Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Goodbye, Mr Chips

This week I've been clearing out my office and packing my books into cardboard boxes. We are moving to a new building soon. It's been like Haydn’s farewell symphony here this year: desks, chairs and people have gradually disappeared as they've been relocated elsewhere. And soon the knock on the door will come and it will be my turn.

It's an evocative and melancholic experience, getting rid of discarded drafts of articles that went nowhere, uncollected students' essays and old minutes of meetings that I am no longer supposed to keep under the Data Protection Act. The names of former students and colleagues spring up like Proustian madeleines. And so much paper! Yellowing, frayed, no-good-for-anything-anymore paper, with things written on it that might as well be Babylonic Cuneiform. I also found some money in a tupperware box - £140 in notes that are no longer even legal tender. I have no idea how it got there. ('Dougal, the money was just resting in my account ...')

The managerialist university has no sense of history and no memory, because it is about processes rather than people. Action points, delivery strategies, going forward. The only tense that matters now is the future. But people have memories and feelings, and they can't help becoming attached to places and things, even if they are just filing cabinets and operators' chairs.

And in the blink of an eye my life passed. All my shelves have now been emptied and the paper bagged up and ready to be shredded. My office looks like an entry for the Turner prize. I'm going to call it 'Goodbye Mr Chips'.

And as I sit in the echoing emptiness of my office, this poem springs to mind:

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