Don's Diary

February 24, 1995

Sunday. The heavy snow ten days ago broke dozens of branches off the trees, especially the poplars and ashes, so most of the day gets spent on amateur tree surgery. The bonfire has lasted two days so far, mostly through the determined efforts of William (ten) to keep it going. Dark soon after five and an early dinner follows then take William to brass band practice (third cornet but coming on).

Monday. In to work early to miss rush hour.It is quiet until 8.45 am and I clear loads of work. Donna calls in looking ill, heading rapidly for flu, yet due to invigilate a three-hour exam at 9 am. Other staff are mostly at home marking last week's scripts or else flu-bound, so Donna starts the exam while I try to get a replacement. Unsuccessful so take over from her 15 minutes in, and help the other invigilator sort out a register of 150 students taking eight different papers. After an hour, a colleague comes in, having volunteered to cover for the rest of the morning. Meeting with an Economic and Social Research Council visitor who says it will be more theme-driven and more keen on wider distribution of research results. As Bradford concentrates on interdisciplinary social science research, this should be good news, but peer review is usually resistant to change so we will believe it when we see it.

Tuesday. Meeting at 9.30 - the six coordinators go through problems of trying to mark hundreds of mid-year papers in under a week. Our group meets for an hour each week with full staff meetings every fortnight. It might seem excessive, but has proved to be one way for everyone to "own" the department. We have doubled in size in the past ten years but so far we are holding together. In the afternoon, staff from across the university meet a visitor from the Higher Education Funding Council for England who tells us about the delights of the revised teaching assessment scheme. It is the ultimate eye-opener. When assessing interdisciplinary departments, the aim is to have two assessors for each main subject area. We have ten disciplines in peace studies, so the assessors should outnumber the 19 staff. I question him on the optimal assessment cycle and he says six years would be best. Assuming universities average 30 subject areas, and with universal visiting to 100 universities, this means 3,000 visits per cycle, or 500 a year. He agrees readily. I persist - assuming no visits at the start or finish of a semester leaves perhaps 20 weeks each year for visits, so each week would see around 200 assessors visiting 25 universities and duly completing detailed reports including a four-point scale for each of six categories of assessment. He agrees. At last I can understand the penchant for rail privatisation. With this amount of travel, it is bound to be profitable. Reflect that assessment is like a 1950s B-movie where an apparently harmless blob of intergalactic jelly grows to consume whole towns (or universities), defying all attempts at control.

Wednesday. Morning spent in marking exam scripts. Lunch meeting of department heads grappling with latest resource-allocation model, followed by senate which starts with questions to the vice chancellor. He announces one from a student rep - a Mr Littlewood from peace studies. Jez succinctly encapsulates most student (and staff) concerns over modularisation. Widespread murmurs of agreement, and I quietly purr with pride.

Thursday. Morning spent with a leading fund-raising consultant discussing possibility of funding peace research. We are already the world's largest university peace studies centre with more than 50 researchers, and we pull in over Pounds 250,000 in research funds each year. Even so, funding is a permanent headache and we have a whole range of urgent new projects to fund. The price of one Tornado would keep the department going for 30 years and I reflect on possibility of a) nicking and b) selling said warplane - the RAF have 385 so they should not miss one. Afternoon of long assessment review - 160 undergraduate students to consider, many with chronic financial and other problems typical of current student environment. Featherbedding is long since past.

Friday. In early and pick up three colleagues to drive to Hull for northern universities seminar on European defence. Conference wide-ranging and stimulating, but demonstrates the extent of European floundering over a defence identity, with an all-to-ready tendency to look for new "threats" to keep defence budgets up. Back by mid-evening and head for neighbouring village where Claire and William are at bellringing practice. Successful go at Grandsire. Home about 9.30 - it is my birthday but we will celebrate when the older two are home. Bed early but rudely awakened at midnight by phone. Rush down stairs fearing bad news but it is my son Thomas from Warwick, with birthday greetings and slightly surprised to have got me out of bed.

Saturday. Sleep in, but eventually get up determined to work outside. Inadequate housing on our five acres means that I am building a stone barn from scratch. It has taken years but I should finish it this year - weather, RAEs, assessments and audits permitting. Hope to finish erecting scaffolding for roof today, but driving rain develops by lunchtime and I have a go at writing this instead.

Professor of peace studies at Bradford University.

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