March 08, 2015

Academia’s 1 Percent

Will your Ph.D. lead to an academic job? To answer that question, prospective students are often encouraged to see how recent graduates fared -- a task easier said than done. Department placement lists are catalogs of untold stories, a logroll of the disappeared. Those who left academia are erased: According to my own alma mater, for example, I never existed, along with the majority of my colleagues who failed to find academic jobs in the Great Recession. There is no placement list for the displaced.

A more useful indicator of whether your doctoral program is a pathway to employment lies in whom the department hires. Because chances are, you will see the same few institutional names again and again. During my own time in graduate school, my department hired several faculty members, all with different specialties and skills, all with one thing in common: Harvard, Harvard, Harvard, Harvard. The evidence is not only anecdotal.

A recent study by Aaron Clauset, Samuel Arbesman, and Daniel B. Larremore shows that “a quarter of all universities account for 71 to 86 percent of all tenure-track faculty in the U.S. and Canada in these three fields. Just 18 elite universities produce half of all computer science professors, 16 schools produce half of all business professors, and eight schools account for half of all history professors.”

This study follows the discovery by political scientist Robert Oprisko that more than half of political-science professorships were filled by applicants from only 11 universities. What that means is something every Ph.D. from a less-prestigious institution knows all too well: No amount of publishing, teaching excellence, or grants can compensate for an affiliation that is less than favorable in the eyes of a search committee. The fate of aspiring professors is sealed not with job applications but with graduate-school applications. Institutional affiliation has come to function like inherited wealth. Those who have it operate in a different market, more immune from the dark trends – unemployment, adjunctification – that dog their less-prestigious peers. The Great Recession is notable not only for its relentlessness – many people, six years later, are still waiting to feel the effects of the “recovery” – but for the way a tiny elite was able to continue their luxurious lifestyle while the livelihood of the majority was turned upside down.

During the first two years of the “recovery,” the mean net worth of households in the upper 7 percent of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28 percent, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93 percent dropped by 4 percent. With wages largely stagnant and cost of living soaring, it made less difference what one did during the recovery than what kind of money one had before the crash. More and more, the American Dream is a foregone conclusion, a tale told in reverse. The same trend holds true in academia: career stagnation based on institutional affiliation. Where you come from remains cruelly indicative of where you will go. What you actually do on the journey is, to the status-obsessed, irrelevant. With institutional bias in hiring now proven by multiple social scientists, why don’t prospective graduate students simply limit their applications to favored elite institutions?

The answer is often financial, and, again, speaks to privilege and discrimination endemic to academic culture. The most prestigious universities – the Ivy League, University of Chicago, Stanford University, the University of California system – tend to lie in the most expensive parts of the country. Even with full funding, it is nearly impossible to live in such costly cities without incurring debt, given that stipends tend to be $25,000 or less. Rather than go to an expensive, elite program, a fiscally responsible student might be inclined to select a solid program with good funding in a cheap city. But academia was not designed for the fiscally responsible: It was designed for those for whom money is a non issue.

Academia’s currency is prestige, but prestige is always backed up by money, whether the expenditure for life in a costly city, the expectation of unpaid or underpaid labor, or research trips assumed to be paid out-of-pocket. As university infrastructure grows more elaborate and US News and World Report rankings become increasingly valued, elite colleges often appear less concerned with providing an education than selling a lifestyle. Whereas students have often chosen a college believing that its reputation would enhance their own, colleges now solicit wealthy students believing that the students’ prestige will enhance the college. The same is true of faculty. As Clauset and his Slate co-writer Joel Warner note, “For a university, the easiest way to burnish your reputation is to hire graduates from top schools, thereby importing a bit of what made these institutions elite in the first place.”

Where does this leave the majority of Ph.D.’s who are not affiliated with the small group of approved institutions? Last week, adjuncts across the country staged a walkout to protest poor pay and working conditions. Adjuncting itself is a product of an academe that operates on an almost Calvinist faith in its 1 percent: Adjuncts are viewed as “tainted” by their own job experience, and their low status regarded as “proof” that they never deserved a tenure-track position. Though graduates of elite universities were certainly among the striking adjuncts – the academic job market is bad enough that even the Ivy League is not entirely immune – most adjuncts tend to come from less prestigious institutions, with their contingent positions a seeming punishment for failing to start out right.

