Face to face with all sorts, including delinquent dads

April 20, 2007

Name: Malcolm Cross

Age: 41 (I want to lie)

Job: Head of department of psychology and dean of students, City University, London

Salary: Nowhere near enough.

Education: BA (hons) psychology and welfare from Mitchell College of Advanced Education (Australia); MA (hons) clinical psychology from the University of Wollongong; PhD in psychology from City University, London.

Jobs: I have been very lucky to have had a number of roles at City, including lecturer, senior lecturer, programme director and now the roles of dean of students and head of the department of psychology.

Background: While studying for my degrees, I gained extensive experience working part time in the not-for-profit sector, helping homeless and deprived young people, adults with learning difficulties and people with terminal illnesses.

Working hours and conditions: As I have two roles, I'm in work every day and tend to leave lecture preparation, reading and assessments to the weekends.

Number of students you teach/staff you manage: As dean of students, I am responsible for university-level appeals and discipline for about 20,000 students. As the head of the department of psychology, I am responsible for about 600 students and about 26 members of staff.

Biggest challenge this year: The development of a comprehensive student feedback policy. This involved the harmonisation of module-level feedback across the institution to enable like-for-like comparison between each school. This was a challenge because individual departments had worked hard to establish workable and meaningful systems, and were obviously concerned about giving up what had taken time and effort to establish.

How you solved it: I and a colleague met face to face with key people across the institution. It took a lot of meetings and a lot of time, but there is no substitute for human interaction.

Worst moment in university life: Being a junior lecturer and having to stand in and take a class at the last moment, where I only knew what was in front of me, in terms of lecture notes. It was terrifying and I had this feeling of fraudulence. It was just once but I won't forget it, nor will I repeat it.

What your office is like: I am fortunate to work from an office in a fantastic purpose-built building, which was completed about two years ago and has an amazing seven-storey atrium. I love that the building is all glass and you can hear and see students and staff as you go about your work. It gives you the chance to talk to people rather than e-mail.

What university facilities do you use: I use our gym. We are located in a great part of London, with no shortage of cafes and restaurants, so I don't tend to eat on campus. I use our library, of course.

Do you socialise with people at the university? I spend time with people at all levels across the institution. There is no substitute for human interaction and relationships to get things done. That is a feature of City - it is professional but friendly.

Who are the most difficult people you deal with? Although it is rare, one of the most challenging groups is students with mental health issues who are subject to disciplinary action. It is a real challenge to balance your duty of care to the individual with the rights of other students.

Best excuse for bad behaviour: In response to an allegation a young man said: "It wasn't me, it was my dad who did it" (and dad turned up to say the same!).

Do you interact much with other parts of the university? I am really lucky to have the chance to meet colleagues from all areas. That is one of the best aspects of the dean role.

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