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December 07, 2006

Moving on…

Writing about web page http://proleartthreat.wordpress.com/

Forgotten but not quite gone

Have now moved on…so this one goes into black hole but the occasional book review and playlist will be appearing care of wordpress

Fall cover

So, keep an eye on the new Prole Art Threat

And, if you must, you can always email me at:

paul.greatrix@nottingham.ac.uk

And one final thing is to say thank you to everyone around the University (including special mentions to the SU, to the folks in the Commercial Group and those in University House) for the wonderful gifts and donations to make sure that I definitely do leave. I am touched and enormously grateful for everything and for the very kind words. Thank you so much.

Missing you already!


October 23, 2006

The first campus novel?

Title:
Rating:
2 out of 5 stars

The Groves of Academe – Mary McCarthy

I struggled for ages to track down this book which is, arguably, the first campus novel and was very positively disposed towards it in principle. Liberal arts college in the US, 60s turmoil, lots of politics, undercurrents of sexual intrigue – can’t go wrong, I thought. Unfortunately, whilst it does have some merits, including what feels like an accurate portrayal of a largely second rate faculty torn apart by petty strife, it is really rather dull.

The first part of the book focuses on the main character, Mulcahy, and his attempts through bizarre means to secure an extension to his short term contract whilst he seeks both to create and deny a vaguely mysterious communist background. The second part covers an awful poetry conference at the college and the shenanigans around the poets and their sponsors.

It must all have seemed terribly daring and challenging at the time but, whereas Lodge’s campus novels really do stand the test of time, this one I am afraid does not.


How to run a University?

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

The University: An Owner’s Manual

Very interesting set of insights from former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard. Some wonderfully pragmatic and blunt tips aimed in particular at those academics who find themselves in senior management positions.

I found it pretty difficult to disagree with the sage advice herein although the references to Oxford were overly generous in terms of its managerial self-sufficiency and the assertions about the need for all senior academic administrative staff to be appointed rather than elected were inadequately defended.

Although the coverage of the student experience is very US-oriented, the sections on academic life and governance are extremely well done.

Overall, the style is relaxed and yet insightful and punchy, born out of many years of toil at the decanal coal face. Well worth a read.


How to run a University?

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

The University: An Owner’s Manual

Very interesting set of insights from former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard. Some wonderfully pragmatic and blunt tips aimed in particular at those academics who find themselves in senior management positions.

I found it pretty difficult to disagree with the sage advice herein although the references to Oxford were overly generous in terms of its managerial self-sufficiency and the assertions about the need for all senior academic administrative staff to be appointed rather than elected were inadequately defended.

Although the coverage of the student experience is very US-oriented, the sections on academic life and governance are extremely well done.

Overall, the style is relaxed and yet insightful and punchy, born out of many years of toil at the decanal coal face. Well worth a read.


October 09, 2006

Faddish behaviour

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Management Fads in HE – Birnbaum

This is just an outstanding book. Although the focus is on the USA, the messages are eminently translatable to the UK context. Birnbaum carefully analyses and deconstructs the big management fads to have hit US universities including:

  • Management by objectives
  • Zero-based budgeting
  • Strategic planning
  • Benchmarking
  • TQM
  • Business process re-engineering

The reasons behind the popularity of each and the vulnerability of institutions and managers to their charms are also explored at length.

Despite the fact that he demonstrates their failures on all terms, Birnbaum concludes, surprisingly perhaps, that their introduction in a controlled and measured way can have positive benefits in forcing managers to think differently about the way in which they tackle big challenges. The conclusion of the book includes a strong exhortation to a humane and pragmatic approach to management in universities which, whilst not easily seduced by fads such as these, is capable of positive adaptation to changing environments.


October 05, 2006

Really, really important for effective management in HE?

Was mildly diverted and perplexed by the following post to the Admin-Planning mailbase:

At XXXX University we are currently developing a Decision Support/Business Intelligence system to provide strategic management information to all levels of decision makers. We are, at present, rolling out a BI Toolset which allows users to produce and share trend based analysis, KPI’s through a web based environment. Part of the toolset includes the ability to disseminate information through subject specific Dashboards whilst still maintaining the ability to further analyse it.

Leaving aside the jargon and split infinitive the bit that I find most surprising is that this system is provided to “all levels of decision makers”. All levels? Does this mean that everyone who takes any kind of decision (eg baked potato fillings on Thursdays) needs their own Dashboard?

