All posts by lizmorrish

Academic in linguistics. Writes about the discourse of managerialism and audit culture.

Student Protection Plans: Neither plans nor protection

Student Protection Plans (SPPs) are the creation of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 and require universities to clarify their arrangements for students to complete their studies should the institution, course or campus close. But are these plans reliable?  How will universities be held to account if it becomes necessary to activate them? And whose interests are most likely to be served by the terms of the SPPs? Are there some unforeseen moral hazards which attach to their implementation?  

These questions have taken on additional urgency this week when we have seen the release of distressing news for anyone who cares about UK universities and the talented staff and students who work within them. At least 8 universities are considering course closures, redundancies , or, as the University of Reading puts it 
‘refreshing their vision’. So far, the following universities have made known their financial difficulties in recent days: Cardiff University, Birkbeck, University of London, University of Gloucestershire, Bangor University, University of Reading, Bath Spa University, SOAS Library and Queen Margaret University.

There have been two informative blog pieces recently which discuss SPPs. Gordon McKenzie compares how arrangements for insolvency are handled in the Further Education sector.  Meanwhile, Jim Dickinson has helpfully provided species identification and taxonomy – not an easy task since only 65 out of 203 SPPs were traceable.  

SPPs vary in size and detail with The University of Leeds discharging its obligation in just two pages, while the University of Birmingham’s plan runs to a very detailed 21 pages.

The Office for Students (OfS) and Sam Gyimah, former Minister of State for Universities and Science, have both signalled in the starkest terms their intention not to engage in bailouts or, as Hefce did, to facilitate amalgamation of institutions.  

This change of policy is framed as a necessary encounter with the discipline of the market, and fits entirely with the presumptions of the 2016 White Paper, Success as a Knowledge Economy, that success will be ensured by the application of competition and choice. According to this logic, “we must accept that there may be some providers who do not rise to the challenge, and who therefore need or choose to close some or all of their courses, or to exit the market completely. The possibility of exit is a natural part of a healthy, competitive, well-functioning market and the Government will not, as a matter of policy, seek to prevent this from happening. The Government should not be in the business of rescuing failing institutions” [Executive Summary para 17]. 

And so universities must now assess their own financial risk and disclose that in an accessible statement as a condition of OfS registration.  

It only takes the slightest acquaintance with Erving Goffman’s theory of face to understand that universities, famously concerned with reputation above other considerations, will be eager to contradict any suggestion of financial vulnerability. In fact, nearly all of them are at pains to lay out their credentials for financial and academic sustainability.                              

This leads to moral hazard #1– Denial. Most universities claim to be at very low risk of institutional closure.  Leeds dismisses this prospect with “The likelihood that the University will be unable to operate is negligible”. Generally, the SPPs refer to the healthy income and bank surplus ( Birmingham), and strong market position (read league tables), so “the University is, therefore, able to absorb market shocks” ( Birmingham). More worrying is that many go on to rebuff the idea that courses, departments or schools could close, claiming these are all mature and well-established (Leeds). Newcastle University evaluates the possibility of closure of a whole programme because of loss of market viability or insufficient enrollments thus: 

We consider this risk to be low, overall, because of our confidence in our market position and popularity as a destination. 

The University of Liverpool is one institution to make a rare disclosure that it withdrew 37 programmes  from 2014-15 to the present academic year, and all continuing students were able to complete their courses.   

Despite the denials of vulnerability,  universities are required to give details of actions they would initiate if that ‘negligible’ risk should be ‘crystallised’, in the OfS jargon. A number of universities refer to the practice of ‘teaching out’ a course, which means continuing to teach those students already enrolled, while halting recruitment. This is a well-established practice in the sector. Other SPPs promise to support students in finding another provider. Sometimes that means presuming upon a multilateral agreement whose ratification seems unassured. The University of Birmingham undertakes to: 

Facilitate transfer or direct-entry to another provider: We would look to work with partner providers across the UK, including our fellow Russell Group members and our strategic partners such as the University of Nottingham, to accommodate you by transfer or direct entry – subject to their entry requirements.  

The strategic partnership is confirmed in Nottingham’s SPP, if not acknowledged in those of other Russell Group members. However, it raises a question:  is this in the best interests of students to privilege provider status over compatibility of course offerings? What happens if your course is not available at the partner institution? For example, The BA (Hons) in Gemmology and Jewellery Studies is unique to Birmingham City University which states proudly that its School of Jewellery has been in operation since 1890. The agreements, then, provide no guarantees that a student will be able to complete the course they first enroll on, and one wonders how a naïve university applicant is meant to find reassurance in the SPP.  

Also, even where transfer agreements are in place, how would another university suddenly accommodate a large number of supernumerary students? The answer to that lies in an increase in ‘flexibility’ of resourcing in the form of precarious and ‘atypical’ staffing arrangements. Nottingham Trent University’s SPP has this to say:

 The University maintains a flexible pool of adjunct and sessional staff to ensure continuity of supply of both general and specialist teaching.” 

At the University of Wolverhampton,

The University makes use of visiting lecturers to bring in expertise as and when required to ensure core course elements can be delivered.

This reveals moral hazard #2 whereby there is an incentive for employers to conflate protection of student interests in the case of ‘market exit’ with the kind of staffing economies they might like to avail themselves of. The use of contingent staff on insecure contracts has been increasing over the last decade and now atypical staff account for a third of posts in the UK (HESA stats: Staff by HE provider, academic contract marker and mode of employment 2016/17). It appears their use may now be extended to cover core teaching in universities. Given that closure of a teaching facility, discontinuation of a course or loss of Tier 4 licence (international students) are included in the risk analysis along with ‘market exit,’ this reference to a ‘flexible pool’ of casualized staff may prefigure a permanent change in the career structure for an even larger number of academics.  

It should be apparent that these policies are far from being insurance policies for students. Consider moral hazard # 3 – an absence of accountability, identified by Jim Dickinson, who asks, who does the student wave their SPP at if the eventualities are ‘crystallised’? The institution in receivership? The OfS?  The Minister for Universities and Science? The Office of the Independent Adjudicator? – but even they accept they have no regulatory powers over providers and cannot issue fines. What do you do if your recently conferred degree from X university is rendered worthless?  

