...you might want to check this. (If you follow the links to the pages cited, you might recognise the name of a former UCT academic.... fondly remembered for his pink shorts!)
A simple email exchange which involved wishing someone an enjoyable day unravelled into fantasies of sippiing cappuccinos at Rhodes memorial, enjoying the spring sunshine, gazing out over the peninsula in its hazy distance. Idyllic. Impossible.
This time of year sees everyone running in smaller and smaller circles, as the year trickles to the bottom of the hourglass grain by grain. Undergraduates get philosophical over candles and cheap red wine - and, if the toilet doors in Beattie are anything to go by, Khalil Gibran and Omar Khayyam - and the staff who will have to mark it all get philoshophical under fluorescent lights and hangovers from too much cheap red wine... and half-recalled snippets of high school setwork poems and plays.
And so the weather decides to come to the party, in a dazzle of summerblue sky and birdsong, which we barely even notice as we bustle from meeting to meeting.
Ah well, Happy Spring anyway...
Yesterday evening I was asked if I'd assist this morning to set up a laptop for "a meeting". There's not an awful lot to setting up a laptop - unless one has a mouse with a different fitting to the options offered by the laptop - but hey, it's five minutes of my life, I can use all the good karma I can earn.
The laptop was stone dead. In fact, I've seen stones with more life - if they stand out in the sun, the absorb the warmth and radiate it back as if they're not completely dead. Unlike this laptop - no amount of current flowing at it from the wall plug could convince the battery that there was life after death. (Clearly an atheist laptop, then - must choose more carefully next time.)
The "meeting", it turned out, wasn't a meeting at all... but a seminar - one of those hoops that academics with some notion of coming to work here have to jump through to convince their prospective colleagues that they've got something to say beyond "do I really have to complete this form? I've already filled in twelve others asking the same information" or "why is there never any parking after 07h30?".
Which meant that shrugging and mumbling "sorry, it's dead" with the faintest attempt to fake empathy wasn't a good idea. We needed Plan B.
Plan B involved a recce of Other Laptops In The Faculty. Which was an interesting process. We have R12 000 laptops that lie unused because visiting academics lost R800 power cables, which can't be replaced because of exhausted departmental budgets.... We have laptops that have lain unused because someone put an administrator password on the workstation login, went on sabbatical, and forgot the password... We have laptops that are under lock and key in offices of staff whose whereabouts are known only to the Oracle of Delphi. And we have laptops whose overstretched departmental gatekeepers are so willing and accommodating that they come back with fewer and fewer bits each time they're borrowed.
We did eventually get sorted. It was probably a better introduction to Real Life At UCT than any of inductions or briefings or glossy pamphlets could provide - both the opportunities and the constraints. Yes, there are real technical problems inherent in working in a place where need always outstrips budget. But yes, there are also warm fuzzy moments as people come together across departmental boundaries, and even across the great Academic - non-academic divide, and work together in creative, good-humoured focus to ensure that something comes together as needed.
And hey, who cares _really_ if we only have white chalk in the seminar room?
Part two of the Work Wellness Survey is about to be rolled out, part two being staff on conditions other than academic. Looking at aspects such as perceptions of your job, attitudes toward the organisation, your health and your satisfaction with life, it asks 17 pages of questions on lickert scales to establish how stressed staff at tertiary educaiton institutions are.
Issues like autonomy, control, alienation and workload feature quite significantly. Interest in, and variety of, work, as well as the extent to which one feels one is being stretched or engaged by one's job are also explored.
Once all the data has been collected and analysed, there are plans for it to inform "interventions" aimed at addressing problem areas. Real interventions, addressing real problems, with real money, we're told. Not like the Climate Survey, we're assured, with great sincerity. Though this does, of course, require that people fill it in.
Being late September, most people are finding their medication supplies running low. The trading of pharmaceuticals in the passages has spawned an informal economy of IOUs and promisory notes, and it's only a matter of time before the spring shoots on the Virginia Creeper are stripped and smoked as supplies dry up. Might this affect the data collected? Well, maybe.
