To support staff, all lecturers are children

29th June 2001 at 01:00
We should, all would agree, fit together like hand and glove. Why then does it sometimes seem more like fist and jaw?

Just like Brits and the Americans and their common language, so it appears that college lecturers and their support staff are divided by a common cause. It isn't always like that: sometimes we can almost be pals. But, like origami, when it goes wrong it really goes wrong.

Let us begin with our friends in finance. From the lecturer's point of view, the finance department's mission is to prevent any money being spent by any one at any time. To achieve this goal they have developed a set of rules and procedures so arcane that even they don't understand them. What they do understand, however, is when you, the lecturer, have broken any of these rules, which is basically every time you try and spend any money.

Payroll, on the other hand, has nothing against full-time lecturers. Their war is fought almost exclusively against part-timers, who they clearly believe should donate their labour on a purely charitable basis. If life is a Monopoly board then payroll staff are determined to see that the poor part-time lecturer never gets beyond the Angel Islington.

Actually the way they work is really more like snakes and ladders. Just as the part-timer reaches the top of the ladder - having mastered the latest convoluted system for claiming their pittance - in comes a new, even more complex system, and down the ladder they go, back to the start.

If money must be ultimately handed over to part-timers, say to prevent their children from starving or their house being repossessed, then there is an absolute rule that it can only be paid out a minimum of six months from receipt of the claim. Anything less would be a sign of weakness.

Over at computer services they prefer to work more to the Jekyll and Hyde way of doing things. Dr Jekyll attends the job interview. He is a nice man who believes fervently in his mission of extending access to technology for teachers and students. But by the time he takes up his post, the good doctor has become Mr Hyde, who does not like students and likes lecturers even less. They are fools. They know nothing about computers except how to break them. So now his angle on access is only on how to deny it. To this end his watchword will ever be: mine, mine, mine!

For the lecturer then, support staff inhabit a curious, topsy-turvy world devoted entirely to their discomfort. Security is designed to make them feel insecure. Information systems workers keep them in the dark. And student tracking staff ensure that no trace can be found of a student the lecturer wants to locate.

Needless to say, the view from the other side of the fence is different. To support staff all lecturers are children. They may see themselves as being divided up into sections, departments or faculties, but basically they are all the same. And their deficiencies are all the same too.

Compared to them, lecturers get long holidays and high pay, yet never stop whinging about how they need more of both. Despite their inflated salaries they never seem to spend any of it on decent clothes.

Although they have degrees by the bucketful, they are still totally incapable of filling out a register properly. In fact all systems, however simple, seem beyond lecturers, and they would rather moan for an hour about "paperwork" than spend half an hour actually completing it.

Lecturers also have no organisational skills. They can never manage to run their own raffles, sweepstakes, lottery pools or "guess the number of eggs in the bottle" competitions. They don't hold parties, or if they do they are dire, joyless events with a few tired sandwiches and Sounds of the Sixties on the stereo. And then they turn up late at the good parties thrown by support staff with a bottle of cheap wine and a stupid grin on their faces expecting to be welcomed with open arms!

Luckily, however, lecturers are at last beginning to know their place. In many colleges there are now as many support staff as teachers. Soon the latter will be outnumbered. Then they will just have to buckle down and learn to fill out a form or iron their trousers. Either that or they risk being declared surplus to requirements!

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a London FE college

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