No one’s career should end at its beginning. But for thousands of Ph.D. students, that is exactly what is happening. The candor of studies like Clauset’s and Oprisko’s should be applauded. It is only in recognizing institutional bias -- and exploring the issues of class that surround it -- that hiring can be made more equitable. -


March 01, 2015

Dicky’s Advice for Bulster’s New President

imagesDQYZPCPWAs Bulster’s out-going or just plain “ousted and outed” dictator, I thought I should offer you, as the new incumbent, some advice on how we operate at Bulster University. If you have not guessed this already, my senior team, most of whom remain in place- “Bulster’s cabinet of horrors”- do not react well to change. Our evil Director of Human Resources who I fondly call “Mad Bonnie”; our Lycra if not PVC-girl, the ever elegant Madame De De, and quite a few of the other thugs are (frankly) hoping you are not going to be one of those reforming Presidents interested in staff rights or equality or any of that civic society tosh….

imagesKZ3JEU3WIn fact, I’m not quite sure if I should write to congratulate or commiserate with you but as I see that you have been able to negotiate a pretty good wad of pay for yourself, I wonder if you need my advice at all! But as I think you’ll appreciate, every great man wants to protect something of his legacy. And if that were not good enough reason itself for me putting pen to paper to you, the plain fact is that the incumbent management team are blackmailing me to ensure you don’t immediately sack them all for being the group of under-qualified chancers they collectively are!

So first I suppose I should tell you that here at Bulster we have always kept two sets of books for everything we do…one for the squeaky clean public image we fail miserably to project, and the real books that tell the sordid tale of corruption and senior staff scandals. Our Chair of Council, Banko Mallow and Pete Hopeless, our financial chappie, will fill you in on the bare details. Running a uni is like any business- you can’t let the competition, or DEL or the government for that matter know what you are really up to. And if you are really stuck for advice, go to our Chancellor or “Bilbo’s Elf” as I affectionately call him- and you’ll get the nude truth... as you’ll find out he’s well used to baring his own bum in public!!!

Cold_Feet_rose (2)On the governance side, if you have any questions go straight to Secretary Amos Mullitover and you will see why he was so well named by his parents- its from the biblical for “a burden”. Well this particular Secretary hardly knows what day of the week it is but he can cheat like a Wizard… so he’s been good enough for Bulster- and he’s got me personally out of a lot of bother! Only he could have sorted out the fight between Olly in Legal Advice and “Mad Bonnie” without it coming to a matter of pistols at dawn…..or as would be more likely with these two old killer sharks, poison pen letters at mid-night... If you get really stuck just think of Chancellor Jimmy’s bum! That always cheers us all up…
images (337)
Now I should give you a bit of a warning about your own personal conduct when you come to Bulster. And I say this because I see you as a bit of a Mad-Hatton bent scouser! Although we had to get rid of Lady Equality, “old Sour-face” Patience Gunter, as I used to call her, Bulster is still absolutely committed to equality of opportunity and fair-play for all true Bulsterians. We know how to appoint the right one for Bulster, and I only hope Council hasn’t gone and made a mess in appointing you. But we all thought with the long history of governance scandal in your home town of Liverpool (and Slimy Derek’s sacked Scouser Council comes to mind) you’d be our man!

Then I imagine Tasmania has its own share of political scandals and vulgar over-paid Vice Chancellors… and ministers you can bribe over a few nights out in a gay sauna! So we thought indeed with your more recent experience of univerity leadership down-under (Ozzies are certainly well known for red hot  sleaze) you’ll know how to do the right thing… or indeed wrong thing if needed, if you catch my drift.

images5KG211ZEBut you must at all time keep clear of the local Peelers. “Mad Bonnie” has just had a run in with them for deleting phone records, perverting the course of justice, mis-using scientific protocol and this kind of minor thing that we do all the time at Bulster- but the local bobbies dont seem to know their place any more. They seem to have gone mad on what the staff Victim’s Association have been telling them- mostly a load of human rights bullshit. Personally I’d haul them off to a Siberian Gulag! There are a few other cases looming- like destroying police evidence and mis-using her Majesty’s Communications Service which might take more than a ten-pound note stuck inside Buster’s proverbial licence to fix.

