January: It takes two working days for Helen Murr to get back to me. Her reply seems vague and uninterested. However, she is willing to meet with me to discuss my caseload issue. While her response is limited, I take up the invitation to meet on 30 January.
Meanwhile, a few of the team seem to be equally anxious about the impact Marcus is having. I meet Alan for coffee and he’s applied for a post down south with a university he feels will be more responsive to his talents. He wants a change before Marcus “presents his nightmare blueprint for a new department”, as he puts it. He mentions that Gail is on the lookout for an opening too. Great – my support system is ebbing away!
We talk about the way things have changed in just a few months, and I point out to Alan that he was quite supportive of Marcus at first. He explains that he was waiting to see what was going on but now feels the “cult of managerialism” is going to consume us all. Alan mentions Marcus’s Christianity – I’m astonished and ask for clarification. According to Alan, he’s quite devout and moved to the area because he wanted to be part of a thriving congregation.
At first I am totally sceptical. “Where is your evidence?” I ask. Alan explains that he was at a crime seminar in London and someone asked about Marcus, joking whether he had “converted” the team. The person concerned said he knew Marcus before he went the US and said he was a “no-nonsense” Christian – unclear what denomination.
This news causes me some anxiety and concern. I try to be objective – so he’s a Christian and he’s been a little in your face. Surely there is no problem with that? There are lots of Christians in the university – it’s not a problem. It’s really not a problem. I need to put this out of my mind. Except I’m a devoted atheist. I have a fish on my wall with Darwin written inside. The fish has legs.
28 January: Home life seems more tense than ever. My partner just doesn’t want to talk about what is going on. But I need some perspective. I cannot carry on like this. I am not sleeping well and I’m turning down offers to speak at conferences because I just cannot see how I can fit them in with this caseload. There is some good news; I’ve been asked to do a foreword for a publication on women in counselling. I still have some involvement with local groups and it’s nice to see I am thought about.
30 January: It’s the day of my meeting with Helen. I was anxious all night about this. Goodness knows why – what can happen? The meeting is planned for 9.30am. It’s on a different site from our buildings as Helen, formerly of the mathematics department, does not seem to see it as necessary to be on the same campus. I arrive at 9.20, Helen is in and she explains that Marcus will be a little late as there has been a traffic accident he’s witnessed and needs to give a statement to the police. Marcus? I ask.
I point out I thought this was a meeting between me and her. Helen seems irritated by my challenge and explains that it was her idea. This is the first time I’ve really met Helen. She seems quiet, dark under the eyes and a little worn out-looking, but she’s congenial enough and makes coffee.
We have a few minutes together. She implies that it’s “difficult when new ideas come into the university” and “we need perspective” when facing new challenges. I am about to respond to what feels like an implied criticism of me when Marcus arrives, sweeping in with a long blue raincoat on, rushing in like some superhero in a cloak. Someone’s got to save Gotham City, I suppose.
He has an expression of urgency on his face and seems slightly embarrassed. But Helen became animated upon his entry and rushes around after him as though he’s a little lost boy. He is clearly made self-conscious by her actions, which I find rather antiquated.
He explains the circumstances behind the accident – how he was a witness, the details, all rather melodramatic – but I smile in the right places and do the odd “oh goodness” and “oh dear”. Then it’s down to business. Helen opens with a few sentences about co-operation and working together. Things look rather contrived. What’s going on? This is my meeting.
Marcus launches into a rather personal attack on me. He retrieves an A4 notebook from his briefcase, which has several Post-its strategically placed. I attempt to put a stop to the agenda: “I’m sorry, I thought this was a meeting to talk about…” But Helen raises her hand to stop me talking and says, “I think Marcus has a few points he would like to make first.”
1) I constantly seem to be unwilling to provide him with information about work I undertake
2) He wonders whether I am deliberately trying to stop him implementing his “change agenda”
3) I have provided him with misleading information in the recent business plan – which he has corrected
4) He fears I am creating a subculture among staff that is designed to create a mood of pessimism – he cites a reference request for a member of staff (Alan?) and is anxious that I am not a “team player”. He says I am “always moaning”.
I attempt to pull things back and get a focus on the reason for the meeting (my caseload and most recent appraisal). I suggest that it is unfair to raise issues at a meeting where I have little idea of the agenda and that I should have some advance notification of the changes. Helen suggests that the agenda is “nothing new” and that she and Marcus have “talked things through” with her in terms of the points he has raised.
I cannot accept this hijacking of a meeting that was called to discuss my concerns about the book launch. I stand up and announce that I am leaving the meeting. I explain that I have no option but to take matters further. Marcus stands up to block my exit from the room. “I think you should stay and sort this out,” he says. I request that he move from the door and I look to Helen for support. She is looking down at the floor. As I leave I catch sight of Marcus with a slight smirk on his face. Was this planned? Has he just engineered a response he wanted? I leave and go straight home.
I spend the rest of the day recalling the comments made by Marcus: “misleading information”; not a “team player”. For goodness sake, he’s only been in the university for a few months and he’s driving me mad. I feel terrible.
Before I go to get the kids from school, I check my work emails. There’s a group email about “staff whereabouts”, written by Helen Murr.
“Could all staff please note that letting your academic team leader know your whereabouts is a requirement. Please make certain you provide your departmental administrator with all the information of your whereabouts at the start of the week…”
My immediate thought is that Marcus has gone back into work and noticed I was not at my desk. I take a large sigh and feel totally pissed off. Do I just leave it? I cannot understand, why me? What is going on? Perhaps it’s my fault.
Names and other details have been changed.
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