Sometimes these things go just a little too far!


Face cards: approximation of a playlist §25

Face Cards

face cards

God save the Queen – Sex Pistols
Hey Jack Kerouac – 10,000 Maniacs
Jack – The Monochrome Set
The queen is dead – The Smiths
King Of Carrot Flowers Part 1 – Neutral Milk Hotel
Jack-ass – Beck
Karaoke queen – Catatonia
King of the kerb – Echobelly
Tracy Jacks – Blur
King of the road – The Proclaimers
Queen Bitch – David Bowie
King of kings – Echo and the Bunnymen
Queen of the new year – Deacon Blue
The king of rock n’ roll – Prefab Sprout
King Of The Mountain – Kate Bush
You’re My Queen – Mercury Rev
Dancing Queen – ABBA
Fiery Jack – The Fall
For We Are The King Of The Boudoir – The Magnetic Fields


September 24, 2006

Stoke of old

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Anna of the Five Towns

One of those classics I meant to read when I actually lived in Stoke, but that was 15 years ago. Anna is complex and interesting and taking on her (substantial) inheritance and the attention of an energetic and successful local business man, Henry Mynors, presents her with a range of new challenges. This in addition to dealing with her exceptionally demanding father, running the household on a pound a week, spending all free time on evangelical missions for the local church and mixing it with the sewing circle.

The passages describing the work of the church, the school treat, Anna’s visit to a pot bank and a holiday on the Isle of Man are extrmely well realised. Entertaining, if partly foreshadowed, climax. Well worth a read though, especially if you like trying to work out which of the fictional five towns is based on which real one.


September 18, 2006

Very Onion–like

Writing about web page http://www.newsbiscuit.com/

But no worse for that

(and very slow….)

I particularly liked the idea of a Gary Glitter musical


September 16, 2006

Songs about circuses: approximation of a playlist §24

Songs about or related to circus stuff

animal trainer

The Trapeze Swinger – Iron & Wine
Send in the clowns – just about anyone
Tears of a clown – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
Acrobat – U2
Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
Tiger Feet – Mud
Brown girl in the ring – Boney M
Paradise Circus – The Lilac Time
Highwire – Rolling Stones
Crazy Horses – The Osmonds
The Big Top – Laurie Anderson
Nellie the elephant


simply one of the best books I've read

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

This really is an outstanding book. The basic plot Swede Levov, high school sports star and inheritor of glove manufacturing empire, lives the American dream but then it all falls apart when his daughter decides to join the anti-Vietnam protests in the most dramatic way.

But really this doesn’t capture it Roth covers the full sweep of the post-war American landscape here in the most extraordinarily powerful way.

Can’t really do it justice here well worth the Pulitzer though!


August 22, 2006

Wormy

Title:
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

The worms can carry me to heaven - Alan Warner

Although I really did enjoy this book it really does have some pretty major flaws. A number of the propositions just seem quite preposterous, the narrator is generally pretty unpleasant and the writing is a bit sloppy in places (although excellent in others).

Essentially a successful but very middle aged bloke/lothario discovers he is HIV+ and decides therefore to tell the story of his life to a homeless refugee whom he invites to stay in his home (as partial compensation for having to listen).

The tales are interesting but uneven and the whole thing builds to a really quite bizarre conclusion. Still, really rather enjoyable. I found the Spanish setting pretty convincing (but then I only have limited knowledge of the area) and the narrative does trip along nicely.

A bit of a departure for Warner – not set in NW Scotland or Edinburgh but no worse for this. Would say that doesn't quite match the achievements of Morvern Callar or The Sopranos (both of which are highly recommended) but still worth a punt.


August 19, 2006

Home Helps: approximation of a playlist §23

Home helps

George Formby
Nanny – Louden Wainwright
The dry cleaner from Des Moines – Joni Mitchell
Eric the Gardener – The Divine Comedy
What the Butler Saw – Squeeze
Mr Wu's a window cleaner now – George Formby
Domestic Departure – Au Pairs [two for the price of one there!]
Into the Valet – Skids
Char (lotte) Sometimes – The Cure


August 17, 2006

By the way, this is not me

Writing about web page http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/tg/cm/member-glance/-/A39S2YORNNRHN4/702-2681567-6487251#A39S2YORNNRHN4

Lest there be any doubt, this person who does reviews on Amazon, ain't me.

Just thought I would clarify that – I don't read that kind of book as a rule (as I'm sure previous reviews would indicate).