The final moral hazard belongs to the OfS which, according to Dennis Farrington  “has no statutory authority to guarantee sustainability in any institution” and he raises the prospect of there being ‘disposable universities.’ The consequences of maintaining a stance of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ extend beyond curbing the autonomy of UK universities. The SPPs offer a Trojan horse for greater casualization of the sector and an excuse to devastate a university unpopular, for any reason, with ministers. In either scenario, the interests of students are not served when they cannot rely on an institution enduring for the length of their degree course.  

It is the discourse of HERA legislation that has allowed us for the first time to contemplate the closure of a university for reasons of financial embarrassment unrelated to academic performance. Aside from financial and wider economic issues, there are very good political reasons to proceed cautiously with threats of ‘market exit’.  December 3rd saw Central European University (CEU), one of Europe’s best universities, forced to take the decision to leave Budapest. The Hungarian government has been accused of being the first to actively seek the removal of a university since the German Third Reich.   There has been no response to this from the UK government and none from university leaders who notoriously fail to see the benefit of collective resistance. I hope it will quickly dawn on Chris Skidmore, the next minister for universities, that he would not wish the UK to join this ignominious club. At the moment, that might be the best assurance that the academic community could wish for.  

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VC Question Time

The Times Higher held an event in London this afternoon. Billed as THE Live  it seemed designed to be a convivial and informative warm up event for the real thing – a gala evening of THE Awards to be presented by Sandy Toksvig. An array of vice chancellors – I believe the collective noun is a wedge – volunteered themselves to be grilled by John Gill, Editor of the Times Higher in a VC Question Time format. They were Chris Day, Newcastle University; Anthony Forster, University of Essex; Pamela Gillies, Glasgow Caledonian University; and Edward Peck, Nottingham Trent University.

THE Live #VCquestiontime was, in sad contradiction, rather lifeless. For one thing, there was no live stream, so I’m not sure what was supposed to be ‘live’ about it. The tweeting was hardly prolific, but there was enough to get a sense of the tenor of the session. My thanks go Mary Curnock Cook, HEPI and Sarah Custer for their live tweeting.

The Times Higher had been actively inviting questions on Twitter from the UK higher education community for a few days. And academics and administrators supplied plenty of tough ones, commenting that they never usually had the occasion to interrogate their leaders.

So it was disappointing to see how searching and sometimes acerbic questions had been tamed towards the inoffensive. For instance, “How do you sleep at night knowing that your grotesquely inflated salary is directly related to the rise of precarious labour?” was reiterated as “What keeps you awake at night?” And “how could you have responded differently to the VCs’ pay furore” framed the issue as one of PR, not one of attempting to justify large pay rises while requiring restraint of ordinary staff. Questions about the adverse conditions of academic careers and workplaces, and poor incentives for the next generation to become academics, appeared to be domesticated into “would you tell your children to become an academic?” This vision of academic life from University of Essex VC, Anthony Forster, stands in rather stark contrast to the experience conveyed by some questioners:  “noble work, should get us out of bed every day of the week, with a spring in our step, transmission of knowledge, creation of new research that will make the world a better place.”

One or two highlights, though. I laughed out loud at Pamela Gillies comment: “Politicians are not going to let universities go under, not in the real world.” That won’t age well, I predict. And I warmed slightly to Anthony Forster who offered an unvarnished opinion about Universities UK saying, ” Sector leadership is not fit for purpose”, calling for reform of @UniversitiesUK to become voice of Universities rather than voice of vice-chancellors. Nice one.

But all in all my impression was that the questions posed in the VC Question Time session failed to capture the intent of those which had been posted on Twitter. Instead, questions were posed which allowed the panel members to construct a rosy and optimistic narrative. Little which implied criticism of VCs’ own behaviour was asked, including my personal favourite: “How destructive and immoral would a government proposal for HE have to be before you’d risk your chance of a gong to oppose it”. From what I could discern, nothing was asked in several areas which had predominated on Twitter: casualization of the workforce, pensions and the recent strike, staff pay, and academic workloads. For all their talk about staff needing to be pushed beyond their comfort zone, university leaders appear reluctant to step outside of theirs.

 

A short commercial break

Earlier this week, Helen Sauntson and I submitted the book which gave its name to this blog. Or was it the other way around? Anyway, Academic Irregularities: Language and Neoliberalism in Higher Education is finished, and away to the publisher, Routledge. Writing the last two chapters partly explains a bit of a fallow summer here on the blog. But there was also rather a lot of life-enhancing activity going on, like spending time with my partner, and observing for the New York Open Water 20 Bridges marathon swims, and ending the summer with a swim of my own with NYOW’s Spuyten Duyvil 10K.

Below is some information about the book which we hope will be published early in 2019.

We all know that universities in the UK and elsewhere are very different places than they were 20 years ago. There has been a massive reorientation of universities away from their previous mission as serving the public good, as repositories of knowledge, as a refuge from the discipline of the market and capitalism, and governed by the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. The purpose of universities is routinely assumed to be to serve the economic needs of the country, or even of individuals who graduate from them. Cultural and political changes such as consumerism, marketization, New Public Management with its focus on metrics, audit and performance management, have left their imprint on the very language we use to talk about universities – and indeed on the language the university uses to talk about its staff and students. Neoliberalism is a contested term but we use it to designate a broad agreement that universities have reorganised their priorities – and perhaps been coerced by successive governments to do so –  to align with ‘the market’. We uncover the power relations and contradictions experienced by those working and studying in UK and other (largely) western universities. We  make connections between economic and political developments in society, and the changes to conditions of labour and values operating in universities. We find that the nature of academic identities has been resignified so that lecturers and professors feel less autonomous and more ‘managed’. Even what counts as work’ has been redefined in narrow terms which accommodate metrics and audit. Some academics try and resist the new discourse, but it is becoming rather difficult to do so in a context when its use is compulsory. Some of these changes have left academics feeling alienated and deprofessionalised. 

This is an original critique of the neoliberal university and it sits within an emerging discipline of Critical University Studies. We build our case from firm evidence of discourse which echoes the concerns of neoliberal ideology: competition, the market, personal responsibility and benefit, value for money, return on investment and efficiency. Over the three or four years of the project, we amassed a large collection of  documents from university management training courses, performance reviews, university and student union marketing materials, mission statements, REF and TEF policies. Then we got to work with the tools of applied linguistics, such as corpus linguistics, critical discourse analysis and appraisal analysis, to show how insidiously damaging this discourse is. In constructing our own discursive audit trail, we have unearthed metaphors which seek to normalize the discourse of the market, the student as consumer and the academic as corporate subject. We take a look at some of the adjectives and nouns which seem to shift their meanings to the extent they are meaningless: excellence, quality, innovation, vision etc. The discourse analysed throughout the book is more than just a reflection of neoliberal ideology – it is arguably constitutive of ideological change, and of a new kind of neoliberal, self-managing, subordinate subject. 

