Tag Archives: The Anarchist Cookbook

Book: Whackademia

Whackademia: An insider's account of the troubled university
The title and subtitle together is an anagram of, “KIDDISH WANNABE AUTHOR FERMENTS REVOLUTION. SAUCY DICE, Act I.” How apt.

Sooooo predictable with added juvenile cynicism and pranks. Yes, pranks.
239 pages, ★

Too mechanical? Yep. Too expensive? Yes. Not what the prospectus promised? You got it. Too market-orientated? Yes. Too market-irrelevant? That, too. Academics feel overworked and students feel neglected? Absolutely right.

Without reading this book, you can guess all the criticisms of higher education that he’s going to make.

Two third of this book is about complaining. Yes, many people don’t like their jobs, but only a small fraction go about writing a book about it. This author didn’t just do that: he gathered rants (yes, they’re rants) from 60 education workers and pasted them into his Whackademia scrapbook. The result is unhealthy.

Rants range from the banal to the absurd. A tearful professor details how she is inundated with work: “I get emails at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning!” To this, I reply: So? You don’t have to reply to them at 3 or 4 in the morning! Do that in your “email time” instead, be it 9am, 4:30pm or on the morning train. That’s the beauty of email.

I noticed how Stephen Fry only ever mocks himself: his appearance, his weight, his smoking habit, his lack of dancing ability, and his opinions of Cambridge people (after all, he is one of them!) In Whackademia, Richard Hil does the opposite of Stephen Fry: he criticises everything around him, wittily, assuming that only he is right. I don’t like that.

The final third of the book opens with, “Enough complaint, now what?” Here, the author squanders the opportunity to save his whiny reputation by telling teachers and administrators to pull pranks on their employers. Yes, pranks.

On the one hand, he describes universities as stubborn and delinquent, just like the student body they supposedly nourish:

“Andrew observed that the universities appeared self-absorbed and resistant to change—a bit like recidivist juvenile offenders. To break this apparent recalcitrance, Andrew called for a ‘modern parnership’ between business and the university sector.”

Yet, on the other hand, his solutions are mostly from the Anarchist’s Cookbook:

Never sign off on critical reports;

If you are on video link, turn on the ‘mute’ button.

Never admit to screw-ups, cock-ups, student complaints…

Keep adding to and subtracting from your workload documents over time as, over time, this will exhaust the apparatchiks.

Claim depression, stress, anxiety disorders, backaches, drug and alcohol problems resulting from excessive workload.

If the author’s being sarcastic here, then this book nothing more than a useless collection of 60 rants. If he’s not being sarcastic, then he’s caving in to the same stubborn, juvenile behavour that he spent two-thirds of his book criticising; and doesn’t deserve any of my jameskennedybeijing stars at all. Conclusion: just love your job. Never publish rants, and never read them either. ★