Tuesday, 17 May 2011

In pursuit of the trivial

'The Buck Stops Here'
Harry S Truman

"Sir! Unlike your wit, your breath is slightly caustic
 and your finger nails are a little too long"

I find odd snippets of trivia eminently interesting. There is nothing quite more delightful than drawing on a vintage churchwarden* stuffed to overflowing with Kentucky Old Nougat, a cup of piping hot fresh coffee in hand musing on some absurdity published in a newspaper or almanac. For example, I read somewhere that fingernails go on growing after death. Among my wife, I have a well-known antipathy to typing with long fingernails. There is a perfectly good reason for this. It leads to inaccuracy in typing and the very real possibility of accidentally pressing the 'PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED' button thereby providing the world with many examples of my own blatant crimes against syntax. 

Some, particularly those demonstrating some proficiency on the guitar or a preference for medieval stringed instruments (with the exception of course of the the Aeolian Harp), might also share the same aversion to keratinous extensions on the terminal phalanges with their concomitant imprecision and annoyance. I'm assured that they make for a lacklustre performance with again the possibility of accompanying general audiencial tittering and its corollary - widespread derision. I'm also not fond of cutting my fingernails. Please don't take this as an indicator of an overall rejection of the principle tenets of personal hygiene. I'm told by local cider-imbibers and Salvation Army volunteers that I don't smell that bad. But keeping fingernails trim is one of life's irritating little chores that demands a level of attention far beyond the overall importance of the untrimmed subjects on hand.
The trimmed 'subjects'
In pursuit of the trivial

Back to the trivia. I pondered the notion that my own finger nails would continue to grow after my own corporeal negation and found that it irritated me. On the irrato-meter it was way up there with scraping dog shit off children's shoes and responding to ridiculous letters from without-a-clue lawyers... possibly located in the region of an eight or nine. At the root of this irritation was the gradual realisation that I would have to continue to keep them trim even after being finally entombed within my mahogany-veneered chipboard sarcophagus. [Note to self: remember to have a decent set of sharpened nail scissors in the coffin prior to cremation.] I also recall another piece of trivia... that former US President Harry S Truman had a hand lettered sign on his desk that announced that 'THE BUCK STOPS HERE'. For the life of me I can't remember where I read this but it was not in today's Guardian.

Oh dear...

What was in today's Guardian was their annually published University league tables. They didn't make comfortable reading for this writer and it is unlikely they'll make comfortable reading for Vice Chancellor Hall or his deputy Adrian Graves. For the Guardian tables show that the University of Salford has for the year 2011-2012 slipped once again, from the position of 100 to 109. Nine points may not seem much but it places Salford in the unenviable position of residing tenth from the bottom which according to the Guardian stats means the University has descended 23 places since 2009. Mind you, it could be interpreted as 108 places from the top depending on whether you're a half empty or half full merchant and the size of your salary. No University, even one on silent running, could stand for long the enormous pressures exerted at these sorts of levels of descent especially when being bombarded from above by University League Table depth-charges. Rivets must be popping off bulkheads left, right and centre.

"Sir! I think someone's got the staff to submarine ratios wrong"

A collective pat on the back

Despite the overall declination, there are a few rays of sunshine. Notwithstanding the loss of many academic and teaching staff through Project Headroom in 2009, staff have managed to achieve good results with an 80% satisfaction rate with teaching at Salford. Staff including non-academic staff deserve a huge pat on their collective backs for this achievement. You might be asking 'Why should these staff be singled out and not well-paid senior executives?' According to the Guardian's figures, Salford has the second highest staff/student ratio out of the 119 Universities that make up their tables at 23.8 (slightly higher by 0.1% than figures quoted previously on Vagrants). To put this into some sort of context, 41 Universities out of 119 have a staff/student ration of 20 or above.(1) The staff/student ratio is an important component in deciding the overall position in the national University League Tables.

Might a reasonable person hold staff more widely responsible for any increase in the s/s ratio? It's unlikely. The overall responsibility for an increase in this ratio must be laid squarely at the door of members of the Strategic Leadership Team (SLT) of which Hall and Graves are the two most senior members. Any decision to axe jobs in any real numbers is made at a strategic level. Indeed there was widespread support  from staff across the board as well as students in the grass roots campaign to oppose the decision of the SLT to seek job losses in such numbers under Project Headroom. I am proud to have played a role in this union-backed campaign. Given this increase in the s/s ratio announced in the Guardian's tables, it would therefore seem rather an unorthodox policy to announce another 218 jobs losses.(2)

A sign for the future?

Sadly, the general pattern for Salford (no relation to General Patton) in the national league tables has been a more general downward trajectory for the last ten years or so. Having studied and worked at Salford for around eleven years, I can personally attest to its value and the contribution it makes to the lives of staff, students in particular those from disadvantaged backgrounds who have chosen to study there, as well as the real measurable value it imparts within wider academia. I garner no comfort from, nor rejoice in the above evidence of the University's further descent. But I do have some questions.

Questions... questions...

Given this general trend downwards, is it not time that Hall and Graves recognise that existing strategic plans such as Realising Our Vision (ROV) have not been able to effectively halt the downward trajectory of the University in the national league tables never mind reverse the current trend? That further job losses may exacerbate the problem with regard to staff/student ratios? What action is proposed to arrest any further potential decline in the national tables? What do members of the University's governing body - University Council - think about the existing trend and are they concerned? If they are concerned, what action do they propose to take? I also want to know in whose office and on whose desk resides the sign that states: The Buck Stops Here?

Responses to the usual email address at vagrantsintheworkhouse@gmail.com

*This refers to a churchwarden pipe and not an actual Church Warden which would almost likely be an illegal act, or at least classed as an obscenity in the eyes of the good Lord. It would also be a sheer waste of a quality rough shag.**
** This refers to a type of tobacco and not a form of primitive intercourse in the countryside
(1) If there are errors in these statistics they are genuine errors and the author asks that any potential legal action be directed towards the Guardian as they have lawyers on tap for this sort of thing. The Author is happy to make any  adjustment on request. Evidence must be provided.
(2)Manchester Evening News, April 14th 2011 sourced at http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/news/s/1417964_200-jobs-at-risk-as-salford-university-looks-to-save-7m?rss=yes

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