INKYTEXT 230 Part I
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Issue No 230 Thursday 30th October 1997
Editorial Correspondence to InkyText@lancaster.ac.uk
Subscription Requests to Inkytext-Distribution-Request@lists.lancs.ac.uk
Widespread and visible official relief (a) because of the modest
surplus achieved last year, albeit at dysfunctional cost, and (b)
because our financial morass has been more or less brought under
control by someone so manifestly on the ball as Mr McGregor.
It remains the considered view of this journal that our position is
still fairly uncertain: unstable because of the numerous possibilities
for shortfalls in anticipated income (some already being realised) and
the risks posed by still unassessable obligations; precarious because
of our indebtedness and lack of significant reserves.
The chance of short-notice cutbacks in current budgets. almost
inevitably implying job losses, must not be ruled out if TPTB are
genuinely intent on achieving a 3.2 million surplus this year come what
Throat clearing, reminiscing and announcements
1. Editorial amuse-gueules: Prices, values and universities
2. Fish: Ruskin, new cafes, bars, UCL, graduate numbers, TEP, ACC party,
Sociology, VC's lunch, admin restructuring, vacant rooms.
3. Entree: The Full Monty
follows when this marking is finished and will contain
4. Main Course: The Telephone Saga
5. Small Ads and more announcements: 6 ft tall Leeds PhD hunted; cars,
houses, furniture, motorbikes, etc.
6 Dessert: Readers' Letters - sweets, nuts and carriages (railway).
THROAT CLEARING ETC.
The themes of the current series of editorials (idiocy and dangers of
applying industrial quality control concepts to education) were taken
up by Libby Purves in The Times last week. Our own Professor Richard
Roberts (current head of Rel Studs) wrote in similar vein in the RC
monthly The Tablet. Professor Martin Trow (Berkeley) spoke in related
terms at Missenden (a summary of his paper appeared in last week's
Full membership of our 'Dearing group' is: Professor R Deem
(Convenor), Profs Abercrombie, Fulton and Hetherington, Dean Watson,
Dave Boyle, Guy McEvoy, Cassie Northam, the Librarian. Roger Cook
(Planning) is Secretary.
Our own telephonists are disenchanted and deserve sympathy. There are
already times of the year (degree time, admissions, intro-week) when
for hours on end they connect 500 calls an hour each, vastly more than
any job definition would deem reasonable. The ACC debacle has landed
the two on duty with immense further problems, including upset and
angry callers. (A third telephonist is currently delegated to evening
work to help out Security who normally man the swithcboard alone after
6.p.m.) All calls to rooms that reach them are put through where
possible since they have no way of knowing who has paid ACC and who
not. Delays can in no way be attributed to them.
1. EDITORIAL: STANDARDS AND QUALITY CONTROL
How much is a fake fiver worth? Depends what you mean of course. It
probably costs as much to make as a real one, though production
economies of prolly ensure that a real one costs less. Still, for those
who confuse price and value that at least makes the intrinsic of both
worth pretty much the same. Likewise for those unable to spot that it's
fake... at least until someone else tells them.
The thing about bits of paper however is that their intrinsic worth is
vastly less than their fiduciary value. A scribbled note is worthless
unless someone somewhere believes that the likes of Picasso did the
scribbling, in which case its worth as much as s/he will pay for it.
So it is with degrees, fiduciary documents par excellence. To an
employer they are 'worth' only what s/he - perhaps mistakenly - thinks
their value is. Unlike fake fivers the worthless can go undetected for
years before someone who has taken them at face value discovers how
little some may be worth.
It is this that motivates current 'quality control' projects that
purport to define syllabuses and 'graduateness' (a term that need only
be coined to reveal its fatuity but which is current in HEFCE circles).
As with other claims to 'raise standards' such thinking can succeed
only in driving them inexorably downwards.
It is doing so already. Only 15 years ago universities happily
co-existed and collaborated, failing students who deserved ito fail. We
could speak and reason objectively about selves and rivals. Then came
competition, and with it distorted, mendacious and meretricious
'marketing' claims and a welter of commercial advertising that has
enriched only the press and graphic designers.
Gresham's Law operates in a market, making competitively lowered
prices lower quality rather than raise it, when consumers lack adequate
info about the quality of their purchase. It must operate in a
university 'market' since it takes both students and employers too long
to discover what their diploma is really worth.
By that time it is too late and the university that awarded it will
have irrevocably changed anyway, for better or worse, since the
institutions like their staff and students, are living and organic
entities that never stand still.
Hence the need perceived by demented free-marketeers for a quality
controlling 'watchdog' of the type set up when other pseudo-markets in
water, schools, phones, gas, electricity and rail travel were recently
created: OFWAT, OFTEL, OFSTED. We can all see how effective they have
The only truly interesting scholarly question is who shall control the
quality of the quality controllers.
