My former VC, Sir David Watson, who died yesterday after a short illness, was a gentle, wise and caring man from whom I learned much and who supported me, guided me and challenged me in myriad ways. He was a remarkable man: a great educator, a fine musician and a gifted leader. I believe that he knew not just the names of all his 2500+ staff, but also enough about each and every one of them to sustain a conversation about their interests, achievements and friends. He was modest enough to deny this but, in 15 years of working with him, I never saw him falter and nor did anyone I ever spoke with about it. It was a phenomenon.
I share his nine Laws of Academic Life (AKA Laws of the Academic Jungle) in fond remembrance…
- Academics grow in confidence the farther away they are from their true fields of expertise (what you really know about is provisional and ambiguous, what other people do is clear-cut and usually wrong)
- You should never go to a school or department for anything that is in its title (which university consults its architecture department on the estate, or – heaven forbid – its business school on the budget?)
- The first thing a committee member says is the exact opposite of what she means (“I’d like to agree with everything the vice-chancellor has just said, but…”; or “with respect”…; or even “briefly”)
- Courtesy is a one-way street (social-academic language is full of hyperbole, and one result is the confusion of rudeness – or even cruelty – with forthrightness; however, if a manager responds in kind, it’s a federal case)
- On email, nobody ever has the last word
- Somebody always does it better elsewhere (because they are better supported)
- Feedback counts only if I agree with it
- The temptation to say “I told you so” is irresistible
- Finally, there is never enough money, but there used to be.
Address of the bookmark: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/laws-of-the-academic-jungle/408835.article