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Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Time to stand up and be counted

I have been known in my wilder moments to advocate the shutting down of some sociology departments on the grounds that they are purveyors of tripe  so injurious to mental health that their continued existence is a public health issue. However even I am shocked by the following alert from John Holmwood:

"Dear colleagues, fellow students and friends:

I don’t know if you are aware of the looming redundancies in the University of Salford, and the process for weeding out staff. People in most schools and departments (including sociology and politics) are having to reapply for their jobs (Professors are not included in this procedure, but in a different one whereby they are asked, among other things, to take a cut in salary).

It seems only few people know about the redundancy plan going on, or rather about the current phase, since there have already been previous waves of sackings in the last months and years, and a new phase is announced for next year. The Union has organised a petition calling on management to reconsider. The petition is quite weak and does not explain the process, which is very appalling, but still you might want to sign it (
https://www.ucu.org.uk/nosalfordcuts), or perhaps take a more robust kind of action, e.g. through the national associations.

About the process: people are forced to re-apply to their jobs in competition with one another (and in some cases in competition with external candidates). In sociology and politics, for example, the reapplication process consists of

·      a written submission providing evidence that what people do meets a post specification recently developed by the university (15% - deadline 31 May, when people are at the peak of marking!)
·      an oral presentation on ‘strategy’ prepared during one hour and presented in ten minutes (35%). All we know about this is: “The reference to ‘strategy’ in the context of the academic presentation has to do with the approach adopted by the School and/or its directorates in view of achieving success as an academic and financial unit”
·      and a 'competency based interview' (50%). About this we have been told: << You will also be required to participate in a competency based interview where you will be asked a series of questions which you will need to answer giving detailed and specific examples of relevant experience. It is intended that the interview will last in the region of 45 minutes to 1 hour.
You will be asked questions relating to the following competency areas: 
-        Communication
-        Team Working and Motivation
-        Decision Making
-        Driving for Results
-        Embracing Change
-        Knowledge and Experience
-        Acting Commercially >>

Presentation and interview will take place, it seems, around middle June. The members of the tribunal-panel are also unknown.

This will create a precedent – the managers who have taken over the university can do all this with total impunity, as this process is not a typical redundancy procedure (which for them is clearly not good enough), so through this procedure they need not agree almost anything with the unions and can make sure they scare people to death and definitely commodify and managerialised education."

I believe Salford is not the only UK University attempting this sort of thing. I have even heard from reliable sources that a university at the more reputable end of the spectrum is seriously trying to rewrite contracts to enable departments to summarily get rid of staff whose research interests do not please the tastes of the  managerial/professorial cabals that run the place. I would have thought that that institution's recent experience of relations with dictatorial regimes would have taught it a lesson, but perhaps I'm too optimistic about the human capacity for learning.

Clearly if Salford goes ahead with these plans then it is no longer fit to be regarded as a serious university . Self-respecting academics should boycott it.


Saturday, 26 May 2012


Here is a cracker from Michael Gove: "To suggest that antisemitism can ever be explained, rather than condemned, is insensitive and, frankly, bizarre." So that is a whole swathe of post-war social psychology in the trash can then. Strange that a substantial proportion of it was written by Jews trying to make sense of why the country their forefathers had lived in for centuries had attempted to murder them. In what way Michael is their attempt to explain their experience insensitive and bizarre? I find it bizarre that we live in a country where the Secretary of State for Education believes that there is an incompatibility between explanation and condemnation. Then again I suppose reflection on the Is/Ought distinction is probably not a major component of  an English Literature degree.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Favourite places 2

When my much better half moved to Britain one of the many things she sacrificed was good bread. Let's face it, English bread is terrible. When we manage to spend time in London one of  our pleasures is to get in the car  on Saturday morning and make the short drive to Ham where there are two excellent German bakeries. You have to get there early; by 8.30 there is a queue and if you arrive much later than that many of the really good things will be gone. It's not exactly one of  the metropolis' best kept secrets, you'll probably find half the Germans in London there, but this article in the latest edition of Spiegel must be good for business.

The social basis of politics

It's local election day. Taking my daughter to school in leafy North Oxford I usually park in one of the area's swankier roads. A quick search on house prices suggests that when they (rarely) change hands it's for £3,000,000 and upwards. To my surprise I noticed today that the only political posters (adorning 3 very large houses, one with 2 Mercedes in the driveway)  were...for the Labour Party. Should that raise an eyebrow? Or have I just  forgotten that being wealthy doesn't necessarily imply that you want to keep it all for yourself?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012


There are a number of smart people in my Department who spend  a lot of their time thinking about the implications of signalling theory for the structure of human social interaction. It's fascinating stuff and attracts a lot of interest. Ben Goldacre links to this marvelous piece of signalling in action from the game show Golden Balls. Watch right to the end, it's a wonderful example of  deception leading to cooperation.