Tag Archives: Heads of Department

subtext 168 – ‘giving our graduates the tools to make subtexting happen’

Fortnightly during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments: subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk

In this issue: editorial, part one, part one part two, social media, football, football, more football, university of the year, shakin’, big brother, correction, memory lane, buses, lul, queen albert, concert review, letters



In subtext 166, we alluded to plans within FASS to undertake external searches for several Heads of Department. The subtext drones are doing some digging to unearth some of the rationale behind this, but in the meantime, we are moved to comment on the implications of such a radical policy-change. Long-toothed Lancastrians might remember the ‘Deansgate’ scandal. No, not the Mancunian thoroughfare – the move by the University to cease the democratic selection of Faculty Deans, leaving us free to externally appoint our Deans if needs be (subtext 42). We said at the time that this would prevent faculty staff from having a say in who their leader would be.

While HoD appointments have never been democratic, they have at least guaranteed that the appointee would be well-known to the staff they were to lead, knowledgeable of a department’s processes, strengths and failures, and (importantly) not permanent. Any potential HoD is required to have reached a certain level of seniority, which guarantees that your Head Honcho is going to have an intricate knowledge of the department, faculty, and university in general.

If the VC and the Dean of FASS are serious about making external HoD appointments, then what does this mean for morale across our departments? It is perfectly possible that a number of our academics are itching to take on the role of HoD. It’s an extra workload, but it can be an excellent bit of career development; leadership, survival, and self and peer group analysis skills if you will. If an external search becomes policy, then that’s a whole lot of academic staff being actively prevented from ‘boosting their CV.’ Furthermore, the potential cost of this has to be considered – if every department (or even a great deal) is now expected to make an external appointment, then that’s an additional professorial salary per department.

Astute readers will have realised by now that the subtext collective is extremely concerned about the proposals, and suspects that their sudden emergence isn’t something that ‘just occurred’ to the top table. We advise any readers who share our concerns to lobby their Heads of Department about this should it come to Senate – not that turkeys voting for Christmas is a rarity on that body…

It’s a kick in the teeth for serving and former Heads of Department, who are essentially being told that their service has been so bad as to necessitate a new way of doing things. But it must surely be ten times worse for anybody currently in the running to take over a department – the message being that the prospect of their leadership is so horrifying that the VC is willing to completely overhaul a policy that has served us well for over half a century just to keep them away.


More creeping centralisation afoot. The subtext collective understands that the Dean of FASS Simon Guy, after extensive consultation (with the Vice Chancellor), has decided to consider an external search for Heads of several departments. Professor Guy has plans to draw up terms of reference to enable a search this term. The natives are not happy about what they consider yet further denuding of their departmental autonomy. Apparently, the Dean sees this simply as a way of dealing with a lack of willing and/or quality candidates for the posts. The Vice Chancellor expressed a preference that, ideally, the position would be filled by a Professor, since it is more reasonable to ask someone who has reached this more senior stage of their career than other colleagues. Subsequently, subtext has learnt that a flowchart appeared (conveniently) in August detailing the direction of travel of any future HoD appointments. This shows that the VC will have a direct part in all such appointments. The circulation of this document was apparently very restricted – on a need to know basis. There is maybe an argument that sensitive financial arrangements need to be handled in a cloak and dagger fashion, but the process of selecting your next line manager should not be so restricted.

This is surely an area that should be transparent. If nothing else, it is a slap in the face to the numerous non-professorial staff who have carried out the thankless role of HoD to a very good standard over the years.