Saturday, 30 June 2012

The myth of the long academic vacation

Classes ended in April and exams were over by mid-May. Our students rarely see us from April to mid-September and naturally they assume that this is down time for us. But the University's life carries on, most of us are still here, and in fact we are busier than we were before teaching recess.

First, when all the marking is in and moderated (the academic equivalent of flight attendants cross-checking doors before take-off), University examination and Award boards take place. Every single mark across every module must be checked and accounted for. Students who have been ill are re-assigned late due dates, all of them different; some students are entitled to reassessments on certain bits of coursework or exams. Those reassessments must be marked. The very few students who have gone AWOL for a year or three tend to wake up just before the Boards and let us know whether they are going to join us again next year. We re-read all the student evaluations for the modules to ensure that our teaching methods and practices are working well, and reports are created. The Awards Board checks the profiles of all graduating students and we check that their marks add up to the correct degree classification (well, okay, the computer calculates, but we have to double-check that the original figures are correct).

That's just the teaching stuff from the past year. Long before the Boards we have to start planning Induction week activities and arrangements. We make recruiting visits to local schools and FE colleges. We work on the recruitment plans for the next cycle. We timetable classes for 12/13 - hundreds of class meetings must be roomed. We plan who is going to teach what class for 12/13, balancing those hours with staff members' other non-teaching activities (such as committee work and external examining), prepare documents for our annual appraisal meetings, and participate in staff development sessions (for example, attending briefings on new university regulations).

Some new modules have been approved for 12/13, and now is the time to design these modules, create a syllabus and reading lists, and preapre essay and exam questions. Existing modules are also updated around now, with staff deciding on set texts. The reading lists go live in the summer, because students, who are also extremely busy people, have to get some reading done before September.

Did I mention that lecturers also do scholarly research? The nature of university life means that extended research tends to get crammed into this ever-shrinking summer period between reassessment in July and Clearing in early August. Time to start speed-reading. Deo gratias that I live only an hour's train ride from the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Travelling to London to use the British Library will not be on this summer. I'd be better off flying to Manchester, as indeed a friend of mine plans to do.

Vacation? Maybe the first week in August.

Students, we miss you. Things get dull when classes end. But please be assured that most of us are not getting into any mischief while you're away.

Friday, 15 June 2012

An existentialist masterpiece

Had the Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan made only Uzak [Distant] (2002) his achievement would have been great, even in a country with such a remarkable cinematic history as Turkey. With his 2011 release Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da [Once Upon a Time in Anatolia], Ceylan has produced his masterpiece.

Critics who have praised Ceylan for alluding to Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, or for what they see as an extraordinary 'police procedural' movie, are misreading this work. Anatolia is an existentialist inquiry into what it means to be human.

In his essay 'Why Write?' (1948) Jean-Paul Sartre notes that the artistic impulse is motivated by 'the need of feeling that we are essential in relationship with the world'. That impulse works in dialectical opposition with another perception:

With each of our acts, the world reveals to us a new face. But, if we know we are directors of being, we also know that we are not its producers.

Martin Heidegger begins with 'Dasein', what Terry Eagleton calls 'the irreducible "givenness" of human existence' [... the world] has a brute, recalcitrant being of its own which resists our projects, and we exist simply as part of it'.

A murder has been committed; a group of officers, a forensic doctor and the chief of police haul a couple of miserable-looking suspects across rural Anatolia one night to identify where they buried the body. The suspects were too drunk at the time to remember. No motive for the crime is given. The officers, the doctor and their driver have their own preoccupations. One suspect may be covering for another. Human passions  - in all senses of that overused word - dwindle against the empty steppe, take shape by a field, an apple tree, a well, in the village chief's lamplit house, only to disperse into the darkness again. Detective Naci admits that after twenty years in the force, he has no more insight into human motivation than when he began.

At 157 minutes, lacking conventional markers of plot, action, beginning, middle and end, characters that the viewer can 'relate to' (that nostrum of pseudo-criticism), Anatolia may not be the best way to introduce oneself to Ceylan's work. But if you have the chance to see it, on the cinema screen, please don't hestitate - and please post a comment.

Photo: N. B. Ceylan, movie still: <accessed 15 June 2012>. Image copyright N.B. Ceylan/nbcfilm. Reproduced for educational purposes only. No copyright claim intended.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

"Cotswold or Malvern, sun or rain, my hills again"

Centre for Writing, History and Place


'F.W. Harvey: A Poet for Today'

a talk by Roger Deeks, F.W. Harvey Society

F.W. Harvey (1888-1957), war poet, friend of and collaborator with Ivor Gurney, broadcaster and activist, was known as the Gloucestershire Laureate. This promises to be a fascinating talk on a local poet by Roger Deeks of the F.W.Harvey Society.

Wednesday 13 June

Francis Close Hall

FCH HC205, 5:15 p.m.

Everyone is welcome

The view from Cleeve Common. Image from <accessed June 7, 2012>