Limenal absorption

Back in the Shire, more specifically in Buxton, it is the festival season. It’s actually quite a long season which has many individual festivals wrapped into a rolling menagerie of performance and music and art and opera and all things wonderous. At present we are at that point in the festival season where the Fringe has kicked in big time. Much like other famous fringe festivals (Buxton apparently has the third largest in the UK after Edinburgh and Brighton) the Fringe is more of a behemoth than the actual festival to which it attaches itself. At present it’s hard at any point of the night or day, regardless of the day of the week, to find an empty space large enough to fit one performer and a single audience member. Art galleries, shops, front rooms, small cupboards and shoe boxes have all been taken over, becoming impromptu stages and performance venues for a cornucopia of delights big and small.

The Fringe provides a major platform for local groups to also showcase talent and efforts. Enter Kitty, my wife (@kittyrandle btw) and REC Youth Theatre, based in Buxton. REC has been going for quite a long time and, as part of her professional portfolio of performance work, movement direction and a little teaching here and there, Kitty took up the reins of Artistic Director shortly after we moved to Buxton a few years ago. When she took it over, numbers were dwindling down into the single figures. Fast forward to 2017 and there are three groups, affectionately known in Chez Grogan as the Littlies (5-9 year olds) The Middlies (9-14 year olds) and the Biggies (14-18 year olds). Numbers are now at the ceiling of manageable and REC is, as they say thriving. Typically REC, normally resident at the gorgeous Green Man Gallery in Buxton, enters two shows into the Fringe and (cue proud Husband) tends to walk away with mentions and/ or prizes in the awards ceremony held at the end of the festival. This year REC has mounted Lord of the Flies with the Biggies and Mobile Phone Show with the Middlies. I went to see the Middlies this week and I’ve also see an dress rehearsal for the offering put forward by the Biggies. Although I’ve been partially involved in the prep for the pieces (our house looks like a scene dock-cum-workshop at present) and I’ve attended rehearsal once or twice, I hadn’t really seen the entire shows. And they are really good. Fantastic, playful ensemble – there  is a real sense of company and group identity which is communicated through the work.

As I was watching, I was reminded of the topic of my PhD – the idea of perfomative absorption – the point at which the player becomes the played and the script starts to have a conversation with the player and neither is really in total control, but each is guided by the other towards an intangible sense playing/being played, a fragile symbiosis between the play text as living artifact and the human engines which bring it to life. The state of absorption, itself a state of optimal being for the performer, is also fascinating to watch and passively experience as an audience member.

My PhD arrived at a point which recognised absorption on the part of the player as a necessary, but not complete, requirement for an optimal state of being-doing in the performer to occur. And then, watching the young performers in REC I came to thinking again about some of the conditions necessary for absorption and I was reminded of the fact that absorption often occurs in a space set in what Victor Turner has called ‘betwixt and between’; a limenal space. It’s a space set aside from the everyday – a special place, temporally and spatially distinct from our normal existence. One also encounters this carefully bounded space in other spheres; we see these limenal playspaces with their distinct rules of participation not just in the theatre, but also in sport – the athletics stadium or the football pitch.

And then I started thinking about learning spaces; what if all players in the act of guided learning; the tutor and the students, treated learning spaces – however they might be configured with the same sense of set-aside-reverence and psycho-spatio-temporal demarcation encountered in a football game, an athletics meeting, or a live theatrical play? The socially connected act of learning might take on new focused absorptive hues…

See you next week.

Just around the corner…

As one might expect of someone with an academic leaning, I read lots. Unlike that time when the PhD was all consuming and I found my brain-muscle shift shape into a certain athletic-like state of fitness, able to deep dive into a given topic, I now find myself stretched in exactly the opposite manner; if the PhD was a single discipline endurance run, now this modus operandi has morphed into a multi-disciplinary sprint event; skimming with speed over vast and eclectic quantities of information and data, arriving at my eyes from all angles and sources; social media, blogs, newsletters, updates, periodicals, journals and so on. From this varied landscape emerge topics of interest which are then explored at a (slightly) more leisurely pace; such is the life of the twittersphere, mirrored in the daily consumption of short reports and email analysis of this or that. So when a topic of interest takes hold and I’m afforded the opportunity to dig, to explore, or pull at a thread, or, more meaningfully and excitedly, when the thread pulls back at me, it’s highly enjoyable. It’s addictive, this reading stuff.

