A date for your diaries. My Installation as Rector of the University of Dundee will take place on 26 September. This is an ancient traditional ceremony, which includes my being pulled through the streets of Dundee in an old carriage by students, and then giving a Rectorial Address. These used to be great occasions, when the Addresses were given by figures like Adam Smith, William Gladstone, Thomas Carlyle, Andrew Carnegie and J M Barrie. Those would last for hours and be repeated verbatim in the national papers. Even in my time, addresses by Clement Freud and Peter Ustinov were well worth hearing.
My predecessor, Lorraine Kelly, managed one sheet of A4. I shall be closer to Gladstone than Kelly, in length if nothing else, and intend to give the students some provocative thoughts on society, politics and the role of a modern university. I do hope that some of the readers of this blog will put the event in their diaries and make it to Dundee to support me.
On a happy note, I am heading up to Dundee tomorrow to attend the graduations of thousands of students. There is no role for the Rector at this other than to dress up in a robe and look portentous, but it is a happy time of achievement; maybe some of the youthful optimism might rub off.
Much less happy was the University Court meeting last week. The University is closing its Gardyne Road campus, and some scores of staff are being made compulsorily redundant. I am shocked by the near Victorian brutality with which human beings can be simply thrown away in today’s society.
I went to Gardyne Road to speak to affected staff directly. One man I spoke to had worked there for 17 years; he earned ‘22,000 pa and was being made redundant with just over ‘6,000 in redundancy pay.
‘6,000 after seventeen years? Is that how we value people?
There were three things that especially horrified me about this.
The first was the attitude of academics, who don’t seem troubled because these staff are non-academic – cleaners, cooks, janitors and library staff, for example. Yet they are people too, and the university could not function without them.
The second was the fact that the University is much more concerned with spin than the plight of these people. The University is still telling the media that there are no compulsory redundancies, whereas in fact scores will go through in just five weeks time. The University is also emphasising that some staff were offered relocation to another campus but refused. That is in fact only true of three or four staff out of some fifty facing redundancy.
The third thing that worries me is that the University is offering no more than the legal minimum compensation, and is behaving with all the heartlessness of Dundee’s multinationals. The sad truth is that the people being made redundant are precisely those unlikely to find jobs again in Dundee. Even commercial companies generally attempt to improve redundancy terms a little where possible, for the sake of image, unless actually going bankrupt. The University appears to have no sense of being more than just a business, no sense of community or social responsibility to the City.
My other big worry with the University this week is the lack of attention to environmental issues. I had already noted that there appears to be no concern for renewable energy generation or carbon neutral building, even in its extremely new and ever burgeoning estate. The photo-voltaic cell was invented at the University of Dundee, but I am yet to see one powering anything on what is Britain’s sunniest campus.
I was therefore not surprised to find the University marked 79th out of 102 on People and Planet’s “Green League”, firmly in the Poor Environmental Performance bracket.
Now that’s something else that will get a mention in my Rectorial Address…