Later Ren goes to see Compton to find out if he has heard anything more about George’s condition. He hasn’t.
‘I notice,’ Ren says, ‘that Robot is always talking about doing what’s best for the department. With any decision, he always says he’s “guided by what is best for the department”. Yet every decision he makes seems designed to fuck us up.’
‘He is telling the truth in a way. The deviousness comes in with what he means by “the department”. He doesn’t mean, as most of us imagine, the members of the department. He has no interest in what is best for us lecturers. He means “the department” in a more abstract sense. As a metaphysician you’ll understand that the department is not numerically identical to its constituent members. Even if we ignore the students, the buildings, the wider academic and administrative context, and suppose that a department is made up of nothing more than the academics in it, it doesn’t follow that the department is the self-same thing as the current members. Because academics can come and go, and the department remains in existence, so they are logically distinct beings.’
‘Sure, the department is an entity, of some sort, which is something over and above, or at least, non-identical to, the things that make it up at any one time.’
‘Yes. But even that’s not what Robot has in mind, because thinking that way still ties the department’s existence in some close way to its members. But Robot thinks of the department in an even more abstract fashion. Perhaps he’s even a functionalist about it, like Sydney Shoemaker and the mind. The department is a node in a functional system, which takes inputs, such as students, money, admin staff and office space, and produces certain outputs, such as students graduating, good teaching evaluation scores, research papers published, grants won, editorships awarded, keynotes given, etc.
‘Or getting in grad students, because they come with money attached.’
‘Yes. That’s more like what Robot has in mind. So when he says he wants what is best for the department, what he means is, what produces the best outputs relative to the inputs. Which to some degree is a reasonable way to think. To some degree it is the way he should think. But he is misleading us when he creates the impression that he wants what is best for us as a group of co-workers. He has no interest in that at all.’
‘He certainly doesn’t. It’s fair enough for a Head to regard the department’s performance as important, sure’ says Ren. ‘But Robot doesn’t take us into account in any way. He doesn’t care how a change in admin procedures or teaching will affect our research, even though that’s one of the outputs he should be worrying about. We’re just getting pushed to do more and more of our work after-hours. That seems to be a long-term trend, but it’s not sustainable.’
‘It isn’t, but he doesn’t care about sustainability, except in the bullshit green sense. He doesn’t even care about the output metrics, really. All he wants to do is to impress the senior management, so he can get up there himself and double and triple his salary. That’s why the long-term sustainability of our workload doesn’t worry him. He figures he’ll be a Dean or Pro-Vice-Chancellor by the time people start breaking down. He’ll be long gone, and in clover.’
‘Well, in a way it’s good to know that that will never happen. He’ll never get that high up. He’s just too miserable to be around. Even Senior Management won’t be able to stand him. On the other hand, that means we get stuck with him for a long time. It would be good if another place tried to poach him.’
‘That would be good as long as he accepts. But he could use an approach from another place as a way to get more money and power from Grayvington.’
‘Now you’re really depressing me. I’m going home to not drink and get even more depressed.’