images5H30IFIRAnd on that subject I must warn you to keep your university chauffeur on duty even if you go off boozing, or shagging or whatever else power puts into your head when you grab my fiefdom at Bulster. My old pal Gerry Jameson got into so much trouble with drink driving that the peelers are on the road as soon as they hear the Presidential limo leave the pub. So at all costs let the driver take the action, even if you have to bribe him into ignoring your personal off-duty antics. As we VC’s say, “What happens in Bulster stays in Vegas…” or somethng along those lines. I don’t know what sort of fellow you are or if there’s a Mr or a Mrs in tow but of one thing I can forewarn you- don’t get caught with your trousers down in Bulster or the senior management team will blackmail you from here to high noon.

imagesOTDN1YQKI myself had a bit of a mis-understanding a few years back with a young policeman- late one night- something that could happen to anyone in a public place. And, in fact, I must confess the anatomical matter involved (the exhibit for the jury if you like) is so small it could never really have infringed public decency! But the police took a very dim view of it, small as it is, and I was lucky to get off with a caution. Just remember there are undercover eyes everywhere when you are as senior as I am. And if you want me to be frank... that’s also why “Mad Bonnie” is so over-paid... I had to bribe the sleazy ba……rd! to keep his dangerous mouth shut!

Gee I was lucky to get out of the Police Station without a stain on my record never mind my pin-stripe suit! Actually for all the fuss it was not much worse that the time Lord Trevvie, one of my Presidential Predecessors, walked into a hotel kitchen with his flies down and willie out….thinking he was heading into the gents toilets… Another one tried to bribe an evangelical Police Superintendant with a bottle of vodka. Then there was that time Gerry Jameson handed a Japanese Vice Chancellor the business card from the massage parlour he’d visted the nite before. These are all simple mistakes people like us in high office can so easily make…

imagesBZ5SQCEXBut it’s so true that you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. The late VC Der Burley had a problem with breaking wind in public. It got so bad certain senior managers thought it was just his way of terminating staff discussion. As I’ve mentioned, Lord Trevvie had that problem with his flies and falling asleep in public... I guess they call it sleep apnesia nowadays. Personally I think the entire management team have it-  they only wake up when they hear the word bonus!

images (293)Then of course my friend Gerry Jameson got this medical problem which made it look like he was roaring drunk all the time, and with  a bad case of Tourettes syndrome to boot. Gerry also was a bit gassy- he used to blame it on “stinky torfu” until his PA reminded him he wasn’t in Hong Kong any more!. Not a very pleasant business with poor old Gerry  I can tell you, but fixable after a touch or two of “Mad Bonnie’s” taser and a bit of a pension pay-off. Good-bye Gerry, hello Dicky!

And as you know I’ve had my own crosses to bear what with that time I fell off the wagon in Dubai of all places, and thought one of those Arab Vice-Chancellors was coming on to me. It was only later that I learned the poor devil has a glass eye. I thought I was well in for the evening there, especially when he fixed his beady eye on me in the hotel lift and seemed to be adjusting his under-garments! Then as I’ve said I made that mistake with a young plain-clothes police offer- and boy what fine gear those boys wear….we must be still paying them all far too much now that the terrorists have all retired….Now enough regrets, let’s get you down to brass tacks on the nasty crew you have at Bulster.

imagesWVF8CFA7You dont have to worry about equality as I let Patience Gunter go as she was for ever getting her knickers in a twist when I told her to gloss over a spate of staff suicides and reports of Bulster’s gross inequality. If the wretched staff gang up on you, you can always rely on “Mad Bonnie” to get rid of any dead bodies. On PR, Secretary Amos will spread around any dis-information an effective President must dispense from time to time. In communications, Madame De De will smile ex-camera for you but don’t ask her to do anything too intellectually challenging…and she can be a bit blunt at times… I heard she actually asked President Higgins if he was in or out of the closet... Luckily one of his aides intervened and told Mr. Higgins she’s asked if she could use the Presidential water-closet.

