Archive | December, 2014

Two visions of Gaza in 100 years time

19 Dec

Gaza 2114 Version 1

The last Palestinian in Gaza was killed today in a planned pre-emptive operation. The 87 year old woman was living in a shack behind Gaza’s largest settlement, ‘Sunnyside Villas’. An Israeli Defence Forces spokesperson said, ‘The indicative metrics showed that the terrorist infiltrator was planning an outrage so a judicial assassination bot took pre-emptive measures. It was also known that she was planning to break the curfew. All Palestinians know that they are only allowed out of doors between 3 and 4 AM’.

Israel, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council following the collapse of Russia, took the opportunity to tell the world body that ‘Israel is now free from terrorists’. The news was welcomed by US President Sarah Palin IV of the Republican Tea Patriot Party. ‘Terrorists know that there is no hiding place and I congratulate Israel on reaching ISO standard 19315 in becoming terrorist free. A new era of peace and prosperity beckons.’

The eradication of Palestinians from Gaza marks the endpoint of a long-term Israeli goal. The Palestinian population had been seriously depleted following the war of 2099 in which Israel deployed tactical nuclear weapons after a small child was seen acting suspiciously. Since then, a strict no child policy, robust security measures, and enforced deportations have meant that the Palestinian population has rapidly dwindled.

Reaction in Arab capitals was muted. The League of Princes and Sultans, the body that speaks on behalf of the ruling monarchies throughout the Middle East, said ‘We are watching developments with interest.’ An unnamed source close to the Royal Family in Riyadh was quoted as saying ‘Thank God. The Palestinians were a pain in the neck. The Israeli strategy against the Palestinians has inspired our strategy against the Shia underclass across the Middle East.’

OR

Gaza 2114 Version 2

The closing ceremony of the 2014 Gaza Olympic Games was regarded as one of the best ever seen. Not only were a number of world records broken on the athletics track, but the Games were also seen as a triumph of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians who now share the Middle Eastern state of Hummusland.

Following decades of conflict between the state of Israel, Palestinians and neighbouring Arab States, Hummusland has only been in existence for 25 years. It was formed following a string of popular uprisings across Arab states in which populations swept away corrupt western-backed monarchies. These newly democratic states then pressured the only non-democracy left in the region, Israel, into a transition away from apartheid.

Hummusland has had its ups and downs, but with support from the world’s economic powerhouse – the African Union – it has been able to rebuild its destroyed infrastructure. More importantly, the one-state political solution seems to be working. Rigorously enforced equality laws have meant that cases of gender, sectarian and racial discrimination are respected.

Hummusland’s joint Presidents (one Israeli and the other Palestinian) officiated at the Games closing ceremony. They put out the Olympic flame, which will be lit in four years time as it goes to the next host city Pyongyang. But away from politics, these Olympics will be most remembered for Archibald Mac Ginty’s 100m sprint in 8.27 seconds.

Advertisements

Imperial College London: Why has no one resigned? Possibly because we are all culpable?

9 Dec

There has been a lot of coverage of the suicide of Professor Stefan Grimm of Imperial College London and the pressure he was under to fulfil the expectations of being a professor. These expectations were NOT about publishing, teaching, mentoring, invention, creativity or new intellectual frontiers. Instead they were about raising money for the University. In fact, they seemed to have very little to do with what a traditional understanding of a professorial role might involve.

Although there is quite a lot of published correspondence on this case (from and to Professor Grimm, and about him), it is unlikely that we will ever know the full story. Corridor conversations and backroom chats leave a scant evidential trail.

If a member of staff commits suicide because of pressure of work one would expect that workplace to ask serious questions about its practices and culture. One might even, from the point of view of human decency, expect a few resignations. After all, a human life has been finished and the suicide victim makes a direct link between his impending suicide and pressure from work. But, to the best of my knowledge, no one has resigned. A human being is dead. The blame lies at the door of the University. The University … well … continues as normal. So how can this be the case?

The primary answer lies in the fiction that Universities manage to create that they are systems rather than amalgams of people. Universities, through the prioritisation of a set of bureaucratic norms and officer-holders, have normalised the view that they are top-down corporate entities. A managerial class has always played a role in modern universities, but this class has grown in size and influence as universities have been forced to compete in a series of markets. By competing for students, research income, high achieving staff, and ‘impact stories’ a series of pernicious political economies have been created. Rather than collegiate environments based on scholarship, learning and creating space for innovation and thinking, many universities are being reduced to sales offices with academics serving as clerks for a new managerial class who wield coercive metrics.

The complex structure of universities – multiple committees and chains of command – means that very many of us are implicated in a coercive bureaucracy that is based on incentives and threats (that are often veiled but nonetheless real). By complying with very basic activities (such as uploading lists of our publications on University databases) we are fuelling the metrics that are then used to govern us. That is the pernicious thing about the system – we are all part of it. In the case of Stefan Grimm, it is convenient to look for individuals to blame (and I still hold out hope that human decency might spark a few resignations) but the real aggressor here is a system that we have all contributed to. We probably have bitched about it and groaned, but we have contributed to its construction and maintenance. We have been far too meek in pointing out the irrelevance of committees, metrics and placeholders to the real business of teaching, research and sharing creativity.
I have heard a few horror stories in recent weeks (from other universities) about how younger members of staff have been shouted at for not bringing in research income, and about how some staff members’ time has been bought out by 250% (surely illegal!). In cases like this, we can point to shoddy practice by individual managers – and hopefully they can be faced down as bullies. But the wider problem seems to be the system. We may not like the system, but we maintain it.

So what to do? I do not have a grand manifesto (but am all ears if anyone has one). Instead, I look at my own practice and the very small acts of resistance that I carry out. The first is not to take too seriously the managerial class and the narrative they perpetuate. Yes, we all have responsibilities in a collegiate environment, but my primary responsibility is to students and research – not necessarily to corporate goals. I will avoid listing the precise everyday resistance strategies that I use with the bureaucracy (I don’t want to get into trouble) but the general approach of not taking bureaucracy and bureaucrats too seriously seems to work. The second very small act of resistance is to try to encourage younger scholars to follow their own intellectual curiosity. Grants and publications will follow more readily than if they try to game the system by mechanistically targeting grants and ‘prestige’ journals. The third is to call undue pressure by one colleague on another what it is: bullying.