August 15, 2006

River Deep: approximation of a playlist §22

Rivers in song

Orinoco flow – Enya
Severn Seconds – Youssou N'Dour/Neneh Cherry
Stone Thames – Big Audio Dynamite
Fog on the Tyne – LindisfarneThames
Ferry Cross the Mersey – Gerry and the Pacemakers
The Nile Song– Pink Floyd
Mississippi – Pussycat
Ying–Ton–Iddle–I–Po – Goons
The River Rhine – The Yardbirds
Aladdin Seine – David Bowie
Zambesi – Piranhas
Yellow River – Christie
Rivers of Bablyon – Boney M


August 13, 2006

45,000 'ghost workers' – a tremendous achievement

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4785721.stm

This really is staggering:

The authorities in Cameroon have discovered that they are paying civil service salaries to 45,000 employees who do not actually exist. Finance Minister Polycarpe Abah Abah said the fake employees were costing nearly $10m (£5m) a month.

It is just the sheer scale of it which defies belief. This must represent a pretty large proportion of the Cameroon civil service and it therefore seems extraordinary that no–one noticed!


August 12, 2006

Wrong about fees

Writing about web page http://education.guardian.co.uk/students/tuitionfees/story/0,,1840824,00.html

Neal Lawson has it wrong in quite a few ways here.

There remains a massive job to do to tackle the social inequitities Lawson describes but the new fees regime – provided this kind of misinformation can be challenged – with its requirements for generous bursary packages, actually offers the best prospect for changing this.

Several specific points:

  • variable fee repayment arrangements are effectively a graduate tax – but they are a capped graduate tax – you don't keep paying after you have repaid all that you owe.
  • the 20k debt is not a credit card style debt
  • Without the deal on fees many universities would be heading towards insolvency – a graduate tax would not deliver the money desperately needed now in HE.

Most of the rest of this is just pure speculation and really just a bit previous, eg:

Variable fees haven't yet worked as well as the government hoped.

The government has put a financial support package together – but it's clearly not working.

It's August. Fees start this September. Let's look at it in a year, three years or five years and then decide if it's working.


August 10, 2006

THES catches up

Follow-up to Nanny state? from Prole Art Threat

Not often I can be said to be ahead of the news but pleased to note that THES has caught up with previous post:

Uni-Nanny is watching

Phil Baty
Published: 04 August 2006

Students are being "electronically tagged" so that their attendance at lectures and tutorials can be closely monitored as part of moves to reduce drop–out rates. An electronic monitoring system called Uni–Nanny, under which students identify themselves at every "learning event" with individual computer chips in their key rings, is already in use at Glamorgan University, which developed the technology. The product has just been bought by Napier University, and deals are set to be signed with two other institutions. Technological solutions, including fingerprint scanners, have also been mooted.
Critics say that the phenomenon represents an alarming trend towards "Big Brother" surveillance and the nannying of students who should be self–motivated. But enthusiasts argue that efficient attendance monitoring is proven to reduce drop–out rates by quickly identifying students who are failing to engage with their courses.

Oh what fun


Periodicity: approximation of a playlist §21

Songs referring to periodicals and magazines:

She – Charles Aznavour
Time – David Bowie
Native New Yorker – Odyssey
Vogue – Madonna
All Along The Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix
Ms Jackson – Outkast
Jackie Wilson – Dexys
Look in – John Martyn
OK – Talvin SinghJackie 1
Hello – Lionel Ritchie
She Blinded me with Science – Thomas Dolby
Strength of your Nature – The Style Council
Chat in Amsterdam – Arab Strap
Country Life – Cosmic Rough Riders
Loaded – Deacon Blue
E Eleventh Nuts – Scritti Politti
Wallpaper for the soul –Tahiti 80
Woman – John Lennon
Heat Wave – Martha and the Vandellas
Susie Q – Rolling Stones (or someone else?)
Tobermory Zoo – Mull Historical Society


August 05, 2006

Eternal joy

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

The possibility of an island - Michel Houellebecq

I think this is possibly Houellebecq's best to date – pretty bleak in places and future dystopian vision is rather grim. Ditto the customary quasi–porn. But actually it all works rather well. Our hero, a successful but dissatisfied comedian (not terribly funny, it has to be said), ends up contributing to a new global apocalyptic religion and becoming the genetic prototype for future clones.

So, odd, challenging and a bit icky in parts but really rather compelling.