingston’s ‘next steps’, the last hour of the Away Day involved a walk to Knights Park and a tour of the Middle Mill renovation project. Some of the BOGsters, stunned into extreme boredom by Spier’s mid-afternoon speech, had already made polite excuses and left, but those that remained for the walk were rewarded with some glasses of wine at Knight’s Park at 4.00pm.

The VC is not out of the woods yet, and he knows it. Some of the SLT, when they are not briefing and bitching against each other, are watching Spiersy closely, ready to pounce if he trips up. His evident uselessness has also clearly pissed off various BOGsters and it is going to be hard for him to win back their full confidence. But he remains desperate to do so, and has already pencilled in further events as part of his ‘woo back the BOG’ strategy. Will it work? It is going to be an interesting 2022. If Steven ‘two jobs’ Spier does not perform better, he may not even survive it.

 

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Latest SLT meeting sets out Polyversity strategy


After the traditional afternoon nap, the Gold Commander explained to his Senile Lack-of-Leadership Team, just before they all nodded off again: “The strategy for our SLT journey and bold approach will take us rapidly from university status to an exciting new endpoint in my supreme vision: we will become a small and dull provincial polytechnic, devoted to making and doing: a make-do polyversity that will be the envy of other technical colleges throughout the land”.

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