a File in her right Hand, and a Garland in her left.

One forgets that the enduring touch is just that – it remains with us.  And so others after years sometimes can resurface, still seeing you as a fixture in the repertoires of their lives.  Or perhaps a prop to some place or time or character they once were. 

An unexpected email, a phone call, a postcard. You though you had moved on. But you’re still a total hedgehog in someone’s world.

– So what am I that connects to the hedgehog — mainly blind, deceptively indolent, fiercely solitary… ?
– Prickly. And living too close to the ground.

You draft your response, your apologia:  you talk about ‘pale hens and brightly coloured roosters’ who sit in their open cages until it’s their turn to be the rotisseried or fried chicken they deserve to be….  choked, scalded, plucked, gutted, and portioned.  All of which you present as a  variant on the sorites paradox. Clever, that. Even slightly erudite.

Further exchanges and you grow a bit tired. These have all the hallmarks of something else that’s going nowhere in your life and you don’t have the time for this.  Then an out presents itself:

– So at what stage are we gutted and portioned?
– Probably the best answer there is too often for the first and almost always for the second. I think it has something to do with loss of those bright dreams and caravan moments of the younger self.   Anyway, it’s probably a choice for most people between that or taking the chance regularly on being boned & rolled.  Though maybe there’s a touch too much of the-Boy-who-was humour there… 😉  And, yes. I have White Tiger but didn;t read it till you emailed.   Not a bad read: I’m surprised in a way I missed it.  We must have that coffee sometime…

And what you don’t say is about those spaces in life where we spend your time & energy just trying to keep it all together. Like now as you sit in a shaded part of an overgrown garden with too much to do and too many deadlines and no place in your heart for the sun and the summer.

 But only for another fortnight. After which it will get better.  Or at least this is what you tell yourself. Gilgamesh on the banks of that pool: his plant long gone. 

Galway was most enjoyable. Rather disappointingly Glasnevin didn’t follow through on that half-invite.  EDEN 2011 is coming to Dublin.  The UCD – TCD MDP  programme is out of the blocks, despite everything.  Two, possibly three, new doctoral students from September. 

And with that, belfield – like all those other academics who do nothing more than teach 3 or 4 hours a week, October to May  – has decided it’s time for a break and is now in recess.  Have a good summer, reader.

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… get so annoyed with the facile and offensive nature of something in your email in-box that you hit Reply, slam out a response, and hit Send.  Then you think a bit.

Another in an ever-increasing stream of hectoring emails from some VP or other arrived in my inbox today. It was banging on about some missing annual return from the 2008/09 academic year without which the world was likely, it seems, to stop spinning. 

Academics are obviously too thick to appreciate the absolute necessity to …demonstrate compliance with the policy and the procedures outlined therein.  So the email went on at some length about failure to complete… deemed to indicate … should information to the contrary emerge… viewed most seriously… and so on.  You get the drift, I’m sure.

But bad as it was,  it wasn’t this that really pushed the button. No. It was the public listing of all  members of university staff who had shamefully defaulted on this essential act of probity and not returned the essential form.  There we were @ after @ in the ‘To’  list:  225 in all.  On The N@ughty Step, so to speak.

I was both a little angry and a bit surprised that anyone could be so casual about publishing this kind of information. So I replied. To all.

This seems to cause a bit of a flap campus-wide because my inbox buzzed for much of the afternoon with observations and comments from others on the ‘Wall of Shame’. Some were simply wondering what it was all about, others  were just angry about  the endless sand-storms of administration.  One respondent put the whole thing in a wonderfully elegant way; it was all about meeting the ordeals (of the greatest triviality) devised by the VP’s office concerned.

For some reason I kept thinking of grey philistines and also of a conversation earlier today here. They connect  – somewhere around the notion of direction, autonomy, and respect. Or lack of it.  

Only one  response – from an economist colleague – was in any way hostile to either my own contribution to the rather unintended thread or to those who kept the conversation going using Reply All. The message was pretty direct: I don’t care what you think. Using Reply All like this was, in a very clearly stated view, an abuse of email facilities.

