Suffering for Art

The pain we all feel

Extraordinary times. Unprecedented times. Strange times. Kingston School of Art is breaking up it seems. Jo Addison, acting head of fine art, works alongside Lucy Renton, acting head of architecture. They both work for Mandy Ure, acting dean. That’s a lot of acting. Mostly they do what Steven Spier tells them, but Ms Addison has turned on her employers in the most unpleasant way. She has assumed the role of apologising to her students and colleagues in the cause of Black Lives Matter. We all feel the pain and frustration that Ms Addison expresses. We all want change. Even those teachers like Ms Addison who are white, middle-aged, well-paid and work for an authoritarian institution like Kingston University. But why is she attacking her employers like this?

She says of Steven Spier and Mandy Ure: ‘The way our university has managed this has been deeply saddening but I hope we, as a department of staff students and alumni can have faith in its contrition. We represent the university and it is up to us to gather strength to help to shape it for the better. Together we must work harder and do better to understand our part and to address inequalities of all kinds. In our department we have such a long way to go towards what we aspire to and it sometimes feels painfully slow…Too many us, students, tutors, friends and fellow artists suffer burnout from their efforts to survive as artists and to make a difference in our sector.’

There’s the clue. Ms Addison IS feeling the pain. Part of this pain is the brutality of managers Steven Spier and Mandy Ure. Will poor struggling Jo find she is also oppressed by management when they read her words about them? Does Many Ure throw Ms Addison to the cops, or say sorry on her behalf to Steven Spier? Are they all going crazy over at Kingston School of Art?

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Madness at the Town House

Spiersy wears his VC best
Poly grey suit and string vest
Students playing up upstairs
Leering at the leotards
On dancers in glass jars
They hang around

Town House, the place that cost a mint
Town House, now we’re bloody

Town House it has a crowd
Joe Public having coffee
And it’s usually quite loud
Where silence is avowed
Upstairs in the library
Talking is allowed

Town House, it’s a Babel din
Town House, Spiersy’s on the

Town House, Ratty’s crazy dream

I remember way back then when
Scotty was in charge and when
We would have a very normal time
A teaching time
A study time
And I remember how we’d work
No sackings from a senior jerk
And no berk
Would try to send us

Architects are back on site
Drilling in the walls
To cure the balls-
up that they made
Students think the place is shite
Once again staff are betrayed

Town House, in the middle of a hole
Town House, an SMT own goal
Town House is a castle you can keep
Town House isn’t even fit for sheep

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Town House or Clown House?

It cost £50 million, was designed by top architect firm Grafton Architects, and VC Steven ‘Mr. Bland’ Spier has described it as ‘stunning’. But the new Town House is already becoming a Clown House, showing plenty of signs that it is not all that it is cracked up to be. All the colourful KU balloons put up in January have deflated rapidly. It finally opened its doors on January 6, 2020, instead of in Sept 2019 – a full three months behind schedule and half-way through the academic year, much to the dismay of many final year students.

It is a six-storey modernistic building with open-plan spacious design and a ‘silent study area’. But, unlike the old library, it is not living up to all the extravagant promises made by KU and the top SLT Clown. For a start, it is proving impossible for many users to study in silence. It’s not possible to close off noise from the main stairs, which are wooden, open-plan and echo loudly when in heavy use. Footsteps or conversations on the stairs can be heard on all floors, and there are also serious design flaws which mean noise from the ground-floor cafe area and reception inevitably gets funnelled and drifts up to all the other floors. Staff are already reporting that big complaints about the noise problem are being voiced by student reps in student/staff committees. As a former ‘architect’ himself, Spier creamed his pants at the design and vision of the place when it was being built, but library staff were less convinced. And they are right. As well as the noise issue, other teething problems are still being sorted out by the contractors Willmott Dixon, which have involved drilling and repairs both inside and just outside.

Dance students have also discovered that they are often on full display in their studio to a small audience of male students who gather to watch and smirk at them through a glass wall. Another drawback for students is public access to the cafes. The building, which is open to the public until 9pm, has seen a number of local families bring in their children, which has added to noise levels drifting up to other floors or down to those below. Some staff have also taken to dumping their kids there (KU, remember, closed its nursery to save money). This was especially apparent in the February half-term week (a teaching week for students).

