The Thing Without a Head

Life at the film course where I teach is getting slowly back into the regular swing of term-time, with a new intake of 2nd Years (we don’t run the first year general arts course, our job mainly starts when the students decide to specialise in film) and MA post-graduates, and the return of the students from last year, and a couple of people who took a year out.

The re-commencement was not without hiccups. Four days before the start of term we heard that all ad-hoc teaching was to be cancelled, and the technical assistant was dismissed, to save money. The Head of Department, having spent two weeks drawing up a timetable, was not too pleased. So copies of that time-table with 60% of the classes X-ed out in red were distributed, and students were advised by the department not to register until this was cleared up.

Some argued that it’s unacceptable to cut a film course off at the ankles a few days before a new term, when people have left jobs and loved ones and travelled from abroad to take the course as advertised. College management could point to a little clause at the back of the prospectus saying that all courses were subject to change.

In a way the technical assistant issue was a bigger problem than the ad-hoc staff. Without ad-hoc staffing we can’t hire actors for the students to practice drama directing with. We can’t hire a cinematographer to teach camera. But without a technical assistant we don’t have a practical course AT ALL, because we have nobody to issue equipment, take it back when it’s finished with, and check its condition. The chief technician can’t always do that because she has to trouble-shoot in the edit suites as well. You need somebody who will BE there, WITH the equipment, at a set time every working day.

A proposal was mooted that we might share an assistant with three other departments. So we might have them with us one day a week, or slightly more? So if anybody needs a camera for a day, they have to take it for a week. We don’t have THAT many cameras…

Anyhow, the result was that the students banded together, bonded, refused to register, called a meeting with management, and swiftly got the ad-hoc staff budget reinstated. Student power is an awesome thing, at least in a college. They asked for the budget reallocation to be put in writing, but that hasn’t happened yet. We also got our technical assistant back, at least until Christmas. Management were invited to come down to the studio, which they’ve never visited, to see what the technician actually does, which they have never witnessed and don’t know anything about.

Anyhow, I don’t know if this is of any interest to anyone out there, but it might provide an insight into education in theory and practice, management and consultation, and I guess it might get me in trouble. But there are times when I would welcome the right kind of trouble.

4 Responses to “The Thing Without a Head”

  1. It’s an endemic problem in higher education this year. Because of a lack of student numbers many auxiliary staff are being laid off, and in some instances even the lecturers. The university where I was teaching until the start of this academic year has laid off quite a few members of staff as it cannot afford to run at that level. Sadly our students were not as active as yours, and nobody has been reinstated and no budget rethought. It’s difficult as it has left me unemployed. But you are right to state the problems for it is the only way management will listen – silent objecters are never heard. Keep fighting. I should have.

  2. Sorry to hear it.

    The extraordinary thing is that student numbers in our department are higher than ever. We typically offer places to all the prospective students who appear interesting enough, on the basis that usually a third drop out before registering. This year, none did. It’s a small department, but it’s bigger than before this year. If other departments have shrunk and the college has to save money, I can understand them cutting staff in those areas — although there may well be more students next year.

    We also have a very large number of well-paid administrators, coordinators and managers, and a VERY well-paid principal…

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