What does any of this have to do with anything, you're wondering, fidgeting nervously in your pocket to check that your last Zoloft is still there, in case. Well... more than one person has remarked on the social role of blogging at UCT, aside from its teaching & learning and research potential. That reading about Greg's sleepless nights, or how to become a cyber-dissident, or Marion's bandwidth fast, somehow keeps them sane and connected in an increasingly solitary work environment. That trying to guess who Carnivorous Cow saw reading the Daily Vice was the only exercise their suicidal brain cell had gotten in living memory. That somehow there were other people out there, behind those shut doors and clicking keyboards, and that made it better, easier, somehow, to sigh and keep going.
And so I couldn't help thinking... if HR is committed to improving the organisational health of our institution, perhaps we could route some of that budget to the sustainability of the blogging infrastructure?
The melifluous strains of Un Di Felice, Eterea were suddenly interrupted by a torrent of colourful cursing. My Monday morning cup of coffee (caffe moccha, whipless) sprang from my hand and arabesqued across my desk to land with perfect aim across my keyboard. We're not talking those disposable jobs that populate student labs here - no, this was the keyboard of my much-beloved iBook! AAAAARGH!
This, you'll know, is why we don't allow students to eat, drink, or breath too deeply in our labs. It's also why staff shouldn't drink coffee, tea, or anything other than rehydration fluid on an IV line, at their desks. Mistakes happen. Usually because that coffee you're about to imbibe is so desperately needed by your body... (I don't know if there have been studies done on this, but I suspect 97.3% of cases involve the _first_ cup of morning coffee...) It's a lesson one has to learn, but the message is unambiguous - get up, leave your desk, have your coffee elsewhere. The break is as good for you as the coffee.
Fortunately my mistake wasn't too costly. For the very reasons that staff aren't trusted to keep their own offices clean, help was at hand. Noxolo, who's obviously seen more of this in her life than she's likely to admit, was there within seconds with a dry cloth to absorb, and then a damp cloth to wipe. Popping out the battery and the keyboard revealed smaller reservoirs which were dealt with in an instant. One can only imagine in awe how Noxolo would have handled the flooding in New Orleans!
My office is now clean, and unrecognisably tidy. The dulcet tones of David Byrne and Rufus Wainwright are now playing with Au Fond du Temple Saintand my fingers are once more caressing the keys of my iBook. And my eyes are fixed on the clock in the corner of my screen, counting down the minutes until my next coffee fix - outside my office!
Daar staan ons na die Senaatvergadering tussen die foto's van verset deur die dekades, 'n demografies-korrekte groep insluitend alle kleure en geure. En ons praat in Afrikaans.
Dis dalk te danke aan 'n taalbeleid wat Engels as amptelike taal voorskryf; of dalk te danke aan die feit dat een van die swart groepslede so pas ontdek het dat hy en een van die wit groepslede "home boys" is, en albei Afrikaanssprekend grootgeword het; of dalk was dit bloot 'n drang om 'n ander stem te lig... maar die klanke van Die Taal buite die Senaatkamer het baie laat opkyk in verrassing.
Afrikaans as taal van verset? Dis wel geskiedkundig so, en nie slegs onder wit Afrikaners nie, al word Afrikaans deesdae meer as taal van onderdrukking gekarikateur. Maar die gebruik van Afrikaans - sowel as ander inheemse tale en selfs die tale van ons buurstate - word alhoemeer as tale van verset in die gange en parkeerterreine van die Universiteit gebruik.
Tony het nou die dag verwys na 'n Swahili blog. Dalk verskyn daar nog in ons leeftyd blogs op hierdie Kampus in ons eie tale van verset, deur- en vir ons "andertaalsprekendes" geskryf....
Earlier, I dutifully went to carry out my elected duty and attended the special meeting of Senate. There was a single issue on the agenda, and the agenda clearly stated that Senate would be required, in accordance with the procedure (which was attached, for information) to vote on the issue.
Senate voted on the issue.
Two people abstained.