Perhaps. But I can’t help thinking that sending an open-list email isn’t all that far behind in the abuse stakes.  It also shows a pretty spectacular lack of timing to drop a fox like this in the hen-house when so many are struggling to meet marking and grading deadlines right across the university.  But then VPs and straight-talking economists probably don’t have to think too much about that sort of thing.  🙂

“Today’s students will learn nothing from such fatuous exercises as devising a marketing plan for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre … The whole notion of “marketing” in this context is completely misconceived. It invites students to bring a 21st-century, consumerist, mass-media mindset to bear on a cultural context in which none of its basic assumptions actually apply.”

Wonderful stuff…

Fintan O’ Toole

Maybe it’s to do with fighting fire with fire. But I must admit I find parts of Mary Daly & Brigid Laffan’s response in today’s Times to Tom Garvin’s piece a little, in their own words, ‘distant from the challenges we face’. Or at least from those that I do.

There is no doubting the sincerity and zeal with which the achievements of the past decade or so at UCD are extolled.  What I find most interesting though are the metrics that are used to nail the argument —  CAO first preferences up, exponential rise in doctoral students, 230% rise in research income and so on.  There is talk of a radical transformation of academic structures and promotion systems overhauled to suit research excellence in scholarship and teaching. (I may be wrong but I seem to recall that the writers were among those at UCD who not all that long ago were most incensed that the ‘new’ system actively militated again promotions on anything other than a quasi-science worldview /model.)  And I’m sure that there are merits in English literature students devising a marketing plan for the Globe in Shakespeare’s time. Even if I can’t, personally, even begin to think what these might be.

But I can’t help wondering a bit if this sanitized take on UCD and its life actually really offers anything other than an articulation of what the new order wants to see, rather than what it needs to see.  To  my mind it seems every bit as loaded as Tom Garvin’s view but towards an alternative reality.

There has been chaos associated with aspect of the move to Horizons.  UCD Staff Association is on record as being concerned that morale at the university is at an all-time low.  Pathways to professorships – and almost everything else – are gate-kept by the guardians of the new way and set within a performativity net of musts and shoulds that boggle the mind.  And I seem to remember reading somewhere, now that I think of it, that there is a freeze on promotions in any event for the next lifetime or so, ‘unless you poison a (senior?) lecturer’.  And on recruitment.  Some schools here are running on vapour  – with recently retired staff being practically begged to stay-on to plug the gaps.

Nevertheless, I’d have to say that their closing note – the bit about the reward  for dedication to research and scholarship being knowledge and the transmission of that knowledge to the next generation –  is both true and heartening.  It sure as hell won’t mean advancement though; unless you do as both Professors Laffan and Daly have (each of whom I hold in high regard as academics)  and, taking the zeitgeist of these days & time to heart,  sing along to the corporate UCD line with gusto.

Tom Garvin may be wrong in parts of his Irish Times piece.  But he is not wrong in anything like all of it.

“UCD, an historically respected Irish university, increasingly resembles an English provincial college, run on authoritarian top-down lines, profligate financially, and anti-intellectual. What is referred to with surrealist humour as “intellectual leadership” in UCD is in the hands of medics masquerading as businessmen (they’re nearly all men; welcome to 1961) and practitioners of non-subjects such as “management” and “teaching and learning”.”

Prof Tom Garvin in The Irish Times, 1 May 2010.

Finally back in Dublin on Tuesday morning.  Twenty hours previously the College bus arrived on time(!) to get us to Maseru Airport and the Jo’burg flight hadn’t left early (which, it seems, happens regularly). Jo’burg  /London worked out well also; I even managed to sleep a bit. And London / Dublin was just a dog-leg home.

On Monday after packing my stuff I had wandered across to the Alliance Francaise Coffee Garden for a final Lesotho Latte.  Didn’t even have to order. They looked out of the rondavel, saw me sitting there and out it came!
– The usual, n’thade!  Said one of the two who’ve brought me coffee each morning for a week. And she grinned. There’s one in the eye for Starbucks, Liffey Valley.

The sun shone like a good Irish summer. It was easy to forget that Lesotho is now well into autumn. Two Basotho sloped past wearing herdboy blankets and woolly hats; another – probably also Basotho but more style conscious –  drifted by wearing a full ski-suit and the mandatory rubber boots. Interestingly, my only companions in the garden this morning were both African too.  A very urbane looking guy with a clipped tash and oiled hair took an espresso and chatted to the barista who has come out to join him. It looked like a business conversation. The other coffee-goer was a well-dressed young african woman – though probably not local – who was slowly texting her way through a coffee and muffin.