Recently I’ve been digging into (what I think is) a fascinating area of thought; namely the evolving discourse on disruptive technologies: the evolution of intelligences of human making that are swiftly moving to the place where they form a matrix around us (yes that is deliberate inclusion of that word – its really difficult not to comparatively imagine the filmic trilogy) which fundamentally reshapes our societal norms. I’m really interested in the societal impacts that technology is really starting to play and looks set to play in our lives. After the opening chapter of the smart phone some time ago now, what is just around the corner (and beginning to emerge in earnest as we speak) has the potential to be a perfect collision of a number of interweaving developments: Augmented reality, wearable technologies, immersive technology, big data and, sitting underneath everything, IoT, or the internet of things – offering an evolving connectivity which (eventually) will see the material world around us adopt its own non-biological social networks and do much of our thinking for us.

graphIt’s already begun to happen on a small scale with apps like Wayz –  a navigational app which relies on real time data from other users to inform the route – choice on the part of the driver is then relegated a little – the app is changing its own mind about the best route based on traffic conditions and we follow, for the most part unquestioningly, because the crowd sourced algorithmic wisdom of many brains as presented by Wayz outstrips our singular biological knowledge of the conditions which might lie ahead. Combine this with the driverless cars which are now in beta and we quickly arrive at a state where we don’t need the skill of driving any more. And when my driverless car is fully connected to my computer…and so on…. If you’re interested in this landscape of thinking, I’d recommend Who Owns The Future? by Jaron Lanier and also Yuval Noah Harari’s sequel to Homo Sapiens, Homo Deus. As tomes go, I found this last one brilliant; certainly in my top 3 at present.

Relatedly, and slightly more soberingly, Ryan Avent’s The Wealth of Humans focuses on the world of work within this technological landscape. Avent paints a somewhat troubling description of the world ahead as increased non-biological algorithmic intelligences and automation causes the current landscape of work to shift in shape dramatically – simply put there’s the potential for swathes of the population to be unemployable due to a skillet which can be better performed by non conscious intelligence. As the Telegraph said some time ago, many professions we currently know and love are at risk of automation in the coming decades.

 

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So, (Cheer up everyone) harking back to the day job, and thinking about the teaching and learning experience at Salford and more specifically, the preparation of our students to meet this landscape, the thang which puts the twist in my pasta, so to speak, is thinking about, and designing a learning environment which will help them and not just cope, but thrive in this future.

More and more the skillset for success, due to increased automation, growth in globalisation through networking and networked knowledges, and the rising productivity of what I see potentially being highly skilled few, fundamentally alters its emphasis from being knowledge-driven to a far softer skillset acquired through a disciplinary (or interdisciplinary) lens. Attitudes, aptitudes and behaviours will increasingly become the currency of value to a business. A company’s capital will be increasingly social, not technical or material.

Given this, We (educationalists writ large) should be working to develop polymaths: individuals with a varied set of skills and interests. Using their cross-disciplinary backgrounds, such individuals are better placed to search out and find novel solutions to problematic issues, or real world conundrums; they are a cheaper and value-added hire for companies- they require less training and their skill set, or competencies can be applied to a variety of business needs; and they are more resilient to volatility in the labour market, since this will increasingly be an economy in which transferable knowledge is the currency, and their varied skills can be applied in and across multiple fields and industrial sectors.

disruptive skillset

With this thinking in mind, the future therefore belongs to the (possibly augmented) super professionals – the cross-disciplinary digitally fluent breed of worker, innovator and creative disrupter who possesses a variety of skills and can adapt and identify new possibilities quickly. Perhaps more than anything, I think the ability to continually learn, unlearn and relearn will mark out the successes of the future. This is the singularly most prominent skill we need to embed in our graduates…

See you next week.