The book brings the tools of applied linguistics to bear on some central questions for critical university studies:

  1. What does a critical linguistic analysis of managerial discourse reveal about academic values and identities?
  2. How can the tools of applied linguistics be used to enhance knowledge and understanding about critical university studies?
  3. What can critical linguistic analysis reveal about the role of discourse in formulating resistance to the managerial project?

During the course of this project both authors have both faced professional upheaval. This resulted in Helen changing jobs (and earning promotion to professor) and I left academia. In completing this book, we have been sustained by colleagues both personal and virtual too numerous to mention. Special mentions must go to our spouses: Caroline Sauntson and Kathleen (K.O.) O’Mara who have patiently buoyed us with their belief that our work is worthwhile.

We have valued encouragement from and the opportunity for discussion with:  Thomas Docherty, Justin Cruickshank, Eva Bendix Petersen, Kate Bowles, Richard Hall, Aidan Byrne, Derek Sayer, Yoke Sum Wong, Craig Brandist, Eric Royal Lybeck, Nicky Priaulx, Nick Megoran, Raksha Pande, Rosie Miles, Filip Vostal, Jana Bacevic, Mark Carrigan, Sarah Amsler, Annabelle Mooney, Emilie Whitaker, Veronika Koller, Erika Darics, Kerry Dobson Clukas, Joanne Hollows, Patrick O’Connor, Lisa Clughen, Richard Bromhall, Catherine Adams, Steve Jones, Jean-Pierre Boule, Nic Dunlop, Monica Franco-Santos, Louise Mullany, Martin McQuillan, Charlotte Walker, Robert Compton. There are also a few university PVCs and Registrars who might wish to remain anonymous. We are fortunate to have been writing in an age of social media when there are blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook groups for like-minded scholars which have offered support and information.

We mourn the untimely loss of Judith Baxter and Joyce Canaan whose work has enlightened us, and their insights have informed each chapter of the book.

Here’s the Table of Contents. Each chapter includes critical discourse analysis of two case studies based on authentic data.

Introduction

Chapter 1 – Critical University Studies: Defining a Field

Chapter 2 – The Student as Consumer and Commodity

Chapter 3 – Marketing the Goods

Chapter 4 – Language and Audit Culture 1: Research and Performance Management

Chapter 5 – Language and Audit Culture 2: The Case of the Teaching Excellence Framework

Chapter 6 – Colonising the Corporate Academic

Chapter 7 – Conclusions and Possibilities for Contesting the Discourse

Glossary of terms

Colleagues from universities across the world have shared their stories, examples of discourse and dissatisfaction with the neoliberal academy. While a reorientation of universities from a focus on knowledge-creation to a focus on the student consumer has subdued the enthusiasm of many for academic life, these changes have,  nevertheless, provided an endless source of data for our enquiry.  And so, lastly, we owe sincere thanks to the managers, without whose opaque and hyperbolic discourse in strategy documents, policies, training courses and all-school messages, this book could not have been written. You have been an inspiration.

Sam’s on campus, but is the campus onto Sam?

A version of this article first appeared on *HE: Policy and markets in higher education, published by Research Fortnight on 5th July 2018. 

It might have been mildly embarrassing for the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Sam Gyimah, to have to retract his accusation a couple of weeks ago, that a lecturer at King’s College London had been reported for spreading ‘hate speech’ during his history lectures, but the evidence was against him. Unfortunately, like some more of Mr Gyimah’s more volatile claims on stifling of freedom of speech in universities, this had proved impossible to verify.

However, rather than being reassured that Gyimah has had to back away from citing unsubstantiated anecdotes, perhaps we should be concerned that this behavior fits a pattern in modern politics, of pushing at the boundaries of credibility knowing that some fabrications will stick if they are repeated often enough. In this case, academics, universities and freedom of speech itself are all damaged by these allegations.

Sam Gyimah has styled himself as rather a champion-protector of freedom of speech on campus, and has already hosted a free speech summit for universities, urging leaders to stamp out ‘institutional hostility to unfashionable views’ and to take stronger action against ‘safe spaces’ and ‘no-platform’ policies that he alleges have appeared on campuses.

It is perhaps convenient that the minister has overlooked the actions of a member of his own party whose partisan interest in the university curriculum recently caused controversy. Last October, a few months prior to Gyimah’s appointment, Chris Heaton-Harris, MP wrote to vice-chancellors asking for the names of any professors involved in teaching courses in European Studies which might have a bearing on Brexit. He suspected that such courses were being taught from a point of view which might lean towards Remain.

It was probably a futile gesture designed to draw attention to some politicians’ belief that all academics are left leaning. This fear seems to have its origin in the ongoing US culture wars, and a recent study which found that 60 percent of professors identify as liberals, while a mere 12 percent identify as conservative. Despite allegations of ‘group think’ and lack of political diversity, there is no real evidence in the UK, apart from anecdotes such as the one dismissed by King’s, to indicate that political orientations translate into bias in the classroom. There is nothing to suggest that issues like Brexit are taught in a way which is not entirely evidence-driven, nor is there anything to suggest that students are not free to argue with their lecturers.

Nevertheless, Sam Gyimah has kept his attention on this issue and fully embraces his new ministerial role with a sharper focus on students than any of his predecessors. He does occasionally, though, give the impression that, far from being even-handed, he is rather invested in being minister primarily for conservative students. He has openly stated that his ‘Sam on campus’ tours have been intended to bestow on the Tories the kind of appeal elicited by Labour politicians, and especially Jeremy Corbyn.

The first concerns about a new kind of partiality within government were raised when, on January 1st 2018, it was announced that provocative conservative commentator, Toby Young, would be serving on the board of the Office for Students, and that Ruth Carlson, a hitherto unknown name, had been selected as the board member for the student experience when, according to a written answer from the Minister to Kevin Brennan, MP,  she had not even been among the original applicants considered appointable. Her chief virtue seemed to be that she had no connection with the National Union of Students. Even though Young resigned, the episode led to accusations that the new Office for Students was little more than an office for state control.