We all sat in the shade of the trees. Tiny leaves rained down each time there was a breeze through the branches above.

The young gardener turned his attention that morning to those leaves building up in the borders and flower beds. It’s an odd sight roses and ‘summer’ flowers in full bloom and thousands of the tiny russet and brown leaves drifting down on them from the canopy overhead. The day before he had gone at those on the coffee patio, paved areas and grass with a vengeance.

The old gardener meanwhile stooped unhurriedly into the lee of a shrub and washed his spoon and food box in a small container of water. He then reached into the bush and produced a bar of soap to wash his hands, using the same water. It was then sprinkled over his roses. Not a drop was wasted. And he looked like he’s been doing this since before I was born.

My African days have, sadly, come to an end.  But I am still out there to some extent where the world is a place of wonder and we are all just motes on the air in the breath of God.

Thaba-Tseka, Morija, Maseru… names that now hold meanings which spark thoughts of return.

Our previous head of school may have run the place like a bit of a mammy at times but she did some wonderful things too. One of those was to sign us up as an institutional member of the Centre for Global Development through Education. It reflected, I think, a genuine interest in development issues at a time when not many of us took the whole thing too seriously.

All of which is a rather roundabout way of explaining why I’m now sitting here surrounded by enough Go South stuff to fill a small aircraft, let alone a suitcase. Pharmaceutical items for this, that and the next – just in case. My summer clothes and a lightweight suit. Small, corporate gifts from the college. Laptop. Cameras. The trusty moleskine. A bag of resources and digital bits and bobs. And a real sense of excitement.

Lesotho for twelve days. The chance to work with groups of local teachers and teacher educators in workshop settings. Thaba Tseka for a week.

As I say, sometimes you can be lucky… 🙂

… for Deet, Imodium, Motilium and indistrial strength insect bite balm.
It seems I’m to spend five of my Africa days in the high mountains around Thaba Tseka.
As the family TY student would say; Bring it! 🙂

Yesterday I had one of those emails. It was from a good friend who is in Barcelona for a conference; deep talk & tapas, as they say. She’s just on the good side of that long and – to an outsider – utterly opaque journey that is the dottorandi / dottorando experience.

It set me thinking. So later last evening I sat looking out into a Dublin sky that was cloudy and equally opaque, pondering the outcome of our ongoing visit from one of those new governance spawnings that will, I fear, increasingly overshadow life in the university. I got to wonder about it all. What drives us into this academic life, what keeps us in the bear pit? How can we be so invested in a business so many think they know – with such absolute certainty – so much about. And also that  we are doing everything wrong!  Maybe I should have stayed in that ‘good job’ it nearly broke my late father’s heart to see me cast aside all those years ago.

Lives considered, ill-considered and unconsidered jockey now for a place in the the frame. And I’m left a bit despondent by it all – not for the release of finally finishing with the dottorando stages but with the expectations that now seem less and less tenable around the life which follows.

In the world of the university, we are on the brink of losing so much and very few seem to either know or care.

Last night, we trundled off en-famille to see the Dromgoole staging of ‘Philadelphia Here I Come’ at the Gaiety.  It was as good as it gets.

The Gar Public and Gar Private  device delights and draws you in and I can only say that Friel’s portrayal of Irish small-town life still comes bitingly close to the  bone after all these years.   He captures in all their poignancy the struggles and frustration of a small life; the characters, the conversations, the hopes for escape – all spot-on in their observation, as are all those little acts of love and loathing Friel so effectively depicts.

Little clips from the play like wee sailor suit,  you know I never have a second cup, and desist! have been delighting me all day.  I found myself grinning and thinking about them and the elegant fluency of Friel’s work.  But when a conversation a few minutes ago between the Politics & History Student and The Junior Cert kid ended with a wry exchange about being in a blue boat on Lough na Cloc Cor, no a punt, no a brown one, I reckon that I’m not the only one who was deeply touched by the production.

Well worth seeing; running  until 10 April.