Damage Limitation

Justin Marks may have unwittingly publicised his university’s involvement with ‘The Blob’. He is waiting for the VC’s rage to descend upon him.

Justin picked up the phone and dialled his PA’s number. He heard it ringing in the next office, but she didn’t answer. His lip curled. Nobody there. Just when he needed help. He scribbled a note on a Post-it and walked to the door. He usually left it open, to encourage staff to come to him with interesting stories and so on. That had never happened, but he felt it was an important signal of his approachability.

He put his head gingerly out into the corridor and looked each way. No sign of anyone. He scurried out of his own office and into Paula’s. The door was unlocked; she couldn’t be far away. Probably at the multi-function device. He stuck the Post-it onto her keyboard and returned to his office as discreetly as he could. He shut the door firmly behind him, and quietly turned the lock.

He managed to pull the offending story from the University website. Luckily, his daily email digest didn’t go out till midday – carefully timed for people to enjoy over lunch – so he was able to edit it, although it looked a bit thin today without his star story. He checked that his phone was diverted to Paula’s. There wasn’t anything else he could do. He sat chewing his nails and Googling ‘constructive dismissal’ on his phone. Not using the University wi-fi, though.

The long morning wore on. Justin jumped every time the phone rang in his PA’s office, next to him, but his own phone stayed silent. At around 11.30, the phone rang again, and he heard Paula get up and walk round to his door. He froze. She knocked twice, then tried the door handle. She went back to her office, said something, and put the phone down.  He tried to remember whether she had a key to his office. Probably not. But maybe.

The panic he’d felt when she came to the door had shaken him. It would look ridiculous if he was found skulking in a locked office. It was only a job. And he was bursting for the loo. How could he get out of there with dignity? If he could hear Paula, she could hear him. He’d have to wait till she went somewhere, and then pretend to come back in while she was out. He smiled. Problem solved. He crossed his legs and opened up an important looking document on his computer. Just in case she did have a key.

He sat listening. Surely Paula would need to go to the loo at some point? Time dragged. He wished he hadn’t thought about the loo. He tried to think about something else. Not The Blob, though. He never wanted to hear from the Department of Education again. He wondered if they all wore sandals and socks.

Eventually, he heard Paula’s chair being moved back and she walked across the room. She came out into the corridor, knocked again at his door, then continued down the corridor in the direction of the Ladies loo. He thanked God, or the architect, for having placed the Ladies and the Gents loos at opposite ends of the buildings, however inconvenient it actually was when one found oneself at the wrong end. He crept up to the door, unlocked it, and opened it very cautiously. He looked to the right. Paula was just disappearing out of sight. Phew. He hurried out of his office without looking to the left.

His way was barred.

“Justin! Found you at last!”

Justin’s heart sank.

“Thought I’d better come down here myself,” continued the Vice Chancellor, “as you seem to be rather elusive this morning.”

The jovial tone of the earlier meeting was gone, replaced by a steely threat.

Justin summoned up all of his courage. “Um. Just on my way to answer a call of nature, Vice Chancellor. Sorry, did you want to speak to me urgently?”

“I did. I think we have a very serious problem on our hands, Justin.”

“Could I just, er, pop to the loo, Vice Chancellor? So I can concentrate properly? Haha.”

Calculating that the VC couldn’t possibly deny this request, he ducked past Bill and sped off down the corridor as fast as he could manage without actually running.

“Shouldn’t leave it till the last minute, young man!” boomed the VC’s voice. “I’ll wait in your office.”

Justin waved an arm behind him without looking back.

Once inside the Gents, he leaned against the wall and tried to stop himself shaking. “Deep breaths.” he said to himself. “It’s only a job. He TOLD you to make maximum press use of any research. He TOLD you not to go checking everything with him, that you were paid enough to make decisions on your own. Nobody’s died.”

That thought sobered him up. Maybe someone had died. He hoped not. That was one of the worst parts of his job, actually, co-ordinating response when a student or a member of staff had, um, departed unexpectedly.  In fact, he reminded himself, Bill couldn’t possibly know about The Blob unless he’d read a newspaper online, the chances of which were vanishingly small, according to his reasoning of only two hours previously.

