Thursday, 11 April 2013

Staff meetings

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I wonder if it is the same in other departments here at USE, or indeed in various departments at other universities? Staff meeting discussions just seem to go on about the same old issues year in year out. It's like Groundhog Day. Why isn't there enough car parking space and how can we prevent students from parking in designated staff places? Why are there always problems with the networked printers - why are they always jammed or out of paper? Why don't some lecturers from other departments vacate teaching rooms at ten minutes to the hour as they are supposed to do so that staff and students have time to get their classes started on the hour? Why do some lecturers use the wrong kind of pens on the white boards so that they leave a permanent mark? Why are teaching rooms so cold on the first day of term because the heating has been switched off over the vacation and does not come on again early enough for the rooms to be warm for the first scheduled class?

Of course these are all important issues but somehow they never seem to get solved so that we just return to them again and again at each successive staff meeting. And we spend so much time going over the same old ground that there is barely enough time to discuss important new topics like the Dean's Faculty restructuring plan and the cutback in teaching time for each module that the university is imposing. Or the new security system which means that you have to carry an electronic campus card with you at all times or you won't be able to get into some buildings. I can understand why some colleagues don't ever come to staff meetings because they say they have heard it all before and nothing ever gets done to change things.

And why do the minutes of the meetings never bear much correspondence with what was actually said. Sometimes I think they are written before the meeting even takes place. Well, I suppose as the discussion is so similar to what took place on the previous occasion all Molly needs to do is just edit the minutes from last time.

Gus says that actually the topics do change - over decades anyway. He says that in the 1970s it was the state of the toilets not the printing that always came up. But then again at that time everyone got their work typed up by one of the three departmental secretaries that we used to have - you didn't have to word process and print your work yourself. It reminded him of one of the secretaries, Sally, who seemed to have the knack of incorporating every kind of Freudian slip into your work. Public sector became pubic sector, interest rates became incest rates, homogeneous became homosexual, and externalities became externatities! She may have done the typing for you but you certainly had to check the work carefully and make sure the changes were made before copies of the handouts were prepared to give to students. Of course it might just have been that the lecturers' writing was illegible and Sally did the best she could to interpret the scribblings.

Now that has reminded me of another important issue that we should have debated more fully at the last Staff meeting - the ruling that we must limit our handouts for students to just the initial module handbook. Everything else must be put up in electronic form of the VLE. Apparently it is part of the university's Green Agenda - to reduce the use of paper wherever possible.They say that students are happy with the plan and that these days they all use mobile phones and iPads. But I have seen students printing off everything from the VLE, saying that they still want to have a physical hard copy of course materials. The trouble is that they might print off the notes but in some cases there is precious little evidence that they have ever read them. Maybe we should just give them video clips to watch and do away with written material altogether? Or perhaps we should go back to getting them to write things down as we used to do. At least that way the ideas might pass through their brains once.

Now, listen to me. I have gone off on a rant about students when I started by complaining about colleagues going over the same old ground in staff meetings. Moan, moan, moan, moan. I must resolve to be more positive and forward looking!

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