Silence is not Golden

As the University wound up its operation for the first teaching block, there was still a deathly silence on the revised dates that were going to be given for new briefings on KU22, after the original KU22 Strategic Plan briefing sessions announced some time ago on the main website were suddenly postponed. Readers of the Dissenter’s Blog will recall that a few weeks ago it was announced in a big news splash that our ‘Gold Commander’ and selected members of his Senior Lack-of-Leadership Team (alternatively known as the Senior Mismanagement Team) were going to provide five (yes, five, by God!) special briefings on Steven ‘Mr. Bland’ Spier’s exciting vision of the Strategic Plan and what he calls ‘Our journey so far’.

Weary staff, who have been struggling valiantly under Covid pressures, were also invited to watch Blandy’s latest yawn-inducing short film to ‘hear first-hand’ from the VC all about the plan in a very short space of time, and about how all staff could ‘get involved’. It all sounded very consultative – which, if it happens, will be a genuine first under Blandy’s chaotic Vice Chancellorship so far.

But it was not to be. As we also noted, our ‘source’ in the know told us that the set of five briefings was postponed due to a last-minute dispute about who was going to present certain sessions. The controversy was caused by the astonishingly insensitive plan to have our old mate Prof. Simon ‘Moron’ Wortham co-present four of the sessions, two alongside the VC and two with two female Profs. But, given the fact that Moron-Worthless was involved in a sex scandal that was desperately covered up by the Uni (he was caught having ‘relations’ with his PA on Uni property, and now has a certain reputation with female colleagues), one of the female Profs who was due to co-present a session with the Promiscuous Prof had objected, throwing a spanner in the works. In fact, the word is that at least three of the women involved in the presentations expressed reservations about whether it was wise to have any females appear publicly alongside Morgan-Worthless, who has racked up quite a negative history on gender-related matters.

Our source in the know informed us that the VC then suddenly got cold feet over appearing himself with the Promiscuous Prof, who is known in KSA as the Professor of Sleeping Studies, and by his former students simply as ‘creepy’. The Gold Commander became worried about the possible further damage to KU’s image that this may cause, and was also shit-scared that his carefully nurtured message about KU’s ‘priorities and ambitions’ for the next three years would be watered down by a poor choice of co-presenter. Whether he likes it or not, the VC’s protection of the now toxic Simon Worthless has undermined his own authority and seriously alienated other members of the SMT/SLT.

So, have the five briefings been postponed indefinitely? Will we ever to get to hear more details about Mr. Bland’s unique brand of bluster and baloney, and the ‘rapid transformation’ of the University’s ‘delivery framework’ to bring about ‘the focus that is needed to our future goals’? Early in 2021 perhaps? Later in the new year? Don’t hold your breath. Merry Xmas.

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Funny Business at Kingston Hill

What is going on up the Hill? There’s not much Christmas cheer going around at Kingston Business School (KBS) at the moment, but plenty of ‘funny’ business afoot. You would have thought KBS had everything going for it. After all, it was awarded international accreditation by the AACSB (that’s the ‘Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business’ to the likes of you and us), which it claims it shares with just 5% of the world’s business schools. As KU staff will also know, a truly eye-watering £26m was also splashed out recently by KU’s bosses on new purpose-built Business School buildings. The KBS managers (when they are around that is, which is rare these days), claim they value ‘excellence’ in their staff and student experience, and also value ‘diversity, collegiality and responsibility’. All very grand. Yet insiders at KBS have been tipping us off at regular points in the last year that all is not well in this thrusting hub of enterprise and financial wheeler-dealership. Collegiality and diversity are in short supply for staff, and the student experience can hardly be described as ‘excellent’. The Dean seems happy to look the other way while questionable teaching practices have crept into the delivery of the MBA on her watch. A ‘pile ’em high, teach ’em cheap’ student recruitment policy has also been applied to targeting markets abroad, especially the Indian and wider SE Asia markets, but at the cost of teaching standards.