On money matters, Pete Hopeless is well named but also well-meaning and really not a bad sort at all for a bent accountant. In Estates, Mr Pantelon will be at your beck and call as long as there’s a few readies in it for him, but keep him well away from loose women. But watch your Jordanstown Provost like a hawk…our Mr Daring is just too sweet to be wholesome, and indeed could be a spy!

untitled (206)And speaking of spies if you ever need a couple of old Smiley’s People to do a bit of dirty work, you can rely on the “gruesome two-some” I’ve always used, old “Hutchie Hutch” and “Mal Blunt”, both up to their necks in dirty tricks and cyber-prowling and can dish the dirt on anyone…If you want some really dirty work doing just hire these two retired spooks…Bonnie will arrange it- he has plenty on them too just in case they start bargaining too hard over their rate. Just remind Bonnie about Hutchie’s “not so evangelical” nights of spirit-sodden revival and Blunt’s fondness for blond babes and the Ulster Vanguard…

imagesC7GC4CUEOn the international side, totally bar Richie Mills from student admissons as he’d accept even the toilet ladies and delivery boys for an MA... that’s carrying even our mission to community education a bit far! And on oversight of academic standards be careful to keep Di Maccy’s trap “firmly shut” as she’s surely to quality control what Fat Molly was to the Atkins diet.

untitled (205)Finally, well I can’t say I wouldnt have wanted to hang around a bit longer but Council just wouldn’t have it. So I bid you a begrudging congrats and good luck in the Bulster Zoo…you might even get a K out of it if you can bribe the DEL Minister or better still, catch him with his over-sized pants down…not a nice sight, believe me……. If you are really stuck you can set Madam De De on him, maybe she might ask him a question or two about closets…

Yours Ever, VC Tricky Dicky

ADVISORY…This is a work of humorous fiction and any similarities with persons or places real or imagined is purely a matter of coincidence. If you’ve been bullied at Bulster University or any F/HE institution don’t hesitate in complete confidence to E-MAIL: Victims may complain without penalty under their college procedures or consider making a complaint to their local police. Where the police are contacted bullying usually ceases immediately.

February 28, 2015


My supervisor just casually announced they had applied and gained a grant for themselves- using exactly my highly individual research. You don't mind - do you- he said- I said no, very shakily- on the spot- this was a brief unscheduled encounter- and I felt totally shocked and intimidated, he then cancelled our scheduled meeting and has not responded to my requests for another and I dont know how to proceed-or what to do. - He is head of research at the institution. Any advice appreciated.


I feel it is so disgusting that bullying, stonewalling, discrimination, ignoring policies and laws of the land take place in Cambridge. The disabled from my experience are also discriminated against. The way the world is nowadays with all being brought into question a body or superior organisation needs to bring about justice and highlight there wrong doing. I am sure it will people as the tuition fees is so high now.


It is horrific and ridiculous how much it gets swept under the carpet by universities. I too have experienced a form of academic bullying from day one. Some similarities although not to the same extent. I too seemingly said the wrong thing to a potential colleague on day one, which resulted in a judgment call being made against me. I was responded to aggressively. When I had to give a general introduction to my topic in a team meeting this person was asking me to define terms and interrogating my proposal - it was supposed to be a 5 minute welcome to the team! Yet the other Phd students were left unscathed. Meetings followed where my contributions were either ignored or scorned. This really knocked my confidence. I was also accused of being lazy as I wasn't going into the office yet for there was no issue for the other students who actually lived closer to campus than me. There is much more but basically it got to the point were my nerves were shattered...


February 06, 2015

Staffordshire University whistleblower accuses sports centre staff of fraud and corruption

A whistleblower who accused university sports centre staff of corruption and fraud has won legal claims against her former employers.

Sports manager Fiona Roberts accused Staffordshire University staff of a string of wrongdoings costing thousands of pounds.
She claimed that:
  •  Staff pocketed money from deleted sports bookings
  •  Staff took equipment to moonlight as fitness coaches
  •  10p coins were going missing from lockers
  •  There were discrepancies with vending machine cash
  •  University equipment was sold on Facebook
Ms Roberts told a previous Birmingham employment tribunal hearing that there was a “culture of staff taking what they could and of being proud of being able to steal money.”

The allegations were made as Ms Roberts accused the university of unfair treatment which caused her to resign, prompting a legal claim for constructive unfair dismissal. She also claimed damages for breach of contract.

Ms Roberts, 47, joined the university in 2000 and was sports manager both for the university’s campus at Stafford and at the Sir Stanley Matthews university sports campus at Stoke-on-Trent. In a witness statement she said: “It came to my notice that sports equipment belonging to the university was missing and I suspected two staff members whom I believed were using the equipment to provide fitness coaching for their own private gain.

