Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Head of School

We received formal notification today from the Vice Chancellor that I would be appointed for a further four years to the Headship. This is a four year term of office, and I am currently in my fourth year, which comes to an end next July. So now I, and all my colleagues, know that I shall be continuing for a further four years, so we can continue to implement the planned recruitment strategy with a sense of direction and purpose. The VC consulted the staff of the School in coming to his decision about who to appoint. So while it is not intended to be a democratic decision, there is consultation. And apparently, there was overwhelming support for my continuation, which is great news, because it provides me with a mandate and reinvigorates my enthusiasm.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Three year operating plan

Each year, Heads of School have to prepare a rolling three year plan. This year was particularly difficult, for two reasons. First, the University is continuing to refine the process, and this year, although the once-separate teaching and learning plan was simply rolled up as part of the main document, a research plan was prepared earlier in the year, for the first time, with a view to the feedback from that informing this operating plan, and a risk register was requested in order to demonstrate to our auditors that we are managing our risks adequately. Second. a combination of events has resulted in our need to request lots of new academic posts. Basically, this is a combination of a spate of retirements plus the massive recent expansion of our activities. We have just about doubled the size of the School in the last four years, in every aspect of our work. This is why I have to make a case for a crop of new posts. And each one has to be carefully rationalized in line with our strategy for the next few years. It was a real relief to get it submitted today, just on the deadline. Over the next few weeks, senior management of the university will read all the plans from the different Schools. In January, a group of senior staff tour the Schools, interviewing the Heads, to be sure that they understand the aims, priorities and risks. Then they can rank order a master list of all the posts requested, so that when we find out from the Higher Education Funding Council how much grant the University is to receive this year from government, the final piece of the jigsaw will be in place in terms of next year's overall financial planning. At that point, they can determine how far down the list they can go in terms of the posts requested across the University. So it is a serious business as it affects how many new staff we get to appoint next year, if any. And it takes a lot of consultation and conversations to be sure about our relative priorities within the School before we put the plan before senior management. I was pleased to have got the document drafted, edited down toe the requisite length, and then submitted. Now I wonder how far down our list of priorities we'll get, given the dreadful ever-worsening situation.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Crowthorne Symphony Orchestra

Our concert went very well. It was all a bit touch and go, though. One of the viola players cried off at the last minute with flu, and even the piano soloist was feeling too ill to come to the afternoon rehearsal, so the conductor had to rehearse the orchestra without the soloist, which is not easy in a piano concerto. In fact, it is unheard of! To deal with this strange situation, the conductor and soloist agreed that for once, the soloist would follow the conductor, rather than the other way around. We rehearsed the whole programme from 1:30 until 5:30, which was quite am exhausting to do immediately before a concert. But all the brass, the basses, the harp and a large proportion of the violins were brought in just for the day, because we seem to be low on string players these days. It would be unusual to have many brass for all the weekly rehearsals, as there is generally not enough for them to do to keep them occupied. So the rehearsal on the afternoon of the concert is the first time we have played together, and for some instruments, the first time they have seen the pieces. Normally we would not have this many extras on the day, though. My new trumpet was excellent. I played set it up as a D Trumpet for the Cimarosa overture, and as an E flat for the Liszt piano concerto. It sounded good in the acoustic of the hall. The first half went off without mishap, and most people in the audience seemed to enjoy it a lot. After the break came the Symphony, the big piece we had really focused most of our attention on for the preceding 12 weeks. It is a huge and demanding piece, but very absorbing and great fun. It went very well indeed, and was a real success. I'd sold tickets to 23 adults and 6 children for this concert, an unusually large contingent. Although half a dozen of them were unable to attend due to flu or unexpected guests, I still had 24 people in the audience, which made it a very special concert for me. We're all looking forward to the March concert now. I wonder what we'll be playing?

Graduation ceremony

I have not seen such a strong staff contingent in a graduation ceremony before. We were 44 strong! Apparently, that is pretty close to the maximum that can fit on the stage. The December graduation is mostly for postgrads, although there are sometime some undergrads who passed on resits, or whose results were unavailable in time for the main (July) ceremony for some other reason. This was the first year that there were two days of December graduations ceremonies. It was as smooth and well organized as always, and the VC's speech was short and to the point, and well received. The students and families that I spoke to enjoyed it a lot, and as they were postgrads they were able to compare this to their previous graduation from other universities, and everyone who did so preferred this one. It was not too long, the speeches were interesting and it all worked. The weather was horrible, though. Grey, cold, wet and dark. But we had wine and nibbles with our SCME graduates on the London Road site, courtesy of Gerri Excell, and everyone went away happy. As always, it was a real delight to see PhDs graduating. Of all the awards a University can award, this is the highest, and the hardest work, so doctoral graduates are always enormously relieved to have finally completed their arduous journey. Graduation is always an enjoyable event, reminding us just how much it means to the graduates to have completed their courses of study. Let's hope that we can keep in touch with them, though, as pretty soon they will be the very people we want to talk to for access to research data, or for developing our employer engagement agenda. They generally progress through their careers quickly.

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Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom

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