Don's Diary

January 6, 1995

Monday: Collect 31 forms for the end-of-term feedback. Horrified to discover that they are all the same for lecture courses, practical sessions and tutorials. We are asking students to grade their tutors on their use of visual aids on a ten-point scale. Devise something more sensible. Still worried that we may be over-emphasising the feedback. Are we discouraging teachers prepared to be unpopular from telling the students unfashionable things?

Tuesday: Them grading us, now us grading them. Spend 30 minutes with a Canadian student complaining about her grade. She is used to getting between 70 per cent and 85 per cent back home and I have given her 50 per cent on her first paper. I explain the difference in our marking norms -- 50 per cent is a pass, and several students failed. She is one of many on our postgraduate journalism courses who are much more concerned about marks and grades. Will they ever make it in journalism? 11.00 pm. Off to Euston to catch the Glasgow sleeper. To the lounge car with my two colleagues for some male bonding before we turn in. Full, so we ask to join a silver-haired lady at her table. She says she is just going. Two gin and tonics later she is giving me a lecture on child abuse. A brainwave. I announce I am going to the loo. When I come back she is leaving, having told my colleagues that I am a "rude libertarian". Oh well, I have been called worse things.

Wednesday: Greeted on the platform by The Scotsman's headline that six of the eight Scottish sleepers are to be axed. We troop off to the station hotel. No longer BR. Now a Friendly. As good is its name, it lets us in to our rooms forthwith. Breakfast is marred by cold toast and musak. Walk to university along the Clyde. Last here for a ship launch but now pass yuppified flats. Spirits rise as we approach Glasgow University. Solid as granite, it has stood for more than a century and will not be destroyed by a few manic education ministers. Beware optimism. The Association of University Teachers conference is being held in the Western Infirmary Lecture Theatre, the name itself a hint of terminal decline. No signposts and all paths are filled with AUT delegates asking each other where it is. Eventually we find it, a modern structure which might be an American church. We are going to be trapped here for two-and-half days. Talking to the back of people's heads. Cut off from the audience microphones. It is a setting fit only for top-down communication and we are supposed to be a trade union. The first speaker, Graeme Davies of the funding council, is not a bearer of good news. Hope again when we go to dinner with the Goldsmiths delegation. They fought when the management tried to fire a bunch of them. A national lobby of their council and the threat of an academic lobby got to the hearts (or political sensitivity) of the management, which is now opting for voluntary redundancy.

Thursday: The Scotsman has started a "Save our Sleepers" campaign. In The Guardian the departing vice chancellor of Portsmouth University argues that by refusing to fund the universities' expansion the Government has created a situation comparable with France in 1968, with teaching and student unions joining to create "melting pots of similar unrest". Extreme groups like the Socialist Workers' Party are harnessing "moderate dissatisfactions in such a way that whole campuses can become destabilised". Back in the Western Infirmary Lecture Theatre there is no sign that the assembled union activists are preparing to man the barricades. The executive has asked for a sensible 5 per cent pay rise which council endorses. The general secretary has been to see Gillian Shephard twice. No one complains that he is selling out to the enemy. But there is anger when a speaker mentions an incident at Birmingham University. After a job evaluation exercise for computer technicians the management decided that there was no more work for four of them. They were suspended and escorted from the premises by security guards. The next speaker reports that in another university a lecturer with 14 years' service (and only three days' illness) had five days off this term because of flu. He was suspended pending an investigation into his conduct. If anything produces revolt on campus it will be the build-up of this new authoritarianism. Council dinner. The Angus beef is piped in, but equal opportunities is upheld. One of the two pipers wears a kilt without a sporran. The fiddlers take over and the evening climaxes in the organised frenzy of a ceilidh.

Friday: We speed southwards in gentle winter sunshine arriving at Euston five minutes early. Have I ever felt so refreshed after a 500-mile journey?

Sunday: Off to our first Christmas party. Our host took early retirement last June after years of running one of the most innovative adolescent centres in the country. Then he was in despair. Today he looks ten years younger -- everyone else looks ten years older. He is more than halfway through his book on the destruction of the health service. Ah, well. If we lose all the battles I can always chuck it in and write the book of the war.

Bob Jones Senior lecturer in journalism at City University and this year's president of the AUT branch.

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