“I made the management aware of the situation.”

The tribunal was told in Ms Roberts’ statement that the bookings system was allegedly abused by staff. Bookings were deleted and the money pocketed by staff who were later suspended, she claimed.
But the university opposed her legal claims, and accused her of failing to act when “wrongdoing” issues were brought to her attention.

“She should have known something was amiss when the sports centre income for August and September in 2013 was £28,000 down against the budget,” university bosses said.

Ms Roberts denied that she had not responded.

“There was a knee jerk reaction to suspend me without considering my long service and the fact that I brought wrongdoings to the attention of the management,” she said.

And last week tribunal judge Mr David Dimbylow agreed, ruling that her claims for constructive unfair dismissal and damages were both well-founded and successful.

”I concluded that the claimant had undertaken no action which was culpable or blameworthy,” he said.

“She did not cause, or contribute to, her losing her job and it would not be just or equitable to reduce any award. We go on to state, contrary to the respondent’s assertions, that there was no repudiatory conduct on part of the claimant.”

Mr Dimbylow added that Ms Roberts’ suspension related to a need for a full and formal investigation into the possible misuse of the booking system and serious allegations of potential fraud and breach of professional responsibility.

“As we understand it, two employees who were dismissed were involved in the competing gym business and the misuse of cash,” said Mr Dimyblow.

A tribunal hearing to announce the amount of the award to be granted, did not take place. A tribunal spokesman said later: “It appears a settlement may have been reached in private prior to the hearing.”

January 29, 2015

University of Ulster Victims Association

We are a group of current and former staff members or students of the University of Ulster who have been treated in the most unacceptable manner by the UU management. We come from different areas and levels of the university, and while our cases are separate from each other, we all have been targeted and systematically victimised by UU in very similar ways.

Methods employed by the management include lack of documentation (e.g. no minutes are kept at meetings), violating its own charter and Statutes and regulations (eg. probation guidelines, deadlines for appeal hearings or grievances), violating the Data Protection Act (not responding to FOI requests, responding past the 40 day deadline, or withholding vital information), using UKBA guidelinse and visa rules to harass or get rid of staff, searching email and expense accounts, inventing evidence that is used against staff members in disciplinary hearings, deleting records, threats and character assassination.

If you have had similar experiences at UU, please contact us at:

Our aims and demands:

1. the cases of victimisation by UU presented here need to be investigated by an external, independent organisation;

2. the people responsible for violation of the law or the rules and regulations of UU need to be brought to justice;

3. staff members and students that have suffered detriment because of this unlawful treatment need to be compensated for their losses.

More info:

January 21, 2015

Bullying, hollow men, complicity, and hope

When I reflect on this issue of bullying one thought returns time and time again. How is it that a person can take the time and dedication to drum another person out of their job, by (frequently) finding points of vulnerability, lying and destroying their reputation, invoking procedures against them, and all the other array of small mechanisms of power with which we are all now familiar with in academia and indeed society. The process whereby one individual is bullied by another has of course been written about by the wonderful (and deceased) Tim Field and others. This blog site also looks at changing institutional contexts. Yet sometime I wonder whether the constant focus on victimisation is depressing and locates one in a downward narrative of loss - loss of jobs, loss of security, loss of mental health, even, as this blog points out, loss of life. Further, I have also been forced to consider whether the focus on the term ‘bullying’ compounds this narrative?

What are we really looking at when we use the term bullying? One fruitful way of thinking about it is recent literature on psychopathy. Critics often like to criticise Robert Hare (author of Without Conscience and Snakes in Suits) for pathologising so-called psychopathic behaviours, yet he performed an exceptionally useful task of highlighting an archetype and pointing out their capacity for destruction. Psychopaths aren’t the American Psycho; rather they are that person who, in sometimes a very low key way, plots, lies and cuts a swathe through peoples lives and emotional security without being burdened by a conscience about it. They do it because they can, because you get in their way, because you threaten them in some way. They are the person that makes the hairs rise up on the back of your neck, who you unconsciously perhaps try to avoid because you get a creepy feeling whenever you see them. Again, Tim Field has been great at highlighting the spectre of the workplace psychopathic bully.

