28 January 2008

Money Doesn't Mind if we Say it's Evil

Today's Telegraph is carrying a fascinating story of how Martin Amis is apparently earning nearly £3,000 an hour for teaching at the University of Manchester. Okay, that's a little disingenuous; in reality what's happening is that Manchester is paying him £80,000 a year as Professor of Creative Writing, and that he's expected to teach twelve seminars, each of ninety minutes, over the year, as well as making four public appearances of about two hours each, and teaching one two-hour session in the summer Writing School.

So basically, if you divide £80,000 by 28 you'll get £2857.14, and will be able to see where the Manchester Evening News, which broke the story the other day, got its figures from. Granted, such a crude sum doesn't do justice to the fact that preparation and research aren't included in the contractual 28 hours, but then, this is the case with all the other lecturers too, you know, the ones who earn on average £39,000 a year. A regular lecturer is generally thought to work just under 60 hours a week, on average; I wonder if Amis works quite so hard.

Ah yes, the University might counter, but Amis is an iconic scholar, the kind of person who can attract world-class students and staff to Manchester. I'm not sure what he scholarly record actually consists of, but it does appear that since he's taken up his position, the number of students applying for the course on which he teaches has risen from 100 to 150, making him value for money in the University's eyes. Maybe there's something to this, then, but I can't help but wonder how many of these applicants get to sit at the master's feet. If he's only teaching a dozen seminars over the year, how many people really benefit from his supposed expertise?

The MEN ran with the story by pointing out that Amis's incredible salary matched those of premiership footballers, something Amis has responded to with scorn when talking to the Times.
“It’s very much Manchester University’s decision to make and I abide by it. This is really an invidious conversation. Who’s to say I wouldn’t earn less money anywhere else? Why aren’t you having this conversation with Wayne Rooney? Some footballers earn huge amounts. Not every footballer gets a hundred thousand a week like Rooney. And that’s all I want to say on the matter."
Which is all very well, but it rather ignores the fact that Manchester United PLC, Rooney's employer, is, after all, a privately-owned company, not really answerable to anyone other than its shareholders. The University of Manchester, on the other hand, is a publicly-owned institution, answerable to the British taxpayer. In other words, it's surely a matter of public interest if exorbitant sums are being paid to celebrity lecturers, especially at a time when hundreds of staff have been encouraged to take voluntary redundancy so the University can make ends meet.

In fact, it's only because the University is a publicly-owned organisation that this come to light, as the Manchester Evening News only gained access to details of Amis's salary under Freedom of Information legislation.

Having said that, it's worth pointing out that today is Data Privacy Day. It's worth finding out your rights, wherever you are. In the UK you'll find that the Information Commissioner's Office is very helpful indeed.

Very helpful.

No comments: