Thursday, 13 December 2007

A Question of Titles

What is it about titles? Fellow inmates of the academic zoological gardens called universities will recognise the problem. No one is satisfied with the name their parents gave them. Appellations such as professor, doctor, dean have been around for generations and to a certain extent reflect a degree of academic achievement - but now have that faintly Gilbert and Sullivanish ring to them. So what do the academic classes do?
One title, highly prized in a more innocent age - is that of director. Sadly it has become so overused and indeed abused that it has almost no meaning in the university context. When I was a director of a university management school (we all slip up some time) I spent considerable time explaining to my local tax inspector that even though I was called a director, I wasn't really a director. He presumed that if I was called a director then I must be a director and therefore required to jump through the nasty tax loops that all company directors have to negotiate. I patiently explained that being called a duck and even occasionally looking like a duck had absolutely no ornithological significance in academic life. Indeed if a duck were to hang around the central administration for long enough then it would probably be given the title of director. I went on to explain to the poor fellow that everyone from the janitor upwards is a 'director'. He rang off and that was the last I hearde from him. This stripping of all meaning from the title of ‘director’ is a sad consequence of our desire to overload our names with more titles than they were designed to bear.
However, for the senior 'management': vice chancellors and their support 'team' no such problems exist. Vice Chancellors are particularly prone to this form of self-embellishment.Vice chancellors, for example, have plentiful titles to draw upon and the power to create more at will. As an example let me introduce the illustrious Professor Arthur Daley, Vice Chancellor, Chief Executive and Chief Accounting Officer who is head of the University of Lower Bottock on the Water? That has a nice ring to it. But, Professor Daley like his fellow Vice Chancellors can, through the national gong collection agency (Universities UK), and for a relatively modest effort chairing some minor government committee, collect that prized bauble - a knighthood. Knighthoods are good - because you do not need to unburden yourself of any other of your titular decorations. Professor Sir Arthur Daley, Vice Chancellor, Chief Executive and Chief Accounting Officer of the University of Lower Bottock on the Water does sound much better.
Why the rant? What is wrong with this surely harmless form of self-aggrandisement? I hasten to add this is not just a characteristic of those who have won the academic lottery and been transported from some minor, but over-titled academic role, to a job which offers a starting salary bigger than the Prime Minister, car (and chauffeur), house and living expenses, the opportunity to dress in fur trimmed robes and carry the other regalia of office at least twice a year and the ability to dispense titles like some Ruritanian sovereign. The lower orders are in on the act as well. How about Chief Financial Officer and Director of Resources or, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Dean of Extra-mural Affairs? The list of double and triple barrel titles stretches deep into the organisation. How about Receptionist and Head of Front of Office Services?
Your Christmas challenge bloggees is to search the documentation and websites of your own particular zoo and see how many titles those who rule our lives have managed to adorn themselves.

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