From ‘Sleepless in Sydney’ [who writes SO beautifully eds.]

‘Houston, Houston, Do You Read?’ (Alice Sheldon)

Dear Mission Control,

In compliance with mandatory reporting for quality assurance purposes, I’m posting my latest star blog entry as you whizz through the looneyverse on your Starfleet mission of ‘getting to the future first’.

I just thought I’d let you know that I’ve decided to give up sleeping to show some good will for the upcoming round of enterprise bargaining. It should help solve the ‘productivity gains’ obstacle anticipated with new negotiations. I will now be completely available for Project Blend, the 24/7 trimester system as well as the next little trimming exercise aimed at academic programs (it’s that time of year again, isn’t it, with the obligatory ‘haircut’-before-Christmas tactic.). It’s left me with a bit of spare time on my hands, so I’ve been doing a bit of browsing on my R&R (see, total wakefulness has solved the omission of professional reading from my current workload agreement). Anyway, I came across the 2012 Senior Management Conference documentation you thoughtfully uploaded onto our webpages:

I loved the conference title: ‘Uncharted Horizons: Mapping the Path for UWS’.

As a self-confessed SF fan, I think it’s an ‘excellent’ reflection of Starfleet’s mission (although, being a bit picky about matching language use to reality, I wouldn’t be averse to substituting the first part of the title with the term ‘Event Horizon’).

I got a bit excited about the presentation titled ‘Can We Afford the Future?’

Is it the pull of gravity that could be heard here, I wondered? Or just another blip on the ‘doublespeak’ radar? Anyhow, now that I’ve got time to do my job properly, I thought I’d give you some professional feedback on your rhetoric, as the study of language is one of my professional talents. I haven’t had the time, up to now, to state my admiration for Starfleet Command’s grasp of blended logic.

‘Can We Afford the Future’ ‘showcases’ Starfleet’s preferred idiom. It begins with a question (‘Can we afford the future or are we a little bit insane?’) and a quote, ‘attributed’ to Albert Einstein: ‘Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. Having been at the looneyversity for a while, Buzz, I couldn’t  agree more. The entrenched process of constant restructuring and change is insane, and is sending us broke. Every time we do it, the same thing happens, although this isn’t probably what you meant.  What I mean is that things get worse and worse. Less time for research, teaching more and more students with less and less support, to say nothing of the erosion of scholarship and disciplinary integrity, the snipping away of the relationship between teaching and research (it’s becoming an increasingly either/or situation, a quantum mechanics of managerially engineered parallel universes) much more e-paperwork (apparently, we are proudly linked to over 100 compliance projects, see the looneyversity’s strategic plan) bigger buildings, more power grabbed by weasley administrators who tell us what to do, and how to do it, without ever asking us for a real professional opinion (we are ‘polled’ instead, like the cattle you think we are), and more and more spin. Endless spin.

Mission Control thinks that the way out of our latest managerially induced ‘deficit’ (by the way, I professionally and personally refuse to take ANY responsibility for it whatsoever) is: Wait for it…. Wait for it … Drum roll… CHANGE (again!!). The concluding statement of ‘Can We Afford the Future’ is:

‘To afford the future, we need to change and we

need to invest in change, if we expect different

outcomes otherwise insanity will prevail.’

Talk about doing the same thing over and over again! And my answer to the introductory and weasley question, ‘Can we afford the future or are we a little bit insane?’ is a resounding YES. Yes, we can afford the future, just not Starfleet Command’s one, and yes, you lot are a bunch of real space cadets.

What really gob-smacks me about your terms of reference, Mission Control, is an absolute lack of reference to the primary producers or the reproduction processes of the ‘product’ (aka knowledge) you peddle and that you now want to teleport to the less than excited masses. In your language, we are referred to woefully as ‘fixed costs’, rather than ‘assets’ – let alone human subjects – in an unviable future. You don’t seem to realize that we MAKE knowledge through research. It doesn’t land on your desk fully formed from outer space, gift wrapped and dipped in chocolate, waiting to be delivered to our customers. We know how to make it, and we know how to teach it. Neglect us at your peril. You’ll be left with nothing to flog but a set of invisible garments (and you know where that got the Emperor and his luckless consequently beheaded tailors, don’t you?). You can’t sustain knowledge by bypassing the conditions of its production which is precisely what you lot seem to want to do, and sorry, making parallel universes of teaching and research doesn’t solve the problem of ‘what’ gets taught. At the moment it’s less and less new knowledge and more and more rebranding and repackaging of material way past its use by date. We don’t control the content of our courses, and if you want to formally teach your current research two years into the future (this is how long it takes), forget it. You’re dead before the paperwork (think here an epic novel that leaves Moby-Dick dead in the water) and the administrative gatekeepers are finished with you.  The ‘driver’ of all this is the dream of that magic pudding again, isn’t it. Tell me again, what exactly is sustainable here? Corporate managerial salaries and the multiplication of your ‘mini-me’s? Many of our highly qualified and committed next generation of primary producers of knowledge can’t survive on the rates you pay, and those of us with ‘ongoing’ positions, are largely treated like battery chickens where the egg always comes first. In fact, like commercial egg production, you never get to see the chicken or the conditions in which it lives and produces ‘outcomes’ – it would horrify the consumer. I hope you appreciate my restraint here. I was going to ‘extend’ the chicken thing into Joh’s line about ‘feeding the chooks’, but at this stage it’s probably overkill.

Finally (although I do find myself with a lot of free time on my hands), I have a little bit of professional bone-picking to do with your use of sources, Buzz. Critical consensus seems to be that Albert didn’t actually say ‘Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. ‘Attributing’ it to him  gives off little tendrils of ‘brainyness’ in your direction, but lacks scholarly rigour as five minutes research would show. Might I suggest instead some primary sources that might be more useful in contemplating Starfleet Command’s mission of competitive time travel or ‘getting to the future first’. Try Einstein’s work on general relativity and collapsing stellar phenomena (aka blackholes) for instance. While science fiction is littered with ideas of using black holes for time-travel, Stephen Hawkings warns against their use for such purposes, so, Mission Control, I wouldn’t fly too close to the sun (oopsie! there I go again, wrong story, but apt perhaps?), unless you can find a way of working ‘spaghettification’ into the list of graduate attributes. Over and out, Mission Control.