It was Monday morning. Alison was feeling particularly grumpy. She’d had to work through most of the weekend, marking dissertations. And today had been blocked out for the Biology Department staff development session. She couldn’t think of a worse way to spend the day. It was the first day of the vacation. She had a pile of admin to finish off, and she needed to start chasing up the other dissertation markers before they disappeared on actual holidays.
Not only that, but the venue for the ‘Awayday’ was on the other side of town, and required her to take two buses, with a good mile of walking between them. And it was pouring with rain.
And to cap it all, at the end of the day the department were all going out for a meal to mark the departure of a long-standing colleague. If anyone had asked her, she’d have thought that he’d left years ago, for all the impact he had on the department.
Derek, Emma and Ben kept well out of her way.
Eventually, she was on the bus. She opened her iPad and started reading a journal article which she’d downloaded several weeks previously and hadn’t quite got round to during term-time. Now she was reading it, she couldn’t for the life of her remember why she had thought it would be interesting. It seemed pretty irrelevant to her research interests. She skipped to the reference list. Nothing she recognised.
She closed the app and opened up a game of Solitaire instead. Sod them.
The conference venue was a shiny new building which formed part of the University of Burston expansion. Alison peeled off her soaking wet anorak at the Reception desk. “Burston Central Biology.”
“Good morning, Madam. That’s marvellous. You’re in the Shattock room, just down at the very end of this corridor.”
Alison was sure the receptionist was being sarcastic. She looked at him suspiciously. Was he making some kind of ironic comment about them being from a poorer university, without its own conference facilities? “Is there anywhere I can leave this?” She flapped her anorak towards him, causing a shower of raindrops to fall onto the highly polished wooden surface.
He reached under his desk for a cloth and started rubbing at the water. “Of course, Madam. The cloakroom is just over here. Shall I take it for you?” He looked as though he would rather walk across hot coals.
“No, that’s fine. I’ll manage.” Alison bent and gathered her things together. It took a while, somewhat spoiling her attempt to look dignified.
She took her time hanging up her coat. Then she visited the Ladies. Then she went back to Reception.
“Is there anywhere I can get a coffee?”
“There are refreshments in your meeting room, Madam.” The receptionist managed to convey his disappointment that she could think that such a thing would have been overlooked in his establishment. Or perhaps that the standard of service was so much poorer at Burston Central?
“Oh. Thank you.”
She couldn’t put it off any longer. She walked slowly down the corridor to the Shattock room.
She was hoping that the meeting would be about to start by the time she got there, but inside the room everyone was still standing around. The chairs were laid out in neat rows facing a screen.
There was a concentration of people to the left of the room, presumably where the refreshments were. Alison pushed her way gently through the groups, murmuring brief hellos. Her frigid expression helped to create a small space around her. She helped herself to coffee. Fucking staff development days. What a waste of time.
There was a large plate to the right of the coffee flasks, containing quite appetising-looking pastries. She was unable to prevent herself from thinking that this was a big treat. ‘Pastries. Ooh.’ She helped herself.
“They’re really good.” Sally came up to her. “What a treat. Pastries!”
Alison allowed a small smile to form. How feeble they all were. A pound’s worth of cake, and they were all happy. Still, the pastries were good.
Geoff was hovering near the screen at the front of the room. “Er. Colleagues.” He raised his voice. “Colleagues. Shall we make a start?”
Reluctantly, they shuffled towards the seats. A small queue formed around the flasks again, but eventually, everyone was settled.
Geoff was moving impatiently from foot to foot. “Right then, colleagues. Let’s make a start. Lots to get through. Just before we get going, I’ve got a couple of announcements.”
He looked down at his notes. “Right. OK. Well, I’m pleased to say that Phil and Sally have agreed to step in as Joint Acting Course Leaders following Alison’s departure. They’ll be shadowing Alison until the summer. We’ll advertise during the autumn term.
“And there’s something else I just want to flag up. We’re going to need to do a review of assessment practices before September. I’ve asked Sally to co-ordinate this. We’ll need to look at everyone’s assessment strategies.” He looked hard at Jan, but she was staring at her phone, and didn’t seem to be listening.
“OK. Let’s get on. We’ve got a packed programme today, so we need to keep to time.” He looked around the room, making eye contact with as many people as possible. Alison was fighting back the urge to giggle. She looked at the window in an effort to distract herself. Outside, there were trees in blossom.
Geoff continued. “OK. Well. This morning, we’re going to hear from Diane, from the Quality Department, about the new procedures for,” he looked down at his notes again. “For engagement monitoring. And plans for the QAA visit in three years’ time. And then Hazel from the Centre for Academic Practice has kindly agreed to come and explain the new, er, professional recognition scheme. Then it’ll be time for lunch, which I’m told is very good here. After lunch, Chris is going to come and update us on progress towards the Research Excellence Framework submission, and we’ll finish off the day with a team-building session from HR.”
A chorus of sighs greeted this dispiriting agenda, providing an appropriate audio accompaniment to the eye-rolling which had met each of the topic announcements.
Jan raised her hand.
“Geoff. I thought you told us that attendance was compulsory.”
“Yes, and thank you all for coming along, of course.”
“Where’s Chris, then?”
“Chris? He’s coming along after lunch.”
An expectant silence fell. Geoff realised that something more was needed.
“He’s got important research obligations this morning.”
There was an outbreak of muttering. Geoff rushed on. “Anyway, let’s get going, shall we? Diane, over to you.”
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