It's good to talk, but don't expect us to agree

7th November 2003 at 00:00
The meeting of the Muddleshire college board was drifting along pretty much as usual. We had listened to another heart-rending plea from the principal to be released and once again we had to turn down his request to retire.

Much as the poor old fellow deserves to join Mildred in the warmth of Andalusia, we felt that the risk of the funding council descending while we sought a replacement was just too great. From careful strategic planning, we have discovered that our appetite for risk has two dishes we cannot stomach; the absence of a principal and the predatory nature of a college not far enough away.

Frankly, I feel that the Aged P has many years with us yet and we have all secretly agreed that embalming is an option, not least on the grounds that the staff would never notice.

Then we had the traditional tirade from Professor McPlum, which started as usual with his recollection of 1947 when Reginald Maude, the Permanent Secretary for Education, told him that the Central Advisory Committee for Education must "be prepared to die at the first ditch as soon as politicians try to get their hands on education". The professor then eloquently argued for fresh ditches to be prepared and filled with the bodies of those who have interfered ever since. We all agreed and he happily returned to dunking the ginger snaps that the board secretary so wisely provides.

It was only when the chair reported on his recent attendance at an Association of Scottish Colleges meeting that things suddenly burst into life. It started when young David (Allied Motors) asked what benefit the college got from membership of a political lobbying organisation. He waxed on about the evils of spin, of the incestuous relationships of lobbyists and lobbied, and how everyone in lobbying sooner or later became so enthralled by the proximity of power that they came to believe they knew more than the members they served.

He had recently been to visit Aberdeen College and said that if Scotland's second biggest college had no need for membership of a talking shop, then nor did we.

We all then looked at the chair. Old Jock is well known for his ability to escape from the clutches of rational argument by the simple device of ignoring it. He frankly admitted that he slept through most of the ASC forum meetings. Several years ago he had tried to stay awake but found that meeting after meeting the same points were raised as if they hadn't been discussed the last time, so had concluded that power naps were a more constructive use of his dotage.

However, he always enjoyed talking to the other chairs and had learnt much useful information concerning the parentage of various funding council executives, the way to find sums when you really had to and the fact that if you stayed a chair for too long you ended up looking and sounding like Victor Meldrew.

Then he played his trump card by saying that the real purpose of the ASC was to get principals together to work out strategy and policy for the sector and that the Aged P would confirm this. Alas, he had forgotten that the principal's dream of sunny fiestas had just been evaporated.

The Aged P for once did not quite display the solidarity that is the Code Napoleon of their relationship. Instead he confessed that nearly all the time the principals were so busy watching each other that they could hardly agree on whose turn it was to speak, let alone set a strategy. The sole purpose of the ASC was to conceal this fact from politicians and officials.

So of course we passed the motion to continue in membership.

After all, where would we be if that lot knew they could pick us off one at a time?

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