Something Big

Bill Noakes was pacing up and down in his office.  The carpet was almost bare along the section between his desk and the far wall. Phyllis didn’t think it would look good to replace it while the whole place was on an austerity drive. Money was only supposed to be spent on student-facing areas, and students never came into the Vice Chancellor’s office. He suspected that the same carpet had been there when Burston Central became independent of the local Council in 1989, and it could have been pretty old then. Oh well. At least he could afford something better at home.

Bill paced whenever he wanted to develop an idea. Right now, he needed something new to work on. His project to set up a University College was well on its way; at least, he hoped that it was. He’d put a couple of people in charge of it, given them a budget. It was up to them now. What were their names again? Well never mind, it was pretty low risk – they were sworn to secrecy, and the budget was pretty small.  He’d bob back in whenever it got going properly, get some press coverage. Bob. That was one of them. What was the other? Shirley? Sharon? Whatever. No, it was all pretty small fry.

Bill wanted something bigger to get his teeth into. A proper legacy. Any idiot could run a modern university. So many bloody administrators, it revolved around itself anyway. Students were an afterthought, if you asked him.

A new Faculty? Could there be a chance of a medical school? That’s where the big bucks were. Shame his predecessor hadn’t bothered to go for it when the last lot were handed out in the 1990s. No bloody ambition, those ex-polytechnic directors. None whatsoever. Not that his peers were much better now. Wishy-washy, the lot of them.

Central part in the local community? He shook his head. Throwback to the 1850s, that one. Tedious, tedious meetings with councillors and worthy voluntary organisations. He’d rather gnaw his own knuckles off. Anyway, you’d be struggling to find any kind of a community in Burston these days. Everybody did their own thing. It was like a desert at night. Nobody was going to stay in town to go to any kind of worthy lectures or cultural events. Well, he wasn’t, anyway. No point. He shuddered at the thought of the area around the city centre.

Raise the national profile with something startling? He thought gloomily about the draft Research Excellence Framework submission his Head of Research had just shown him. There were no hidden gems in that little lot. Bringing Burston Central’s research up a notch wasn’t something which the chair of Council would be mentioning in his leaving speech. He grimaced, and took an antacid tablet from his desk drawer. God, it was so stressful, being VC of a place like this.

No new subjects, no new local stuff, no national leadership. What could his next big project be?

“Vice Chancellor”. Phyllis walked into the room.

Bill had his back to the door. He started, and the antacid got stuck at the back of his mouth.

Phyllis stood without moving until he had finished coughing. “Jesus, Phyllis, you could knock,” he wheezed.

“The door was open.”

“Well, maybe, but you could see I had my back to you….” Bill gave up. “Well, now that you’re in here…”

“I need to confirm your travel arrangements for India and Edith says you’ve got a family do on the night you’re supposed to be travelling.”

“India?”

“Yes, you know, you’re going with Sunny. To promote the university at some Education Fair. You told me about it weeks ago.”

“Can’t someone else go?”

“No. You’re in the programme. The British Council are organising something special for you. It would look bad.”

“Oh, God. Why did you let me get talked into this?”

Phyllis narrowed her eyes. “I didn’t. You told me you were going. I did tell you Edith had something in the home diary.”

“Shit. Is there any way I could leave a bit later? Take a different route?”

She shook her head. “That’s the latest possible time to leave.”

A haunted expression crossed Bill’s face. “In that case, will you tell her I have to go?”

Phyllis stared at him briefly, then turned and left the room.

Bill decided to interpret this as assent.

He resumed pacing. He couldn’t remember anything about whatever it was he was meant to be doing in India, but there was the germ of an idea coming into his mind. Overseas. Recruitment. Fees. Was that the way forward for Burston Central? Could that be his legacy?

His mind was racing. He went back to his desk and sat down in front of the computer. Time for some research on internationalisation.

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