Competition…

In the hazy crazy adrenalin-fuelled ride of a world that is the Higher Education landscape of late, competition, or at the very least a sense of the competitive, has become the norm. We are internally competing as a sector on multiple fronts; there is a sense of the various mission groups of the sector (University Alliance, Russell Group, Million Plus and Guild HE) all jostling for position in a never-ending sprint – like that bit on the track just after the runners break their lane allocation- then there is the competition of the league tables, each year causing people like myself to try unsuccessfully to fathom the mystical alchemic nuances of the algorithms by which success or failure is mathematically bestowed upon a given institution – this shape-shifting hydra morphs unpredictably (some say whimsically) from season to season, dreamed up by a poor solitary soul locked in a darkened room with only maffs for company (or, alternatively it is arrived at by placing the various commonly used institutional performance indicators on a dartboard at the other end of a football pitch and, after a pint or two and a good go on a swiftly moving playground seesaw, letting the arrows decide the weightings). And then there are the Times Higher Education Awards; twice-yearly back-slapping riots (read networking events) of epic proportions at which various institutional triumphs are (rightly) celebrated and the number one risk is injury on the competitive dance floor – flailing limbs (my own included) desperate to recover remnants of a rose-tinted youth are flung precariously in all directions with no hint of a care for anything approaching conformity to rhythm, the beat of the song being played, or even a whiff of personal coordination which could be construed as vaguely ‘together’. And then alongside this bruising competition there is TEF, and REF and the NSS and DLHE and the brand new Global Teaching Excellence Award from the HEA and more 3-4 letter acronyms with more algorithms and panels sitting behind them and faster and quicker, slicker, leaner, meaner, morer…

And second place, as they say, doth butter no parsnips…. (actually, they don’t really say that…)

And yet…

And yet, all of the above; all of the planning and graft and competition and sense of phenomenal work across the institution at all levels to make positive changes to our everyday practices and lives and the direction of travel which, put together will end up actually making things better, (we’re seeing it happen as I write) – all of this work will end up eventually being reflected in the performance indicators, which will then end up being reflected in the competition results (whatever they might be…). And yet…. And yet, all of this competition, once a year, for a brief incendiary moment, pales into insignificance behind perhaps the greatest competition of them all. For the briefest of time periods, all of the above is eclipsed by a competition so savage, so brutal and so without the thinnest hint of humanity or forgiveness, it could have been born of Mordor itself. I am, of course, referring to the pinnacle of athletic prowess that is…

Salford University Sports Day 2017.

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Admirably organised by @DSASevents, and fronted on this occasion by, amongst others, @rimmsie and raising a load of cash for our chosen charity of the year (@MindinSalford) it was a competition of epic proportions. The social media banter before hand contained more braggadocio and put-downs than a full performance from Sinatra and the Rat Pack and more swagger than a John Wayne box set.

The team from The Old Fire Station, including our DVC and Dean of Students, put together letters from each participant name to arrive at a well thought-out and catchy team name; WRENCH. (Surprisingly, no-one from marketing was present at this time.) T-shirts were duly printed with a wrench emblazoned on the chest, (geddit?) but this slightly-less-than-self-explanatory motif was subsequently interpreted by many onlookers to actually be a spanner, resulting in an unforeseen dip in the reputational stock of said band of crack athletes: pictorial semantics’ll getcha…

Stock clip-art interpretations aside, the event included trials to worry even the most versatile of heptathletes: basketball hoops, tug of war, space hopper relay and the ubiquitous egg and spoon race all tested previously untouched limits.

And we came third. Which is not bad. (it’s not entirely good, but y’know…) WRENCH came right behind the Students’ Union (who, understandably and rightly, have already started to gloat), who came right behind the winners; a disciplined team of academics from within Environmental Life Sciences (we are considering an appeal on the basis that they may have used performance enhancing cultures developed in the bio-med labs…)

Sadly (or fortuitously, depending on ones perspective) I actually had to live the event vicariously through the medium of twitter – I was just down the road presenting at a conference on retention. I was talking to colleagues from across the sector about some of the ways we’ve been enhancing retention at UoS along the idea of building an authentic, meaningful university community and a sense of pride and belonging in place and space.

I think I should have just asked the delegates to come and join in the egg and spoon and to soak up some of what I saw impressions of on twitter – I think that was a much more meaningful expression of belonging in action…

See you next week.

