The harassment from the university is developing into an art form, endless, like a rigged game of roulette where the croupier fixes the bounce of the ball. I dread the postman and fear the phone ringing. Human Resources are like the bloody Stasi of East Germany. Remember The Lives of Others? (It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2007.) Well, I think HR must use the first ten minutes of the film as a training aid. Like the brutal Stasi Captain Wiesler and his interrogation methods, HR are bullish, combative but ultimately defensive in behaviour. Like a pack of dogs50
, they seem to run around me yapping and growling and snapping at my heels – through letters, emails and occasional attempts to phone. It goes on and on and on…
All academic staff at the university are quiet as mice. I have no contact, but I expected so much more. Do they wonder how I am? Do they think about me? It seems not. It’s easy to be pathetically egocentric about all of this. A department of social sciences should dare to be more questioning, concerned, challenging. But by their very structure, universities are “self”-centred. We all have our own little patch, build a reputation, remain guarded and defensive. Why should I expect anything more? I did not make many alliances, but if I had, would things be any different? I am off sick having submitted a grievance, and then they raised the stakes with a disciplinary, which means – isolation and a bar on all communication with anyone who is employed at the university. The direction even covers socialising… but then…
I have an email from Colin Horrocks to say that I can socialise with staff from the university. AT LAST!!! The university received a letter from the union seeking to clarify the situation, and HR have passed a message via Colin Horrocks to confirm that I can talk to staff from the university on a social basis. I was not contacted directly. It is as if it would be a gap in their armour, a sign of vulnerability that they could not admit to, pissed off with themselves. But they will not communicate directly or by letter, phone or email to state that they had made a mistake, that my human rights were violated, and that I can talk with staff from the university. This was a victory of sorts, but they could just not bring themselves to the unbearable confirmation – a polite letter saying “Oh sorry, it’s been several weeks, but you can socialise with people in your department. But you cannot talk to anyone about this business; if you or they do, you and they will be shot… oh, we mean fired… from… your job.”
A university – a vessel of knowledge and power – could not bring itself to say “sorry” or “we made a mistake” or “we realise that what we did was abusive, unacceptable and a violation…”. They scuttle off to whisper a few words via a union representative to pass on to me. Several weeks after my suspension and exile, a few words to confirm they were wrong. How appalling, how disgustingly wicked. I realise it’s the privilege of power – the ability to decide on your own terms the mode of apology, re-engineering it to seem more a clerical error than a violation.
This belated news that I can socialise with staff should lift me, but it does not. I still feel terribly lost. I wonder how my students are, wonder where my modules and courses have gone. I love my job. I miss my work. I yearn to teach. This whole affair is like a bad toothache; it never goes away, it stays with me all the time. I am contaminated, engulfed by huge waves crashing in. I’m clinging on to the edge of a cliff. I am here without a route map trying to find direction. All I get when I sleep are vivid metaphors and images. I try to shadow-box an enemy too fit, too able, too experienced at all of this – bullying, it’s a bit like that, is it not? The certainty of outcome despite your conviction that you are right and that the case is so clear cut that you could never lose.
In the end I take some action. I visit an anti-bullying website, where I find an advert for a specialist solicitor and send an email. Within days I get a reply. I phone her up. Debbie Smith is an “expert” in employment law. She talks to me about my situation. I send her all the documentation by courier. I await a response about my situation.
I get a letter from her. She is sympathetic, but reading between the lines she implies that I have also played a part in my own downfall – with the Easter chicks picture, my grievance all addressed to the vice-chancellor, dean and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. That said, she feels that I have a good case. She wants to know what it is I want. This echoes in my head: “What is it I want?” She places a range of options in front of me. A quick settlement, or a long battle? The former will result in a small financial settlement; the latter will be more drawn out, but will offer a better financial payment if successful. Both will gag me.
All I want is my job back. I just want to return to my teaching. I love my job. I hear the words in my mind reconfigure and change: I loved my job. I will discuss this with Dominic. It seems to me a payoff is wrong. It will not lead to a cleansing of brutish elements who need to learn that what they do is totally unacceptable. I am confused by the ease of the way it could all conclude. No punishments, no reprimands. Just a cheap sell-off. I feel corrupted and infected by the way these things move.
In The Lives of Others, the brutal Stasi official Wiesler can stand the hypocrisy of his work no more. He changes and gradually becomes more human after intense bugging and surveillance of the playwright Dreyman. As Wiesler listens in on the poetry of Brecht and music from a piano sonata, he realises that what he has been doing is bad and is just holding up a corrupt system. Unlike fiction, there will be no changes at this university, but perhaps yet another recorded-delivery letter or more emails pushing me out still further.
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