8th June 2001 at 01:00
Colour therapy

Q I have just taken up my appointment at this college, in charge of the "front of house" operations. I find that I am required to wear corporate clothing. I object to this, partly on the principle that managers should not need to wear uniform, and partly because the colour specified is a horrible shade of lime green. What can I do?

A Go back to the job details. It is certain that the requirement to wear a fetching frock was in there somewhere. If you want to sabotage the whole uniform thing, you could try the same trick pulled in a London college at the height of a period of industrial unrest. All staff wearing the corporate gear deliberately dyed their hair a colour which clashed violently with it. The sight was so terrifying that sensitive students and visitors stayed away in droves, and management capitulated.


Q In my department I have a lecturer who is touched with genius. His students love him, his results are outstanding, and his classroom technique is worth a detour to see. However, away from the classroom, he is a colleague from hell. His desk is piled high with decaying scraps of abandoned food, he hoards all memos, notes and email print-outs in a dusty pile, and he seems to be building the world's largest collection of sandwich wrappers. He is unmoved by all pleas to clean up his act. What can I do?

A You could be grateful that he is a star in the classroom and a slob elsewhere, rather than vice-versa. Try sending him away on a dissemination of good practice event, and while he has gone, organise a spontaneous localised inferno.


Q I have had a letter from Mr Harwood telling me how much money the college will get to give teachers a pay rise. It is not enough to give everyone who might meet the criteria the sort of rise they probably expect. What has gone wrong?

AQuite a lot, I am afraid. First, the Government has not given enough: only schools get given enough. Second, the lecturers' union Natfhe has been more skilled than the Association of Colleges at manipulating media coverage, and has hyped up expectations. Third, you have not realised that it was always going to be the case that the detail (or the mucky end of the stick, the can of worms) would end up in the lap of the colleges. And fourth, you have forgotten the golden rule of pre-election politics: the Government gets the headlines, you get the headaches.


Q I am a recently-appointed member of the college's corporatio, and a representative employer. The college is having to contemplate a merger with a neighbouring institution. Can you point me towards any research that has been done on mergers, and how successful they have been?

AThe FEFC (ask the clerk who they were) did some research on college mergers, if memory serves, but it was more about models and methods than benefits. The benefits of mergers in the world of business have been examined repeatedly. Just type in "merger" into any decent search engine (avoiding any sites with names like "comingtogether.com") and you should get something useful. A survey by Business Week showed that since 1990, 50 per cent of major mergers have actually eroded shareholder returns, and the Economist reckons that two out of every three mergers "have not worked". Perhaps, rather than merge, your college should refocus its activities, return to core values and sell off its overseas operations.


Q As principal of this fairly small college in a moderately prosperous town, I take a lot of trouble to keep my ear to the ground. As part of that process I cultivate the editor of the local paper, who has become as much a friend as a professional contact. Last week he told me that one of my staff was acting as a whistleblower by feeding a journalist with information about me. This includes unflattering comments I am alleged to have made about most of the prominent people in the town. As a friend, he was not going to publish it, but wanted to know what I could do to compensate him for his discretion. He wanted some sort of first right to exclusive stories about the college. What should I have said?

A A lot of issues here. First, and most obviously, never, ever trust a journalist to keep a secret. If the time comes when he feels the urge to publish, he will. Second, don't "do a Sophie" by trying to plug a leak with a bung composed of further embarrassing confessions. You are in a hole, so stop digging. Third, check on your college's whistle-blowing policy: if it doesn't specifically say that frivolous blasts could get you sent to the Tower, then change it so that it does. It should also make clear that whistle-blowing should be a matter of last resort, when all internal college channels are blocked.


Q Is there any way to ensure that a senior colleague, leaving to go to an even more senior post at another college, does not use information gained when working here to boost the new place and cripple us?

A No. Brace yourself.

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