 

These developments are all the more disconcerting if we consider some recent precursors in the US. In February 2017, a state senator in Iowa introduced a bill into the state’s legislature. The bill, SF 288, aimed to ensure that ‘hires’ – and this targeted just new academic recruits – at the state’s universities should reflect equal proportions of liberals and conservatives. The purpose of the bill, according to its sponsor, Republican state senator Mark Chelgren, was an attempt to counter the ‘liberal slant’ at the state’s three public universities, and its wording specified the exact proportions to be achieved:

“A person shall not be hired as a professor or instructor member of the faculty at such an institution if the person’s political party affiliation on the date of hire would cause the percentage of the faculty belonging to one political party to exceed by ten percent the percentage of the faculty belonging to the other political party, on the date established by the board for determining the political party composition of the faculty.”

Notwithstanding debates in the US about affirmative action for under-represented groups, this seems like an unnecessary privileging of a group which does not lack political clout.

UK readers may be wondering how university hiring committees would be made aware of political affiliations. The answer lies in the voter registration processes of many states in which voters need to register with a particular party – Republican or Democratic – if they wish to participate in that party’s primary elections. The bill specified that those records would be made available to the state board of regents which governs the state-funded higher education institutions. However, the measure was opposed by the board of regents and the bill failed to proceed.

At around the same time, a Republican state senator in North Carolina, Ralph Hise, was tabling a similar measure in his state legislature, requiring faculty members across the UNC system to “reflect the ideological balance of the citizens of the state,” plus or minus two percentage points.

So, when a minister alleges political bias in universities, or condemns political activism within them, or when the Office for Students threatens to fine universities for alleged failure to protect freedom of speech (even as they must abide by the Prevent Strategy), this echoes the more extreme political interference attempted in Iowa and North Carolina. Even the sanctions resonate with Office for Students discourse. This from North Carolina sounds familiar:

“If the accreditors conclude that something is amiss, they could sanction individual UNC campuses, which would endanger the ability of those campuses to attract research funding, facilitate financial aid, and compete nationally and internationally for faculty and students.”

And indeed, we see on 20th June, a tweet from the Office for Students clearly stating a threat to intervene in universities’ pay structures when they deem a vice chancellor’s pay to lack justification.

OfS threaten VCs

In Iowa, these assaults on university autonomy have come hard on the heels of repeated pressure to rescind tenure and end faculty collective bargaining. But in the UK, we no longer have even the nominal protection of tenure, and assaults on collective bargaining and benefits are well underway. Much of the sector is now staffed with casualized labour – exactly the kind of employees likely to police their own teaching and publications for apparent political bias. The field has been cleared for dirigiste policies.

It seems disingenuous to venerate university autonomy, as Gyimah did at the February 2018 launch of the Office for Students, when your regulatory regime is predicated on attempts to curb it. If the threat of tenured radicals has been seen off in the UK, then a new one has been installed. Not, as Gyimah might imagine, in the form of NUS militants, but in the form of a regulatory body which has control and political entryism as its priorities.

Can Critical University Studies survive the toxic university ?

Several things in the news recently have made me want to write again about Critical University Studies (CUS) – a discipline that has been given momentum in the UK by the USS pensions strikes of spring 2018. As I visited a number of campus rallies and teach-outs, I became aware of a real thirst for analysis of the UK and global higher education landscape. The pensions issue seemed to be a conductor for a whole host of other grievances about marketization, financialization, audit culture, management by metrics and the distortions of league tables and concern with university ‘reputation’.  These objections have spawned critique from all areas of the academy, from blogs by experimental scientists (Bishop 2013, Colquhoun 2016 ) to theorised analysis in social science (Burrows 2012; Holmwood 2011;  Petersen and Davies 2010; Hall & Winn 2018), to perspectives from literary scholars (Warner 2014; 2015; Docherty 2011; 2014; 2015). This work has now coalesced under the banner of critical university studies (CUS) which in many cases contains (but is not confined to) expressions of discomfort at changes influenced by neoliberal and market fundamentalist ideologies. There are now three book series oriented towards the field, Palgrave, Johns Hopkins  and Berghahn , a journal, LATISS http://journals.berghahnbooks.com/latiss , a university research centre at Roskilde, Denmark, as well as an early career researcher network at the University of Cambridge.   These are all positive developments, although it is wise to be cautious about the ‘institutionalisation’ of CUS, as Eli Thorkelson advises.

CUS as an interdisciplinary field of study was inaugurated by a special issue of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor edited by Petrina and Ross in 2014. This and other subsequent issues drew attention to the effects of neoliberal policies on higher education institutions and sought to identify connections between neoliberal economic and political developments, such as the subsumption of academic labour to profit (Hall & Bowles 2016),  and changes to conditions of work and academic identities in (largely) western universities. The principles of  CUS are informed by a paradigm previously established in Critical Management Studies (CMS) (Butler and Spoelstra 2014). This involves:

  • A critique of power, control and inequality in universities,
  • A challenge to management knowledge and its ideological underpinnings,
  • An ethos of reflexivity and reflection on epistemological, ontological and methodological assumptions.

Some scholars in CUS would argue that the neoliberal structures of marketisation, consumerism, audit and league tables in UK universities lead to the perverse incentive to suppress academic freedom in those institutions (Morrish and Sauntson 2016; Morrish et al 2017). Some universities will act to defuse the force of government regulation and demands for surveillance and ‘accountability’; others will take advantage of the opportunities it affords. To this end, in the last decade, there has been a proliferation of workload models and policy portfolios: disciplinary, performance management, capability, sickness absence – all will have been revised and strengthened to fortify the managerial citadel.

So – back to recent news. As I started to write this piece, news came in about a tragic  death by suicide at Cardiff University in February. An inquest heard how Malcolm Anderson ended his life on campus early in the morning of February 19th. His close colleagues and his family testified to the amount of work Dr Anderson faced, including the requirement to mark 418 exam papers in 20 days.

I’m sure Cardiff will now make the usual noises about ‘lessons learned’, as Imperial College did after the death of Stefan Grimm in 2014.  I have no wish to be seen to exploit these cases for their harrowing personal details, but if we are to learn lessons, then we must know when such deaths, or long-term sicknesses occur and are attributed to overwork. It seems that the academic community did not know of Dr Anderson’s death until the inquest, some 3 or 4 months after the event.

