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.


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….


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