One big source of complaint in KBS also concerns the – how shall we put it? – lack of progressive awareness concerning gender issues at the Hill. In fact, there’s been some disturbing ‘funny business’ pointed to by concerned staff, and various complaints have reached us about what one KBS staff member refers to as ‘our very own Northern Napoleon’, a certain gentleman who badly needs some basic lessons in manners and ought to urgently think through his treatment of women in KBS (he is too busy ‘chasing skirts’, as one member of staff has put it, while there have also been allegations of bullying).

Another big source of anxiety in KBS has been the Small Business Research Centre, originally created in 1987. Once seen as a leading research centre of its kind, it’s highly-praised reports on SMEs (often cited in the financial press and in the business pages of the London Evening Standard), its very research-active staff, and its other well-regarded research projects, were all once viewed with envy by staff in other Unis. Not so now. The Small Business Research Centre has been subjected to a long-term policy of brutal cuts, ‘efficiencies’ and other ‘cost-savings’ over time, so much so that those few staff left there now refer to it grimly as the Ever Smaller Business Research Centre.

Seeing the way the wind was blowing, leading high-profile staff have either left or retired, while those left hanging on have been threatened over and over with being replaced by temporary staff on fixed-term contracts, while all sorts of pressures were placed on them to increase ‘output’ or face the consequences. If that is not a textbook definition of bullying, then what is?

The rot set in under the last director, Prof Rob Blackburn, who was at KU from 1996 to 2020, but left for the University of Liverpool earlier this year. Blackburn, who was known as Professor ‘Slash n’ Burn’ by unhappy colleagues, became deeply unpopular with most staff, who felt he was far too eager to please his bosses (such as being part of KU’s sick-making efforts to woo the controversial head of Metro Bank), and did little to protect his hard-working staff or show any empathy. Stress levels went through the roof. There was a huge sigh of relief when Slash n’Burn finally jumped ship last January. In the same month, Audley Genus was appointed to replace Slash n’ Burn, but ‘Genius’ (as he’s now known) has done little to raise staff morale again. According to staff insiders, Genius lacks vision and seems set on conducting a business-as-usual approach. The agenda at MS Teams meetings is often a work of fiction. As KBS staff look at what 2021 might bring, the signs are not hopeful. More of the best staff are planning to leave as soon as the right opportunities come along. Unhappy New Year!

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Where are they now – part 94

Kingston has had a few management figures pass through its doors these past few years who earned themselves a level of notoriety while they were here. Indeed this blog has published a few paeans to our well paid and equally disliked masters. Most of us have little interest in what happened to them afterwards, probably heaving a sigh of good riddance, only for the relief to fade when the next incompetent incumbent came along.

Staff in SEC will never forget the mad axewoman of Pharmacology, Edith Sim, who slashed and burned her way through the academics. The only good thing this arch bully did was clip the wings of that other serial bully, Unprofessor Graeme Jones. Well, maybe a faculty can only have one bully at a time (no, not true). Once she had gone — retired to emeritus positions both at Kingston and Oxford, whence she came originally — the reeling staff who remained had to endure Mike Sutcliffe, who though a bumbling figure unsuited to the job, was nothing like as toxic.

What of Nona McDuffer, Kingston’s utterly hopeless head of equality at one time, later to become the hopeless head of student achievement? It’s a mark of Kingston how she was given more credence as an educational researcher than experienced academics. All this with only a couple of years teaching experience in FE. Still, give her due credit for all two of her two co-authored publications. And now? She has wangled herself a job as pro VC at Solent, a kind of Kingston-on-sea. How the minor have risen! All that experience bullshitting at Kingston stood her in good stead. She had good teachers in the SMT, now rebadged the SLT (the L must stand for lamentable, or laughable).

Finally this blog notes that Matt Hiely-Rayner, erstwhile head of planning, has moved sideways into the same job at Buckinghamshire New University, not to be confused with Buckingham University, the first private university in Britain. Having wangled the league table figures at Kingston for a few years, Matt Tightly-Suited thought he could probably do the same for an old tech college, and no doubt he is now Matt Even-more-Hiely-Remunerated. At least he knew what he was doing, which is more than you can say for the rest of them.  