When academics, both individually and collectively, demonstrate with evidence that workloads are too high to be safe, they are told to work smarter. When they complain that many forms of work are erased or undercounted by the workload model – dubbed ‘time laundering’ by Southampton UCU– this falls on deaf ears. When academics point to the incapacitating effects of management by metrics, they are told of a need to be accountable. We now see the consequences of this indifference and we wonder, along with another commentator on Twitter, how many more of our colleagues are just one more responsibility away from disaster.

It is insulting and abusive when universities charge academics with providing a flawless service to students, and then chisel away at the conditions and hours which would permit it to be accomplished. But the neoliberal academy requires the preservation of the myth of the coping academic and demands their enforced compliance, their subjection to surveillance, a strict curb on democracy, and the overarching impulse to protect revenue and reputation. Some scholars have even labelled the university as ‘bad boyfriend (Webster & Rivers 2018)  and Thesis Whisperer (2011). I would claim the working environment is simply toxic. As Sarah Amsler (2015) notes, there are consequences for the less able or non-compliant bodies; they will be refused and rendered aberrant. We see this already in the reaction of Cardiff University with its promise to ‘review the support available’ to lecturers who are struggling with workloads.  But that is not what the union members at Cardiff have been asking for; they have criticised the workload model from its inception and are demanding sustainable and humane workloads.

It is becoming clear that students are also experiencing intolerable pressure. The University of Bristol has been singled out, possibly unfairly, after 10 deaths by suicide in 18 months, because there are fears that coroners may not be reporting the full scale of cases. 

When newspapers report a crisis in mental health, and universities declare a review of ‘welfare’ and ‘support’, this only serves to position the locus of responsibility on the individual and their lack of ‘resilience’. There are even online courses to help academics rehabilitate to the culture of punishing overwork, at the same time as indemnifying universities against legal redress. These courses are now becoming compulsory. Here’s an example email from a Russell Group university sent to staff.

We need to mourn the individuals who are lost to academia, society and to their families, and then ask what is it about university structures and working conditions that has led to anyone’s death or serious illness. We should remind ourselves of a university’s legal obligation to prevent stress, not merely alleviate it. Please let us also think of the students who are left wondering whether they may have been part of the problem. They are not. They are the joy of the job. Yes, they have needs and make demands, but the problem is with universities which have seen fit to join a buildings and ‘student experience’ arms race without actually providing enough lecturers with the working conditions to fulfil the promise.

You wonder when university management will begin to take these issues seriously. They now need to be addressed and resolved, not ‘reviewed’ and ‘supported’. I marvel at the tendency of universities to fear internal critique, and yet their apparent appetite for critical opinion produced by private consultants and government number-crunchers (HESA, IFS, HEPI) is voracious, even when those studies hold up an unwelcome mirror in the form of league tables, retention figures, LEO data etc. Additionally, universities and other HEIs monitor and subscribe to online fora such as HEPI, Research Fortnight and Wonkhe. So why, when universities seem to wish to metricise every action and learn from every available data point, are they so averse to listening to their own staff?

So what, then, awaits the academic employee who seeks to publish their analysis of the effects of academic capitalism, the damage of outcomes-based performance management or the ascent of managerialism? As many will know, I have some familiarity with this, documented here and here.

So with the benefit of experience, I would like to make this observation about the relatively new field of Critical University Studies. It occurs to me it is placed in an unhelpful paradox – one which is not faced by its sibling disciplines of Critical Business Studies or Critical Legal Studies. The paradox is this – even if making a general observation about universities, the scholar seems to imply criticism of the institution in which they work. This is made exceedingly clear in a thread of tweets by Eric Lybeck on  May 30th 2018.

Eric_Lybeck_tweetthread

How does one criticize a tendency to undermine academic freedom via social media policies without being able to offer an example from one’s own experience? The academic wishing to draw on expertise and knowledge must, it seems, be pitted at odds with their employer and exposed to considerable personal risk.

To digress just a little, though the issues are connected, we can recognise a pattern identified in a recent piece by Carolyn Gallagher  in which universities seek to distance themselves from academic employees who engage with controversial topics in public debate, and are attacked in those public forums after doing so. Sometimes powerful state funding agencies or media commentators call for the dismissal of the academic. This can lead university managers, many of whom prioritize ‘reputation’ over any wider commitment to scholarship or to a public beyond the university’s walls, to denounce or even discipline the employee, even while proclaiming their right to academic freedom.

In the UK, academic freedom, and the freedom to criticise one’s own university in public, or the system generally, is enshrined in law, and most university statutes and articles of government reflect this. However, in 2017, academic freedom became a moral panic in the UK (UK Government Dept. for Education 2018), and students and academic staff were blamed for undermining it with alleged excessive regard for trigger warnings and safe spaces. However, in reality, it is university managers who display rather different thresholds of tolerance for critics of higher education policy and practice. Too often for university managers the issue is never about academic freedom; it is cast as being about civility, or they will shelter behind  policies  on ‘dignity and respect’; or they will claim ‘reputational damage’.

CUS is very much the canary down the mine of academic freedom.  The process I endured prefigured the kind of despotic capriciousness we associate with the Donald Trump zeitgeist. In an era of weakened trade unions and managerial unaccountability, vice chancellors must accept that, for academic freedom to thrive, requires very thorough protections for those scholars who offer a challenge to ‘the university’ from within. There is a very simple resolution, of course, and it already exists. Universities must observe the safeguards enshrined in law, and they must become more democratic and open to scrutiny from the members of the academic community who constitute them. As Judith Butler wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education last month, “Censorship is always an indirect confession of fear. The censor exposes himself as a fearful being. He fears speech and seeks to contain it. His fear attributes to his opponent’s speech a power that it may or may not have”. For the sake of scholars facing oppressive and hostile structures, let our speech be free and let it be heard.

References

Amsler, Sarah. 2015. The Education of Radical Democracy. London: Routledge.

Burrows, Roger. 2012. Living with the h-Index? Metric assemblages in the contemporary academy. The Sociological Review, 60 (2): 355-372.

