Writing can be cathartic, and this piece is intended as a commentary on how things are for me at the moment. I’m not looking for comments or feedback; this is for me, so that in the future I have a record.
Put simply, I have never felt so alone or up against things workwise. Without my support team at home I may not have been able to carry on, and I am very grateful to them.
I took on the role of Acting Head of School in December 2016, agreeing to do it because I wanted to keep the School running smoothly until the new Head was appointed. This latter appointment process took a while, but now we have our new Head starting on April 1 (and the irony of this start date makes me smile even in these challenging times).
Looking back over the 15 months or so that I have been in post, I would have thought that I had been moderately successful. Under my watch two new lecturers will have been appointed as well as a tenure track research fellow, and I have negotiated extensions in the contracts of two teaching fellows and secured promotion for a third. I have helped oversee the start of the building of the new Central Science Labs (CSL), and helped set in motion the repurposing of our building which will start once the CSL has been built.
Where things have not gone well are mainly results of some unrealistic expectations of senior management of what Heads of School and their own management teams can achieve. The first is that when staff members take maternity (or paternity) leave, we are supposed to conjure up cover for them from practically nowhere; minimal financial resources are available, and finding suitably qualified staff interested in short term appointments at short notice is a challenge. Having been faced with two staff in similar areas of Chemistry taking leave at more or less the same time, I consider that we did well in finding cover for one in the circumstances! But it seems from the response received from some colleagues that this wasn’t enough. I challenge them to do better if they had been in my position! And as for senior management, having explained the situation to our dean at least twice (deansplaining?), he seems to have finally accepted rather ungraciously that we did what we could. The second area where problems have arisen is the current UCU strike action. Heads of School are supposed to ‘manage’ the process, keeping students informed of cancelled teaching, and overseeing rescheduling of the same. But when, under union rules striking staff are not obliged to inform us that they are taking action, the first is impractical; my attempts to obtain this information diplomatically were met by unhelpful and rude responses from several people, although some have engaged in the process and helped me. Rescheduling cancelled teaching sessions will be difficult and maybe impossible, but again, senior management expect Heads of School to ‘sort’ this problem out.
The conclusion is that I will leave my post on 31 March with two areas where, quite unjustifiably in my opinion, I may be viewed as having not done well enough. The fact is though that I have been caught between some dissatisfied staff and inflexible senior management, and it is not a nice place to be.