Still trembling, he unzipped and stood in front of the urinal. He couldn’t help flinching in anticipation of Bill bursting through the door to see why he was taking so long.

The door did open, but in a normal way. It was just one of the guys from the marketing office. Justin nodded at him and zipped up. Hopefully the VC wouldn’t stay long, and he’d be able to come back.

He hurried back down the corridor, still desperate to pee, and now worried about what documents the VC might find on his logged-in computer. By the time he got back to the office, he was trembling again. He stopped outside the door and took a deep breath, then forced a big smile. “Vice Chancellor. Sorry about that, got waylaid.”

Bill was not sitting, as Justin had feared, behind the desk, but in one of the visitor’s chairs. To Justin’s surprise, he didn’t look angry. In fact, he looked almost worried.

“Right, Justin, I’ll get straight to the point. We’ve got a big problem.”

“If it’s about the Blob, Vice Chancellor…”

Bill looked at him as though he was mad. “The Blob? What the hell are you on about?” Justin felt his shoulders slump in relief. Clearly the VC had forgotten his earlier amusement about other universities having Marxist educators.

“I’ve had an email from the Times Higher. It’s their annual VC salary humiliation this week, and they want to know why my salary is one of the five highest. I need a good answer.”

Justin wasn’t sure what to say. He plumped for the obsequious. “I’m sure you’re worth every penny, Vice Chancellor.”

Bill looked at him scathingly. “I’m sure that’s not in dispute within the university, young man. But I need a well crafted response.  Here’s what they sent me.” He passed over the printout of an email from Jack Grove. Justin skimmed over it, wincing slightly. ‘…Burston Central in the bottom five of the THES ratings… doesn’t your performance actually merit being the bottom five for pay…why did you get a bonus last year…how could your 20% increase in pension contributions be explained…twice the pay of the Prime Minister…’

Justin gave a big sigh, partly of relief. Barraclough was never going to see the light of day. His brain switched to information management mode. He looked up. “OK, Vice Chancellor. Now, obviously I’m not party to the Governors’ decision-making on pay, but we could do with one or two quotes from their committee minutes to explain their thinking on your value. Also, the whole Prime Minister comparison is spurious  – for one you aren’t a politician responsible to voters, haha, and for another, this isn’t technically a public body. So we can dismiss that. Do I have your permission to see the relevant minutes of the Remuneration Committee?”

Bill nodded. He actually looked quite worried. Justin tried to stop himself grinning. That wasn’t appropriate.

“OK, leave it with me.” He leaned forward over his desk, trying to look reassuring. Should he pat the VC on the arm? Maybe not.

Bill still sat there.

Justin stood up. “I’ll get on to it right away, Vice Chancellor.” He went and opened the door.

Bill took the hint.

As soon as he had gone, Justin sprinted back to the loos. Now that the imminent danger posed by his apparent support of The Blob has passed, he felt a lot better. In fact, he could see some definite possibilities in this situation.

On his way back, he put his head round Paula’s door. “There you are, Justin, where…”

He interrupted her before she could lecture him on the morning’s apparent absence. “Urgent job, Paula. Phone the clerk to the governors and ask her for the minutes of the remuneration committee for the last, er, four years. Tell her Bill said it was ok.”

Paula stared at him. They never had urgent jobs in Campus Communications.

“Is that a problem, Paula?”

“Oh, no. Of course not. I was just…” she tailed off. “I’ll get right on to it.”

Justin went back to his office. What a difference a couple of hours could make. He was sure ‘Campus Communications’ needed a Director, rather than a mere Head, and this was going to prove it.

Wading Through Treacle fictionalises the stuff in HE which you couldn’t make up. You can follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebook to be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for updates from Wading Through Treacle. Feel free to send Wading Treacle accounts of daft things which could be fictionalised by email, too: wadingtreacle@gmail.com.

All characters are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental, unless it says otherwise.

If you want to read the Advent Calendar 2012, see the‘About’ page.


