Managerial Crap

Here’s a short piece I contributed to the LRB Blog 3 or 4 years ago. I’m sure that any of my followers who work in Universities will feel it still resonates.

I took early retirement from my last university job about a dozen years ago. One of my reasons was the way in which my post as head of the history department had become ‘managerialised’. I had mercifully forgotten the horrors of this until I recently stumbled on a copy of one of my memos to my colleagues. Here it is. (I’m not sure of the date.)


“I list below the words, phrases and acronyms that cause me difficulty in the Agenda for the 11 September meeting and its attachments. Some of them I think I understand, but I’m not sure; others I thought I understood but can’t make sense of them in the present contexts; the rest – the majority – simply baffle me.

“Monthly supplier statements; infotype; drilling down, and drill-down functionality; human resources processes; cost centres vs. profit centres; funds reservations; controlling module; principal investigator; distribution/assessment cycle; materials management modules; standard hierarchy within SAP; master data Cost Element (budgethead) level; CO module; petty cash control account; dunning procedures; Transfer’s accrual’s and reconciliation’s [it’s the inverted commas that have me puzzled]; value/quality contracts; storage location on the system; account assignment; physical inventory checking list; text description; issue unit/order unit; deletion (archiving) material records; interface [in various contexts]; output routing; standard texts; SSU web based salary costing system; planning functionality; the level Travel Equipment Salaries Consumables; activity planning [footnote explanation of this is unenlightening]; stored rates; HR/Cost centre/Project interface; profile payments; milestones and milestone bills; basic project templates; submission of formal start date; data fields; salaries segment; HR/project link; sold-to-party; sales order/billing plan; ‘go live’; SAP requisition prior to it’s conversion [inverted comma again]; ‘Info Record’; Referencing an existing system requisition; line item; price comparison report; salaries cycle run; summarisation report [footnote unhelpful]; history [in this context!]; data partly defaulted; vacancy authorisation process; recruitment module implemented; employee self-service; sub-set of fixed term contracts; flagging input of non-taxable fees to Payroll by dynamic event; mgt info; user information needs; selection or reporting parameters; gap analysis; bespoke developments/requirements; Dev Trust position; org unit; end user; resource allocation model; time series analyses; time and funding splits; audit/notification tool; financial awareness training; and (acronyms): HESA, SAP, MIGs, FST, OSR, BACS, CHAPS, GAYE, PA, PD, PI, WBS, ESG, FSST.”

“Am I the only one among us to be experiencing something akin to panic at the prospect of trying to master all this? I’m sure I could do so, but it would take a very great amount of time and training in financial and management systems.

“Surely this is all MAD? How much work are all these systems going to save us ultimately? Is that anything like commensurate with the time we shall have lost in trying to understand them? Is it really worth the University’s while to divert its ‘line managers’ into this sort of task, to the detriment of the teaching, research and ordinary human management which used to be our traditional roles, are the ones we are trained for and skilled at, and whose performance the University will be ultimately judged on?” END.

The last straw for me came when the vice-chancellor decided he was going to abolish the safety checks on electrical equipment formerly done by qualified electricians, and put on training courses for heads of department to do them instead. He called it ‘empowerment’. I must remember that when I next buy a pullover instead of growing my own sheep. That’s when I decided to go.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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