Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Day 70: Retreat from the Retreat

Day 70 (13 Feb) What a difference 24 hours makes. If measuring time and motion is one of the aims of this blog then yesterday and today are representative of the stark contrast an academic's life can throw up in a relatively short time. 

Yesterday was something of the ideal day...a focus on research, reading and thinking, a presentation of one's work to an appreciative audience, all the things one would want to do. Today was a retreat from that, literally. 

The 'Retreat'. Who even invented that? It does seem, in theory, that bringing colleagues together for a day in a large room away from the daily distractions of the office--email, phone calls, unexpected callers, twitter (no, not really)--is a good idea. Funny how managerialist practice can spoil that. 

A darker shadow approacheth, at 6.12am
I think I can claim my first retreat happened back in about 1994. It was a departmental research retreat, off-campus, and its purpose was to present and share research in its various states. It actually worked, after a fashion. Nothing sharpens the mind and focus of an academic like sharing research and ideas. That's largely why we choose to do what we do. 

Some time later, senior admin staff determined that what was good for academics would be good for them, only without research to present they conflabbed about...hmm, admin. The rot, thenceforth, set in. At subsequent retreats, managers started inviting themselves to a 'session' of the academics' retreat. We would hear something new about, something. 

Retreats have gone from being days of the joy of thinking to thinking about escape. Too many I've been to now simply detract from the day one could otherwise be doing work of interest and relevance. But enough of that. These retreats are no doubt here to stay. 

These were the thoughts at 6.12am today when the sunlight on the cupboard suddenly came into view. We usually early risers have been noticing that the sun is rising much later now (as it is wont to do) and the light in the room just said to me summer is as good as over. 

In the office, surprise!
at 6.12pm
Not surprisingly, at the other end of the day at 6.12pm, I was in my office (again), on the phone (again) and attending to emails (again). There is still much to do before classes officially start on 25 February and there is a grant deadline to meet by 10.00am next Monday...that's an application I didn't get to finish today because I was at a retreat, telling me how important it was to be writing grant applications, prepare classes for a superior student experience and related matters. Either, irony is lost on the managerialists, or they are just so skilled at managing the irony is now lost on me. 

Whatever it might be, it is time to beat a retreat from the retreat and reclaim our research and intellectual life. Society will be the poorer without it. The managerialists will lament the passing of the retreat...but  I won't.  

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