The Blob

Justin Marks was quite excited as he put the finishing touches to his press release. He checked one last time for typos. He’d got the quotes by email and had had to correct the one from George Barraclough – fancy not being able to use “it’s” correctly. Academics!  – He didn’t usually have stories which might get picked up nationally, so he wanted to be extra-careful. He was going to send it to the local papers, as well as putting it in the staff newsletter. Maybe even to Times Higher Education? They usually liked quirky stories.

He was quite happy with it. Topical. Good sentence structure, plenty of alliteration, nice and pacy.

Burston academics tell the Minister what’s what!

Academics from Burston Central’s School of Education have sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Education addressing their anxieties about his proposed new curriculum. The letter draws on research carried out at Burston Central (ironically funded by the Department for Education!) which shows that children who learn poems by rote at the age of four are unlikely to be able to deconstruct the meaning or structure of the poems at the age of six.

The Burston Central letter follows hard on the heels of another, sent by 100 academics from other schools of education around England. George Barraclough from the School of Education said: “We could of course have contributed to the communal letter, but we thought it would have more impact if we followed up on the groundswell of opinion about the new school curriculum. Also, writing our own letter allows us to show the distinctive stance of Burston’s School of Education, which has a history of treading it’s own path through history. Workers unite!”

Mr Gove was unavailable for comment yesterday, but the letter was warmly welcomed by a Department for Education spokesperson, who said: “Consultation on the curriculum is open until 30 April and we welcome all responses from the public.”

Burston Central University is going places. For more information, contact Justin Marks, head of communications.

[Embargoed until Monday 25 March]

There was absolutely no need to embargo it, but he thought it might make it look more interesting to editors. He pressed send.

Every Monday morning, Bill Noakes held a short meeting with his Executive team. He was finding these more and more irritating. Idiots. Why couldn’t they get on with things without constantly seeking his approval, not that he ever gave it? And why that little twit Marks needed to sit in on it, God knew. “Need to keep ahead of the curve, Vice Chancellor” was all he said, when Bill asked him irascibly what he should do. What did that even mean? He couldn’t really be bothered to deal wth them, he just wanted to go back to his office and get on with planning his satellite strategy, as he was starting to think of it. His special college and his international franchising scheme.

However, this morning he was in a better mood than usual. He had been greatly entertained by an article in the Mail on Sunday. Not that he usually looked at it, of course. His wife took it.

He opened the meeting with a jovial “Good morning, team.” There was an awkward shuffling of papers and a few mutterings which sounded like ‘Morning, Vice-Chancellor’.

“Everyone have a good weekend?”

His Executive exchanged glances. This wasn’t the usual start to the meeting. What was he up to? Was it better to acknowledge having had a weekend, or to pretend you’d worked through it, or what? There were a few nods.

Bill wasn’t really waiting for an answer.

“Anyone see the Mail on Sunday yesterday?”

Heads were shaken. One or two of the more idealistic members of the team looked horrified at the very thought.

“Hilarious article by Michael Gove. Attacking all those leftie professors of education who signed that letter to the Independent last week. Calling them all ‘The Blob’. Brilliant. Got them off to a ‘T’.”

He laughed heartily. A few members of his Executive managed to raise small smirks. An air of anxious anticipation was still apparent. What was he up to?

“Thank goodness no Burston Central profs signed the letter.” Bill continued. “I’d certainly be having something to say if they had, academic freedom or no academic freedom. Well, this’ll show some of those Russell Group places that they should have more control over things. Gove’s really shown them up.”

Justin felt the blood draining away from his face. Shit. Barraclough’s letter. It wouldn’t have seen the light of day, if only he hadn’t decided to make something of it….he wondered if he could recall it. He shuffled in his seat. He really wanted to check his email, and Twitter. Maybe it wasn’t too late to cancel the release. But Bill wouldn’t let them use their phones in meetings. They had to give them to Phyllis on the way in, along with their laptops and iPads.

“What’s the matter, Justin? Ants in your pants?” Bill laughed still harder. Some of the others grinned, too. Bastards.

Justin saw a chance. “Just got a lot to get through today, Vice Chancellor.  I was wondering if I might be excused?”

Bill looked hard at him. “Oh, we won’t be long, Justin. And I know you like to keep ahead of the curve. You won’t want to miss this.”