Stop. #Hammocktime

I think its fair to say, it’s been a fairly full-on few weeks, both personally and professionally. Whilst the week days are naturally ruled by the green hourly markers of the outlook calendar shuttling me to this place and that place via planes, trains and automobiles (I’ve been trying to carve out some weekly thinking time lately – I’m slowly getting there, although its accurate to say that I’m still not sure I’d be able to keep up without the godsend of 1:15 on the train at the start and end of each day) recently the weekends have also felt like they have been similarly task driven, with a rhythm of cleaning, project work and general life admin and tasks becoming something of a two day mountain to level in order that one might greet the next week in a state of blank slate. Add to this that we’re thinking (only thinking) of moving house, (idly spurred on by the design-space click-bait that is Rightmove – when one has downloaded the app, its hard to escape it…) and all of a sudden all the maintenance and decorating that I should have done has sprung to the fore. Saturdays and Sundays of late have consequently and invariably been spent with some kind of brush/ roller/ screwdriver/ drill in hand as I sort out those niggles that one learns to live with/ ignore/ become oblivious to, but which would immediately catch the eye of the discerning buyer. You know you’re in deep when the staff at B&Q call out to you by name and point you to your own private parking space…

The last task on the glitch list, aside some very minor skirting board work, was the back garden. It’s a beautiful little afternoon sun-trap patio garden with raised beds and quiet trees surrounding. It’s a hushed little haven when all tidy, and we’ve planted a lot in there to delight – fox gloves, bleeding hearts, roses and a curly leafed weeping willow. As I speak there’s a rose arriving beautifully late to the party, lazily debating whether to burst or not…There’s also the soft scent of flowering raspberry and ferns to accompany a sit on the bench in the evening sun, all played against the droning backdrop of a hedge that attracts bumble bees. A garden for all senses…

As I said all of this is possible, of course, when the garden is sorted. However, due to the pace of things of late, the garden has been less than sorted. You know that scene in Predator when the crack team of soldiers realise they’re in a world of hurt and try to hack their way through impenetrable undergrowth and twisting vines? That.

And so this Saturday was spent restoring order. And at the end of it after two trips to the recycling centre, we had a garden again. But even the act of clearing and sweeping, spurred on by the tantalising promise of relaxing amongst tamed nature was somehow reward in and of itself – an intrinsically motivating act, an welcome weekend antidote to the weekday mindset.

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 I think that’s what I’m talking about here; its not necessarily the recognition that relaxation is required, but that (for me at least – others will differ) an act of relaxation comes from simply looking in another direction; deliberately, knowingly and consciously taking ones focus and mind into a different space in order to nurture the soul.

After I’d finished the garden, I set up our hammock and just swung for a while. If the luxury is afforded, I think it’s a crime to be indoors on a weekend with the weather we’ve just had in the UK. This is a rare other space for me – doing absolutely nothing does not come naturally. I’m trying to practice.

With that other mindset in mind, today (Sunday), wrapped safely in the unashamedly smug knowledge that all tasks were complete, I went off on an early morning run up into the peak district – only about 7 miles, but what a treat. I didn’t see another soul and the sun was already warm with no breeze as I hit the top of the Goyt Valley. A privilege to have such a beautiful vista all to myself.

And then friends phoned to see if I wanted to go wild swimming. We found an idyllic spot near Wildboarclough – a pool deep enough to dive into at the bottom of a waterfall – much fun was had.

And now here I am, back in the garden, full of sun and reflecting on a nourishing weekend which I know will stand me in good stead in the next week; I’m certain that looking away from the weekday foci actually increases productivity and focus in the weekday shenanigans.

So on that note, and with the evening sun on my face, I can feel the lilting swing of the hammock calling for more practice.

Stop. #hammocktime

See you next week.

The three C’s: co-production, collaboration and crowd-sourcing

We (University of Salford) hosted the University Alliance Summit late last week. The Summit is a really useful event which brings together all of the universities in this mission group for a ‘state of the nation’ annual pow-wow on what’s hot and what’s not in the world of HE. It was also held on election day, giving the event a certain up-to-the-minute sense of currency in each of its sessions. This accident of timing also ensured a prompt finish as everyone then raced home to vote… (the date clash with voting day was an accident – we started our preparations for the summit before government announced the snap election; it’s slightly worrying on a number of levels when planning for a UA summit is something which has a longer lead-in time than a general election…)

Predictably, most sessions broached the wider view of the HE landscape, within and out-with the sector itself. We looked at the economics of it all and the various political roads that we might be skipping down post election. (Sitting now in the somewhat dazed state of post-election ‘erm… so… right, yeah, so what does it mean… oh, right….with them. Them? What, really… really?’ its still not a whole lot clearer – quite a lot of what was in purdah before the shenanigans of the 8th has remained in purdah because of, well, because of the shenanigans of the 8th.

