The “Legend” is a movie about the Kray brothers and their influence on East London. “The College” is located at the heart of it all and still has a collective memory around the mark left by the Krays…
I visited the College (14-19 May 2016) and met former colleagues Jon, John & Carol, Brenda & Peter, Ralf & Astrid, Angelika, David, Brendan, Rachel & Lise, Richard N, John V, Adrian and Gavin.
Kostas, Marina, Maryam, Natalie and Tharse were all at a barbecue welcome party at Liisa & Jason’s home, whereas other former students sent messages from around the world: Tokyo, San Diego, Colombo, Paris, Zaragoza, Ferrara, Birmingham… (thank you to all).
I met for the first time Stellios, an organic chemist now sitting in Norbert’s former office who just arrived in the position vacated by Igor. (Igor & Norbert joined the College at the same time with me, but have now moved to Manchester and Karlsruhe, respectively.)
Science from the trip was mainly about the ongoing collaborations with Jon Nield (on ferritin) and John Allen (on mitochondria), although I especially enjoyed learning about Clare Pilgrim’s research on the Drosophila intestine at Irene’s lab, where I also met with Daphni (gut neurons) and Marina (placental cancer). With Gavin, we discussed his 51-year-old paper on a steroid hormone, my first paper on the subject from last year & also philosophical & cultural approaches to the inevitability of death.
Gavin appointed, many years ago, Richard P to the College, who was recently named as the interim head of School and with whom I also spent an hour to exchange views.
What is next for my former School, now that Evans has quit?
The name to watch out for was Edmund Burke. The all-too-familiar story of detached UK university managers appears, unfortunately, to be true in his case as well: with the obvious exception of Richard P, no one else had met the new Vice Principal for Science & Engineering, despite being in post for almost half a year (replacing Jeremy). Yet all had heard of his “wish” that everyone on a “teaching and research” (sic) contract had to be “REF-returnable” (should I add: “or else…”) and a parallel wish for implementing more personalized teaching in the curriculum (did you hear about the white paper?), while contributing more to the College’s “investment fund” as a School.
This is not an enviable situation to be in. The objectives set new obstacles to knowledge creation and dissemination, first by putting the two in conflict with each other and secondly because the third objective of making money overrides the first two in decision making. Such wrongly prioritized management of the College that ignores its founding Charter is possible because proper accountability mechanisms are not in place. Money-making has priority over science and higher education. The managers may of course enable the College to build an even larger building down the corner like “the Graduate centre, which will be many more things” currently going up across the Fogg Building. But one needs to ask:
What is the human cost of it all?
I wish I didn’t know. But, I do, which is an additional reason why John and I spoke out before. I had just been confirmed to my Lectureship in Cell Biology, having met the insane “targets” of the moment and we were fortunate to have two baby girls. No one came to warn me about my children, as Reggie did in the movie to the old lady who witnessed his brother’s crime. Only “targets” suddenly became new “thresholds” applied retrospectively according to the Evans “Restructuring Proposals”.
It was all very civilized and only about my job being “at risk”. Then, my co-author to the Lancet letter was unfairly dismissed. Hopefully, the College will not be allowed to continue methods of the past at the East End of London…
The photo was taken by John Allen and shows me together with Professor Larissa Fradkin outside the National Gallery, where we spent our Monday afternoon.