Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Horrible Work Organizations: The New Manager's Arrival. Hail Ramsarse! (A veteran of the Voluntary Redundancy Circuit in HEIs)

The following is the text a well-meaning colleague at another institution delivered to many members of Ramsarse's new fiefdom. It speaks boldly of the managerialism and vacuous ambition of managers in the 'New' and not so new Universities in the UK. It read:

Campaign for Real Universities - CAMRU

Presents: Your New Dean - a Study


We're writing to you with some concern about your current position, We understand that the soon-to-be-booted Dean of Sciences at ************* University is coming your way - presumably to be Dean of Sciences at Wretchington University. We really wanted to introduce this character to you, just so you knew what to expect and to appreciate something of the way he thinks.

"Ramsarse" has been knocking about the New Universities in the Midlands for a while now, and could be mistaken for an agent paid by the Redbrick institutions for keeping the New Universities in their place. A very brief career sketch is that he was Dean of Sciences at ******, where he close Chemistry, Dean of Sciences at ****** where he closed Chemistry, ran down Physics to the point where they all left for Keele (yes you did read that correctly), and fired 4 (that's 20%) Geography staff. His limit of usefulness was finally reached last year when nobody offerd to work under him as the new head of Earth Sciences, te senior management of the University saw that he had no remaining constructive or destructive avenues open to his imagination ... and this year they let him go. They let him go your way. Well done, Wretchington, for saving his ample bacon.They rumour is that he was invited to apply! Arse hunted! Well, you ought to be asking yourselves what you have left to cut in sciences. You'll likely be surprised actually. Ramsarse is an archetypal "bald man's barber", in that he doesn't see any harm in cutting it all off anyway. He was pretty resourceful at S*****.

Not to despair, though. He's not too hard to out-think, but of course it's hard to get results over brute force and ignorance. Let's make a start.


Staff started to detect rather starnge behaviour in the then Dean of Sciences at S******** prior to Ramsarse's arrival in 199*. Nigel Trooper (not his real name) was sending memo's speaking about hoow he felt obliged to leave gardens rather than pull up ceratin flowers. (Llama adds: Has he read Bauman's Modernity and the Holocaust?). He was given to florid expression, so everybody thought he'd feel better in the morning, howver his memos turned out to be prescient and portentous.

The arrival of Ramsarse shortly preceded a touchy-feely meeting where he assured Staff that, amongst other things, "Chemistry will always be present at S****** in some capacity" - or similar words.This of course made the Chemistry staff nervous and, of course, actions to more-or-less the opposite effect began in 1998 when Ramsarse decided to amalgamate the Divisions of Chemistry, Geology and Physics into the 'Division of Natural Sciences', a name on which he actually allowed tem to vote. Sceptics pointed out that these three areas had the poorest FTE ratios, and that this move would allow him to close any one of those subject areas without actually closing a Division.  Staff fears wee somewhat assuaged at a number of meetings with staff at which Arse spoke of how "... it's not that I am taking these three Divisions and just pushing them out in a boat - this is where I see the innovation - the alternative thinking - the other ways of making money - as residing. This is where I see thriving consultancies as being born..." Or words to that effect.  Staff who didn't see themselves as business innovators were reassured that they were complimentary and natural parts of the new Division. In the coming months, whole consultancy budgets of the burgeoning new Division - yes - 100% of some new consultancy incomes - were swallowed up by 'overheads' and 'School costs' and 'start-up costs' and 'one -time administration costing'. Some people found that there interest in consultancy waned, for some reason.

The 'Christmas present' of 1998 was stunning. The School had been visited by the HSE in the autumn term of that year and, just before the Christmas break, the Arse sent official notices to all Chemistry staff about impending interviews seeking to 'address certain pressing Health and Safety issues in Chemistry'.  It was heavy, pre-disciplinary stuff. Staff had all of the Christmas break to look forward to interviews with the Dean, a representative from Personnel, and a colleague or Union representative in attendance.  Certain petty objections were rasised in the interviews about staff carrying chemicals on high staircases) the implications being that the chemicals could drop down onto people - as if Psychology staff could not injure someone by dropping a briefcase). Another issue was bottles being stored on their sides, which might be dangerous if one assumes that what's in there is dangerous. It wasn't. So Dean Ramsarse decided that the only was to solve this was to jump straight to formal interviews in the New Year.  When Chemistry staff suggested practical solutions to the 'chemical-carrying issues by using secured carriers, the Dean seemed strangely uninterested 'in the details'.  No formail disciplinary action was taken, although in the Arse's own words, "...the majority of the causes for the problems of H&S in Chemistry were complex, organisational and attitudinal ones for which no overall responsibility could be identifies...  The actual H&S record for Chemistry in terms of incidents occurring over recent years is a good one...".  It is unclear to this day exactly what the full list of problems actually was, or how he resolves his own apparent contradiction.  Or why the same 'problem' methods for carrying chemicals on high staircases are still employed today.  despite promises, the Dean's full report on the HSE inspections has never been published, although the HSE report for Chemistry immediately preceding the interviews is known to be rather favourable when compared to that for Physics.  No criticism was made for Physics by the Dean at that time, and he would no doubt claim that Chemistry's good  record is due to him having sorted it out.

