3 Idiots


This page written circa 16 June, 2018.

Three Idiots is kind of like Slumdog Millionaire meets Dilbert. It has everything, in the way only an Indian film can. I mean everything at once, comedy, pathos, romance, intrigue, musical extravaganza, social comment, etc. It also oozes engineerness, in the way Margin Call managed in a few lovely scenes. We also watched Dangal, another Aamir Khan film, which was delightful.

Where I work, at Cowboy U, for the second time this year, we find ourselves facing a paper starting in a matter of weeks with nobody to teach it. In order to balance the books in the eyes of the bean counters, my colleague Marcus was transferred from the engineering payroll to the science payroll, effective 1 July, reducing EE to 4.5 staff. It should be no surprise that the acting dean of science has decided that Marcus will be teaching science papers, not engineering papers, but apparently this is a surprise to our management. Or maybe not, who can tell. In fact, who cares? Stupidly I do. My colleague Lee cares; he gets to teach the bulk of it. We will also get help from Ye Chow, who mysteriously arrived on a 1-year contract. He seems like a nice chap, and willing to pitch in at once, but he is more mechanical than EE. I guess, being in the precariat, he does not show up on the VC's radar. Either way, such last-minute patches are no way to run a university, not if you want its ratings to stay up. And they are up: we have climbed to #274 in the world by QS, while other NZ Universities fall. According to the THE rankings, our Engineering school is beating Canterbury's Engineering school, to put us second in NZ. Current policies will likely reverse this given a few years, but nobody of consequence is standing up to say this. Such courage would not pay off.

Why will our ratings sink? We are being squeezed towards teaching 3 papers per person per year, and the VC wants 20:1 student to staff ratio in science and 30:1 in arts and education, so presumably about 25 overall. In the UK, SSR runs from 10 at places like Imperial, Oxbridge, and the LSE to a low of 23 at the bottom of the list of its 130 universities, about 16 in the middle. See summary at right.

Meanwhile the larger Australian engineering schools are hiring like crazy. Monash, the largest university in Australia and the one with the top-rated faculty of engineering, has 40 new academic positions in engineering alone, and new recruitment staff to handle the task. UNSW has retained consultants and is now spraying around job ads for engineering academics. EE at Monash boasts a teaching load of only 1.5 papers per year per academic, though I imagine they will be large classes.

Is it not funny how one thing gets better as the other gets worse? I am now in a wonderful new office, as I inherited Howell's when he retired, see at left. Merinda, studying at Otago, is happy, despite the concerted effort of the last boyfriend who turned out to be a closet loser. Edwin, now taller than me, looks forward in a few months to getting away from high school and "finding his tribe" at university, much as Merinda has. Kay, back from taking care of Denis in his last months, is happy. Our relationship is marvellous, I think we have had more sex this last summer than we did on our honeymoon. After two serious health threats and losing 5kg in 2017, I have a clean bill of health, and I have regained my lost weight.

Our house is wonderful, an architect-designed delight. There are at least 7 train sets in this image of me in the den, but you have to know what to look for to spot most of them. I feel like a slumdog millionaire.

It is accepted wisdom that "People leave managers, not companies." A Forbes article says that according to Gallup polls, a full 50% of employees who quit cite their manager as the reason. For me, it has to be an alignment of bad managers; I reckon you really need two idiots in a row above you to form an insoluble problem.

If 3 Idiots has a primary message, it is follow your heart, not the money. That's what made the heroes "idiots".