04 August 2011

On hostages to fortune

I'm quite pleased with myself. It appears that after forty or so years in the further and higher education system, I am still naif. (The masculine--if connotationally effete--form of "naive". Not the same as "naff", although that may also apply...)

How do I know? Some time I may tell the tale of the great Course Review (but, like that of the Giant Rat of Sumatra, the world is not yet ready). But my bit of the fallout is to revise the Course Handbook. There are two hundred or so revisions required.
  • Since many of them are uncontentious technicalities such as updating the names of committees to this year's fashion, why can't the administrators--who know the answers--just correct them, instead of telling academics they are wrong and they need to look up the latest regulations?

  • It's not surprsing the committee wants changes. The course has now been running for fifteen years, and we have amended the handbook every year to accommodate its growth and perpetual updating. It was last formally reviewed in 2007, with no comments on the handbook or regulations. Because no-one read them. For years I've been slipping in asides and jokes and odd footnotes--and I admit many of them have been self-indulgent and even confusing for students who don't share my odd sense of humour. No-one has noticed because no-one has read it. (Tip for authors of this stuff. Plant an "easter egg" in the middle of the verbiage, and see whether anyone finds it. More.)
But beyond the legitimate stuff (and of course there is some) and other issues which are primarily attributable to the culpable negligence of a succession of dubiously competent "senior" staff ...

...my principal concern is the number of occasions on which I have been peremptorily instructed to insert the standard university material, rather than what we developed for ourselves to suit our course in the light of our experience. Invariably (and I do know what that means, and I use the term advisedly) the standard bumf is a qualified, weasel-worded, diluted fudge of our undertakings.

(One exception! Although I may argue with the approach and style of the Library's guide to citation [it's prescriptive without sufficient attention to the underlying pricniples], it is both compact and comprehensive, and I have happily replaced our own amateur guidance with it.)

In particular, we have been instructed not to refer to an independent support website (because it "might confuse the students")

Critical remarks about items on the reading lists are not allowed: but all the texts are curate's eggs, we know (including mine) And we can't refer to a "curate's egg" or latin abbreviations such as "q.v." or "inter al." because they too might confuse the students!

This is a deeply patronising and downright insulting approach to mature students.

If it is naif to believe that, then so be it.

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