OUR HOME AND EU POST-GRADUATE NUMBERS have slumped by 200 since this
time last year. Biggest fall is thought to be amongst our own
graduates. A survey is always conducted among those admitted who fail
to take up a place. Reasons given usually relate to lack of funding.
This time the reasons given relate to infrastructure, library spending
and doubts about our future prosperity. Such concerns are in danger of
being self-fulfilling and dramatic lateral thinking rather than managed
decline will be needed to get us out of a downward cycle.
THE VC HELD ANOTHER of the regular lunchless lunch-time meetings for
heads of department on Tuesday. Ask your HoD what happened.
FIRST CAMPUS ROOMS VACANT sign appeared in Lonsdale College this week
- rooms available at 38 quid odd. Apply to the College Office.
ADMIN RESTRUCTURING crawls on. Buildings staff remain apprehensive but
the only new report from their 'division' is that Mr Christian takes
responsibility for conferences from Christmas, with residences somehow
becoming part of the Provost's office. This effectively places the
Provost of Colleges in a subordinate role to the Finance Director,
which won't help rent negotiations and is a long way from the Pro-VC
status that student and college affairs need. [It still seems clear
that a third top level admin division is needed for this, and that an
extra politically aware and powerful senior administrator is needed,
unless the Provost of colleges is to move to an administrative
position, as did Mr Adams and Dr Collins.]
Meanwhile in the Secretary's division too minimal changes have been
proposed, apart from the creation of two new 'teams' - one for
marketing and publicity, the other for international matters. For the
moment these seem to imply salary rises for new heads of section rather
than the 500K recurrent salary savings sought by 2000. Mention of teams
inevitably recalls the famous line of Petronius Arbitor about
reorganisation creating "the illusion of progress while producing
confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation".
BAR TAKINGS FALL: Reports from all but 2 college bars of a major
decline in trade and takings compared with the same point last year.
Increased mutterings about the bars being run by and for an older
generation who haven't responded to student taste for late-night
clubbing. The lack of investment in our own bars, annual turnover over
1 million pounds, is now showing. An agreeable and busy atmosphere in
only 2 bars at lunchtime and in early evening might arguably encourage
and increase trade.
Student poverty alone is not the explanation: club nights in
Morecambe, Preston and beyond are booming; new pubs in town aimed at a
student clientele likewise: Penny Bank, the Blob Shop, Bobbin, Friary
and Firkin, H2O (formerly Springs) and Reds (design-conscious designer
beer and wine bar in Lower Church St.) Huge new premises styled The
Varsity are to open in George St next year and Crows re-opens as wine
bar and cafe on Nov 7.
REPORTS FROM PRESTON that the University of Central Lancs is seeking
to shed 130 clerical and other assistant staff posts by the year 2000.
Their VC, the enterprising Mr Brian Booth, has also announced his
surprise intention to retire somewhat prematurely. The search process
to find his successor begins after Christmas.
RUSKIN: SCAN STORY BASED ON FACT but perhaps needlessly alarmist. The
impressive report on Ruskin in the last SCAN may have overstated the
case and the pictures used may not be that recent. The project officer
responsible insists the building is currently bone-dry inside, and the
scaffolding has now come down. It looks splendid outside. However
experienced local builders remain deeply sceptical about the efficacy
of the innovatory air-flow mechanisms being used to evaporate moisture
in the cavity wall. One asked why, if cavity filling was thought
necessary in the first place, it could be dispensed with now. He said
that if he were planning to live in the building he would pebble-dash
The bad news for the client (us) is that the architects have approved
an extension of time for completion of the contract. Which under
standard RIBA contracts seems to mean we pay something at least. It is
understood that the collection itself has for some time been stored in
the archives area of the Library under the Pilkington Reading room, to
save on the rumoured 2K a week it was costing us for secure warehouse
storage in London.
TAX-EFFICIENT PAY: startling report in The Guardian of 21.x.97 headed
"Inspectors target financial advisors in war on tax dodgers". It
highlights Treasury intentions to redefine the boundary between tax
avoidance (legal) and tax evasion (not). The enquiry is being conducted
by Deloittes, who are not themselves being investigated.
The Guardian reports that "Finance companies have been targeted for
having marketed "tax efficient" products to high earners. [...] Two of
the biggest firms of accountants, Ernst and Young and Cooopers and
Lybrand, are known to have been targeted; two other big firms are
believed to be under investigation." It continues "Accountants are
particularly vulnerable because they have been instrumental in
designing schemes which minimise or avoid the need for tax payments."
MOONLIGHTS opened last Friday next to the SU offices in Tower Avenue.
