What is the University doing?

A new semester is about to start. An exciting time, since this semester I will be teaching a new module on Set Theory and Logic (jointly with Nik Ruskuc). The tentative enrolment in this module has clearly justified the need for such a course, which I was already aware of: a number of students have asked to do projects or independent study modules with me, and I have been pressing my colleagues for some time to have such a module on the books.

But the excitement is rather spoiled by bureaucracy.

Room bookings are now done centrally. So for my Monday lectures, I have to go to the other end of St Andrews, more than ten minutes’ walk from my office (but more to the point, students who have a lecture in the previous hour in the Mathematical Institute have to do the same, so inevitably we will start late and lose some lecture time.

Normally I would put course material, including lecture notes, problems and solutions, and much more such as additional references, links to PhD studentships, and open problems, on a module web page. But as I have reported earlier, the University no longer allows such things. We have to use Moodle. After brief acquaintance with Moodle, I deeply loathe it. It is impossible to structure it like a web page; all you can do is throw everything in, and how the students are supposed to find their way around is a mystery.

The third gripe is lecture recordings. Even though all students are attending face-to-face, the University requires us to record the lectures. Since Rosemary starts at 9am on Monday, we went to a training session, and then tried out the kit in the room where she will be lecturing. (We couldn’t try the kit in the tutorial room since our colleagues who taught last semester are in the middle of exam boards and one was going on in the tutorial room.) Anyway, first the computer monitor was not working; we called our local IT people who had to reboot the computer to fix the problem. This is not something you want to do at the start of a 9am lecture! Then when we got the thing on, we found that the microphones were not working. They claimed to be working, but the sound on the recording was completely inaudible. IT services were informed. We checked again as we left to come home, to find that a colleague from Chemistry who has been assigned that room was trying out the kit and finding exactly the same problem.

I should say that I have not been able to check the kit in the room where I am lecturing on Monday, since the desks and tables are all piled up around the walls. I hope it will be returned to a usable configuration by Monday!

And finally, we used Teams in the past but the University is putting on pressure for us to use Panopto. Much as I dislike Teams, at least it reported by email when it had finished uploading the recording, and invited you to check it out. Panopto, according to the trainer in the session today, puts the recording in “your Panopto folder”, but neither he nor another IT person I asked could tell us where this folder is or how you can get to it.

I don’t like being uncooperative, but if they can’t answer these questions or get the kit working properly I shall not be making recordings.

The University has been piling on this nonsense lately. I am thinking that retirement is becoming more and more attractive an option. I would lose some money, and the University would lose the ability to count my papers for the next REF. Maybe they consider that a fair swap?

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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7 Responses to What is the University doing?

1. I should add that this is absolutely not a criticism of my colleagues, who have always been pleasant even when imparting bad news. Somebody upstairs is making these calls…

2. Jon Awbrey says:

what a mess …

3. I tried to post this yesterday, but it seems that the blog has eaten it, maybe because of the hyperlinks. So here it comes again without links:

Faculty websites are slowly getting phased out all over Anglophone academia, as the downsides (security, extra workload, obsolete info) are legible to the administration while the upsides (raising the profile of the university as a place for living people with creative talents) are invisible and dispersed. As more and more decisions are centralized and made by empty suits with no academic sensibilities but ridiculous risk aversion, it was a matter of time until this started happening. Not much different from https://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/hiking-and-backpacking/penn-state-axed-its-outdoor-club-what-happened/ or the myriad cases of administrative sabotage against controversial speakers.

That said, it is now pretty easy to set up your website at a place like GitHub Pages or GitLab Pages. With a bit of git skill, updating such a website is then no harder than doing so on a classical server (and probably easier than on most university servers or on a blog like you, Peter, are doing). I’ve been doing so myself (although I still have my student webspace from my undergrad institution — thanks, LMU Munich! — and am only using GitLab Pages as a mirror). Increasingly, this is what my generation is doing, with the added advantage that the website doesn’t have to change address every time you move.

• Thanks for this. Several people have now told me that GitHub or similar is the way to go. Time to learn a new trick, I suppose. Just a pity it has to happen at a time when I am preparing to deliver a new module…

• Jon Awbrey says:

GitHub has just been “assimilated” by Microsoft, and people are expecting it will next be used as fodder for one of those IPSMOs (Intellectual Property Strip Mining Operations) like GPT.

4. Jon Awbrey says:

Also $\text{Ma}^\text{th}\text{stodon}$ for the daily chatter, if you have time for that sort of thing.

5. The latest nonsense is that I cannot access the secure server (for exam papers etc.) from my desktop, because Linux is regarded as insecure compared to Windows…

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