Measure for measure for measure
“He loves measuring. He’s a measuring man.”
That was how a usually reliable source broke the news that Jo Johnson, the universities minister, is planning to measure yet another aspect of academic behaviour.
Apparently, Mr Johnson is happy with the measures currently in place. He delights in the research excellence framework despite its tendency to profoundly distort research priorities with its emphasis on “publish or be damned”, and he very much relishes the university-based teaching excellence framework despite its having nothing whatsoever to do with actual teaching competencies. He also has high hopes for the forthcoming subject-based teaching excellence framework even though it has already been described by the chief executive of MillionPlus as “hideously complicated” and “likely to give the wrong impression”.
Mr Johnson is said to derive particular comfort from the knowledge that his implementation of these measures has done so much to shake up the academy’s traditional commitment to such old-fashioned methodological shibboleths as reliability and validity.
It is this confidence in his current measures that has now prompted him to introduce a fourth measure of academic conduct: the behavioural excellence framework, or BEF. This innovative measure would seek to address current opinion poll findings that a clear majority of academics feel increasingly dissatisfied with their working lives by offering rewards for positivity.
Although details are still being finalised, the new measure would be based on an addendum to the National Student Survey that would ask students to count the number of favourable facial expressions employed by academics during the course of their lectures or seminars. These would include broad and narrow grins, open and closed smiles, and such other key indicators of a positive behavioural attitude as discernible chuckles. (These data would then be submitted to scores of assessment panels composed of senior academics, many of whom fundamentally disagree with the whole exercise but enjoy the trips to London.)
Unlike the TEF, which awards bronze, silver or gold status to successful universities, the BEF would award emoticons, thus allowing each university to represent itself as , or .
Concern about the possible outcome of the new BEF has already been expressed by several leading Russell Group academics, who fear that the new measure with its emphasis on smiles might well discriminate against their own institutional reliance upon the superior smirk.
King’s College London may already have “jumped the gun” in relation to the proposed behavioural excellence framework. According to an internal document from its Head of Talent and Development, the university is already looking at staff “behaviour”. This document, the King’s Behaviours Green Paper, confidently proclaims that “we are working together as a community from the ground up to identify King’s behaviours”, and asserts that “the process to develop a proposed set of behaviours has already begun”. We further learn from the document that “the consultation period” on this set of behaviours will eventually include not only “proposed levelled behaviours” (sic) but also an “explanation of why it is important for King’s to identify our behaviours, how these may be used and a description of the method used to identify them”.
(As we went to press, nobody at King’s was available to comment on this exciting and profoundly incomprehensible new development.)