From the records

I am back in London this week, where my last two “official” Queen Mary PhD students, Adam Bohn and Aylin Cakiroglu, successfully defended their theses, and I marked the resit scripts for my first-year module. (As I could have predicted, fewer than half of those eligible to resit actually turned up, but of the ones who did, a large majority passed.)

While waiting around while the students were grilled, I took the opportunity to dig through old files, and in particular my professorial reports for fourteen years from 1998/1999 to 2011/2012. They provide an interesting look at the increasing level of bureaucracy in universities.

I became a professor at Queen Mary in 1987. For the first half of my time here, no professorial reports were required; professors were trusted to get on with their teaching and research.

When the reports were instituted, the headings were Teaching, Research, Administration, and Publications. The number of headings increased monotonically: Grants, Visibility and PhD supervision came in, Publications was replaced by Research Outputs. Then Grants was split into Grants Applied For and Grants Awarded. Professional Development and Professional Service were introduced (and the front page of the report became a grid in which short summaries were to be entered). Then Teaching split into Teaching Performance and Teaching Innovation.

However, the biggest change was introduced in 2012. Since I was retiring within a couple of months of the report’s submission, I had the luxury of saying what I thought about this change:

Note: I have used last year’s form for my submission for two reasons:

  • this year’s form asks me to breach the confidentiality of the 2011 appraisal process, which I am not prepared to do;
  • this year’s form asks not about my achievements but about my conformity with the Faculty’s Strategic Objectives. I have not been provided with these, and in any case I am unhappy with the idea that the Faculty can have objectives different from those of the people who make it up.

About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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2 Responses to From the records

  1. Gordon Royle says:

    This sounds very similar to what we are going through. Our Faculty has decided that we are to become renowned for “Engineering for Remote Operations” and so most people (pure maths one of the few exceptions, thankfully) are being asked to align their research to this strategic objective, in order to improve our research performance.

    My own observations are that the universities that seem to me to perform best do so by hiring the best people they can, giving them the lowest teaching and administration load that they can afford, and letting them work hard on problems that interest them.

    The trouble is that this recipe relies primarily on trust and doesn’t require any active management, which is anathema to the increasing swathes of “academic managers” who perform no teaching and research themselves, but feel the need to justify their business class travel and university-supplied iDevices by interfering in the work of those who do.

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