Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Dignity at Work

There is a lot in common between lecturing and theatre and although I write a script in powerpoint slides it would be too boring for everybody if I just read the bullet points off.  It would also suggest that my role was totally supernumerary - why not e-mail the PPTs to the students and we can all stay home? The management wants everything to be objective and fair and keep control on standards but, like the facade we put up to make it look like we have addressed the issue of plagiarism, a lot of these objective standards are in reality mere optics. Take Learning Outcomes. Each course at The Institute has these written up by the Department, who assigns staff to teach them.  In reality the LOs are written by the local expert who has been teaching the material since before the First War and rubber-stamped by an Academic Standards Committee. When I started two years ago, I inherited a couple of these courses and even in one case a bunch of PPTs.  I don't teach Human Physiology, I teach the subset of Human Physiology that my predecessor thought she (there were actually several previous shes: nobody fought to keep that course in their portfolio - lucky me) would like to cover.

Despite the fact that all my students are human and have a body, only a few of them are really interested in academic Human Physiology no matter how interested and enthusiastic I may seem about it (I have a body; I'm really interested in the details of how it ticks; almost every week I find out something new and interesting in my class prepping). As a, perhaps dodgy, way of engaging with the students, I have been known to refer to the four bright and questioning stalwarts who occupy the rear row left as the "bad boys at the back" although only one of them has a Y chromosome. We have just gone through the Neurophysiology culminating with the Cortex of the Central Nervous System: the bit whose unprecedented expansion 2 millions years ago makes us smarter than everything else on the planet except dolphins like Delphinus delphis.  As a bit of a jape, I finished enumerating the attributes of this enlarged cortex by including the ability to attend to Human Physiology lectures - than which there is no higher calling on the intellect. A couple of slides later, to tackle any sense that humans are somehow angel-descended and qualitatively different from animals, I went back to this attending lectures trope and ad-libbed something along the lines that monkeys or could take a course in human physiology . . . but they wouldn't get much out of it . . . and would be expected to be quiet at the back of the class  . . . >!frissson!< as we all - me, bad-boys, the rest of the class - simultaneously realised the implications of what I had just said. Red Face much laughter.

Later, I was telling the story of my discomfiture to our sharp and engaged Departmental Administrator and she said "Let me lend you a copy of the Institute's Dignity at Work policy document".  It's all good fun until someone, quite legitimately, grasses me up to the Head of Department and he is obliged to rip the epaulettes and buttons of my uniform jacket and instruct two porters to frog-march me off campus.

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