In this new monthly column, Dr Dai Llemmer, part-time head of crisis management at a research-indifferent university in the South Yorkshire Commute-to-Work zone, offers timely advice on problems exercising the minds of modern academics
Dr Linda X (not her real name), former head of a major pharmaceuticals concern in the Nuneaton area, writes:
I have recently accepted the post of vice-chancellor at a "traditionally built" university on the Isle of Dogs. I understand that it is very important for a vice-chancellor to make an impression by driving the right sort of car to work from day one, but I am unsure what the appropriate vehicle for my part of the sector would be. (We are part of the 1984 Group, if that helps.) Should I ditch the BMW?
Dr Dai Llemmer replies:
Your query is right at the top of every modern vice-chancellor's to-do list. Setting the right agenda for your institution is very much about getting the fine detail right - what my colleagues in the caffeine-based industries call "granularity" - and the most important details are those closest to home: housing (nothing too close to the campus, obviously) and clothing allowance. On the latter, if you were Russell Group, I would say demand a Dolce and Gabbana account, but given that you are from the 1984 Group, I would advise you to reject the standard 10 per cent discount at Milletts and push for a Primark chargecard: they have a wider range of formal wear and there's always the chance of running into colleagues in the shoe department.
But the most important choice of all, as you point out, is transport, and here you need to choose something that avoids the obvious pitfalls. Nothing too flashy: Maseratis and Porsches are a bit mid-life crisis, Bentleys and Rollers too obviously pre-research assessment exercise. What your vehicle needs to say about you is "I'm here and I'm important, look at me. But I'm also a modern vice-chancellor who cares about the environment and is in touch with the local community." Think David Cameron with an Afro.
Look at what the other vice-chancellors are using for pointers, but ignore the more obvious eccentrics. That head of a minor Cambridge college who walks to work driving a gaggle of geese, for example, is obliged to do so by a statute of Edward IV's reign (otherwise he loses the college's malmsey allowance). Then there's the one who drives a bus in, picking up her colleagues on the way. That way she both saves money and ensures that there are enough people in at 8.30am for her working breakfasts.
My advice would be to go for classy but economical, perhaps a Honda Civic convertible in pink or a Saab estate in racing green (which hints at a home life without actually needing to have one).
As usual, my colleagues have come up with some interestingly radical suggestions. Bob the porter, who doubles as part-time university chauffeur, suggests that "you consider living on campus, then you won't need a bloody car to take you home at all hours of the night" (I think I may have approached him at a bad moment). Zak from genetics thinks you should consider having yourself cloned. That way one of you could always be at work while another version could be constantly lobbying for an upgrade to the Russell Group. Now there's a thought!