Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Finally, some good news. I think.

After what seems like a full two years of misery, my Faculty has finally declared an end to the rigours of its "renewal strategy" with the announcement yesterday that we will not be proceeding with a round of involuntary redundancies. You can almost hear the sigh of relief running around the place. Mostly, I'm just delighted for the brilliant young scholars I know who were put in the awful position of having to fight for their jobs, often when they were doing all the things one is supposed to do.

Many of us know the enormous effort it takes to edit a volume of essays, and how important those collections are for the development of our field, but if you do such work in our system, you get only one "point" for this work, and only so long as your introduction is over 4,000 words long. If you co-edit this volume, you get half a point. If you write a major monograph you get only five points. I think many of us could have been caught out not producing enough articles to get over the line; and it was horrid to realise a number of the people targeted were women who were also parents of small children.

It would be wonderful if we were now able truly to start renewing ourselves. We are a great faculty, really, ranked in the top ten, internationally, on a number of indexes. In two years we have been through a major re-structure of departments into schools, a massive university-wide curriculum reform, and a budgetary crisis, all under national and local scrutiny in the press. We have already lost some wonderful colleagues. And some people's careers have been changed for ever, as they move, over the next few months, into pre-retirement plans, or teaching-only positions.

Other changes are less tangible, and will change the way we work. I think we have all now been frightened into producing a regular stream of articles that will appear quickly, as opposed to working on large-scale projects. A "book" in the humanities is a major measure of success and intellectual achievement; but it is rewarded only as if it were a science textbook. Some of us will still go on editing essay collections, refereeing for journals, reviewing, and all those other academic tasks, but some will refuse even that, I think. Many of us will think twice about taking on large administrative portfolios that erode our time for research, since so little quarter has been shown to those whose productivity has been slowed by such service.

Mostly, I'm concerned that others will feel the way I do, that the threads that have bound me tight to this university have been loosened by the trauma of the last few years, that the love I've felt for the university has been betrayed and irreversibly damaged by the imposition of a punitive, rather than a supportive collegiate culture. I hope I'm wrong.

6 comments:

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Congratulations on the arrival of some welcome good news.

Steve Muhlberger said...

I think my place probably just missed such an experience when a key administrator left for another job.

Pavlov's Cat said...

That's an excellent point about the women being in the line of fire. Apparently, according to the ladies over at Scepticlawyer, exactly the same thing is happening in the law: firms are downsizing and despite a rapid rise in the number of women in the profession in recent years, most of them are still at or near the bottom of the hierarchy.

And is that phrase 'involuntary redundancies' an A-grade double weasel or what?

Michelle Smith said...

It is good news. The process was also quite disturbing for recent PhD graduates, as there appeared little hope on the horizon for many of us for our first jobs if academics with established track records were in danger of losing theirs. I hope that perhaps the changes under the Bradley Review will bring more money to the university sector to enable a change from almost half of all face-to-face teaching being conducted by casuals. Real positions need to be created again so that those who have good teaching records and a solid publication history can have their first permanent academic job. We risk losing a lot of young scholars as it stands.

And congratulations on your teaching award! Dedication to teaching is something else that cannot be quantified in the DEST points system.

Anonymous said...

I fear the damage is not repairable - you are right. I was in the Faculty of Arts for several years and eventually chose to transfer out. As if we really had a choice. Some of my former colleagues are now long gone, retired, or being forced to leave their jobs - in one case, leaving academia entirely. They are not unproductive people (those ones are still hanging on in...). The formation of Schools, and their later adjustments to reduce costs, were insane moments worthy of a Kafka novel. Decades of professional and personal relationships have been broken, with little chance of rebuilding them with new staff for many years. The University has actually fallen in the world rankings. The costs to be passed down from the central university to the Faculties in 2009 (for the space they occupy, their staff numbers, etc.) are absolutely massive, profoundly unfair, and could force several Faculties back into financial strife again. Much of all this could have been avoided by focusing on teaching, research, and SLOW restructuring. Millions were wasted on consultants, Learning Management Systems,and new construction at a time that it was hard to justify the expenditure.
What makes a university are its academic staff, and those that support them. Take them away, as we have been doing, and what are you left with?

Stephanie Trigg said...

Well, I'm afraid I've reverted to my mode of cautious optimism. It's sometimes pretty hard to make sense of all the statistics that appear (and that get argued about); and yes, i agree that the last couple of years have seen a real change in the operations of the university.

But since I work there, and since I have so many colleagues whom I admire and respect, I'm determined to work harder to make it the workplace I want it to be, and not to let the negatives get me down.