Yet another pizza and donner kebab and hamburger joint, though
attractively fitted and with seating for 42. Unlike Pizzetta Republic
it also sells sub-Kentucky fried chicken pieces (1.10 for one) and
chips (80p). Large number of 2.99 'meal deals'. It plans to stay open
till 3.00 a.m. seven days. Local hot sandwich chain Diggles also opened
their cramped take-away on the upper level of Tower Avenue this week.
This may harm the current hot food trade of both Birketts and the
butcher's counter in SPAR. Not much for veggies though... and no real
competition in prices. As reported in the Independent, the Wibbly
Wobbly burgers in Pendle, though costly enough, are far better than the
rest. [Wibbly Wobbly wishes to thank whoever sent them the cutting.]
SURPRISE SURPRISE FOR FURNESS PRINCIPAL: The Syndicate of Furness
College threw a surprise dinner party for Furness Principal, Janet
Clements just before the start of term, to thank her for all she did
during her first term of office and to express its gratitude that she
was willing to continue. The surprise was kept. When Janet arrived at
the Bay Horse on the Friday before Intro week to be greeted by 23
fellow Furnessians and a stray fellow Principal and spouse she wasn't
quite sure what was happening, and claims to have assumed she was
leaving the University. Husband Huston, who was in on the secret, was
also being thanked for the much appreciated contribution he makes to
the social activities for senior members. [Surprises seem to be a
Furness speciality. A similar do in the Senior Common room on his
birthday left former IS lecturer, historian David Allan, now at St
ACC'S FREE BEER FOR PHONES OFFER CAUSES STAMPEDE: Astonishing scenes
on the south spine last Thursday as news spread that phones company ACC
were giving away thousands of cans of Red Stripe lager at their
peacemaking party. Hundreds of students rushed down and walked off with
three or more 4-packs, some reportedly filling car boots. Confirmed
reports that 5500 cans were 'consumed' as well as wine and soft drinks.
Catering seems to have made some money out of it.
A VIRAL INFECTION at the weekend turned out not to be serious.
Procedures are in place for responding to infectious illness on campus
should any ever appear.
3. THE FULL MONTY
A reader asks the origin of this expression which doesn't figure in
Partridge or Room, nor in Partridge's 'Slang' or his 'Dictionary of
The same question has recently been asked several times in the popular
press. The variety of marginally plausible explanations that different
readers insist to be genuine, without any documentary support, confirms
the health of popular etymology as a pseudo-science.
Most of these explanations centre around General (later Field Marshal
Viscount) Montgomery of El Alamein, know as Monty to all and famous for
his clipped and acid 'Montygrams'. Other explanations relate the phrase
to Monte Carlo, its casino or its car rally, widely known in English as
'Monte', except to people who have been there. Further suggestions
include reference to the Montague Burton 3 piece suit which veterans
were given on demobilisation (cf 'gone for a Burton').
Such feats of creative imagining may be unnecessary and are not
supported by proven examples. Don't currently have access to the online
OED, but most of us only started seeing the expression in the past few
years, not in WWII. Its meaning was always apparent from the context
and could be either substantive ('the whole works') or adverbial
('going the whole hog'). The uses I recall all seemed to relate to
complete breakfasts or lavish meals. The specific link with total
nudity or the kind of strip-tease the French would call 'integral'
narrows the sense further and seems even more recent. It is especially
found in the popular press.
The OED (2nd edition) amply documents the word 'monty' (alternative
spelling 'monte') in uses where it is accompanied by an absolute or
superlative attribute. It is an Antipodean horse-racing term denoting a
'certainty', a 'sure-fire winner', well attested in this sense since
the turn of the century in Oz literature and speech. A 'sure monty' is
a dead cert. Perhaps it took this sense from some local Red Rum of the
time. However in this sense no collocation with 'full' is cited, nor
would perhaps be likely.
Perhaps more significantly the OED also documents the word 'monte'
(also 'monty') as a 'takeaway' card game. The Spanish or Mexican
origins of the game are attested by its name which denotes the 'stack'
of cards remaining after each player has her or his hand. Removing the
whole monte, preferably in one go, thus becomes the goal.
The fact that the discourses of card games and horse-racing are
socio-culturally related may suggest a possible confusion of the two
concepts. That together with the Antipodean connection suggests it may
have entered the country, like other recent Oz-ism, through Neighbours
or Home and Away rather than via Rolf Harris.
The specific link with nudity may have arisen in the pages of
'laddish' magazines like GQ and Loaded, where the Earls Court influence
is prominent. More info welcomed.
Professor Hughes (Sociology) has surmised that, with sponsorship and
ticket sales, an offer by senior university officers to do the full
Monty might go some way towards remedying our money worries. Such a
suggestion, not so much the Chipmunks, more the Chipolatas, as an Irish
commentator remarked, seems unlikely to be followed up.
[PAUSE FOR POLITE INTERCOURSE AND SORBETS]