Justin smiled weakly. “Of course not.”

Bill forgot about the Mail on Sunday and started giving out orders for the week ahead.

By the time Justin had finally retrieved his phone from Phyllis, he was resigned to his fate. Sure enough, there were three messages from local news services, saying they’d taken up the story and asking for quotes. His Twitter timeline showed that two others had already published the story verbatim in their online editions.

He walked back to his office, thinking hard. How did the VC usually find out when Burston Central was in the news? When Justin told him, of course. He made a point of sending Phyllis links and clippings. If he didn’t send anything, the VC would be none the wiser….Just at that moment, he couldn’t think of a better strategy.

Wading Through Treacle fictionalises the stuff in HE which you couldn’t make up. You can follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebook to be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for updates from Wading Through Treacle. Feel free to send Wading Treacle accounts of daft things which could be fictionalised by email, too: wadingtreacle@gmail.com.

All characters are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental, unless it says otherwise.

If you want to read the Advent Calendar 2012, see the‘About’ page.

The Union Meeting, Part 2

In the previous post, Carol and Chris from the Centre for Academic Practice were attending their first Union meeting. There was too much business to cover in one post…

Holly looked fixedly down at her notes and read in a monotone. “the meeting is asked to condemn the attitude of the Vice Chancellor in criticising our Vice Chair in a public forum.”

“Hear, hear.”


“Bloody typical.”

Chris cleared his throat again.

“Um. Could you just update us on this one?”

Martin looked hard at him. “You may know that I was recently elected by other academic staff to represent them on Academic Board. Shortly afterwards, the Vice Chancellor got an article in the local rag bringing up a, er, an incident from the dim and distant past, then put a motion to Academic Board saying it was bad publicity and I should consider stepping down.”

“The VC told the local paper?” Chris sounded sceptical.

“Well, someone did, and he hates me, so I think we know where to point the finger.”

“He hates you?”

Carol elbowed Chris again.

“That’s terrible.” Chris offered. “If true.” he added in an undertone. He continued at normal volume. “Sounds like victimisation. Are you going to step down from Academic Board?”

Martin glared. “No. I was democratically elected. We can’t let them intimidate us like that.”

Chris nodded convincingly. “Fair enough. I’m sure the incident was a one off.”

Martin narrowed his eyes. “Let’s go to a vote, then, Holly, if anyone’s not sure.”

Holly looked up from her notes. “All those in favour?”

Everyone sitting round the table raised their hands. Martin looked meaningfully at Chris and Carol. Carol lifted her hand slightly. Chris nodded.

“That looks unanimous.” Martin said.

Holly made a note.

“Right, I’ll take the chair back now. Thanks, Holly. OK. Item 3. Attack on our professionalism. The Centre for Academic Practice is insisting that we all have a teaching qualification.”

Chris opened his mouth, but closed it again when Carol kicked him hard on the shins.

Martin continued. “They’ve got no right. Nobody’s discussed it with us, and we’re the recognised Trades Union for academic staff. And we don’t need it anyway. Teaching qualifications. In HE. Do they think we’re school teachers? Do I have your approval to open a grievance with HR?”

There were nods and mutters of approval around the table.

Someone said “Centre for Academic Practice. What do they know about teaching?”

“Just management stooges.”

Chris cleared his throat again. Carol kicked him even harder. She raised her hand. “Could you tell us any more about what’s being proposed before we vote?”

Martin sighed. “I think it’s obvious. It’s just another form of management control. Student feedback isn’t too good, so they think a bit of paper will sort it out. They need to sort themselves out first.”

Carol persisted. “Yes, but I don’t think anyone’s told us what the management proposal is.”

“They want all academic staff to have a teaching qualification.” repeated Martin.

“Really?” said Carol. “Has there been an announcement?”

Martin looked very hard at her. “Not officially. Someone in the Centre for Academic Practice has told us about it. Early warning.”

“Oh well, glad to hear we aren’t all management stooges, then.” said Carol, icily. “Chris and I also work in the Centre for Academic Practice, and as we’re also Union members, we thought we’d come along to see how colleagues would like the Centre to develop the proposal. But I see you’ve all made up your minds already.”