Bishop, Dorothy. 2013. Journal impact factors and REF 2014. http://deevybee.blogspot.com/2013/01/journal-impact-factors-and-ref-2014.html Accessed June 6th 2018

Colquhoun, David. 2016. More on bullying at Imperial College London: What’s being done? http://www.dcscience.net/2016/12/21/more-on-bullying-at-imperial-college-london-whats-being-done/   Accessed June 6th 2018

Docherty, Thomas. 2011. The unseen academy. Times Higher. November 10th. http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/418076.article   Accessed June 6th 2018

Docherty, Thomas. 2014. Thomas Docherty on academic freedom. Times Higher. December 4thhttps://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/thomas-docherty-on-academic-freedom/2017268.article 

Accessed June 6th 2018

Docherty, Thomas. 2015. Universities at War. London: Sage.

Gallagher, Carolyn. 2018. War on the ivory tower: Alt Right attacks on university professors. The Public Eye, 94, Spring 2018. https://www.politicalresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/PE_Spring2018_Gallaher.pdf

Hall, Richard and Bowles, Kate. 2016. Re-engineering Higher Education: The Subsumption of Academic Labour and the Exploitation of Anxiety. Workplace, 28. 30-47.

Hall, Richard and Winn, Joss. (Eds.). 2018. Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. London: Bloomsbury.

Holmwood, John. 2011. TRACked and FECked: How audits undermine the arts, humanities and social sciences. http://exquisitelife.researchresearch.com/exquisite_life/2011/03/tracked-and-fecked-how-audits-undermine-the-arts-humanities-and-social-sciences.html Accessed 5th June 2018.

Morrish, Liz. 2015. Raising the bar: the metric tide that sinks all boats. Academic Irregularities blog.   https://academicirregularities.wordpress.com/2015/11/26/raising-the-bar-the-metric-tide-that-sinks-all-boats/ Accessed 1st June 2018.

Morrish, Liz and Sauntson, Helen. 2016. Performance management and the stifling of academic freedom and knowledge production. Journal of Historical Sociology.  29.1. 42-64.  DOI: 10.1111/johs.12122

Morrish, Liz. 2017a. Stress fractures: One year on. Academic Irregularities. https://academicirregularities.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/stress-fractures-one-year-on/

Morrish, Liz. 2017b. Why the audit culture made me quit. Times Higher. March 2nd. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/why-audit-culture-made-me-quit Accessed June 6th 2018.

Morrish, Liz. and The Analogue University Writing Collective. 2017. Academic identities in the managed university: Neoliberalism and resistance at Newcastle University. Australian Universities’ Review, 59 (2), 23-35.

Petersen, Eva.B. and Davies, Bronwen. 2010. In/Difference in the neoliberalised university.  Learning and Teaching in the Social Sciences, 3 (2): 92-109.

Petrina, Stephen. and Ross, Wayne. 2014. Critical university studies: workplace, milestones, crossroads, respect, truth. Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, 23: 62-71.

UK Government, Department for Education. 2018 (May). Sam Gyimah hosts free speech summit.  https://www.gov.uk/government/news/sam-gyimah-hosts-free-speech-summit

Accessed June 6th 2018

Warner, Marina. 2014. Diary: Why I Quit. London Review of Books 36 (17): 42-43. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n17/marina-warner/diary  Accessed June 6th 2018

Warner, Marina. 2015. Learning my lesson. London Review of Books 37 (6): 8-14. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n06/marina-warner/learning-my-lesson

Accessed June 6th 2018

 

Trigger warnings, safe spaces and common sense.

Scene 1. The postponed drama. Last week the Danish hostage drama series Below the Surface was not aired on BBC 4. There was no explanation offered but I took it to be out of respect to the victims of the act of terror in Carcassonne the previous day, Friday 23rd March. The following week the drama resumed, and the continuity announcer duly offered the explanation I had anticipated.

Was this a trigger warning – a concession to snowflakes, or a sensitive realisation that the content of this hostage drama might reasonably cause distress to friends or relatives still learning details of the tragedy in France? To my shame, the cancellation caught me by surprise. I had been expecting to spend my Saturday evening transfixed by suspense in the safety of my living room. To find another film substituting in that spot made me, instead, think about somebody other than myself.

And that is the point. Though we hear a lot about people who claim their free speech or liberty is infringed by safe spaces, trigger warning, no platforming or policies on hate speech, it is usually from people whose rights and comforts are not generally intruded upon. They are so unaccustomed to having to shift perspective to see the world from another’s vantage point that any attempts to decentralize their privilege appear to them as an unwarranted attack.

So there was the dilemma of the BBC: mild irritation of viewers having to wait for another week to catch up with the drama versus a thoughtless misjudgement which might exacerbate the grief and shock of other human beings. Common sense and consideration point to the obvious choice.

Scene 2. A classroom in a state college in upstate New York in 1990. The class: LING252 Introduction to Phonetics. Topic: The articulation of consonant sounds. The teaching resource was a video with the innocuous title of The Articulation of Consonants. Perfect. The classroom was linked to a central Audio Visual hub which controlled the relay of the video to the classroom at a pre-arranged time. I had chosen the video from the catalogue purely on the basis of the title – I had not viewed it. I greeted the class and briefly reprised the main points of the articulation of consonants to prepare them for the video. And at the appointed minute it started.

The film was in black and white, which surprised me. The credits acknowledged it as a product of the US Veteran’s Administration, which was also unexpected. The film opened with a shot closing in on the profile of a seated man. With no introduction, the next view was a close up of the man’s profile, minus the prosthetic which had covered the missing left side of his face.

There was a clue in the military origin of the film. The subject was clearly a veteran whose gunshot wound to the face afforded students of phonetics an unobstructed view of his entire vocal tract. I was incredulous. I’d never seen anything like this except in an anatomy laboratory. As the man started to talk, and the movements of his tongue, soft palate and lips took shape, a student screamed. Others were momentarily horrified. As the video was streamed from a remote location on campus, I had no means of stopping it. But anyway, it was absolutely the most fascinating demonstration I had ever seen. To their eternal credit, the class hung in with it, and a great deal was learned, on all dimensions.

I didn’t feel the need to stop using that remarkable video though, but I did make sure, on future occasions, that students were better prepared to see it. If this can be called a trigger warning, this is how I went about it. Principally, I tried to make sure they were all able to visit the local medical school’s anatomy dissection laboratory during the course of the module. There they were able to view and handle dissected anatomical specimens of head and neck, larynx, tongue, brain etc. This helped build familiarity and break down the yuk factor. They were better able to visualize how a bullet could cause such a terrible injury, and how a prosthesis might be designed to remediate it. Importantly, they were able to ask questions and make choices about how much they wished to engage with these teaching materials.

