Saturday, 19 June 2010

And the winner is...

So, off to London on Thursday for the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards. We, the administration team at the University of Leicester School of Museum Studies were nominated in the category of Outstanding Departmental Administration Team. In nearly 40 years of working for the University, I’ve never been nominated for any sort of award, so we were all very excited.

Outside the Grosvenor, about to go in for the awards

A glittering occasion

As one of 5 nominees, we didn’t think we had much of a chance, and when Alexander Armstrong read our names out, we were astounded - and very pleased. We don’t get presented with huge amounts of money, just a nice trophy and lots of kudos.

L-R Myself, Bob, Barbara, Gus and the Lady from AUA who presented the award

The judges picked up 3 things in particular: “... Students have also benefited hugely from the team’s approach in forging close links with the sector. Among their successes has been the implementation of an online ‘jobs desk’ for graduates, which is quickly becoming a definitive source of employment information in the sector - in 2008-09 it featured 2,900 jobs and attracted 250,000 web hits. (This was my own contribution – something I thought up and have implemented over at least 10 years, and... am very proud of).

Barbara and me with the award - Barbara is keen to hang onto it!

The team have also worked closely with the Museums Association on a national scheme to enhance workforce diversity and have coordinated a network of more than 200 museums that offer work placements each year. ...In particular, the panel were impressed by the overall effectiveness of such a small team. ...They also rated the way the team worked together, involving academic, administrative and technical staff, for the benefit of students.”

All the winners

So we were all feeling rather pleased with our success. However, one comment on the THE website seems to sum up everything that makes me angry about the mean mindedness of people who simply cannot bear to see anyone receive any praise, especially those not ‘on the front line’.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this. We are rewarding non-front line activities, putting them on a par with teaching and research excellence, topics that extend the boundaries of their field. We are now handing out awards for the best marketing and comms team, the best HR team!!!, and as for best finance and procurement team. These are the academic equivalents of Oscars for best make-up, costume design and special effects, in that order. ... Next week the winners of the best library shelf stacker will be announced in a glittering display in McDonalds.”

Leaving aside my own contempt for those who use triple exclamation marks to express their feelings, I am heartily sick of this front line/back room distinction. We are being told that the Government’s cuts will hit hardest in the public sector and especially in non front line services. How do these people think front line services are enabled to happen? Would you send an army into the (real) front line without a team of people making sure they are supplied with food, transportation, information and equipment?

The last time I heard this particular argument (during the notorious Thatcherite 80s when ‘City Boys' were making millions and the mining communities were being destroyed) I was chairman of the County’s Social Services Department and we were being urged to cut jobs behind the scenes – bureaucrats, pen pushers, desk pilots! When we were confronted with the evidence of past abuse in the County’s Children’s homes, it was plain for all to see that one of the major factors in allowing the abuse to continue over a period of years was the lack of proper record-keeping and co-ordination and exchange of information. Front line workers were too busy to do all the paperwork demanded by the Department of Health etc. And the lack of ‘back room’ support meant it was impossible to unravel some of the allegations.

Frank Beck, a manager of one of the County’s homes was eventually sentenced to 5 life sentences plus 24 years when he was found guilty. He later died in prison of a heart attack.

All the above reinforces my belief that ‘back room boys/girls, as they are often pejoratively called, have a real value and deserve consideration as much as those who deliver so called ‘front line’ services.

I suppose, for me, the message is “Don’t take pride in what you do; don’t believe that what you do is important and, above all, never accept praise or congratulations for ‘just doing your job’”.

Sorry to rant, but I foresee a holier than thou, puritannical attitude to any activity not actually involving wearing a hair shirt and self-flagellation. Or is that just me?


  1. First of all, kudos for your wonderful award! You and your team have done marvelous work. I can't tell you how encouraging it was to look at the Museum Jobs Desk over the past several years ... all your doing, my dear, along with all the many other things I know you're a part of.

    The internet is a difficult and strange place, and I'm sure you know that people feel much more free to express themselves in both useful and not useful ways. Anonymity is both a curse (most times) and a blessing (infrequently).

    Rest assured that your work is appreciated and valued by so many.

    And so many never think to tell you how wonderful you are, but I will, right now. You're great!

    Of course, I'm a (despised) American, so you can fold that into the mix too. Yet I firmly believe people should be praised for their great accomplishments, so once again I say, CONGRATS!!!!

    Well done, friend. You're a peach. Next time I come through Leicester I will definitely drop by to say hello. I'm still recovering from my dissertation comments ( :-( but I did pass, and received a degree with merit, so I can't complain too much.

    Fond affection and all good wishes,

  2. Ellie, You're a star - you've restored my faith in spite of just returning from watching Leicestershire lose abysmally to (of all people) Yorkshire at cricket. The boys are coming rond to celebrate Fathers Day so I'll boast to them.