I'm struggling, but I really don't understand it. I can understand, if one lobbies beforehand, and caucuses well, that one can use abstention as a powerful tool to signal protest. But this requires a significant number to abstain. But as an individual... and there were *two* of them! Why drag yourself to a meeting called for the purpose of voting on an issue... and then abstain from voting???? If you don't like the proposal, vote against it. If you don't care, why are you there? If you don't know which way to vote, why not ask questions when the opportunity was given?
The Senate, in terms of its composition, would to the uninformed appear to represent an intelligent, enlightened gathering. One would then assume that those intelligent people would behave in an intelligent manner. (I'm an elected member, so the requirement of "intelligence" is not a prerequisite.) But this leaves me completely baffled.
So this morning I bounced into my office at 07h15, a little later than usual because my bed had been particularly cosy this morning, and sat down at my desk to find... nothing. Error messages all over the screens of both the iBook and the vestigial PC. No internet connectivity. No emai, no Skype, no Safari. No SAP (phew!) no network, no... anything. And, of course, no HEAT to log a call. No sign of any power outage - nothing had rebooted in the night - and testing the other network points in my office produced no different results. So I set off to find anyone else in the building to see if the problem existed beyond my office. It did. I phoned the Helpdesk message line and was completely startled by a live voice - ICTS hard at work on trying to bring services back up, but - as can be expected - no indication of time frames. So I bounced off, tekkienet, to leave yellow sticky notes on doors of Key People to advise, and en route bumped into some real people that I chatted with, and then set off to the coffee place, which was open by this stage.
In the queue I encountered bemused, frustrated or angry others to whom I explained the situation, and with whom I chatted, about - oh, all kinds of things. The kinds of things that one should spend rather more time talking about, this being a University and all. By the time the services were restored, I'd had a really good morning, reconnecting with a number of people who'd become virtual personae (or even just email addresses) to me, and actually debating real ideas and real issues with real people (over real coffee). It felt so good. Even the grey skies couldn't change that.
Yes, the work I'd planned for this morning was held up by the unavailability of services - having forgotten my flashdisk yesterday, I was obliged to email myself copies of things I'd worked on at home, which of course I couldn't access without email. Even the online Sudoku was not there for distraction. But after a morning like today, I feel so much more energised and productive I'm sure I'll zip through the outstanding tasks in a fraction of the time it would otherwise take me.
The way we structure our work (more than the work itself, perhaps) has become increasingly dependent, not just on the technology that squats on our desks, but on the technology that squats in the computer room and connects us all over the planet, to each other, even to the person in the office next door. A simple power outage disrupting that threw that into clear relief, and provoked a range of responses from fatalism to anger to disbelief. To relief. To joy.
I think that, like "Talk like a Pirate day" (which was apparently on Monday...) and all the other commemorative days in our calendar, we should consider No Electronic Connectivity Day too, every once in a while, to stir us out of our offices and into the passages and coffee queues and even into the sunshine, to meet and mix, to laugh and love life, and drink real coffee with real people and celebrate a world in which we can still communicate without keyboards and cables.
If we really want to.
The air thrums these days with mumblings of The Evils of Devolution, or its current incarnation, "has devolution gone too far?" Of course, what UCT has is as close to devolution as a pangolin is to an armadillo (see "more", below), but this does not still the mumblings. Usually, reference is made to "unequal" (or inequitable) student : PC ratios between the faculties with the subtext being that some Deans care more than others about such matters, and choose to spend money instead on, oh, pretty colours for departmental tea rooms, perhaps? This, of course, is a gross oversimplification, and is completely ahistoric. And, while notions of "historic (as opposed to "previous") disadvantage" are familiar with reference to the outside world - the source of our staff and our students - they are seldom brought to bear on our own internal situation.
[begin sermon] In the beginning was Centralisation, and Centralisation begat ITEC, and Centralisation was ITEC. And ITEC comprised representatives from "cognate departments", which were they that lay to the North (see "more" below), and these representatives did sit in deliberation and apprortion among the supplicants that which was to be had. And they spake thus: "For wherefore doth a philosopher require a computer, when he can but sit under a Bo tree and philosophise?", and thus, the request was denied. And lo, it came to pass that those that had, got more, and those that had not, even that little which they had became obsolete and unsupported. And thus was the Digital Divide begat.