Scene 3. Introducing myself to first year students. As a lecturer I held to a principle about coming out as a lesbian to students. There are those who think it is private information and not necessary to share with students. On the other hand, they wouldn’t question the practice of straight lecturers who will inadvertently and unconsciously reveal their sexuality to students. They will mention spouses or children and in other ways cement the implication that they are heterosexual. And this is entirely appropriate and welcome. Students like a certain amount of self-revelation and they appreciate honesty and candour in the classroom. This is denied to the LGBT lecturer who decides to conceal their identity. Not only that, you lose the opportunity – I prefer to see it as an obligation – to be a role model. I really don’t like the term, with its implications that students should want to emulate some supposed virtue, but what I mean is, that at least students see you standing there, reasonably competent at your job, approachable and interested in teaching them.

I would always seize the opportunity to come out at first encounter. Day 1. Introduce myself, teaching and research interests, and then, “As a lesbian I’m very willing to discuss issues of sexual identity with students or support them when they are questioning their sexuality. You can find my contact details on the syllabus and consider my office a safe space for those discussions.” And many did. So what did I mean by a safe space? That a student would not need to fear being judged or derided. They wouldn’t need to explain or justify beyond what they felt necessary. They could rely on finding an older person who had been in their shoes and whose currently stable identity had been tested, interrogated and retrieved from the depths of shame and fear. That did not mean there was an absence of vigorous argument in some of those cases. There was often also discussion of ‘passing’ and covering and how that might protect a person from danger sometimes.

As I have said in these pages before, it is important to remember that the majority of undergraduate students are in their late teens. Let’s also remember that those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender have probably spent their entire childhood hiding their identities and feelings. Schools can be somewhat unregulated spaces of homophobia and sexism. Studies by Stonewall show that 45% of trans teens have attempted suicide and 45% of LGBT teens have been bullied at school because of their sexuality of gender presentation.  Research by me and my colleague Helen Sauntson has shown that when young LGBT teens talk about their school experiences, their discourse is imbued with markers of illegitimation At the same time, our analysis of coming out stories shows that the climate at university offers a more accepting environment where young people can find their identities are validated by the institutional structures (Morrish & Sauntson 2007). Furthermore, the availability of LGBT student societies and organisations can bring about a transformation of confidence and self-worth. Meeting other LGBT young people, sometimes for the first time can be transformative. Research by my partner, Kathleen O’Mara shows that when students work for equality and representation with other LGBT students and  faculty, this can be a life-changing experience (O’Mara 1997). This of course requires acknowledging the organising principles located in identity politics. In this instance, it means realising you are a member of a sexual minority and that you may have faced discrimination and hatred, but you have common cause with others, and together you can effect change.

It should be obvious now that there are institutional and personal dangers when the university spaces occupied by diverse groups are not safeguarded for all. This is documented very recently here and here. Add to that institutional refusal to tackle sexual harassment seriously, and it is no wonder that universities now appear rather intimidating and exclusionary places, and, as a consequence, we see a huge rise in anxiety among students.

There is a tension when universities are required by the Office for Students to meet apparently conflicting agendas: to guarantee ‘free speech’ and to eradicate ‘no platforming’ policies – all at the same time as ensuring equality of outcomes for BME, WP and students of all genders. That goal is unlikely to be met when the campus culture signals that students from these these groups are somehow less entitled to belong.

These contradictions, amplified in the media, are now the subject of a recent parliamentary joint committee on human rights (JCHR) , chaired by Harriet Harman on 27th March. This concluded there was no evidence of a wholesale censorship of debate on university campuses as some media reporting had suggested, but warned “there were nevertheless factors at work that actively limited free speech in universities.”

This report was responding to the annual free speech university rankings published by Spiked Online with its breathless headlines on ‘the new blasphemies on campus’. Among these appear to be infractions of legally-mandated policies (which you might also find endorsed by other respectable employers), such as:

 Free Speech and External Speaker policies

 Bullying and Harassment policies

 Equal Opportunities policies

In the UK, such policies offer little more than a hat tip towards compliance with the law, eschewing any measurable impact on equality and diversity. It is still enough to have the team at Spiked Online clutching their pearls though. A piece by Tom Slater from 28th March refers to ‘transgender ideology’ (whatever is meant by that) and alludes to a forbidding climate for free speech, even if actual prohibition is hard to prove.

Witness for the defence is Jim Dickinson who blasted out a thread of tweets around Christmas time, and followed up with this excellent piece in January 2018 in which he tries to offer a another perspective based around respecting and safeguarding those students “who just wanted to get through the day without having to justify their own identity or existence. And the students who just wanted a heads up if their class was about to discuss something they’ll find traumatic, which without warning would prevent their active participation.”

What if this is not an issue of free speech prohibition at all, but instead an issue of old fashioned values of consideration and common sense. What if defending ‘protected characteristics’ is essential to making sure the academy legitimates the presence of very different groups of people? And what if we decided not to call it infantilisation, but instead recognise it as humanity?

 

Postscript

I am grateful to @eSocSci for sending me the link to this thoughtful piece for creating a respectful classroom environment.

Embracing the Dinosaur of Solidarity

One of the revelations for USS pension strikers has been a rekindling of the spirit of the collective out on the picket lines. For many older members of UCU, who have stood on rather porous picket lines during past pay disputes, this is their first experience of really exhilarating solidarity. This makes the appearance of the Dinosaur of Solidarity rather paradoxical, since it is the older workers who are most likely to find it a novelty. Nevertheless, you can imagine this scornful coinage being formed on the lips of an HR manager somewhere among the 65 striking universities. But as I was reminded on Twitter recently, younger strikers would have moulded a collective consciousness during the 2010 protests over the tripling of university tuition fees. They are now deploying the organisational skills gained in their early political education. We can also see something similar taking shape right now in the US, so let me throw in the best tweet of the las few days which comes from the US school protests:

Feral Progressive

Both younger and older USS scheme members have been invigorated by the solidarity found within the union, UCU. When the UCU/ UUK ‘agreement’  was released late on Monday night (12/03/2018) it seemed rather like one of those political advertisements targeted at a Facebook profile. The Collective Defined Contribution is a new pension scheme which seemed designed to appeal to that collective spirit. But the collective were not happy to relinquish their defined benefits, and so it was ‘reject and resubmit’, as the placards said.