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KU’s Gold Commander keeps it Bronze

All staff and students will be overjoyed to hear that Professor Fixit is on the case. Kingston’s self-described ‘Gold Commander’, AKA the VC, has been busily meeting his crack Leadership Team to try to fix the Covid emergency and ensure the University’s evolving pandemic response programme remains exactly the same as it was in August, despite that annoying change in local tier. Our exclusive photo shows Commander Spier with other close SLLT (Senior Lack-of-Leadership Team) members, including Dave ‘I’m Knackered’ Macintosh, chair of the Campus Re-entrenchment Programme, who has been tasked with creating a new anti-Covid chemical with his old test-tube and a Bunson Burner, and Simon Moron-Worthless, Professor of Sleeping (around) Studies, who has been specially tasked with creating new gender equality initiatives using the on-campus hand-gel.

A spokesperson for Commander Spier said: ‘Yes, it’s business as usual in the Holmewood Bunker, er, Command Centre at Pandemic, sorry, Penrhyn Road. We have already addressed and dismissed the silly Health and Safety concerns of those Moaning Minnies in the so-called trade union, YUCU, and The Golden One, after taking careful advice from his top team and some bloke he met on the bus, has also taken firm executive action over Covid concerns. He has created a brand new fund for office expansion and refurbishment on the first floor of the Bunk, sorry, Command Centre, to house new interim Covid Response Advisory Personnel (CRAP) team members to aid the Silver Command. Orders for some nice new sofas have already been made, and a new supply of staplers have been secured from abroad (Hong Kong), for the exclusive use of those who rank Silver and above’.

The VC will also be releasing an exciting new video starring himself. The music dept at Kingston Hill has been tasked with composing a soundtrack to accompany this, ‘as John Williams is not available at the moment’. You don’t say!

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Kingston fiddles while reputation burns

As the old saying goes in SEC, there are lies, damn lies, and KU statistics. As far as the V.C. is concerned, one of the big issues KU faces at the beginning of each new academic year is how to spin the stats in the latest University League Tables.

Each year our over-paid Gold Commander likes to provide an ‘Executive Summary’ to what he regards as that tiresome bunch of non-entities called the Board of Governors, mainly to keep them happy and still feeling relevant. In this, Steven Bland summarises the work of the SLLT (Senior Lack-of-Leadership Team), and over the last couple of years he has offered some tired and recycled comments about how the SLT will ‘continue to improve the University’s academic performance and standing’. The word on the street is that some of the Board have not been impressed, and privately regard Spiersy as promising much but delivering little.

The two League Tables Spiersy and his KU Silver team get most concerned about are the two big ones compiled by the Guardian and The Times/Sunday Times. Frantic instructions are issued each year to KU marketing and to all the Deans and Faculties saying that they should emphasise the Guardian League Tables much more and avoid the Times version. This year the headline that staff were told to use in press releases was ‘Kingston University named one of country’s top Universities in latest Guardian League table’, and each Faculty was urged to put their own spin on this, but with the following main message: ‘The University has risen 8 places to 40 out of 121 institutions included in the national newspaper’s annual rankings. The continued improvement in the tables follows an increase of 10 places in the latest Guardian tables and a rise of 23 places on the previous year’.

Each year KU comes out better in the Guardian one than the Times version or any other versions, and the Gold Commander and his hapless Silver Team naturally like to put a very positive spin on the Guardian‘s version of the figures. As some staff know, there is of course a good reason for this. The Guardian version is compiled by KU’s own special man on the inside, Matt Hiely-Renumerated, who, as well as working as Kingston as Head of Planning and Chief of Dodgy Stats, also runs his own company, a company which has been involved in drawing up the Guardian‘s national Uni stats. As Dissenter has revealed in the past, staff have asked serious questions about whether Matt ‘Two Jobs’ Hiely has a conflict of interest, as KU magically always comes out better in the Guardian table.

