August 11, 2018

He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass (Ps. 72.6).

Saturday. A lazy start to the morning. I indulged a little sleep catch-up to offset my nights of stolen slumber, this last week. I’d been asked to look over a set of job applications. The post has been made vacant by the retirement of a staff member. In the context of Higher Education austerity cuts, the opportunity to make an appointment is becoming increasingly rare. (I never had the occasion to appoint a new staff member when I was Head of School. But those were different times, with other challenges.) Too often the responsibilities of the ‘departed’ staff member are absorbed by those who remain. The School of Art, which invariably punches above its weight, continues to be in a healthy position with regard to undergraduate and postgraduate recruitment. ‘More tea, please!’:

‘Specialised but not fossilised’, was one comment that I made. When I applied for full-time academic posts, having completed my PhD Art History in 1990, openings were few and far between. This was the beginning of an upheaval in Higher Education that I’ve lived through throughout my career. It was the end of the ‘golden age’, I was told. More changes have taken place since then, than in the previous century of university culture. The demands made on academics, today, are colossal. We work far, far harder than our predecessors. In an earlier generation, a professor may’ve waited until their retirement to publish their magnum opus. Today, they’re expected to have completed four major works every six or more years, and also to be an exceptional teacher and administrator. Small wonder they, along with other academics, suffer mental health problems, broken marriages, estrangement from their families, early burn out, and suicidal tendencies. Until relatively recently, academic contracts stated that employees had ‘no hours of work’. Of course, that meant that the diligent among them laboured every hour that God gave. Today, academics are contracted for 37 hours per week. Many work twice that long, of necessity.

After lunch, I pressed on:

In the background, Krysztof Penderecki’s Paradise Lost (1978). Its heartening to have so many very worthy applications to look over. I’m rather glad that I’m not on the selection panel. While I was grimly slogging away in the study, my children were gleefully constructing a version of me in the lounge:

Those beard and glasses have had pulled me out of the queue for security checks at airports, ‘randomly’, more times than I care to remember. I look dodgy; that’s the only conclusion I can draw.

5.20 pm: ‘Cease from strife’!

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