Martin didn’t even blink. “I’m sorry that you think that. But this really is an attack on our professionalism. We don’t need teaching qualifications” – he almost spat out those two words – “to teach well.”

“I’m sure that’s true.” Carol’s tone was calm, and even. “I think the purpose of the qualification is to acknowledge the professional achievements of most of our colleagues, and to enable us to provide support for those few who may, for whatever reason, find some aspects of teaching difficult.”

Chris had more difficulty staying calm. “You know, like those lecturers whose students write ‘always reads off the lecture slides’, or ‘my feedback was illegible’, or ‘I didn’t get my feedback from the second year until Christmas in the third year.’”

Everyone sitting in the magic circle had turned to look at them. “Oh well, if we’re going to be in thrall to student feedback…” said one of them,  a large, red-faced man wearing a checked shirt. The woman next to him sniggered.

Martin obviously felt the need to pull the meeting back to order. “Well, exactly, Jim. This is a knee-jerk reaction to some off-the-cuff comments from students which are better addressed at module level. Sledgehammers and nuts. Let’s go to a vote. All in favour of a grievance against this. When it’s formally announced.” he added, looking meaningfully at Carol.

Everyone in the inner circle raised their hands. Martin looked at Carol and Chris. Neither moved.

“All those against?”

Carol and Chris raised their hands.

“Two against, Holly.” said Martin. There was some whispering around the inner circle.

Martin raised his voice. “Right, item 4. Solidarity with the Halesowen branch.”

Chris nudged Carol and they both stood up. “Excuse us.” said Carol. “We’ve got classes starting in ten minutes.” They tiptoed to the door.

Wading Through Treacle fictionalises the stuff in HE which you couldn’t make up. You can follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebookto be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for updates from Wading Through Treacle. Feel free to send Wading Treacle accounts of daft things which could be fictionalised by email, too: wadingtreacle@gmail.com.

All characters are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental, unless it says otherwise (Times Higher journalists or government ministers, for instance).

If you want to read the Advent Calendar 2012, see the‘About’ page.

The Union Meeting, part 1

Martin stood on the platform, hunched into his scarf, hat pulled down over his ears and hands stuffed hard into his pockets, His vintage leather jacket wasn’t enough to keep the freezing wind out and he’d forgotten his gloves.

The train was late. As it finally arrived into the station, there was a surge forward. Martin hadn’t been standing in quite the right place on the platform. He found himself at the back of the group trying to board the middle carriage.

There were never any seats at this station anyway. He consoled himself slightly with the thought that being last on meant that he would have the doors to lean on, rather than having to try to stay upright in the crush of people in between the doors, out of reach of anything to hang on to. God, he hated the train.

Trouble was, he lived too close to work. If he was further away, he’d get a seat. He’d seriously considered getting a train in the opposite direction, then boarding his train into the city from a station where seats were still available. But it would have tripled the cost and doubled the time.

So twenty-five minutes like a sardine it was, not counting the time on the freezing platform, and five minutes walk from station to office.

He wished he could still drive in. Twenty minutes door to door. It wasn’t really the time it took. It was the discomfort. The drive had been his thinking time. But he was going to stick to the boycott.

He tried to ignore the noise and jostling around him. He needed to prepare himself for the meeting later that day. Get his main points in order. He only had one chance to win people over.

Chris knocked on Carol’s door.


Carol didn’t look up. “I’ll just press send.” She pressed a couple of buttons and switched the computer to screensaver mode. “OK. Let’s go.”

She took her coat from the hook behind the door.

“Aren’t you going to shut the computer down? Green Impact and all that?”

Carol looked hard at him. “You know how long these old ones take to boot up again. I’ll take the stairs instead of the lift, will that do?”

Chris smirked. “Just pointing it out.”

They both laughed.

Carol looked guilty. “We shouldn’t make fun. It is important.”

“I know, but Hazel takes it so seriously. I can’t help myself.”

They left the building and crossed the park to the Art building.

“OK. We’re just going to listen. See what they have to say.” Chris sounded as though he was trying to convince himself.