The poor old library staff, aware of growing student discontent, have even been forced to employ a couple of students to try and ‘police’ the so-called silent area. What is really needed, though, is surely a big re-think to try and contain the noise problem. Will KU spend yet more to address this? The short answer is ‘no’. As everyone knows, KU is in a deep financial hole (which one SLT member has privately described as a ‘chasm’ to the Student Union), one which Spier and his gang have desperately tried to resolve through cost-savings, compulsory staff redundancies (not applicable to the SLT themselves, of course), numerous course closures, and axing various support services. Fees have also been raised. As part of this, the SLT’s latest big plan is to close and sell off Kingston Bridge House, the KU student accommodation bloc in Hampton Wick. Students were informed out of the blue about this on January 27, just a few weeks after Clown House had opened. It is another desperate gamble to save money, made all the more tragic because, as recently as 2015, the SLT allowed a huge sum to be spent on the refurbishment of (yes, you guessed it) Kingston Bridge House. Spier is due to hold a special opening ceremony for the new Clown House in May, conveniently timed so that very few students will still be around to ask any difficult questions or voice their complaints.

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Kontinuing decline

We have spoken before about the expensive waste of real estate here at Kingston Hill. There are corridors of empty offices still showing the names of absent, well-paid (or paid off) executives. Only the depleted occupational health team, led by corrupt, shadowy, never to be trusted, Dr Yvonne Cooper, remain as squatters in one building. Vice chancellor Steven Spier is clearly no smart guy when it comes to using office space efficiently. Do his executive assistants realise how dumb he is?

In time away from this blog we have been travelling around the campuses. Steven Spier inherited the ‘Town House’ project at the Penrhyn Road campus when he contrived to have his predecessor Julius Weinberg fired. The Town house has a ground floor cafe looking like the worst kind of coffee chain. It will confirm Spier’s reputation as a low-rent shopkeeper who believes the gig economy is education’s future.

Across at Knights Park, we heard that ‘acting’ dean Mandy Ure is now acting as Steven Spier’s workhorse for managing those art school crazies. Ure has teamed up with her old boss Sarah ‘bony’ Bennett to suck in students faster than Bennett can suck in her cheeks, promising them more space and resources. Ure and Bennett are lying for Spier. We heard how Ure, Bennett and other fakers are actually firing teachers all over the art school. Ure, with her helper Angela ‘part-time’ Partington and someone referred to in papers as ‘FC’ is running the Portfolio Review to clear out all those dull history and philosophy people. Looking at the school staff directory, we think ‘FC’ is Fan Carter. If this is true, Associate Professor in Media Carter is now turning on former colleagues by reviewing their programmes prior to redundancies. We suspect the trio of ‘absent’ Janice Miller, ‘Dandy’ Gander, and Sara ‘where am I?’ Upstone are guilty too. You may giggle at these cosy nick-names, but don’t underestimate the silent pain these inadequate humans are inflicting on colleagues.

Kingston Hill is a total contrast to Knights Park. Up at the ‘Hill, classrooms are empty much of the day. Down at the art school, we saw students working in corridors beside overflowing food bins. Is this the vision Spier wants Ure to achieve? Now she is really in trouble, as a result of a letter from the staff and Union asking her to explain her seriously bad treatment of colleagues. Spier will go crazy when he finds out she has screwed up. Sure, he is right behind her, but only to use her as a human shield.

Back in Kingston Hill, no amount of banners and branding will explain the classrooms without teachers. The place looks more and more like a failed dream paid for by years of students’ fees. Probably NHS and business investment too. Dean Dr Andrew Kent administers the fading health courses from his plush Range rover, not admitting the empty classrooms in his schools are a direct testament to staff shortages in the NHS. Maybe he could show up more often, or do his habits as a former General Practitioner doctor still stay with him?

Steven Spier and his willing harem of managers across the university replay the old patriarchal structure of male control, being used once more to enslave students so the accountants are happy. Only Spier’s accountability is absent from the stressed reality of Kingston University. Only Spier’s removal will fix this abuse of students and teachers. Spier is now a liability, spending the last of your money on his ego. Kingston University Board of Governors wake up and work! Get Spier out

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Sound advice to employees

Current or former employees of Kingston University who are bringing, or considering bringing a case against it before the employment tribunal, should be aware of the following: KU’s strategy is always to refuse to settle a claim until the very eve of the final hearing, which is likely to be over a year after the claim is originally filed. This is because the university calculates that most claimants – even those with strong claims – will lose their nerve and abandon their claims long before the final hearing, as the commitment in time and effort increases and the legal bills begin to mount. However, KU is also extremely afraid of bad publicity, so even if a claimant’s claim is not very strong, they will likely be offered some sort of settlement on the eve of the final hearing; one that will, at the very least, cover their legal expenses to date.

