Laurie Taylor Column

June 22, 2007

The University of Poppleton

From: The Vice-Chancellor and President

To: All Academic and Related Staff

Subject: Birmingham

As you may be aware from newspaper reports, the Uni­ver­sity of Birmingham has recently decided to ask its 6,000 staff to voice their opinions on the skills and attributes they would like to see in their next vice-chancellor.

Although these reports made it abundantly clear that this exercise applied only to the
University of Birmingham and to the selection of a future vice-chancellor, I was disturbed to learn from my personal assistant, Mrs Dilworth, that this development has already prompted several hundred unsolicited e-mails from members of academic staff at Poppleton who appear to regard it as an opportunity to comment upon my own style of leadership going forward.

Although a number of these e-mails were positive in tone (several used the phrase “better the devil you know”), the major­ity implied that if my own ap­point­ment had been subject to similar democratic input from staff then it might never have been effected.

It is therefore important to set the record straight. My own selection was made in the best traditions of British public appointments with a panel that included representatives of business and industry (Mr A. D. Blunt of Poppleton Pork Products), members of the religious establishment (the former, and now sadly unfrocked, Bishop of Poppleton), a personal friend (the external assessor) and two old time-servers from the university who were hoping for promotion under the new regime. Not only was the interview conducted with appropriate rigour but the absence of any other candidates also ensured that the panel was able to devote a full 40 minutes to the selection process.

Although I fully recognise that there may be merits in other methods of appointment, let me say in conclusion that I regard the Birmingham exercise as a dangerous example of the sort of extreme populism which in other circumstances ushered in the French reign of terror.
I hope this clarifies the

The Vice-Chancellor
(signed in his absence by Mrs Dilworth)

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