Don's diary

April 11, 1997


A bolt from the blue. The planning group of the university (vice chancellor, deputy vice chancellor, and pro vice chancellors) has issued a draft policy document. The university is in deficit; we did not do as well as we had hoped in the research assessment exercise and our department is to be closed. Two weeks ago the vice chancellor decreed that members of all departments which had been awarded a 3b or lower, should submit their research plans for inspection. It was clear then that something was afoot.

At the same time, he insisted that all his decisions would be made fairly and that no step would be taken based on "gossip, anecdote or prejudice". This made today's announcement all the more inexplicable. Our department was awarded a 3a. None of us had been asked to produce justifications for our existence. We all thought we were safely above the waterline. Clearly we were wrong.


Our professor is livid. He has sent a long document, condemning the university plan, to all members of the faculty with copies to the vice chancellor and his colleagues. At lunch in the senior common room he told an assembled group that the planning document was unacceptable.

On the way to my class, I was cornered by one of the newest members of the department who was in tears. I felt pretty tearful myself but my partner is being a tower of strength. She insists that because I was appointed in 1980, seven years before tenure was eliminated, and have not changed my status since then, I have complete job security. The administration can huff and puff all it likes; if I keep my nerve and refuse to budge, the institution is stuck with me.

This evening she dug out the statutes of the university and read them to me. "There it is in black and white. All those who were employed before 1987 and have had no change of contract cannot be made redundant," she said. "Are you sure?" I asked incredulously. "That's what it says," she said, "aren't you glad you were turned down for promotion last year?" Wednesday

Civil war has erupted. Everybody is blaming everybody else for what has happened. The senior members of the department are accusing the junior members of not having been productive enough, or producing work that was not sufficiently scholarly. They are claiming it is our fault for our getting a 3a rather thana 4. The junior members are insisting it is the fault of the senior members for not taking a lead with research.

Some members of staff think the administration does not like our subject and that's why we are being axed. Little cliques are meeting in the corridors. Everybody looks ashen. I am trying to keep well out of it. I have a book to finish and the publishers are pressing. But I just cannot concentrate.


Couldn't sleep last night. Woke at 4am after dreaming that I had been summoned to see the vice chancellor. He handed me my compulsory redundancy letter, but then turned out not to be the vice chancellor at all, but one of our elderly neighbours. I went downstairs and ate about ten chocolate biscuits. Felt better and went back to sleep.

On my way out the telephone rang. It appears that emails have been flying back and forth. A rescue attempt is being launched by our colleagues. The administrators have not ruled anything out, but they stress that cuts have got to be made somehow. In one of the messages, the deputy vice chancellor said that a rapid turnover was necessary otherwise there would not be any money left for those who could be made formally redundant. "Who are they referring to?" my caller asked. Since he was promoted in 1990 and is one of our group who does not have security of tenure, I did not want to enlighten him.

When I arrived at the university, I was greeted by the news that our professor has been invited to transfer.


This morning I telephoned another colleague with whom I had done some research work. His department got a 4 in the RAE. I asked if there might be a place for me in his group. He was very nice, but not very hopeful. Since only half of the department were thought research-active, despite achieving a good grade, they are still in deficit. So it appears they are not in a position to take on any additional staff.

At lunch I heard that the plan is being rushed through. An emergency senate meeting is scheduled for next week, with a full council meeting two days later. It looks like there will be no reprieve. Before going home for the weekend, I make my way to the personnel office to ask for a copy of my original letter of appointment.

Am reassured to see that the word "tenure" is used and that I was to be employed until retirement age. Keep looking at it on my way home and feel mildly comforted.

The author works at an English university.

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