Policy Documents

Exasperated by the proliferation of strategy documents and committee creep(s) here at college, I bothered to comment on one that hit my desktop today… here it is, just for the record (well, here is my comment, I presume the strategy itself is still only a draft, so i can’t post it):

Preamble. Learning and teaching! there is a huge disjunct between the preamble and the second and third parts. It is as if these were written by two different committees. The first part is from the corporate sector, the second a Goldsmiths person.

On the first part: At an institution like ours we have to link the distinctive research Goldsmiths’ academics do clearly with our teaching. This linkage should be a core value – we are different, we do things differently. That is why we are not SOAS or LSE/UCL etc, but it is also why we can compete with them – and its why we are the destination of choice for cultural studies – and for media, sociology, arts etc – because we do it differently and radically. Where is that in the statement? I would not exactly start with the so-called ‘values’ phrase ‘Radical and innov­at­ive thinking’ but I would search for a way to foreground this, and link this explicitly to teaching.
The place to really be sharp I think is in relation to the government imperative to get more bang for NO bucks – ‘Higher rates of annual participation accompanied by changing funding environments have placed new imperatives on the importance of demonstrating value for money — both in teaching and research’ – this sentence only mildly and implicitly questions the outrageous fraud of defunding higher education and turning it into a free gift of training for industry. The national education policy should be even more roundly criticised by a place like Goldsmiths and this must be a core value of our teaching, as it is in research. In an environment like this, it behoves us to speak out explicitly against these imperatives, not concede to them and restate them.
OK, I know that a T&L strategy is not going to be able to explicitly step up to this, but an angular take on ‘value for money’ might be more proactive about producing critical thinking, capable, ethically alert, educated students. Not just fodder for the sausage factory. Conceding the ground to a discussion of employability is faulty.
Two parts of the preamble also mention research. It might be good to get in some comment about responsible and critical research here too. The collaborative research might be read as working with industry, this must be tempered with responsibility, and it is something that deserves to be said much more often here. To simply give a free reign to any collaboration goes the way of corporate tie-ins, or worse.

“build on our record of world-leading and high impact research;
increase collaborative research, knowledge exchange and consultancy”

I find the second clause troubling if it does not come with a health warning vis a vis corporate opportunism. This also matters for teaching in a fundamental way. In the sciences companies like Riotinto have used ‘collaborative research’ and consultancy as a way in to having a say on curriculum, for example.
Then we get to the meat section. This part is wholly different. Supportive statements and sensible, encouraging concerns for the student experience and so on. Here I have much less trouble with the wording – though sometimes things like ‘enterprise’ slip in (is this the starship enterprise, or something else?).
Focussing our aims
SA4 – employability speak starts to creep in a little, but it is largely OK. What is Synapse (link?) Who gets these gold Awards? [It may be that communication is really a missing link in all Goldsmiths does]
SA5 – global open access. This is great. For example, providing subsidised access to our electronic library holdings for students trapped in Gaza would be a way forward. I have tried n the past to get this on the SMT agenda. Maybe it is something GLUE could take up.
What is missing?
What I think is crucial for a L&T strategy is not at all a centralised resource. What is missing is an up-front commitment to deploy resource to departments. This no doubt is a common complaint from academics, but it is now beyond absurd that centralised administrative fiefdoms are in the business of mass dissemination of strategy documents that, if some meta-cognitive criticism might be warranted, seem only to allocate more and more work to departments, and more and more ‘meta-document writing’ to the self-perpetuating central admin sections. Among the things I can think of immediately that might be an alternative to all this would be that we need more resource within departments to teach PhD students – the calculation of staff time is insufficient for these students who require intensive attention. I mean, that is, if we are to teach them, say, to write. I think in the University we do a good job still of teaching to listen, teaching to repeat arguments, even to discuss and critique, but teaching to write takes time and one to one development of writing as an exchange between supervisor and student, as well as adequate time between supervisor and groups of students – say a writing seminar or the development of academic publications. I think we have had enough of the massive centralised effort to produce a glossy award-winning but alienated college-wide prospectus and centralised webpages always tightly controlled by design protocol. We should instead release funds to departments to free up staff time for increased writing supervisor-student sessions and for in-house scholarly publications which might also carry the prospectus, making the whole thing more attractive, critical and intellectually challenging.
OK, so, I’ll stop, I know this is probably just typing in the wind. I won’t even correct the typos. Just needed to say this after a day of meetings that were fairly underwhelming.