Management, meanwhile, were making attempts to break the collective strike action. One of the most disappointing, yet predictable, betrayals has been the appropriation of old ‘lecture capture’ videos which have been offered to students as a replacement for lost lectures. The introduction of lecture capture was resisted by many in UCU, but driven through in the interests of access for disabled students. That resistance was rooted in suspicion that the welcoming of some innovations in ed-tech is motivated by the impulse towards surveillance and monitoring, not the educational support and development of the learner. That suspicion has been confirmed.

Additionally, there is uneasiness that ‘personalised learning’, the constant companion of ed-tech, allows cash-strapped universities to secretly harvest data from commercial dashboard platforms which has been shared in good faith by students. This can then be analysed to determine which graduates to approach for donations, and for which causes. Thus, learning can be opened up to capital exploitation in two ways. Firstly, the sale of learning platforms, and subsequently the capture of student data which can then be made available in other market domains. For example, the alumna who participated in a sports team (dashboard record – extracurricular activities) may be persuaded to fund the new swimming pool, while the student primary school classroom volunteer may wish to fund mentoring or outreach activities.

Personalisation is what is left when we design the collective out of university learning. When did we decide that to ‘disrupt’ was always a better solution than to facilitate? Probably when we sucked down enough of the neoliberal Kool Aid to stop questioning the pervasive reach of competition and markets. In the last 30 years, neoliberalism has constrained the very questions we are permitted to ask about education. Its effectiveness is now judged entirely by imposter metrics of value for money, satisfaction, graduate salaries and ‘learning gain’. These benefits are all framed from the perspective of private gains; they are not positioned as pertaining to the public good.

Fickle Tickell

The USS strikes of 2018 may have caused the cancellation of classes and suspension of the ratified curriculum, but there have been teach-outs, rallies and even ‘teachable moment’ conversations taking place on the picket lines. Some in the media have sneered at off-campus seminars on “How I learnt to love neoliberalism and globalisation and hate myself”. Far from being obscure theorising, this input has allowed students and staff to make sense of their own lived experience in UK HE in 2018.

In large numbers, students have rejected the university of student-as-consumer and crass satisfaction surveys which disguise growing SSRs and an increasing proportion of classes taught by contingent, insecure lecturers. At 22 universities, students have occupied management offices and university buildings in support of their lecturers, but also in protest at fees and excessive marketization. Students who were assured in 2011 that they would be at ‘the heart of the system’  are demanding a very different experience from that envisaged by the government and Universities UK. Students now know there are alternatives. This image is used with the kind permission of University of Nottingham UCU and is the result of a teach-out discussion designed to imagine the university of the future.

A wake-up call

And on Friday 16th March, even Stephen Toope, the VC of the University of Cambridge, has added his voice to the growing disenchantment with market reforms:

“For too long the damaging idea that students are “consumers” has been only weakly resisted. Being a “consumer” implies that students are nothing more than passive recipients of ideas delivered by lecturers. Yet, at its core, education is about active engagement of students with inherited knowledge, with new research, with other students, and with more senior academic guides and mentors. Of course, education is also about preparing students for life in the wider world, for careers, and for making a contribution to the community. Reducing students to mere consumers only makes sense if the value of universities is simply economic. That would be a fundamental error. For centuries, universities have helped successive generations to achieve their potential in these places of breath-taking discovery and disruptive insight”.

Twitter posts have confirmed that an intoxicating possibility of change has not been confined to just one or two radical institutions. It has been universal, as has been the critique of the stress-inducing culture of overwork and hyper-scrutiny. Two professors from the University of Bristol shared their letters to the Vice Chancellor on Twitter:

Professor John Foot writes:

“It has been on the picket lines and in meetings and in teach-outs that I have (re) discovered the ‘community’ and ‘collegiality’ of which you so often speak. I have chatted to colleagues for the first time in years, met colleagues who I had only seen on email, laughed and joked and sang songs with them, marched with them down to college green”.

Professor Timothy Edmunds writes:

“However, this strike period has also been strangely liberating. The friendship and collegiality I have felt from colleagues across the university and sector, and the sense that these are shared challenges we all face, has been a massively positive experience. As has, frankly, the lifting of so many of the day to day pressures and anxieties that for me had become so routine I’d almost forgotten they were there”.

Professor Edmunds, then narrates how his mood improved so rapidly he no longer felt the need for anti-depressants during the strike. While nobody should need to be medicated just to do a job, Edmunds found he had entirely normalised this situation, commenting that his was not an unusual case.

Meanwhile, Gemma (no surname given) wrote of her despondency at receiving this comment from an internal reviewer on her research track record to this point: “very good, not excellent”, but that’s not a problem at this stage”. Wondering what more could be expected at age 33 when,

“You put everything you have into a job. Everything. So that sometimes you don’t sleep properly for months, because if you wake up in the middle of the night, you spend the rest of the night thinking about work. When you look forward to weekends when you have nothing planned, because that means you can get more work done. When you leave work at 10 or 11pm, because you were genuinely too “in to it” to leave earlier. Then you get home and work some more. To be told that all those sacrifices and all your hard work, enthusiasm and passion have left you with a track record that is “not excellent” is… deflating.”

These daily insults. The compulsory overwork which is taken for granted. The rent-seeking priorities of universities which seem to outweigh staff claims for decent pensions. The distortion of metrics, audits and league tables, the depletion of autonomy. And then the findings that the USS scheme valuations had not been carried out transparently, and the suspicion that de-risking had more to do with universities’ desire for more credit to fund buildings than it had to do with any deficit in the pension fund. No wonder then, that this crowdfunder initiative met its first £30,000 target in just 7 hours. Its purpose is to hire a QC “to obtain a legal opinion from a leading barrister on whether the conduct of the USS Trustees complies with the legal duties they owe to the pension fund beneficiaries” and to ascertain whether the trustees have acted in accordance with their legal obligations to act in the interests of the beneficiaries of the pension fund.

There is a new spirit about to transform relationships in UK universities, and a boldness and fearlessness among the staff. The Dinosaur of Solidarity has been more than a metaphor. She/ he has been an important inspiration on the picket lines and on Twitter. We are not about to see her/him extinguished by a managerial meteor just yet.