Don's Diary

June 30, 1995

THURSDAY. "Bore Da. Bwrdd Yr Iaith Gymraeg. Welsh Language Board." Even though I have heard these words on several occasions, I am taken aback since it is unusual to hear anything other than English when telephoning public institutions in this country.

Having confirmed my meeting in the House of Lords with Lord Elis-Thomas (chairman of the Welsh Language Board) for the following Monday, I check the examination arrangements for my students before proceeding to a conference of the Higher Education Equal Opportunities Network. The keynote speaker extols the virtues of "managing diversity" as opposed to promoting "equal opportunities'. His opinions are not shared by the delegates.

FRIDAY. Working breakfast with members of the Equal Opportunities Steering Group followed by the AGM. In the absence of any nominations, I am re-elected to edit the network newsletter. Miss most of the second keynote speech as I have to fly to Frankfurt for a weekend seminar. In Frankfurt passport control scrutinises me and my passport, punches numerous keys, makes a telephone call, checks a typed (what I presume is a terrorist) list. Fortunately, I am used to this ritual, inspired by my dusky hue, and my official European passport does not help. An interesting beginning to a seminar on intercultural education. Finally arrive at the Dominican cloister where 30 or so "international experts" have gathered to exchange ideas and to share experiences. It is taken for granted that the seminar will be conducted in English. So while the hegemony of English is being challenged at home, it is still increasing elsewhere.

SATURDAY. Some variation of Murphy's Law ensures that whatever time is allocated for your input at a conference, you will have 71.5 minutes for your presentation. The law is in evidence here. Lunch arrives. The hot vegetable soup is avidly consumed. We wait for the second course and are told "Das ist alles". However, the evening meal in an Indonesian restaurant makes up for the monastic fare of the cloister.

SUNDAY. The seminar over, we are taken for a walk around the old Jewish quarter in Frankfurt. Last year after a similar gathering in Weimar, delegates were invited to visit the concentration camp at Buchenwald. I am reluctant to read anything profound into this. Our guide informs us that "there were Jews settled in Frankfurt long before the Germans". There is talk of reconciliation and the new multicultural reality of Germans. All this is put into sharp perspective with the news that day that one of the very few black presenters on German TV has been sent a letter bomb. Fly back late in the evening. The immigration officer hardly bothers to check my passport.

MONDAY. Deal with some of the 34 email messages before setting off for the House of Lords. The Irish porter points me to the Peers Entrance and I am welcomed by someone with a Scottish accent. Then a Welsh greeting. I am tempted to ask about the PCness of the nomenclature of the House of Lords but then notice a panel depicting the six wives of Henry VIII. Perhaps there is a connection between this and the paucity of female peers. I leave the House without having spoken to anyone with an English accent and head for my first meeting as an executive committee member of the Staff and Educational Development Association.

TUESDAY. Deadline for assignments and there is a queue of students - some clutching doctor's notes outside my office. After witnessing some Oscar-winning performances about why the assignments are not ready, I check my email - 24 new messages - and feel somewhat dubious about the email training about to be launched for all staff.

WEDNESDAY. Find two more weeping students and new email messages. Arrange a pilot training programme for "information security officers". In the evening attend the premiere of Jefferson in Paris, preceded by a reception in the US embassy. Thomas Jefferson's liaison with a young black woman after the death of his wife produced six children, all born into slavery. I suppose it lends a whole new meaning to the idea of the Founding Fathers of the Nation.

THURSDAY. Urgent fax from the United States. A contributor to a book we are editing is worried that his chapter is late - just like the students. Collect some assignments before chairing a session with the vice chancellor of one of the new universities. He says a v-c's role is as a "manager of contradictions". He tells us that a university should be "student-driven". We need "strategic imagination" rather than a "vision". He invites us to "celebrate the diversity" in our universities. He exhorts us to "get on the Internet" and to show our students that they have access to some of the world's best educational resources even if the institution's budget is rather modest. His presentation is slick, entertaining, even inspiring, and his message is no less powerful because he has shoulder-length blond hair or because he wears an earring.

Now where are those assignments I have to mark?

Principal lecturer responsible for staff development at the University of Luton.

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