Tuesday, October 20, 2009

John Hood leaves Oxford University

John Hood, former vice-chancellor of Auckland University, has stood down as vice chancellor of Oxford University after five fractious years of trying to knock the dreaming spires into shape. In this week’s Spectator, novelist Justin Cartwright says “I have repented of my rather casual remarks about him in my book on Oxford”. What follows is an unexpectedly moving account of Hood’s farewell speech.

This is what greeted Hood on arrival at his new job:
Oxford dons are constitutionally disputatious; their purpose is to have opinions and to propel them to the top of the pile. But while they were disputing, the unpaid bills and the unsent invoices were gathering like autumn leaves in the university’s Dickensian offices, which were staffed by untrained people and bedevilled by two new computer systems that had failed to deliver.
Hood fixed all that, despite constant criticism from the dons.

His speech in the Sheldonian Theatre opened with a list of projects and successes, says Cartwright:
But I have the feeling that sooner or later he will get to what we have all been waiting for, his own role over the last five years. Finally, the moment arrives: ‘I come next to changes in the administration. In Michaelmas term, 2004, the university’s administration was under considerable stress...’ Yes, the university was four weeks from bankruptcy, and was unable to file its accounts for ten months. But Hood does not put it like that. He says the ‘institution was exposed to an unacceptable level of risk. There was no comprehensive list of capital expenditure commitments and there was no clear system to allocate capital according the university’s strategic priorities.’ This is diplomatic or perhaps accounting language for saying that the whole thing was an absolute bloody shambles when he arrived, sunk in amateurism and incompetence.

The heads of colleges, the incoming vice chancellor, the various donors and guests, are attentive: Ritalin is not something they have ever been prescribed. They know that behind this rather dour delivery is a man who has been hurt by his treatment and they sense that this is his moment. The repair work was undertaken, Hood continues, ‘in an environment too often, unfortunately, tarnished by gratuitous criticism, rather than stimulated by constructive dialogue’. [Chancellor Chris] Patten nods assent, from his gilded chair. His face is now oddly like the figurine of a Chinese emperor, massive and philosophical. What we are seeing, behind the formalities, is an intense human drama.
Cartwright concludes:
John Hood may not have that playful and caressing wit which is said to distinguish an Oxford man, but he was unmistakably the right man for the times. I owe him an apology.

Oxford owes him both an apology and a debt of gratitude.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

excellent -

some ' fab 'metaphor to illustrate the points being made as well

good to retore someone's self esteem