Yet does it explain how so many seem to be involved, as currently seems to be the case in academia? Is it that somehow universities are ideal stalking grounds for psychopaths currently? Possibly, given that they are drawn to places of turmoil, over-bureaucracy and punitivity, as Hare points out. However not every bully is the archetypal psychopathic bully. Most of them seem quite normal in all other respects. Many people are a bit messed up, of course, but that’s not the same as being a psychopath. Another way of looking at this is how do people as a group get drawn into bullying behaviours, despite otherwise being pleasant and reasonable? Janice Harper’s brilliant account of mobbing, understood through a close examination of genocidal behaviours, reveals a process whereby people who are on the margins of bullying behaviour (for example, being in a department where bullying takes place) are encouraged by the bully to betray themselves and thereby begin a process in which their conscience is compromised. I think this goes some way to explain how others are drawn into the psychodynamic of bullying, how it becomes ingrained. Moreover, how it can be so brutal. She points out that in genocides, the main function of the mass killing is to stop people who you have expropriated ever showing their face again.

I was recently drawn to read more about the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, famously reported in 1961 by Hannah Arendt though articles in the New York Times and her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt makes the point that Eichmann was nothing, he was a bureaucrat. He was unable to think about what he was doing intentionally, and a person who doesn’t think is unable to act with conscience. Martha Gellhorn, writing for the Atlantic Monthly in 1962, uses the phrase ‘hollow man’ to describe Eichmann. These descriptions of the person without conscience as nothing, as hollow, are powerful because they point out the dangers of not inhabiting your self, instead handing over all responsibility to another. Eichmann’s depictions himself as ‘simply following orders’ inspired a generation of social theorists, too countless to name here, to investigate this ‘organisational man’ potentially at the heart of us all, unless we force ourselves, as Arendt says, to think and therefore be human. It is also powerful because applied as an understanding of power and how it operates in the university, it is possible to say that your average bully is indeed a ‘hollow man’ (or woman). There is simply nothing there. However it also implies an imperative for all to speak out; the alternative being that we all become unable to think, to be ‘hollow’.

There has been some good writing recently on the marketisation and commercialisation of high education, McGettigan’s book (The Great University Gamble) being one of them. Yet sometimes, good economic analyses can unwittingly become part of the ‘done to us’ narrative rather than serve as a basis for resistance. Sometimes a simpler message suffices and one that spoke to me recently (and to many others apparently, as it went viral) was ‘On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs’ by LSE Professor David Graeber ( Applied to academia, the message is simply this: they (and by they I mean the senior managers, politicians, middle management, and their ilk) hate you because you think, produce, teach, that your job isn’t about pushing paper, sending emails, or creating fake and pointless structural changes. Academics downplay what they do, but they can be hugely influential. Just look at Howard Becker, Erving Goffman and others, who engaged with or worked alongside the 1960s counterculture and played their part in changing how we think.

So is it in fact not true to say that management and politicians are engaging in a very long war of attrition against academics and the concept of the university itself. Further, if it is a war, then one has to study the mechanics of the war. One of those mechanisms of war is bullying, which serves several functions: it gets rid of particular individuals who somehow more resistant or speak out, it spreads fear amongst the others who see the individual crumbling under the weight of personal and reputational attack, and finally it encourages people to morally compromise themselves by turning on the target. Looked at from this perspective, the victim and perpetrator are engaged in a battle. So what weapons does the ‘victim’ have, when they are confined in the enemy camp?

So where does the issue of the failure of the moral imperative, of will, and as Arendt says, a failure to think, lie in this war? In response to the obliteration of academic freedom through the RAE/REF, because that is what it is, we academics (and I’ve done this myself, so I’m not casting stones) duly comply and fret about out citation count. Isn’t it ironic that, despite the fact that academics are assessed by citation count, we don’t allow readers to vote with their feet; rather we are subject to the phenomenon of the anonymous review, the gatekeeper of intellectual production?

Do any of us ever complain about the overproduction of research and ideas in academia, particularly in journals, time that could be better spend educating, writing thoughtful and groundbreaking books developed through a decade of scholarship, making creative use of social media, forming alliances between society’s growing but marginalised intellectual class? Privately, perhaps, but it has no consequence, because failure to produce is internalised as a private failure and shame.

