Phil and Sally were going through the first year class-lists. Engagement monitoring was all the rage. Or rather, attendance monitoring. Nobody had really figured out how to measure ‘engagement’.

“I’ll read them out, then you tell me whether they signed in to Jo’s lecture this week”

The first ten minutes or so were fine. They’d got as far as ‘Fowler’ when things started to get strange. The next twenty students hadn’t attended, and then a normal pattern of most students attending resumed. Same thing from ‘Morris’ to ‘Purslove’, then back to normal.

“That’s weird. Are we sure all of these students are enrolled?”

Sally tapped on the laptop keyboard. “Looks like it. They’re in the system, anyhow.”

“Some kind of strange group identity? All agreeing not to turn up?”

Sally frowned. “Even for you, Phil, that sounds off-the-wall. I think I’ll see if I can phone one of them.”

She pulled up a contact number from the student record system and dialled.

“Mr Greene?”

“It’s Dr Secombe, acting joint course leader for Biology.”

“Yes, thank you. I just wanted to check with you about your attendance at classes.”

“Well, the ones on your timetable.” She rolled her eyes at Phil.

“Well, where have you been looking?” She sighed deeply. She thought entry requirements were supposed to have gone up this year. Honestly, where did they get them from?

“That’s right, on the Burston Learning Environment.”

“Yes, I know what the acronym is”

“Well, I suppose it was funny the first time I heard it. But can you tell me what you can see under timetabling?”

“Well it can’t be completely blank, Mr Greene. I have you registered for six modules and each of them has a timetable.” She rolled her eyes even more expressively, and gave a little shake of the head.

“Yes, send me over a screenshot. Good idea. Then we’ll know how to help you. Do you have my email address?”

“Oh yes, of course it’s there. OK. Well at least I definitely know you can get into the BLE. And you know how to do a screenshot, that’s great.”

“No, no. Of course I didn’t mean anything. I appreciate you helping me to work out what’s going on.” She grimaced mock-guiltily at Phil.

“OK. Oh yes, I can see it coming in now.”

She caught the receiver between her ear and her shoulder and moved her computer mouse around.

“Oh. You’re right. This timetable is blank. Why didn’t you tell us?”

“You thought what?”

Sally paled.

“Well, no, the general idea is that you come to classes and we teach you. Why on earth would you think that we just leave you to it? What do you think you’re paying £8495 per year in fees for?”

“OK. Well. Um. I think you’d better come in to see me. What about Friday? 2pm?”

“Good. I’m on the fifth floor, room 5-23. See you then, Mr Greene. Thanks for talking to me.”

She replaced the receiver. Phil raised an eyebrow. “So?”

Sally realised that she was holding her breath, and exhaled heavily. “He’s got a completely blank timetable. He says he just thought that he had to get on with things by himself. They’d warned him at school that it wouldn’t be the same as sixth form, and that he’d have to work on his own, so he just thought it was normal.”

Phil took some time to process this.

“He’s got a blank timetable on the VLE? How can that happen? Why him?”

“I don’t know how it can happen, Phil. And it probably isn’t just him, is it? That’s probably why we’ve got blocks of people who haven’t been turning up. Shit. How are we going to make up all their classes?”

“I’d better get on to IT.” Phil went over to his desk and put his hand on the phone. He turned back towards Sally. “Hang on. Will it be the people who run the VLE? Or Student Records? Or Timetabling?”

Wading Through Treacle is entirely fictional. 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 an email whenever there is a new post from Wading Through Treacle. Feel free to send Wading Treacle accounts of daft things which could be fictionalised by email: wadingtreacle@gmail.com.


Quinquennial Review, Part 2

Earlier in the year, Geoff, Alison, Sally and Phil had a preliminary meeting to discuss the Biology  course review. Since then, Alison has left and Sally and Phil are joint acting course leaders. Geoff has called them to a progress meeting.

“Are we waiting for someone from Quality?”


“Yes, didn’t we decide last time that we needed someone at our meetings to tell us about, er, new procedures and stuff?”

Geoff didn’t miss a beat. “I assumed that you two would be sorting that out, as joint acting course leaders, responsible for the review.”

“What about Jay?”


“The course rep. He came to our last meeting.”

“Oh, yes, of course. Well, again, you should be sorting that out.”

Phil bristled. “Well, Geoff, you called this meeting, so we just assumed that you would remember to invite everyone.”

Geoff narrowed his eyes and took a deep breath.

Sally laughed nervously. “Shall we just get on with it for now? I’m sure there’s lots we can do, anyway, and now we know what to do, Phil and I can invite the others next time.”

Geoff sighed. “Yes, fine.”

He looked down at his file. “Right. I presume the strategic approval has gone through ok?”

Phil and Sally looked at each other. “Strategic approval?” Sally smiled encouragingly at Geoff.

“We  discussed it last time, Sally. The PVC has to check everything before it proceeds to full review. Alison said she’d get the paperwork in before she left. Where’s it up to?”

“Um. I don’t know. I, er, we, er…..” She looked down at her own notes, and shuffled them a bit.

“Does the PVC know that Alison has left?” Phil still had a challenging tone.

“I don’t suppose the PVC cares about every senior lecturer who leaves, Phil.” Geoff could sound quite nasty when he felt like it.

“I just meant – perhaps all the correspondence has been going to Alison?”

“Oh. Good point.” Geoff wrote something down on his pad. “I’ll get someone to check with her PA.”

“So, what do we need to do next, Geoff?”

