A ROW has broken out over a poem written by a senior university worker in Southampton, which some believe publically “slates”
the staff and casts a shadow of negativity over the institution.
Gavin Costigan, the director of the office of the vice chancellor at the University of Southampton, had his own version of the well-known Rudyard Kipling poem If published in a national education supplement.
But his words have caused controversy among staff and union members who believe it takes an “unnecessarily negative” tone of life at the university, where staff are already “demoralised”.
Mr Costigan, who is in charge of raising the profile of the university within Government, insists that the poem was intended to be “light-hearted” but has now apologised to anyone who took offence to his words.
Since appearing in the Times Higher Education (THE) supplement earlier this week, the poem has sparked anger among members of the University and College Union.
With Mr Costigan working so closely with the vice chancellor Professor Don Nutbeam, many feel it was irresponsible to publish such a poem, especially so soon after the official end of the long-running pay dispute.
Dr Eric Silverman, president of the Southampton branch of the union, said: “It is something that can affect morale and it does seem odd timing given that we have just come to the end of a dispute and we should all be moving forward and leaving these things behind us.
“It seems to mention the effect of things like the senate and the council in what we think is an unnecessarily negative vibe, when we are committed to working collaboratively.
“We just hope that this doesn’t represent the general opinion of the upper echelons of the university.
“We like to see ourselves as working together in a collaborative institution and our aim is to not focus on this undue negativity.
“We have not encouraged our members to respond to this poem but having these views aired in public is problematic for morale.”
The university has reassured staff that the poem does not reflect the views of the institution and confirmed to the Daily Echo that they were not aware of the poem before it was published.
A university spokesperson said: “Mr Costigan sent the poem to the Times Higher Education as an independent contributor and intended it simply as a light-hearted comment, with no intention to cause offence.
“He is extremely sorry that it has caused offence and apologises to any individuals who feel aggrieved or upset by its contents.
“The University was not aware of the poem being sent to the THE ahead of its publication.”
Gavin Costigan's If:
If you can keep your head, when all
Are losing theirs because of QAA
If UEG cannot survive without you
With Provost, Deans and PVCs at play
If you can wait, and not be tired by
Hoping one day senate will decide
Or cope with council endlessly berating
Without the urge to run away and hide
If you can REF, but not make REF your
If rising up the rankings is your aim
If NSS is once again disaster
And everyone says you must be to
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve
Misquoted by the folks at UCU
If all the staff say everything is broken
But rather than repair it, look at you
If you can make one heap of all your
Then see that published in the THE
If student numbers suddenly are thinning
Or not enough have managed ABB
If you can force your heart and nerve and
When jet-lagged at a campus overseas
Or always have the right quotation in you
When asked of Labour’s plan for £6K
If you can talk to Ministers with virtue
If Student Union reps pop in and chat
If rows with deans of faculty don’t hurt
If head of legal says “You can’t do that”
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With 60 seconds fighting off adversity
Yours is this place, and every problem in
You are the VC of a university