Do we ever complain, really complain, about the treatment of students as cash cows who are then disposed of in a criminally negligent way by universities who do not teach them properly, thus destroying the whole principle of a degree; no, we shrug, often turn our ire on the students, and bury our heads in research that no-one will ever read. I will say it again, was there ever a more pointless way to expend one’s creative and emotional energy than writing a journal article?

We don’t complain or speak out, because we are complicit in it. All these issues, and more besides, are the source of the power the mindless bureaucracy has over thinking people, the weapons they attack us with.

The point of this is of course not to castigate academics, nor to add to that already ingrained and institutionally imposed private shame. As this site shows people want to speak up, yet they feel they have to do so anonymously. Isn’t it ironic that the traditional ‘guardians of enlightenment’ cannot speak up openly about what is happening lest they be forced out of their jobs? Further, as Doris Lessing says in her essay ‘Prisons we Choose to Live Inside’, it’s hard to see the prison bars when you are locked within its reality. When you become an academic, you are compelled on a path reinforced by continual stress, in which you never have the time or mental space to ask, is this what I wanted, or this this right?

No, the purpose of saying all of this is a call to arms (metaphorically, of course…); it is time to shrug off reputational shame or the (rapidly diminishing) status drug, call the institution, in the words of RD Laing, mad and point out that it wants to make us mad, stop following the lead of those hollow men and women, and start saying no. It’s tempting to quote Marx here and say that there is nothing to lose but your chains, but that’s not exactly true. The point is, it’s worthwhile consciously calculating the various losses – financial, yes, but also emotional and intellectual - of sticking around to be tortured, but it’s also useful to calculate the gains of leaving in those terms. The point is, if you truly care about the importance of ideas to the self and to society, then there are many people outside of academia are trying to find ways of writing and conveying ideas with integrity. There is hope. Maybe it’s time to join them.


January 08, 2015

There will be no resignations at Imperial...

There will be no resignations at Imperial over the passing of Prof Grimm and his managers are so tied into the system that they will not, I can assure you, even at this moment, be feeling any personal guilt.

These creatures are so committed to the processes which they managed, and so utterly lacking in any personal principles or self-respect they simply regard us, sniping from the outside, as the deviants.

I refer to two recent high profile suicides at Ulster- Prof Stephen Livingstone, a brilliant lawyer at QUB who was bullied over grant income- and Prof Jim Bell, a superb business teacher at UU- tortured by management during a long sick-leave with clinical depression.

In Jim's case, Jim had shared an office with President Dicky when they were both junior staff... which shows how little Dicky cares even about his own buddies. No-one officially from the university even attended Jim's funeral and his wife was further annoyed by UU a week later to clear out Jim's office...

This managerial cadre does not have a heart... more staff suicides will come...

Academics are a high risk group as there are so many good people in the academic community who take it too seriously.


January 06, 2015

Imperial College London: Why has no one resigned? Possibly because we are all culpable?

There has been a lot of coverage of the suicide of Professor Stefan Grimm of Imperial College London and the pressure he was under to fulfill the expectations of being a professor. These expectations were NOT about publishing, teaching, mentoring, invention, creativity or new intellectual frontiers. Instead they were about raising money for the University. In fact, they seemed to have very little to do with what a traditional understanding of a professorial role might involve.

Although there is quite a lot of published correspondence on this case (from and to Professor Grimm, and about him), it is unlikely that we will ever know the full story. Corridor conversations and backroom chats leave a scant evidential trail.

If a member of staff commits suicide because of pressure of work one would expect that workplace to ask serious questions about its practices and culture. One might even, from the point of view of human decency, expect a few resignations. After all, a human life has been finished and the suicide victim makes a direct link between his impending suicide and pressure from work. But, to the best of my knowledge, no one has resigned. A human being is dead. The blame lies at the door of the University. The University … well … continues as normal. So how can this be the case?

The primary answer lies in the fiction that Universities manage to create that they are systems rather than amalgams of people. Universities, through the prioritisation of a set of bureaucratic norms and officer-holders, have normalised the view that they are top-down corporate entities. A managerial class has always played a role in modern universities, but this class has grown in size and influence as universities have been forced to compete in a series of markets. By competing for students, research income, high achieving staff, and ‘impact stories’ a series of pernicious political economies have been created. Rather than collegiate environments based on scholarship, learning and creating space for innovation and thinking, many universities are being reduced to sales offices with academics serving as clerks for a new managerial class who wield coercive metrics.