“I feel really nervous. Why is that? We’re members. We can go to any meeting we like.”

They found the right room and went in. A few people were already sitting around a table in the centre of the room. Chris and Carol nodded at them and chose seats in a second row which was arranged around the main table. The people who were already in the inner circle glanced at each other, but didn’t say anything.

Chris looked at Carol and raised an eyebrow. “Very welcoming” he mouthed at her.

A couple more people came in and sat at the main table. Nobody said anything. Chris leaned over to Carol. “The suspense is killing me.” he whispered.

A couple of people in front of them turned their heads at the sound. Chris looked back at them and smiled broadly. They turned back.

Finally, one of the people at the table looked ostentatiously at his watch and cleared his throat. “Brothers and sisters, let’s make a start. Suki can’t be here today, so I’m taking the chair.”

There was a shuffling of papers.

He looked at Carol and Chris. “Welcome to our new,er, members.” Everyone turned to stare. They waved gently.

“Not so new, actually” said Chris. “I’ve been a member for twenty years.”

“Well, welcome to the meeting. I don’t think we’ve seen you before. I’m Martin Shepherd, Branch Deputy Chair.”

“Hello.” Chris waved gently again.

Martin continued. “We’ve got a lot to get through. Any apologies?”

A small woman next to him was taking notes. “No.”

“OK, thanks, Holly. Right, minutes of last meeting. How’s the boycott going?”

Holly picked a sheet from the file in front of her. “We’ve been monitoring the car park a couple of times a week. At 10am Tuesday, there were no empty places. 10am Friday, 3 places. 10 am the following Monday, 5 places.”

A man to her left spoke up. “Doesn’t sound as though we’re doing too well. Is anyone…”

Martin interrupted him. “Remember, with the new car park policy there shouldn’t be ANY spare places. I think we’re getting through to people.”

Chris cleared his throat. “Sorry, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

Martin stared incredulously at him. “I thought you said you were a union member?”

“Well, yes, but….” Chris tailed off. He almost never read the numerous hectoring emails the branch sent round. But it seemed rude to admit it.

Martin spoke very slowly. “Union members should be boycotting the university car park since charges were implemented.”

“Oh, I always get the bus anyway,” Chris said “That’s probably why I didn’t make the connection. Sorry. Do carry on.”

“Most kind of you.”

Chris beamed in response to Martin’s sarcastic tone. Carol elbowed him.

“Right, brothers. And sisters. We need to get the information about the boycott out a bit further.”

“I guess it’s not always that easy for people. Some people have to drop their kids off on the way to work, or whatever.” Holly offered this, and then looked back down at her notes.

Martin shook his head. “We need to have solidarity, brothers and sisters. We have to be prepared for a bit of inconvenience. Think about the bus boycott in Alabama after Rosa Parks took her stand.”

There were murmurs of assent. Chris seemed to be having a coughing fit. Carol elbowed him again.

Martin looked hard at them, then continued. “OK, so we’ll have another push on the boycott. Right, item 2. I’m going to hand over to Holly for this one, as it concerns me.”

Continued here…

What are your union meetings like? Do leave a comment…

Wading Through Treacle fictionalises the stuff in HE which you couldn’t make up. You can follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebookto be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for updates from Wading Through Treacle. Feel free to send Wading Treacle accounts of daft things which could be fictionalised by email, too: wadingtreacle@gmail.com.

All characters are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental, unless it says otherwise (Times Higher journalists or government ministers, for instance).

If you want to read the Advent Calendar 2012, see the‘About’ page.


A large university is holding an amnesty on electrical devices. Kettles are already banned at Burston Central, but those subversive academics have ways of managing the system. The only way for these kinds of rulings to be enforced is to move everyone out of their offices and into open-plan ‘facilities’….Martin is still outraged about last week’s re-leak of his embarrassing little problem. Wait till he hears about this.

To: allstaff@burstu.ac.uk

From: Justin Marks, head of campus communications

Subject: Office streamlining

As you are all aware, extensive building work will be taking place over the summer to provide modern working spaces in the main buildings. To prepare for the moves out of your offices, we recommend that you begin clearing the space now. Confidential waste such as uncollected student work, notes from meetings and student records should be collected into appropriate bags for secure destruction. Paper and card must be recycled: the facilities staff will be making regular checks of general refuse bins to ensure that only non-recyclables are present. Departments which consistently mix their waste will be fined!

