Don's diary: No escape from the suits

November 12, 2004

1970s

1971 : Take on part-time teaching at the local college. Seems like fun, and the students are much nicer than the "suits" I meet in the day job.

1972 : Interview for a full-time post. Principal asks: "Can you teach?".

"Don't know." "Ah well, I expect you'll learn." (It's difficult to find people prepared to teach accounting.)

1973 : Days spent in a smoky haze, arguing philosophy, politics and the merits of strike action. Occasional forays into the classroom to meet "unusually large" intake of 15 higher national diploma students. I can't know it, but these students are the most capable and motivated I will meet for 30 years.

1974 : Council for National Academic Awards validation visit. Panellist asks about our philosophical approach to formative assessment. No one understands the question.

1975 : The Houghton inquiry results in a huge pay rise, bringing my salary almost equivalent to that of the profession I abandoned. It can't last. (It doesn't.)

1978 : Sabbatical to do an MBA. A demanding year for one used to idling, but the academic level is on a par with my college's HND. I collect lots of useful teaching material.

1980s

1980 : A year in Canada. Nice students but obsessive about grade-point averages. Bringing beer in on the last day is essential job protection. Perhaps foolishly, I feel grateful that it's not like this in Britain.

1985 : Our charming and tolerant principal retires, replaced by a harbinger of the new breed - a man so devoid of social skills, and so obsessive about transforming the college into a university that he even makes friends with Tory minister Michael Howard. The suits might be catching up with me.

1990s

1990 : Stupidly flattered, I agree to be head of department.

Start on the ten worst years of my career, stuck between unreasonable management and disaffected staff.

1993 : University status. Overwhelmed with students, the institution's new systems fail to cope. Highly paid finance and personnel directors promise salvation but one by one suffer termination.

1994 : Secondment to the Higher Education Funding Council for England for a year, and a return to my auditing roots. I find that most other institutions have similar problems and similar senior managers. Earn extra cash coaching one or two in dressing the teaching-quality window to hide what is in the lecture-room shop.

1999 : Student numbers steadily falling. In thanks for gaining the university its best research assessment exercise rating, all the historians are sacked. Only those subjects that can cram in more foreign students will survive.

2000s

2000 : The dean appoints me deputy so that he can spend more time abroad. His interest in the world's remaining steam railways provides the faculty with some exciting liaisons.

2003 : Seventeen full-fee masters students accused of plagiarism are let off with a warning. Perhaps it's time to go. Desperation over budgets means a generous redundancy package.

2004 : There's still difficulty finding people willing to teach accounting.

I find a job in my local university. The students there are nice, even if they are a bit obsessive about their grades. And most of the suits are on another site. Perhaps that decision 30 years ago wasn't so bad after all.

Russell Kinman is enjoying teaching again, as senior lecturer in accounting and finance at De Montfort University's Bedford campus.

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