This means that if, for example, your claim has a 60% chance of winning – which is the highest a careful solicitor is likely to give even a strong claim – KU will bluff and refuse all settlement offers until the eleventh hour. On the other hand, even if your claim has only a 40% chance of winning, or even less, KU will probably still offer you a settlement at the eleventh hour, just before the final hearing; at least in the region of £10,000-£15,000 (which is what pursuing your claim will probably have cost you by then). So you can be reasonably sure you can, at the very least, break even, provided your claim has at least some merit to it. The important thing is, once you file your claim, not to lose your nerve.

The university’s finances being as unhealthy as they are, it is finding it increasingly difficult to afford to contest multiple employment tribunal claims. So even if you settle your claim with the university in the end, you will have left it tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket, which will weaken its future ability to victimise staff members.

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The Merry Bribes of Windsor: A Seasonal Tale for Christmas.

‘Twas a cold winter’s day in December, in a bland House in Old Kingstone Towne. Ye olde King Steven (for it was he) sat back in his shiny new office sofa and pondered what was left of his rapidly diminishing Kingdom. The recent collapse of a large building device nearby had left him shaken and in a quiver. His head also throbbed, not from intellectual endeavor and Strategic Leadership but from a stinking hangover after the latest SLT Xmas knees-up and lavish meal in the Great Lodge in Windsor Park (too much mead and fine wine, with bribes of champers for invited members of ye olde Board of Guv’nors to quaff down, no expenses spared).

King Steven (AKA King Bland) was especially pleased to be rid of ye olde chair of the Board of Guv’nors. He rang for his loyal servant, Sir Greysuit Loanalot, who came running quickly up the stairwell, breathless but pleased at the excuse to leave yet another yawn-making meeting in the ground-floor meeting room at the front of ye olde Holmewood House. He entered King Bland’s first-floor office and sighed. ‘Pray, wos up, good Sir Knight?’, inquired King Blandy. ‘Oh, nothing much, my Lord – just been sitting since 8.00am listening to yet another presentation to ye Academic Governance Board on Plan 2020. The Board lived up to its name – I was bored’.

King Steven’s face suddenly crumpled and turned scarlet red with fury: ‘Sir Greysuit, HOW many times have I told you?? DO NOT refer to it as “Plan 2020” – it reminds all the peasants about the date we set. ALWAYS call it ye “Turnaround Plan”, you incompetent fool’. King Steven continued: ‘Anyway, I am becoming increasingly tired of all these cynical comments and little asides you keep making, Sir Greysuit. I get enough of those from my office staff behind my back. They think I don’t know. I don’t want them you, too. Now, I summoned you here because I want some guidance and wisdom on finance and risk, not stupid comments. Forsooth, I have decided to build a wall.’

Greysuit looked puzzled: ‘Sorry, your Highness. A wall?’

‘Aye, I wanna build a wall, a big wall’.

‘In this house, your Blandness?’

‘Naye, naye, you silver-haired knit. Since we moved here and spent half a million notes on sprucing up the place, I have come to be jolly annoyed by ye olde Gymnasium nearby. The peasants, sorry, “students”, make too much noise. They always seem to be dancing to loud, pumping music. I want you to consult Estates and put together a Business Case Plan to build a wall and also move the gym’.

’But, but, where will the gym go, your Blandness? And have you forgotten the add-on costs and the massive, massive debt we are still in? We spent £19.5m on a new 4-storey building at ye old Kingstone Hill, a huge King’s fortune on the Knight’s Park Extension and refurbishment, the new Old Towne House is three months behind schedule and has swallowed millions, you still want a lavish opening ceremony for it, and we have very few farthings left in the (Metro) Bank’.

King Steven turned angry again: ‘That’s not my fault! I am surrounded by fools. I want to move the gym, get it out of my eyeline and far, far away from my ears. I want it put around the side of the PR campus, on the Sopwith side. Get the Business Plan together. Do it now! Find the dosh. Get the Knights of each Faculty to axe more courses, raise the fees, and make more staff savings. Off with their heads. Who needs staff anyway? All they do is teach endlessly and think too much. Now get on with it. And, as you leave, send in Sir Mac the Knife and Sir Simon Shagalot. I have new tasks for the dopey duo’.

And so the eager-to-please Sir Greysuit scuttled off into the depths of ye olde House and set about planning yet more cost savings, robbing from Peter to pay Paul. And so ended another long year in the epic KU saga, with King Steven wishing all his subjects a Very Merry Christmas but a Crappy New Year.

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