Although these have been banned for some time, so should not be present on university premises, we have decided to hold an amnesty on small electrical items, which are no longer permitted as they may not be compliant with current safety standards. These may be placed in the collection boxes at reception desks. This includes calculators, non-standard computers, toasters, foot spas and hair straighteners. You know who you are! (and so does the Vice Chancellor!) !!!

Reminder: the plans for the building refit can be seen at this link. All office space will be closed from 1 May – 15 September inclusive, except for the Clearing Centre, which will be open as usual from 16 August – 30 September. Staff will need to find alternative working spaces (we recommend your home office!!) and check in every day with their line managers.

Martin couldn’t contain himself. “Do you know what this means?”

Ajay tried to look neutral. “Er…”

Martin wasn’t really expecting an answer. “This is the thick end of the wedge, this is. First they came for the smokers, and I wasn’t bothered because I don’t smoke. Then they came for the kettles, and I hid mine, at least I did until Bob dropped it in the bloody bogs and broke it. Now they’re after my hair dryer, and I’ve had enough.”

“Hair dryer?” Ajay knew he shouldn’t say anything, but he couldn’t help himself.

Martin gave him a withering look. “I was speaking figuratively, Ajay. Obviously I don’t need a hair dryer. It’s the principle of the thing.”

“Oh, yes. Principle.”

“This move to open plan offices, it’s all about control. They don’t want us to shut the door on anything, or anyone. Or heat up water clandestinely.”

Ajay felt lost. In the accountancy firm he’d worked in until a few weeks ago, all of the offices were open plan. Even the principals were in there, only with slightly bigger cubicles. There were no individual kettles. Or hair dryers, for that matter. Hair dryers? Martin was almost entirely bald.

Martin carried on. “How much is all this costing, that’s what I’d like to know? Plus, what am I going to do with all of this?” He waved his arm over geological layers of handouts, uncollected assignments, industry factsheets, annual reports, Christmas cards and (probably, if Ajay’s observations over the last couple of weeks could be extrapolated) rejected pizza crusts.

“How much of it do you think you’ll need to keep?”

Martin gave Ajay a hard stare. “It’s all essential, or I’d have got rid of it long ago, wouldn’t I?”

“Oh. Glad I’ve not got much to pack up yet.”

“Lucky you. Still, you can give me a hand.”

Ajay cursed to himself. Should have seen that coming. “Oh yes. Of course. Just let me know.”

“God, I haven’t got time to deal with this now. I’ve still got to sort out this business with Academic Board. Got a phone interview with someone from the Higher tomorrow.” Martin cheered up at the thought of airing his grievance more widely. “I’ll tell them all about this erosion of personal rights, as well.”

Ajay knew he’d never work out what Martin was going on about. “Sounds like it’ll make a good story.”

“Too right. They think they can impose a Fordist approach to education, but they’re wrong. We aren’t widgets.”

Ajay just nodded. It seemed safest. He wondered why Martin never mentioned students… maybe they were the widgets. Maybe the academics were the factory machinery, churning out widgets? In which case, open plan might make sense…easier to slot in replacement parts when necessary. He smiled to himself, pleased with his recall of first year economics.

Upstairs, in the Vice Chancellor’s suite, Phyllis was remonstrating with the Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor.

“He can’t see anyone. You’ll have to leave a message.”

“This IS urgent, Phyllis. It’s about the office reorganisations. The Union…”

Phyllis didn’t let Sam finish. “Well, you’ll have to sort it out, Sam. I can’t disturb him.”

Sam cast the office door one last, lingering, look, and left the room.

Behind the door, Bill Noakes was poring over the Times Higher Education World Rankings, which had been released the previous evening. University of Burston had dropped fifteen places. Excellent news. He made a note to send a commiserating note to his opposite number there.  He hadn’t expected that Burston Central would appear this time, but he wanted to make sure he was on top of the trends. Next year, with his franchising plans, things would be different….