In 2018, it was revealed that the Guardian‘s League Table now included a ‘continuation measure’, which aimed at reflecting students’ chances of finishing their degrees. We were told: ‘To accommodate the new metric, spending per student has had its weighting decreased’. This was an innovation from – yes, you guessed it – Mr. Hiely-Renumerated, and was inevitably helpful to KU. He defended his value-added extra as a ‘sophisticated methodology’, but many staff (not just at Kingston) and some education commentators in the national media felt Metrix Matt had pulled a fast one. If you look closely at the latest one this year, the same approach has been used.

We should not be surprised at all this. KU has had a dubious record of spinning stats. In 2018, it was revealed by a staff member that Planning and HR had instructed her to fiddle the HESA staff return for years. Technicians and administrators were also being returned as being ‘academic staff’ in order to improve SSR figures. More recently, some senior staff have voiced serious concerns about the stats used to justify the so-called Course Enhancement Programme. And the stats used to defend the controversial creation of campus-based Student Hubs, the cheap-skate one-stop ‘shops’, were regarded as laughable by those who had to implement the cuts. However, the Board of Governors have been reassured that these have already been a great success for the future ‘sustainability’ of the University. Oh yeah?

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All is not going to (strategic) plan

‘Our success is dependent on our dedication and commitment to our priorities and our enthusiasm in delivery for our students’. There has been a ‘rapid transformation’ of our academic and financial performance to date, which ‘paves our way to being an all-round better University’.

Where did this come from? The local speak-your-weight machine at Waterloo Station? Afraid not. This is another pearl of, er, wisdom from the latest news release issued by our Gold Commander, AKA the KU’s VC Steven Spier. He was writing on KU’s latest Strategic Plan and ‘ambitious vision’ for the next three years.

Leaving aside how many hours it must have taken to write such nonsense (the VC has lots of help with his drafts), this was a very rare sign of life from our very part-time leader, who prefers to leave much of the day-to-day donkey work to loyal bagmen such as Dave ‘The Knife’ Mackintosh, who has looked increasing tired and stressed as the weeks tick by (he has to act, after all, as a ‘human shield’ for his Commander in meetings). There was also a delightful short video of our dynamic VC for staff to watch, placed on the KU website. ‘Mr. Bland’ (as his own admin staff refer to him) much prefers, you see, to film glossy little screen appearances from the comfort of his office. It also avoids the inconvenience of having to respond to awkward questions from staff, on such trifling matters as Covid-19, health and safety, online delivery, face-to-face teaching, and so on (‘Dave can handle this’).

To find out more about the VC’s big shiny new Strategic Plan, staff were invited to attend a ‘briefing session’, of which five were on offer, each on different aspects, presented by various members of the Senior Management Team, with two of them being jointly presented by the VC himself. Whoa-ho! However, all is not going to plan. Suddenly, these sessions were withdrawn (‘postponed’, according to the site). What has been going on?

One interesting bit of info passed to Dissenter by a sympathetic source ‘on high’ claims that there has been a last-minute dispute about who was going to present certain sessions. It involves our old mate Simon ‘Moron’ Wortham, the promiscuous Prof of ‘Sleeping Studies’ who has managed to toady his way back into the VC’s favour, after being involved in an embarrassing sex scandal. Apparently four of the staff briefings were going to be jointly-presented by Worthless, and two of them were going to involve him presenting alongside the VC. Another two were to have Wortham co-presenting with two female SMT Profs.

The word is that one of the female Profs, in light of Moron’s ‘reputation’, has expressed major reservations about the planned sessions. It seems there is still a great deal of bitterness and genuine discomfort on the part of some senior SMT members about working with Worthless, made worse by him complaining about being forced to share a PA with another SMT member (a safety measure put in place by the VC, given Moron’s past behaviour). Our source now believes the VC has also got cold feet over appearing alongside the promiscuous Prof. It’s all become a mess. It will be interesting to see when the presentations do happen, but don’t expect any major details on KU’s Strategy. This is Kingston, after all, where the bland prefer bluster and baloney.

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