Geoff sighed again. “I presume you’ve looked at the process on the Quality Department website?”

“Well, yes, but…..”

“It should be obvious then.” Geoff gathered the notes together. “You know. Student consultation, don’t skimp on that, it’s flavour of the month, um, library consultation, new module specifications, find an external, check with the external examiners, not in that order, the usual stuff.” He looked up. “We can’t do anything here. We haven’t got the right people, we haven’t got the right documents, we’re months behind. It’s a complete shambles. You two are really going to have to sort this one out quickly. Make another appointment with Holly, and make sure the right people are invited.”

Phil and Sally stared at him.

“Right, I’ve got a million and one other things to do, and I’m sure you have.” Geoff stood up. “Don’t leave it too long to fix up a meeting.”  He walked back over to his desk and sat down with his back to them.

Phil and Sally took the hint.

When he was sure that they’d gone, Geoff opened his bottom drawer and took out a small hip-flask. He took a swig, and sighed again.

When he’d been a young lecturer, each Head of Department had a special cupboard, with two types of sherry and a set of glasses, all provided by the College. Perfect for pre-lunch meetings, or anything that went on after 4pm. Those were the days. Now you couldn’t even have a bloody kettle in your room. Well, they weren’t getting his hip-flask.

He wondered if he’d been a bit harsh with Phil and Sally. They were new to the role, and Alison had done everything for years without any apparent effort. No wonder nobody else knew how to do anything. She’d infantilised them, that was what it was. Good word, that. He took another swig, and replaced the flask regretfully in the drawer. It had to last a bit longer.

Wading Through Treacle is entirely fictional. 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: wadingtreacle@gmail.com

Is it the end of term yet?

Ajay picked up his desk-top tidy. “I really must empty this, Martin.”

Martin was in mid-rant. He looked up, puzzled. It was possible that he’d forgotten that Ajay was even there.

Ajay hurried out. His desk-top tidy actually only had an apple core in it, but he couldn’t stand listening to Martin for a moment longer. He needed to concentrate. He was replacing Bob for the full academic year, and all of the modules he was teaching were new to him. He had a lot to do.

The bins were at one end of the long corridor. Apparently this distance was intentional, to give staff a chance to stretch their legs regularly. ‘Green-ness and Well-ness’, as the Environmental Enhancement Manager liked to say. Martin thought it was so that they could cut down on cleaning staff, but he only usually repeated this particular proposition when he was emptying his own tidy, which wasn’t very often. There was often a slightly musty smell in the office. Ajay opened the windows when Martin wasn’t in. They were on Martin’s side of the office. If Martin came back in and found them open, he sighed heavily and closed them with a clatter.

Sometimes Ajay emptied Martin’s tidy at the same time, and let Martin think that the cleaners had done it. Martin thought that there had been a small victory for common sense and radicalism, if the cleaners were spontaneously emptying the bins when they weren’t allowed to. It seemed to make him happy.

Walking back towards his office, Ajay could see an unusual amount of activity at the opposite end of the corridor, where the multi-function device was. Impromptu staff meeting? He couldn’t resist having a look. He had to push slightly to get through the last fire door. The cluster of people standing round the machine shifted slightly to let him through. They were mostly holding out their ID cards, and there was a buzz of angry complaints. He stood for a moment, trying to pick out sentences.

“I’ve got class in five minutes”

“I told them…” (told them what? Ajay felt cheated of the detail)

“…if we had printers in our offices…”

“I’ve been downstairs to try theirs and it doesn’t work either.”

The lift doors opened and one of their colleagues emerged, balancing a large pile of handouts. There was a slight surge towards her.

“Look what Jamila’s got!”

“Where did you get those copied?”

“Is it just ours which isn’t working?”

Jamila stepped back. She looked bewildered. “Get what? What’s working?”

“Your handouts.”

“The printer.”

She looked at the pile of papers to which they were pointing. “I’ve just picked them up from Repro. They’re my handouts for next week’s corporate course. Why? What’s going on?”

“Printer’s not working.”

The crowd turned away slightly, back towards the non-functioning device. Jamila pushed her way through to the fire doors and continued back to her office.

One of the lecturers swiped his card through the reader again. “Still not working.” he reported back.

Ajay took out his phone and dialled IT services.

“If you are calling about a printing problem, please note that there is a campus-wide problem with printing at the moment. Our engineers are trying to solve the problem now. There is no need to log a fault with the service.”

Ajay hung up. “Um. Everyone. There’s a campus-wide problem with printing.”

The crowd turned towards him.

“Fucking typical.”

“First week of term. Don’t tell us, the systems are overloaded. Have they forgotten that some of us actually have to teach this week?

“I knew this would happen.”

“When’s it going to be fixed?”

“I’ve got class in a minute, and no handouts. What am I supposed to do?”

Ajay shrank back. He held his tidy out in front of him. “Well. Anyway. Must get back to the office.”

He backed up to the fire doors and escaped back to the relative sanctuary of the office.

Martin looked up when he came in, possibly about to resume his litany of complaints about the university. Ajay had a brainwave.

“Martin, have you heard about the printers? You should go out there and see what’s happening.”

Martin was out of the office before Ajay could say any more.

Ajay sat down with a sigh. He knew that he probably shouldn’t feed Martin’s outrage, but the thought of five minutes peace had been too tempting. He patted his pile of handouts for the next two weeks, carefully copied a couple of weeks ago when things were quiet.

Wading Through Treacle is entirely fictional. 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: wadingtreacle@gmail.com.