Mellon lectures and the Border Agency and HR
Thank you to all who wished me well, and thank you to all who came. The first lecture went fine I think. It was helped (audience, and other-wise) by a very nice article in the Washington Post. But perhaps this over-achieved, as there weren't in the end quite enough seats -- and I know some people had queued and were turned away. (I think that there will be a podcast in due course, and there is a video showing on Thursday lunchtime at the NGA for anyone in Washington.. but I am sorry for the frustration.)
I hope it doesn't put you off coming next time, when I am sure that the audience will have thinned. I shall be talking about the bottom line of Roman imperial representation and its discontents, but also about why the Renaissance and the early modern rich splattered their palazzi with emperors. Didn't they see that they were a load of ghastly autocrats, who came to sticky ends... ? I shall argue that they did..but . .
Anyway, this is all huge fun. But news from home is not good. Biggest on todays email agenda was the new ruling of the HR department (sorry "Division') about paying one-off lecturers, or external examiner.. or whatever.
Now apparently, before we can make any payment, we have to get a photo-copy of their passport, to show that they have permission to work here.
To put this in the simplest terms, it means that if I invite a colleague from the University of London to give a lecture to my Part II class on a subject of her own specialist expertise, before she can get paid £70something, I have to extract her passport photocopy... She may be a Cambridge graduate, she may be employed by a British University, she may have a UK NI number, but I still have to get a copy of her passport off her. I have to do the same even if she has previously been employed by the University of Cambridge. Same goes if she is examining a single PhD thesis
Can this possibly be sensible, or even a correct reading of the legislation? For a start the cost of the checking almost certainly exceeds the value of the fee. Secondly, there is no reason to suppose that this does anything practically to prevent illegal workig. Thirdly there is no actual reason to suppose that giving a one-off lecture does actually count as 'employment'. I mean does giving a single college 'supervision' count as employment? Is this someone in HR covering their butt, just in case someone challenges later? And if that IS the case, at what cost to the University, which is already not replacing academic posts. (How many passport checks would amount to one student bursary or one junior lecturer salary?)
Anyway, I have decided that I shall not show my bloody passport to anyone in return for the privilege of (eg) examining a PhD . . . I dont quite know why I feel so strongly about this but I do...
Partly because I can't help thinking that our University HR department has been "over-cautious" (and so also money-wasting at a time when we need all the cash we can get for our core activities...as a rule of thumb , every box-ticked takes at least an hour of someone's time.. and how many pounds..). I have so far never been asked for my passport at any other university or institution in the UK at which I have lectured or examined. Maybe I have been lucky, but that's the way I intend it to stay.