Days later, on the first day of Spring teaching in 1999, recruitment onto Chemistry courses was suspended without consultation or advance warning.  "I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for Geology and Physics, but not for Chemistry was the reason given.  "I know what you'd have said" was the reason (Verbatim) given for the lack of consultation. The financial audit presented by Ramsarse to justify Chemistry's losses to the University did not make sense - actually showing that Chemistry brought money in.  Attempts to get discussion on this topic with either Ramsarse or the VC just resulted in the figures being changed in the next version of the 'discussion document', mostly by the cosmetic removal of the 'analytical consultancy' from Chemistry Division management to central School management. There! We told you you made a loss! Chemistry had obtained a teaching assessment equal to much-internally-vaunted ones by Psychology and Biology, although any attempt to publicise this on internal message boards were censored by the messages being removed.  By summer, two Physical Chemistry staff had been relocated to the School of Computing and one, despite initial refusal after interview, successful appeal, re-interview and seeming acceptance to the School of Computing, was made redundant anyway. A course  accredited by the Royal Society of Chemistry ran without any Physical Chemistry teaching in its final year for three years!! - a thing apparently unheard of amongst  UK universities and almost certainly done without the RSC's knowledge - because Physical Chemistry staff were by then either in Computing or sacked.  The same problem led to a fledgling chemical synthesis company proposed by Chemistry staff to fail - the Physical Chemists were done away with and the others put into mutual competition for survival. So much for 'thriving consultancies being born'.

The remaining Chemistry staff were pushed by Dean Ramsarse into organising a Food Science course  They in turn pushed hard for running a trial Forensic Science course alongside Food Science, to which he agreed.  Food Science has not recruited a single student, but the staff made a success of Forensics.

Physics were next. Apparently, Pat's auditing showed that they were not pulling their weight - now that the ex-Chemistry were actually doing a good job of running Forensic Science - even though Physics comprised far and away the most prestigious research group in the School.  Negotiations were put into place for an unprecedented wholesale move of the whole of Physics to Keele University.  It is not clear  as to how far the University as a whole was informed of this, because the Physics staff were naturally delighted with the move and wished not to question the prevailing wisdom once it favoured them (for once).  Naturally, the rest of the School of Sciences wondered how a Division which was failing at Staffs could be accepted and nurtured by a University with a greatly higher reputation - which it continues  to do to this day.  Needless to say, this was really an exercise in selling off Physics.  The staff were quietly elated to be getting away.

To make matters more absurd, the axing of academic staff from Chemistry and from Physics had resulted in the loss of only one member of technical staff from the school (Physics technicians had not accompanied academic staff to Keele), yet Dean Ramsarse's audits showed that the School was perpetually and very slightly understaffed in technicians during this time, which also accompanied by a small overall lowering of student recruitment.  The reduction in technical staff of one, was due to retirement.

This left Geology out on a limb and a prime target to be amalgamated with Geography which, at the outset of the Chem--Phys- Geol amalgamation, had been a good source of recruitment for Sciences.  By 2000 this was no longer the case, and the Head of Geography , Gordon Wright, was given warning of one year (which warning was reported ly absent in the earlier case of Chemistry) to improve recruitment prospects.  Insufficient improvement was audited by Dean Ramsarse, and he decreed that the Divisions of Geology and Geography be merged with notice of the loss of one head and reduced Geography staffing. The heads of Geography and Geology (Wright and Dave Stevens), but normally quite compliant to the Arse) had a funny turn, and both refused to apply for the combined headship. Things then took an odd turn with the Dean himself.  A vigorous email waged by the Geology staff asking for clarification on exactly how the proposed new structure would be better and challenging the validity of the procedure was fruitful, in that Arse was forced to withdraw the "merger".  He decided that " ... he could not proceed with the merger in face of staff opposition..." which seemed rather out of character.  However it also coincided with the open publication  - again quite out of character with S@*@*&s University's previous tendency toward subterfuge and censorship - everybody was acting weird - the open publication of an anonymous staff survey run by the Industrial Society.  Sciences wasn't quite the most cheesed-off School - that was Social Sciences - but somehow the wind went out of Ramsarse's sails and he was never quite the same again.  The pressure may have been from above, because a recent Cabinet cull has left him looking to go elsewhere and his current position is not to be filled at S@*@*&s.  Well, better late than never.  It's nice to see a bold bootprint on his arse for a change.

