From ‘Lost in Space’

Dear Mission Control,

Are we there yet?

I’m still waiting for the future and it’s not looking good. I’ve had a few problems posting my latest blog. There’s a few spot fires burning, and a strange buzzing cloud has moved in and settled over things. It doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. By the way, the accountants you sent in to tidy up the figures for the ceremonial handover at the end of next year don’t seem to please anybody (certainly not the economists amongst us which is a bit of a reality problem, isn’t it?) and I wouldn’t count on your current ‘asset stripping’ for next year’s fire-sale bringing any new friends.

The cloud’s a bit of a worry, though. Every now and then it sends down these reedy, rhizomey, tubey things  which shuffle and poke about, pause and sniff the wind, and then, with the instincts of gun dogs, latch onto any electronic device around with great speed and purpose. Laptops, desktops, hand-helds, in fact anything that’s ‘wired’ or ‘wireless’. Truly. These tropospheric ‘leeches’ (I can’t think what else they are?) jig about madly before letting go and retracting upwards.  And if I wasn’t completely sane, I’d say the cloud ‘pings’ every time one of these tendrils hits home (a bit like those old cash registers? Cha-ching!). It’s all a bit phishy.  Any thoughts on this, Mission Control? Did our great ‘big-endian’ really say somewhere recently that the money is in data mining?? This puts a new spin on Project Blend, doesn’t it, let alone compliance project #999999999 aka the Compass Review? [Eds: For those of you having trouble following this read here]

And I thought we were in the business of research and teaching? Please let me know what world I’m in?? I’m having real trouble, it’s starting to look a lot like K-Mart.  Uh Ohhh! …. where’s the EDUCATIONAL MISSION gone?? Oh right, sorry! This is Western Sydney after all! We don’t deserve our own Agricultural Scientists, Writers, Linguists, Film-makers, Economists,  Animators, Composers and Musicians, Creative Artists and Performers (oopsie, they’re already gone. David Wenham  had a good time here once, it’s said). And why would anyone want to learn Arabic in Western Sydney? We’ll just leave all that stuff to the ‘Sandstones’. They’re just so much better at it (NOT). And we sure don’t seem to mind if students have trouble with getting the scholarly stuff once we’ve got them signed on, if the ‘restructure’ of the Student Learning Centre is anything to go by. After all, it’s what the bunnies spend once they’re here that counts along with those unlimited data mining possibilities, isn’t it? And nobody’s said much about student debt lately, have they? What’s that I hear? USA Calling? (Yep, I’m old enough for ‘The Clash’), get this:

‘You are not Aloan’.


Are we there yet?


The privilege of being a ‘customer’ is that you get to pay the corporation for everything through your student debt (which will come back to bite you): the ‘service’ of reflecting back to you an image of yourself they think you’ll buy, the ‘biggist’ buildings, the gardens, the cafes, the parking spots, the endless tsunami of glossy brochures and infomercial material, the signage, and the BIG corporate salaries, and all the ‘add ons’ (cars? business class travel?….). And they don’t listen to us…. My education was ‘free’ (not really, we all paid for my education through tax and public money) so it wasn’t parceled out as a commodity and sold off with such reckless abandon. It’s harder to see education as a public good if you’ve got a hefty pre-mortgage. These days it’s your benefit and your debt. And you seem to be getting less and less for your buck…unless you count paying for the ‘lifestyle’ and the promos.


Are you there yet?


The thing is, Mission Control, it’s still not your University or your money.


In the days of ‘students’ rather than ‘customers’ the facilities weren’t so great in terms of a manufactured ‘lifestyle’ (BTW, campus life was ‘kicking’) but teachers said what they really thought without fear of reprisal or tainting the ‘commodity’, and what you got was what your teacher was working on (in other words, their research), rather than Mission Control’s vision of pre-packaged, over-refined, predigested ‘paste’ (and well past its use by date, although they’re probably considering irradiating it in order to get rid of any remaining contaminating ‘life’…. but, if you consider the discovery of penicillin, or else the researchers playing in ‘bottle rooms’ that led to the  discoveries in genetics, it puts a case forward for the under-management and fuzziness of the discovery of new knowledge ) .


Let’s see, on the other hand, complete total wakefulness seems to be working for me (I gave up sleeping for the institutional ‘good’ and ‘goodwill’ for the upcoming enterprise bargaining, remember?). My professional reading is going really well, thanks, so I thought I’d have another squizz at your Senior Management Conference Reports to try and make sense of whose world I’m in – the numbers seem to breed like rabbits in all shapes and sizes, and reality’s hard to pin down now that the creative writers and economists are going.


Apart from the bewildering number of different types of graphs to ‘show’ the same thing over and over again, for example, this year’s ‘wobbles’ with students numbers (thanks Rhonda), I have to say I was more than a bit miffed by this little oyster:


We need to communicate just two key priorities for the university – most people can only

cope with two. We need to structure change processes in a managed way – test the

priorities among local groups, see what works and what does not, and communicate

among the leadership groups about how the processes are progressing.


Apart from being weasley (if you read the points following this one, it becomes clear that management is not interested in anything other than maintaining it’s own life-blood by communicating only with itself, hence the mega-recirculation of figures and graphs over and over again, like these things account for themselves) I question the assumption, Mission Control, that most people can only deal with two ‘key priorities’. Apart from the intellectual aspirations of my students (which I take seriously although you might not), I have a Phd that took me a long time to write (and how many of you have one??). Throwing caution to the wind, I reckon that the authors of your ideas should fall onto the pointy end of a rather large unfurled paperclip. When I was fiddling around with the metaphor (sorry ‘blend’) I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember the name of that spikey thing accountants use to skewer (and secure) their paperwork, but let me tell you, I reckon we could use a few of these here to nail the facts to reality.


It’s not so much the ‘wobbles’ with student numbers this year that worries me (thanks for the analytic terminology, and help (me) Rhonda, great stuff with all those graphs and data). It’s the theories of ‘growth’ that are a bit of a worry, I have to say. Take this little corker from the document ‘Key Areas for Actioning’. Underneath the declarative statement for the need to radically transform the ‘new academic program development cycle in terms of speed’ we find a rather dubious breeding program that shows the kind of thought management put into what we do. As a way of growing the ‘educational’ mission of UWS, our mangers’ strategies for sustainable growth include the following ‘innovation’ : ‘Put single degrees together and make them breed, hopefully into double degrees’. ‘Hopefully’, is the right term here, I’d say, Mission Control. What kind of  biology (or lack thereof) are you working with here? Slap a couple of bits of paper together, fingers crossed and hope for the best? This goes to the heart of why we NEED agricultural scientists (and some basic sex education?), if only to help our management deal with the difference between rabbits, certificates and universities. But what else could we expect of people whose idea of our intelligence and value is so low?


Where in the world am I, Mission Control?