And lo, it continued thus, with those who had, getting ever more, and those who had not, falling ever further behind. And when the they spotted in the east the light of a new dawn, those who disbursed the resources said unto each other, "Lo, devolution shall come like a thief in the night, let us co-opt and share in the guilt of this which we do", and onto their number they co-opted of the disadvantaged, so that when they committed their final disbursement, lo, their hands too were unclean. And thus it came to pass that the staff of the disadvantaged were given the old, broken, unsupported PCs tossed out of the student labs of the advantage, unto whom new and shiny toys were given, that they may remain humble into the new age.
And when it was that the digital divide was most great, a marriage was wrought between those that had not, while those that had remained untouched. And those that had not were thus chastised: "o ye purveyors of dogs breakfasts, thou art indeed costly and inefficient. Slay thee thus fully a tithe of they workforce and yet more, for with a deficit do I curse the ever more!" And thus they were cursed with a deficit and told to make good on a "devolved budget" and become supplicants to their neighbour which had, while they had not.
And lo, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the land of the dispossessed. But even then, they did not give up hope. Innovative and creative solutions were sought and found, and ground was gained. Although, ground was not gained, but lost - that land which belonged verily to their forefathers was taken from them, and given unto those that had, so that verily, their cause was rendered groundless. But lo, even then, they laboured on.
And their cries went up, "return to us our land!", but the ears were closed and their cries unheeded. But from on high came the accusation, "Ye careth not for your students!", and again went up the cry, "return to us our land, that we can build labs for these our students; verily, we will give up the yield of our labours so that we can build, but return to us our land on which to build." But even then, their cries were not heeded. But lo, creative and innovative solutions were found, and building began, and lo, some progress was wrought.
And lo, when progress was spotted, the voice came down from high, and spake thus: "Verily, I say unto you, it is completely inequitable that some have, and some have not. Thus, let us return to a model of centralisation, so that this matter may be more equitably addressed."
And those that had not, but had made progress nonetheless, did rent their clothing and beat their breasts in anguish, for the memories of the Market Economy were still upon them. And mothers comforted their babes thus, "Hush, suckling, do not wail thus. For maybe this time around we won't get so royally screwed." And they stilled their wails, and swallowed their fatalism, and averted their gaze from the structural forces of historical inevitability, and looked towards the future with hope.
It was, I think, Shaheeda who asked, "why blog?". Apart from the obvious answers ("because it's there", "because it beats responding to emails from the beancounters", "to reassure oneself that there is still _some_ bandwidth somewhere", etc..) I suppose the answer that popped up like a magic mushroom for me was - because it opens up a space.
A space for what?
Well, lately we've heard just about everywhere that more than two people gather at once, that there's a lack of spaces - of "safe spaces" ,of "recreational spaces", of "spaces to talk about issues at the heart of our teaching and learning", and of "spaces for dissent". Blogging allows all of that, and more. Well, at least for now - until someone somewhere catches on and realises that real discussion and debate and communication might be happening here, and starts regulating it through Policies and Procedures and Frameworks and Forms. But for now, while it exists in glorious unregulated anarchy (ooh!) the possibility exists to use it in quite novel, exciting and innovative ways - which offers quite subversive possibilities.
Imagine, for example, librarians - excluded from "academic debates" because these happen at Faculty Boreds (sic) and - in theory - in the Senate, which exclude them by virtue of the conditions of employment - participating in Academic Discussion with academics in a range of departments, CHEDdars, and arb others, and actually (gulp!) contributing! And (gulp!) having that contribution acknowledged!
Imagine, too, academics talking - not just across departments, but even (shudder) across faculties! And not just about parking, or the length of the queues at Java Junction, or "can I swop one of my Zoloft for one of your Valium?"...
Imagine, also, someone getting a glimpse of Greg's private life, and bumping into him in the passage and asking about Tiny Tot - as if Greg was a real human being with a life, rather than just Mr Turnitin? Might this mean that... others... might also have... lives... outside of UCT...? (OK, probably not **everyone**....)
Best not say anything.... Just in case someone actually catches on - and closes down the space.
"The personal is political."