The complex structure of universities – multiple committees and chains of command – means that very many of us are implicated in a coercive bureaucracy that is based on incentives and threats (that are often veiled but nonetheless real). By complying with very basic activities (such as uploading lists of our publications on University databases) we are fuelling the metrics that are then used to govern us. That is the pernicious thing about the system – we are all part of it. In the case of Stefan Grimm, it is convenient to look for individuals to blame (and I still hold out hope that human decency might spark a few resignations) but the real aggressor here is a system that we have all contributed to. We probably have bitched about it and groaned, but we have contributed to its construction and maintenance. We have been far too meek in pointing out the irrelevance of committees, metrics and placeholders to the real business of teaching, research and sharing creativity.

I have heard a few horror stories in recent weeks (from other universities) about how younger members of staff have been shouted at for not bringing in research income, and about how some staff members’ time has been bought out by 250% (surely illegal!). In cases like this, we can point to shoddy practice by individual managers – and hopefully they can be faced down as bullies. But the wider problem seems to be the system. We may not like the system, but we maintain it.

So what to do? I do not have a grand manifesto (but am all ears if anyone has one). Instead, I look at my own practice and the very small acts of resistance that I carry out. The first is not to take too seriously the managerial class and the narrative they perpetuate. Yes, we all have responsibilities in a collegiate environment, but my primary responsibility is to students and research – not necessarily to corporate goals. I will avoid listing the precise everyday resistance strategies that I use with the bureaucracy (I don’t want to get into trouble) but the general approach of not taking bureaucracy and bureaucrats too seriously seems to work. The second very small act of resistance is to try to encourage younger scholars to follow their own intellectual curiosity. Grants and publications will follow more readily than if they try to game the system by mechanistically targeting grants and ‘prestige’ journals. The third is to call undue pressure by one colleague on another what it is: bullying.


January 02, 2015

Who Gets Targeted

...research findings from our year 2000 study and conversations with thousands of targets have confirmed that targets appear to be the veteran and most skilled person in the workgroup.

Targets are independent. They refuse to be subservient. Bullies seek to enslave targets. When targets take steps to preserve their dignity, their right to be treated with respect, bullies escalate their campaigns of hatred and intimidation to wrest control of the target's work from the target.
Targets are more technically skilled than their bullies. They are the "go-to" veteran workers to whom new employees turn for guidance. Insecure bosses and co-workers can't stand to share credit for the recognition of talent. Bully bosses steal credit from skilled targets.

Targets are better liked, they have more social skills, and quite likely possess greater emotional intelligence. They have empathy (even for their bullies). Colleagues, customers, and management (with exception to the bullies and their sponsors) appreciate the warmth that the targets bring to the workplace.

Targets are ethical and honest. Some targets are whistleblowers who expose fraudulent practices. Every whistleblower is bullied. Targets are not schemers or slimy con artists. They tend to be guileless. The most easily exploited targets are people with personalities founded on a prosocial orientation -- a desire to help, heal, teach, develop, nurture others.

Targets are non-confrontive. They do not respond to aggression with aggression. (They are thus morally superior.) But the price paid for apparent submissiveness is that the bully can act with impunity (as long as the employer also does nothing)...


January 01, 2015

Typical... As for UCU...

I would just like to add here my own experience.

Recently I won an unfair dismissal case against the University of Essex. I was dismissed, because I submitted a claim for permanency having worked there for over 5 years continuously on a sequence of 19 fixed-term contracts.

No procedure was followed, I was not granted any right during dismissal. I was not even informed about the reason for it. This made my dismissal unfair already. Regarding the reason, the key evidence was an email in which an HR Officer advised the Head of my Department as follows:

"X is pursuing her case for permanency... Was the intention that she would teach modules in the next academic year? I would advise against this if possible as ongoing teaching of modules each academic year can lead to claims for permanent employment."

This advice on its own is a clear cut breach of the law (Fixed-term Regulations). I represented myself in the case, since UCU recommended that I should settle with the University, i.e. accept their bribe.

Since the University lost this case at the Employment Tribunal, the HR Officer sending the above email has been promoted to become an HR Manager. I have not heard anything and have not met anyone from the University since. It seems that I have been wiped out of history from their point of view.