What is a Revalidation Uncle John ?
All such courses have built into their lifetime regular revalidations, when colleagues and external representatives cast a critical eye over the conduct of the course, its intellectual credibility, and the worth of its awards. In many ways I had been working towards this from the first week but was unprepared for the po-faced, nit picking that occurred in this exercise in Schadenfreude.
The joy of it was spending days in aggregate at John Vernon Lord’s house working on the documents which were subsequently sifted by the University research mechanisms. A few piffling sentences were re-configured for bright-eyed board members. “Very good point, thank you for that. I think we can all agree that has focussed the matter in a hopeful way…” and other such oily blandishments saw us to the full scale Revalidation. Several committee members’ sole reason for attending these sessions was to see if a participant in a Department course could be brought low.
After escaping this legitimised pummelling at Norwich, I took it badly at Brighton. I marked several cards for retribution at a later date. The day of Revalidation came with the gathering of the Posse for a meal on the night before. A restaurant serving primarily seafood was chosen for a mollifying junket. The next morning I found myself more prominent than I anticipated in explaining and defending the course. Those mussels and calimare had serious undermined the constitutions of my colleagues.
The Chairman was genial but I thought a bit lost in the fabric of the teaching of the Visual Sequence. A senior academic from the Directorate of the University looked on nervously as I began to bristle at a series of damn fool questions. One characteristic way of beginning an ill-informed sally was to mumble the phrase, “I just want to tease out…” This implies your lack of coherence while disguising any dimness in the interrogator.
The external representative from a Poly Up North seized one lapel. ‘I put it to you, Dr. Mullen…” tapping a spread sheet with his forefinger. I retaliated with a reference to his Junior Silk mode of inquisition and all friendly eyes around that table signalled me to abate, even those still suffering from the seafood. A representative from an outlandish local course in Body Culture brandished her documents believing she had caught me out promising the uneconomic in the provision of slides.
At this point the Chairman reassured us of the basic soundness of the course and ended the proceedings. Had it not been for the intervention of Man from the Directorate (let us call him Mr.L) who immediately advised me to keep my temper, I might have carried my attack on the Cod Barrister on to a more dangerous level. To mollify me, Mr. L complimented me on the richness of the Narrative course and asked me what new academic initiative I had in mind.
“An MA in Glamour Photography.” I turned on the full pump. “It is a winner. Quite far into development. Beefcake. Cheesecake. A true reflection of the town itself. Equal opportunities. Gay input. Strong student base.” He left for the Directorate preparing himself for the worst, and probably damaging headlines in the local press. I think I even managed a short course description I emailed him, an acronym which spelt out BUM AND TITS. I heard no more from him, wanting the concept to remain as a Sword of Damocles.
The ticking presence of the Acronym was a favourite way of getting even. I once devised a course title which one Top Dog took to the Victoria and Albert Museum for a possible collaboration . At the development meeting he was the last to realise the mischief of my concealed acronym. He was none too pleased. You could tell because he went parchment white and couldn’t look me in the eyes. Throughout the Revalidation he had sat with basilisk glare enjoying the discomfort of us all. The Wolverhampton Bruiser was of course a pal of his, invited deliberately to turn over the furniture in the Saloon.
It was a valuable revelation, If you meekly submitted your self to academic process where much malice, envy and disgust were concealed as scrutiny, you could suffer, and what is more, lose heart. In due course I came to serve on similar panels across the University and was determined that my contributions would be a matter of entertainment rather than ‘critical scrutiny’.
On an assessment board for an Alternative Practice Course, I extemporised an extended description of getting lost on the third floor and finding myself in a cupboard with three years supply of toilet paper. The student work, and their understanding of it, was so lamentable it seemed the only solution. Every now and then I would find a complete stranger glaring at me across the Staff Room. It would be a survivor of one of my performances.
The Glamour Photography MA emerged as the BA Hons. in Editorial Photography, a more realistic prospect than Bum and Tits. From the mid-Nineties onwards it was clear that this was as good as it gets, working with John and George and revelling in the student work. As the course developed the evening lectures were taken from us to be organised and delivered by somebody else, who I suspected had to be found a job. The structure was adapted to match the University wide Modular schemes of working. But my own sense of momentum was vastly diminished.