From 007 to Registrar

A distinctive new approach to the campus novel

Unlikely as it may seem this brief book offers the most exciting representation of a Registrar since Lucky Jim. Set in a real university (York) but with fictional (we hope) characters there is plenty to enjoy here:

The present and past lives of James Kerr, university senior manager and former intelligence officer, collide in this campus-based thriller. He is drawn inexorably into the world of international espionage and geo-politics while simultaneously trying to cope with a home-grown crisis. Set in Beirut, York, London and Brussels, the story draws on the spy-writing tradition of Ian Fleming, John le Carré and Charles Cumming.

It’s good fun, it’s short and dead cheap and the proceeds go to student causes (I am advised by the author) so why not give it a go? You can buy it via the Kindle Store.

I have to say I really did like it but then every Registrar likes to imagine themselves in this kind of role sometimes…

Rich celebrations

Two ceremonies to celebrate the achievements of Dr Tony Rich

I was privileged to attend two ceremonies in February to celebrate the achievements of Tony Rich, formerly Registrar and Secretary at the University of Essex and a mentor to me for nearly 20 years. The first event was the naming of a new teaching centre at the University:

The Tony Rich Teaching Centre

Entirely appropriate given Tony’s passionate commitment to teaching and learning. The naming was followed by a wonderful ceremony further celebrating his life and work and culminating in the award of an Honorary Doctorate.

Honorary degree award

It was a really special and poingnant event and great to see such a big turnout including many former colleagues from Essex, friends and family, a number of Vice-Chancellors and Registrars and lots of people from the Colchester and the region.

As another attendee pointed out to me, universities really do this kind of event extremely well. It had just the right mix of formality, seriousness and pomp combined with informality and personal touches.

The oration paid testament not only to Tony’s career and particularly his 12 years at Essex where he had led and contributed to significant change but also his major contribution to the educational, cultural and sporting life of the town, county and region over many years. It was an outstanding list of achievements.

Among those present was Jonathan Nicholls who is raising money for the University of Bristol’s Cancer Research Fund in honour of Tony:

The London Marathon will take on an extra-special meaning for one Bristol alumnus as he aims to complete the gruelling 26 mile course in honour of the University of Bristol’s recently retired Registrar Dr Tony Rich, who is battling the disease.

Dr Jonathan Nicholls (BA 1978) has already raised nearly £10,000 in sponsorship for his efforts, which were prompted by the heartbreaking diagnosis that his close friend Dr Rich has incurable cancer.

Dr Nicholls, who works as Cambridge University’s Registrary, will be joining seven other Bristol alumni runners who are raising money for Bristol University’s Cancer Research Fund, which supports vital research into cancer prevention and treatment.

He and Dr Rich first met as administrators at the University of Warwick in the 1980s and have been close friends ever since.

Dr Rich started work as Registrar and Chief Operating Officer at the University of Bristol at the end of the 2010/11 academic year, having previously worked as the Registrar and Secretary of the University of Essex since 1999, but retired recently due to ill health.

He is now asking friends and colleagues to support Dr Nicholls as he prepares to conquer the world-famous marathon on 22 April.

Jonathan’s sponsorship page is here. Do please support him.

Overall a wonderful event celebrating an outstanding individual.

Title inflation

Too many chiefs

The Economist carries an interesting piece on the runaway inflation of job titles:

KIM JONG IL, the North Korean dictator, is not normally a trendsetter. But in one area he is clearly leading the pack: job-title inflation. Mr Kim has 1,200 official titles, including, roughly translated, guardian deity of the planet, ever-victorious general, lodestar of the 21st century, supreme commander at the forefront of the struggle against imperialism and the United States, eternal bosom of hot love and greatest man who ever lived.

When it comes to job titles, we live in an age of rampant inflation. Everybody you come across seems to be a chief or president of some variety. Title inflation is producing its own vocabulary: “uptitling” and “title-fluffing”. It is also producing technological aids. One website provides a simple formula: just take your job title, mix in a few grand words, such as “global”, “interface” and “customer”, and hey presto….Even so, chiefs are relatively rare compared with presidents and their various declensions (vice-, assistant-, etc). Almost everybody in banking from the receptionist upwards is a president of some sort. The number of members of LinkedIn, a professional network, with the title vice-president grew 426% faster than the membership of the site as a whole in 2005-09. The inflation rate for presidents was 312% and for chiefs a mere 275%.

America’s International Association of Administrative Professionals—formerly the National Secretaries Association—reports that it has more than 500 job-titles under its umbrella, ranging from front-office co-ordinator to electronic-document specialist. Paper boys are “media distribution officers”. Binmen are “recycling officers”. Lavatory cleaners are “sanitation consultants”. Sandwich-makers at Subway have the phrase “sandwich artist” emblazoned on their lapels. Even the normally linguistically pure French have got in on the act: cleaning ladies are becoming “techniciennes de surface” (surface technicians).

The same has happened in UK higher education over the years. Many universities now use the titles such as Assistant Professor and Associate Professor in place of Lecturer and Senior Lecturer. And in the administration whereas most titles used to be Administrative Assistant, Assistant Registrar, Senior Assistant Registrar or similar, these have now been replaced by a plethora of Officers and Executives and we seem to have more Directors than Hollywood. And many Registrars have now been retitled Chief Operating Officers. Where will it end?