Don's Diary

January 13, 1995

Christmas Day. I love Christmas but carving the turkey (only for ten?) etc, brings on a serious attack of managerialism for which my children upbraid me like the stroppy AUT organisers they increasingly resemble. AUT officials, like policemen, seem to be getting younger. Dogged by thoughts of advancing age and possible retirement.

New Year. Three wonderful days in Cumbria alone with wife: snow; cloudless skies and temperatures well below freezing. Brisk walks on the fells above Ullswater together, real ale and a real fire quite restore normal spirits. Robert Wright's Moral Animal starts thoughts about today's complex family patterns and need for someone (Blair to rethink family policy.

Tuesday. Not a good day. Back in London to get editor wife back to The THES office. She wittering on about the Internet and great plans. How about The THES getting its input as well as output on the net so it could all be done from Cumbria? Grumpy again, will the future ever come?

Wednesday. Welcome the future. Robert Hughes, junior minister in the Cabinet Office, arrives at the LSE to open ET95, the annual conference and technological showcase that the Government's IT agency, the CCTA, holds there each year. As usual progress since last year has been fantastic. Minister's speech, as delivered complete with ad libs, made it to Internet before he made it to the CCTA stand to see it on screen. This is implementation of the visions that we saw in the 1970s when working on Advisory Council for Applied Research and Development reports. Of course we did not guess then how it would happen. Feel smug -- and old: minister has not heard of ACARD. Ministers seem to be getting younger too.

Thursday. Heaven -- a long-planned day of escapism at the Boat Show. Meet stepson, recently returned from trip to Cape Horn on a catamaran. Chart course round Earls Court -- stepson navigates much better than me and is also a calming influence. More important, he has a much better idea of what his mother will put up with on a boat than I, the eternal optimist. Maybe the young are getting older. Wonderful luck, special offer on boat that I wanted -- can we afford it? Ring wife. Encounter gale warning. Some garbled story of the impending end of my fixed-term appointment as director of the LSE has been headlined "LSE director plans to quit". This apparently based on a note circulated to all members of the academic staff and court at end of last term. Ring LSE. They have seen story and alerted Sir Peter Parker, chairman of the court, who will issue a statement to set the record straight. Firmly switch off mobile phone and return to show. Very impressed by modern electronic navigational equipment now available. Covet hand-held global position satellite navigation gizmo. But the fun has somehow gone from day.

Blight worsened by Evening Standard read on tube. This carries a story of my "plans to quit a year early", which I do not. Arrive home cross. Ask wife for advice Fierce missives dispatched in all directions. Possible conflicts of interest discussed, as so often, over supper. Daughter rings up to say that she thought the picture in the Independent excessively flattering, and am I really paid that much? Tell her "Alas no,". Why do the media always exaggerate the wrong things? Decide PR pic probably overdue for reissue. Grumpy again.

Friday. Spend day fire-fighting. If all vice chancellors were on fixed contracts -- and why not now that so many staff are? -- these misunderstandings would not happen so easily and all contract staff might get a little more TLC. Decide that this bit of the future when we will all be "portfolio persons" without jobs in the traditional sense will need rather more managerial attention. Tenure saved the universities from having to think through some of the implications of modern employment patterns -- time we caught up. Ring American organiser of the Daedalus conference in Oxford on modern Britain to say that I cannot make it today.

Saturday. Finally get to conference in University College, Oxford. Try to remember what Robert Wright had to say but fellow participants not much interested in evolutionary psychology. Much talk about constitutional change and high falutin' political theory but the devil is in the detail and the DNA. Struck, not for the first time, by how uninterested social scientists seem to be in scale effects. There are some fractal phenomena (eg "one man, one vote" for everything) but most interesting social phenomena show marked scale effects (eg definitions and attributes of "community"). Has anyone done any work along these lines? Is it a researchable topic? What a delight to be an academic again. Pity it only seems possible at weekends these days. Perhaps I can get back to it when I really do retire? Reminded that there is more to academic life than admin and realise that I am looking forward to the start of term. Maybe there's life in the old (sea)dog yet.

John Ashworth is director of the LSE.

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