Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Six Million Dollar Man

I am getting bored. Well I say bored, but its much more that I am frustrated with waiting for the Memsahib.

It was about this time two years ago that I finally decided that after twenty five years working in academia, it was time to move on. Talking to the management it was indicated that I could leave the following April. After a while I felt like Steve Austin in the opening credits of "The Six Million Dollar Man" the story of a former astronaut with bionic implants. I was walking through treacle. Some nine months later, I was given the news that my plans to leave early had been scuppered. The faculty was about to be re-organised and so was my life.

It was about this time that I was asked to provide a few words about a couple of staff members who like me had notched up twenty five years service. It was a moment of personal revelation, as I thought back over the years. I came to realise that there had not been a period where we had not being put through the mill of reorganisation. No sooner had one reorganisation taken place with a whole new tier of management put in place. Then the new brooms with "new ideas" would start to meddle.

Stability and the security of tenure of employment were always under threat. The two watchwords during this period of constant change were “economy of scale” and “granulation”. I started my academic life in a faculty, moved to a department, paused for a while in a school, went back to a faculty and under the last series of changes which I thankfully escaped. I would have been back in a department.

Economy of scale meant reducing staff numbers and taking on an increased workload. Allegedly reducing duplication of effort and allowing us to work smarter.  Thus allowing for a reduction in staff numbers. Granulation on the other hand meant we needed to take a more focused look at what we were doing. By taking on an increased but more specialised workload. Allegedly reducing duplication of effort and allowing us to work much smarter. Allowing further reduction in staff numbers. The only constant throughout all of this period, student numbers had been increasing as had the amount of additional work.

Out of the blue came the opportunity to walk away from my working life. The opportunity to do something different. I am sure that somewhere in the rarefied atmosphere at the top. Where the lack of oxygen makes your head spin. Someone was again having great thoughts. Our direction of travel was once again dictated by the spinning head of fate. We were back on the academia-merry-go-round and had arrived at “economy of scale” again.

In February I finally walked away, I thought it would be a difficult period. It was – but for a different reason than I had imagined.

Leaving was the best thing that happened. I felt free and comfortable for the first time in a long time. Surprisingly the institution had not come crashing down after my departure. The work colleagues that I see from time to time are still as frustrated as ever. They are still marching on the treadmill to retirement. The ambition and ideas they had arrived with – long since ground down under the heel of new teaching methods. Now HE is the production line of education. Quality and the sense of pride in what we were doing is dead. Numbers in and out of the revolving doors increased, their degrees devalued. Never mind the quality count the numbers.

For me those problems and frustrations had gone and I felt no guilt. I felt no real sense of achievement but I did feel free.

I have had a few months to reflect on where I was then and where I am now. I am much happier now. The last twenty five years are a blur of mixed emotions most of them negative. Yesterday, I found a pack of photographs taken some ten years ago. There were student faces I recognised but names I could not remember. There were colleagues who had passed way years before their time. Colleagues who had burnt out on the academia-merry-go-round, who had moved on to other things. Their passing as unmarked as their loss to HE. Their achievements not acknowledged.

So here I am, waiting for the Memsahib to retire from the same academia-merry-go-round. There are eight weeks to go, before we can at long last have a few months out on the boat. I feel once more like Steve Austin in The Six Million Dollar Man. I am walking through treacle again.

The Memsahib still has strong feelings of care and responsibility towards supporting her students. Dedicated to the end. It will change in time when she  realises that institution had not come crashing down after her departure. Her achivements like the acheivements of others will be forgotten, her leaving unmarked.


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