The Man

He rides one of several 'vintage' motorbikes and likes to leave his smelly boots in his secretary's office rather than hos own.  This motorbiking nearly led to an easier life for folk at Staffs when he was run clean over by a Range Rover and spent weeks in hospital.  The event led to much internal guilt on the part of staff, and a fine piece of satire, too (available on request).  He lives in Burton-on-Trent, which is rather sweet, since he likes to attend his local University, unlike the staff he has sacked. He is trained, apparently, as an ecological Biologist, and does indeed seem reluctant to cut anything in biology - but then of course this is traditionally a good recruiting area.  He will take credit where it is not due.  His instincts as to management are to cut, cut and cut again, but this has in the past led to errors of judgement - when the rejuvenated ex-Chemists made a success of Forensics, he of course claimed the credit despite championing the dead-duck Food Science all along.  The relatively good Forensics recruitment led him to - wait for it - cap the number of Psychology students "so ... as not to become too reliant on them... ", which shows that his instincts are negative and restrictive, rather than positive an enabling.  Pretty dumb, eh?  Of course Geography recruitment failed and he looked like a moron anyway.  He will point out weaknesses, rather than strengths.  He likes to see himself as a 'facilitator' and an 'ideas man' rather than a 'details man', which has made him act like a complete chimpanzee in exam boards, when he didn't have a clue as to the regulations.  He loves auditing.  He loves support, so he likes technicians and lots of admin staff and secretaries, and appointed himself an extra deputy Dean (*** **** *****) at the time he was sacking Chemistry staff and packing Physics off to a better place.  He can be good in committee, but will not look you in the eye when he is unsure of himself - often ignoring you when he is downright insecure.  He likes to have an administrator or secretary with him when he makes decisions.  The redundancy packages he has offered have varied in size, which is a clear indication that he has on occasion been argued up or down by the Personnel department or VC.  Of course it is impolitic to suggest so, but, if he can be intimidated as soon as he arrives by a good smack between the eyes with a plank, or an unfortunate trip on the stairs, that would by you months and months, because he can be intimidated and does on occasion feel sorry for himself.  He reported ly actually followed someone he had just sacked into their office and bleated on about " ... what a horrible time he was having of all this ...".  Here's a teddy bear, Ramsarse. He hates having his name mis-spelled.  It is Ramsbotham. Got it? (Ed. If only we could tweak that name a bit .... to Robot Ham - Max Weber's definition of a bureaucrat, a robot at a desk or in this prick's case, a Ham Robot at a desk!  Brings to mind Hannah Arendt's writings on Eichmann's trial - the ordinariness of Eichmann, the banality of his evil.)

What To Do

OK, if you don't smack him between the eyes with a plank, you have to undermine him with the VC immediately.  If you only have a few Chemists, Physicists, whatever there and you all think similarly, make a mass inquiry as to what redundancy package you'll get, days after he arrives.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Horrible Work Organizations: The Appeals Procedure aka The Guernica Treatment

Myself and others have all been through the appeals procedure, appealing against decisions made by the institution when considering our initial grievances - of which there were/are many. On reading a tome entitled Scenes from Institutional Life and Other Writings by John Vaizey (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1986) I came upon this description of an arcane medical treament to which he was subjected at the age of fourteen during the Hitler war. The lack of care and the Byzantine procedures endured by the young Vaizey may well serve as a metaphor for the HR management and its promotion of the dignity of labour in my employing institution.

"One day I was x-rayed in bed The hard cold plates were thrust under my back and I shrieked. I shrieked so often and so long, and I picked at my head, that Anna and the Sister (whom I rarely saw but whom I loathed almost as much as I loathed Anna) told my parents that I was deranged. So far as I am aware, I still had no narcotics in case of addiction. Then I was taken down to theatre, on a trolley that jolted me in agony, to return awake in a plaster case that reached from below my knees to above my chest. I was put in a bed in the middle of the ward. I was no longer going to die and the daily dressings had stopped. I was to recover by means of the Guernica treatment, when septic wounds were enclosed in plaster of Paris, and were allowed to suppurate until the general decay cured itself. There is a certain epic Spanish quality about this treatment: out of the mouths of maggots that accumulate there comes a corrupting cure; the patient passes through the valley of death by a noisome route: the pus stains the plaster and drips through. Life comes from decay and disgust."

Perhaps this is why I feel comfortable in referring to the University of Wretchington,  my employing institution as 'The Toilet" - a decaying and corrupt institution, where decay and disgust are ever- and omni-present, where for the badly wounded and injured there is always the hope of a corrupting cure, if they get out in time.