Blogconfidential: Gang of four becomes two

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online

September 23, 2010

We have four principal lecturers in our school and a memo has been disseminated that communicates some shocking news: all four posts are going to be axed. Sadly, I hold one of them.

I have been in post for 11 years and am five years away from retirement. We have been told that we can all apply for two newly created senior lecturer posts. We were made aware before the summer that there would be redundancies, but didn't think for a moment that this would affect us.

At first we said we would stick together: the four of us went to the union, but it soon became obvious that there was little it could do. Our union representative said it was the same story nationally.

After that reality check, we spoke to each other less and less, and guess what: we are all applying for the two posts. Now is a great time for Machiavellian plots.

The dean has made it clear that each person will be interviewed "on merit", but he has his favourites: there is a small Christian sect among management and bias towards certain "righteous" staff. Call me paranoid, but as the only atheist in the gang of four, it seems obvious that I am destined for the exit.

The dean called me into his office last week. He articulated the usual platitudes: "Oh how terrible, you have been a credit to the university, but at 55 you could go now." You could see him willing me to agree - a slight outbreak of sweat appeared on his brow in an otherwise sangfroid performance.

It is all pathetic individualism: the rest of the school's staff keep their heads down and continue as always. I don't want to go at 55. I am not too old, I've done great things for this university, but all that is quickly forgotten.

I thought the cutbacks were going to be gradual - "eased in" later this year? You are in a terrible situation - who is making these awful decisions? Should we all just sit back and take it? We need to work now and challenge what is seen as inevitable. Is it the "English" way to roll over and die? What of the bulldog spirit?

To make all four of you apply for two inferior posts is an outrage. It sets staff against each other and promotes a "dog eat dog" mentality - although under the circumstances, perhaps that is the point.

There will be some who say that you should go at 55 and let younger scholars progress, but that makes all sorts of assumptions about your circumstances.

I would not worry too much about paranoia: I have no doubt that all sorts of deals are happening as I write this reply. Staff need to resist and challenge, but anyone under 35 is likely to be pragmatic and philosophical about the situation.

You face an unenviable choice: indulge your inner Machiavelli and fight tooth and nail for one of the posts, or go gentle into that good night. I suggest you fight.

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