Laurie Taylor – 12 May 2016

The official weekly newsletter of the University of Poppleton. Finem respice!

May 12, 2016
Poppleton University v Soviet labour camp
Source: Alamy/iStock

A naughty analogy?

“It’s not a helpful intervention.”

That was how Jamie Targett, our Director of Corporate Affairs, responded to the contention by Craig Brandist, professor of cultural theory and intellectual history at the University of Sheffield, that UK universities were currently afflicted by a “Soviet-style” managerialism.

Targett said that Professor Brandist’s recent article in Times Higher Education rested on a strained analogy. “Nobody who was au fait with a modern British university like Poppleton”, he said, “could possibly suggest that academics were intellectual labourers who were being ‘turned into alienated cogs in a bureaucratic machine’.”

Neither could any fair-minded observer of contemporary university management compare it to the “blind man’s buff” of the Soviet economy in which managers constantly set key targets to motivate staff and then used sleight of hand to pretend that these targets had been met before proceeding to issue further sets of unrealisable targets.

It would, said Targett, have been considerably more helpful if Professor Brandist had proposed some practical ways in which university management might be improved rather than pursuing his misleading comparison to a brutal and discredited regime.

Such a practical approach, for example, might lead to the early settlement of the current dispute over staff car parking at Poppleton, which had been occasioned by the need to use a large number of the existing parking spaces to accommodate just over 500 surplus tractors.

Any old irony?

It was not only Jamie Targett who was perturbed by the Craig Brandist article in Times Higher Education. Louise Bimpson, the corporate director of our ever-expanding HR team, also expressed concern at the assertion by Professor Brandist that HR people “generally don’t do irony”.

Ms Bimpson suggested that the good professor was probably not aware of the central tenet of university human resources: the necessity to employ ever-growing numbers of full-time HR managers to facilitate the management of an ever-diminishing number of academic staff.

She admitted that she did not know whether this was a perfect case of “irony”, but it certainly gave her and her staff what she described as “a jolly good laugh”.

It’s the Stern Gang again

Our Deputy Head of REF Strategy, Brian Bryan, has told The Poppletonian that he is not “surprised” by the recent University of Cambridge proposal that “the totality of an institution’s research output must be considered a key element of the evaluation of its research quality and environment”.

Mr Bryan said that Cambridge quite understandably wanted the research excellence framework to operate in a manner that favoured its own research environment and that enjoyed by its fellow Russell Group universities.

However, Mr Bryan believed that all such submissions would be judged in a wholly impartial manner by the Stern Committee’s current review of the REF.

But, wondered our reporter, Keith Ponting (30), wasn’t it true that all but one member of the Stern Committee hailed from Russell Group universities? Might not this introduce the possibility of bias?

Mr Bryan was unperturbed. “I have no problems on that score. In line with precedent, one assumes that when the Russell Group proposals are raised, all those around the table with vested interests will choose to leave the room.” He dismissed Ponting’s observation that this would leave Lord Stern almost entirely by himself as “neither here nor there”.

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