Blogconfidential: I can't take the (slow) pace

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: I can't take the (slow) pace

April 21, 2011

Having had a very successful career in the private sector, I joined a university to establish a new business and entrepreneur unit. It is exciting stuff. Eight months on, however, I am unsure that this, or any academic institution, is amenable to, let alone capable of, fostering competitive spirit.

I have been developing a new, cutting-edge qualification. It gives relatively new business minds a novel direction that helps them consider their product development and equips them with the skills they need to succeed. In the present economic climate, it is a marvellous qualification. It has taken six months to write the submission document and get it past a validating board of doubting colleagues - all of whom would find it hard to survive if they were forced into the dog-eat-dog commercial world.

After every aspect of my diploma had been scrutinised, debated and considered, and each outcome separated, analysed and reassessed, my validation document was passed. If Isambard Kingdom Brunel had gone through this process to build the Clifton Suspension Bridge, he would have thrown himself off it after realising that it needed revalidating within two years.

Having endured all these travails, I was raring to launch my diploma. I contacted the marketing department to remind them that a brochure needed to be completed within three weeks (I had kept them in the loop all along the way). A trumped-up manager in that department explained to me in no uncertain terms that it would take at least three months - yes, three months. In that case, I said, I would contact a graphic artist and printer and get the job done by the end of next week and pay for it myself. I put the phone down rather abruptly.

Within 30 minutes, my academic lead was knocking on my door. Nervous about the trouble I had caused, he explained that I would have to wait the three months and reschedule my diploma launch. I replied that this was a resignation issue. Did he want a robust and dynamic department or a weak unit that is too timid to stand up for itself and defend its actions and values? Surely this was the right stance?

Goodness me, you sound like a square peg in a round hole, and your experience of academic life does not seem a good one.

I can understand that someone from the private sector would feel frustrated with an organisation that moves at such a different pace. Universities can be like the seasons - slow and predictable. But you must have had an inkling that academic life was like this.

No doubt our institutions need more "get up and go", but I think your attitude is wrong. If you fight your employers, you will end up beaten by a machine that does not respect anyone who is independent-minded and determined.

Yes, a shake-up of the rather slow, unimaginative and tedious manner in which most institutions are run is a must, but your cavalier attitude will result only in your demise. It's your choice, but think about it.

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