One of Us

Peter looked at his watch and swore under his breath. He broke into a light jog. as he passed a group of students lounging on the grass in the little park, they cheered. “Keep going, Prof!” “Nearly there!” “You can do it!”

Peter grimaced. Bloody students. He turned slightly as if to make a gesture at them, but he could feel the papers starting to slip from the thick manila folder he was carrying. He made a grab at the folder with his free hand and continued on his way.

He made it over to the main building and stopped just inside the revolving doors. His chest was heaving. Spotting the security guard heading over, he fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a lanyard with his ID on it, waving it vaguely in his direction, then replacing it.

The guard kept moving towards him, and stopped between Peter and the lift door.

“Morning, Professor Packer. I’m afraid you need to keep that ID visible at all times in this building.”

Peter looked witheringly at him. “You know who I am. You’ve just proved it. What extra value is conferred by this bit of plastic?” The effect was mitigated by his need to take huge, gasping, breaths between sentences.

“One rule for everyone, sir.”

“I don’t have time for this nonsense. Haven’t you got anything more useful to do?” Peter straightened up and set off again. In the lift, he checked the mirrors. He tucked in his shirt, sucked in his abdomen, and patted ineffectually at his hair. At least he still had some. Not much to be done about the sweaty forehead and red face.

He got out on the sixth floor and made for the meeting room. He burst through the doorway and stood for a moment. The room was small and the only seat left at the table was on the far side of the room. He squeezed past his colleagues and fitted himself into the under-sized chair, which didn’t quite go under the table properly.

He plonked the bulging folder down hard on the table and took a deep breath in. He looked up. His fussy, dishevelled entrance had made him the centre of attention. He shrugged. “Morning, all. Sorry I’m late. Very busy.”

This caused some snorting and eye-rolling around the table. They were all busy.

“Right. Well. Glad you could spare the time, Peter.”  Sam looked down at his papers. “OK. Let’s get on, I know that everyone is very busy.” The emphasis on ‘everyone’ was slight, but noticeable. He looked up.  “We’ve got a lot to get through. Thanks to everyone for coming – it’s key to have someone from every faculty at every meeting. I want us all to leave here with a clear idea of targets for the final REF submission. As you all know, I’m currently covering the Acting DVC role. That means that I haven’t had as much time as I’d have liked to work on the REF stuff. I’ve managed to get my own faculty figures together, but for the rest, it’s over to you. Also, I’ve asked Karen from the Research Office to join us to give us a hand.” Karen smiled brightly and gave a little wave, generating a fresh round of discreet eye-rolling.

“Right” Sam continued. “Let’s go round the table and get a progress report from everyone.”

One by one they opened up their folders and provided a lengthy, glowing report for their own faculties. Sam took copious notes. Once everyone had spoken, he pushed a sheet of paper over towards Karen and bent his head towards her. She nodded.

Karen spoke for the first time in the meeting. “OK, everyone. There’s some good progress there, but I think there are still some serious gaps.”

One or two people looked incredulous. “Gaps?” said Ross. He leaned towards Peter. “What the hell does SHE know about research?” His attempt at a whisper fell short.

Karen’s eyes narrowed. “Yes. Gaps.” She checked her notes. “We’re short of a substantial grant in Humanities. No post-docs AT ALL in that faculty. We need at least three quality submissions in health-related, there’s nothing I can use there.” Sam winced. “We need some policy impacts from Agriculture or Education – got nothing there either. Some public service work from Sociology or Politics? And Engineering is way off the pace compared to similar universities. And as for sciences…nothing in PNAS, even? I mean, Nature or even Nature Materials might be aiming a bit high, but surely  we can do better than,” she looked down again. “The Shropshire Journal of Applied Research in Soil Chemistry?” She fixed her eyes on Chris, the representative from the Faculty of Science.  “OK, those are the major problems from my point of view.”

There was a stunned silence.

Followed by a joint outburst. They were agreed on their dislike of Karen, at least.

Sam let them run on for precisely 15 seconds. “STOP.”

“Karen’s right. We aren’t as strong as we need to be. And she has a list of areas we must fill. The Vice Chancellor has given her carte blanche to sort this out.”

There was a stunned silence.

Followed by a joint outburst.

“It’s too late now.”

“There’s a wait of 18 months to publish in the top-cited journals.”

“He should have thought of that earlier, and given us some support.”

“Has he seen our teaching loads in Humanities?”

Sam stood up. Silence fell. He waited for a moment, then sat down again.

“Thank you. Look. We have to act here. I know you’ve all done your best. But we need to throw some serious money at this now. We’re going to have to bring in some big guns.”

The silence around the table continued. “We haven’t got time to advertise. So. I want a list from each of you by Friday of three top targets for acquisition. Then we’ll make moves.”

Peter piped up. “Are we allowed to recruit like that? What about equal opportunities?”

Sam nodded sagely. “You’re right, Peter. And normally, we would always go through the proper procedures, of course we would. But this is urgent. And the chances are we’d end up with the same people anyway.” He looked around the table. Apart from Karen, every single person there was male, white and middle-aged, with two degrees from pre-1992 universities. “We were all appointed using the proper procedures, and look at us.”

There were nods. “True, that.”

Sam pulled his papers together. “Right, that’s settled then. The transfer window is open at Burston Central. Two pints for the person who brings in the biggest hitter by 1 August.”

The group sniggered as they got ready to leave. The challenge was on.


One thought on “One of Us

  1. Pingback: On the tenth day of Christmas | Wading through Treacle

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