In the old days (that is until last year), after we had done our examining in the summer, we would (in my Faculty at least) have a dinner.. a nice one, a modest one, but an important one. Like the system or not, examining is a stressful process for examiners as much as students. It was wholly good to get together and share a glass or two, to talk over what we had done and why we had disagreed on the 2.1/1st borderline or whatever. The oldies explained to the young examiners what the process looked like in the fullness of time, and the young examiners (who are usually hell of a lot tougher than the old ones) explained to the oldies why they had lost the plot. In the end it was a good learning process overall (in service training by another name) and it bonded everyone again in a basically positive way. It was cheap at the price -- and certainly no more expensive than the average office party.
This has now been deemed a taxable perk (because the examiners are not the whole Faculty... if the whole Faculty were invited, it would count as an 'office party' and be allowable). And so I have my first taxable perk 'bill'.
I confess I feel pissed off.
OK, I realise that I am lucky to work in what is still a relatively rich university and faculty, and I realise that there are people in the tertiary sector who couldn't even expect a free drink from their employers. But all the same,I feel annoyed to be caught up in what seems to be a fall out of the Parlimentary Expenses row ( a totally risk averse policy, as if the Daily Telegraph was about to expose the university sector for being on the make....come on, who on the make would become an academic?)
Why do I feel like that? Well, as soon as you get rid of the live and let live principle, you lose out on everyone's good will. And it is good will and trust that keeps the system going. And, anyway, overall the management gets fars more from my pocket in the way of added extras, than vice versa. Example?
From time to time I will take a student (graduate student or undergraduate) out to dinner. From time to time that is simply the best educational way of talking about the educational issues that need to be talked about, one to one.. you need a couple of hours, a bit of relaxation, a bit of time to chew over things, what to do next etc.
I never resent that. That is what education is about. And I am happy to plough some of my cash into pizzas or whatever. But I have to say that the tax perk bill does irk on that score. Ok I think, if I pay tax perks on my examiners' dinner, why cant I charge entertaining the graduate student, or charge the undergraduate lunch, against my tax bill. I know that I cant, but I resent the erosion of trust and of that sense of 'quid pro quo' on which I was brought up. (Sure, I get 40 quids worth of dinner once a year but I give that back to the academic community in similar and probably financially more generous ways..that's the deal isnt it?)
And the same goes for other things. I get all kinds of memos telling me that I should not use the university post or phone for private mail or calls. Do I ever get a memo asking me to submit a bill for the university calls I make on my home phone? Not bloody likely. I have no doubt that on the profit/loss account, the university owes me, not vice versa. And I never used to mind.
Of course, I dont want to live in a world in which invoices are tossed back and forth between employer and employee. And I dont want to live in a world where I start to begrudge taking my students out, simply because the university wont take me out to dinner occasionally.
But the transparency culture will in the end have me submit a bigger bill to my university than they submit to me. Or I shall stop being a mug and my (up to this point rather lucky) students will lose out.
And this must be going on, to a greater or lesser degree, in hundreds of other institutions.