What is clear is that there is complexity, change, ambiguity and volatility like never before – I’ve previously noted some of the ingredients in passing here. Each of these characteristics taken individually might cause some upset and some ripples on the pond, however, arriving and cumulatively accelerating together, each factor further enthused by the waves of the others, and one sees tsunamis of varying natures lining up (oh that they were that orderly….)

So, much of the discussion, debate and creative thinking of the Summit (and a fair bit of late night debate over red or white) focused upon the best way to meet and thrive in such an environment…

The answer (or some of it) of course, lies in genuine collaborative activity. It’s a difficult, but not impossible line to tread; on one level, egged on by TEF, REF, the CMA and notion of the student as consumer (I’ve published a little thought piece on this particular consumerism in a special TEF edition of Compass) we are all competitors, working to ensure we position ourselves effectively to stand out in an increasingly fragmented, but paradoxically crowded higher education landscape in which differentiation is not just desirable, but essential.

However, we’re also a fantastically collegiate sector – a real strength – ready to share and adopt good practice, adapting it to our own particular context. Thus far collaboration seems to largely focus around joint/ shared bidding on research projects/ grants, or engagement together in sector wide fixed term projects on shared issues such as retention, or widening participation. But I think there’s further future potential to be tapped into through collaboration. Whilst the joint/ shared working on projects and bids will (and absolutely should) undoubtedly continue, I think our collaborative activity could/ should/ might step up another gear and take a steer from the success of a crowd-sourcing model for collaboration. This is the modus operandi of the hive mind, the viral social media-influenced accumulation of knowledge, ideas and direction, in which the social constructivism as seen in our active and collaborative learning models, becomes social connectivism played out across the sector.

One such example of this crowd-sourced innovation is the Teaching Excellence Alliance (TEA). This is a new, inter-institutional flexible programme of work developed by colleagues in University Alliance institutions and the UA itself. The TEA draws upon, and informs a particular brand and understanding of excellence as aligned to our real-world, outward-facing, industry-and-community connected pedagogy, practiced across the University Alliance. You can read a recent blog I’ve written for Wonkhe on the TEA. This exciting work is in its inaugural year – the first event of many is a September Sandpit – a pedagogical symposium with a difference – its going to be a live teaching and learning hack-athon focusing on one of the UN global challenges – participants from across teaching teams and courses drawn from UA institutions will draw on the collective expertise to collaboratively design a programme of study which seeks to contribute to work which addresses the global challenge at hand. Its crowd-sourced expertise from Alliance colleagues, invested in two intensive days of co-production and co-creation and all pointed at real world issues. Adventures aplenty wait in the wings. Watch this space…

See you next week.

Ongoing Ambiguity

It feels like an increasingly well-worn (and possibly down right weary) statement: we’re living in times of change and instability. On almost every front – no, scrub that – on every front that I can bring immediately to mind, significant change is the norm. More than this, the rate and pace of change is accelerating. Swiftly shapeshifting and complex fluidity of position is now seen as the paradoxical constant of our times; we see it everywhere – from the unprecedented and unpredictable  #cofefe and random bursts of spectacularly illiterate and emotive semi-incoherence sputtered out in 140 characters by the Tangerine Womble in his  unhinged and fluid position as POTUS, to, in almost another context entirely, the prolific acceleration of the Internet of Things, with all the ethical complexities, dangers and possibilities that are needing to be debated and considered as this new world permeates our lives, decisions and daily routines. 

Closer to home in the UKHE sector, change and fluidity seems just as seismic; the new Higher Education and Research Act of 2017 has lines within it which promise a reshaping of the UK landscape; similarly each of the party manifestos take an approach to the HE sector which have far reaching consequences of varying natures (this entry was written on the morning train at stupid-o-clock on election day 2017). Add to this the hugely negative impact of Brexit, the insistence of the current government to keep international students within immigration number targets and then, just for giggles and the sheer delirious fun of it, add a decline in UK university applicant population through to 2022, alongside an increasing marketisation of UKHE and one is inevitably faced with a destabilising, complex conundrum of competing factors impacting upon the wellbeing of our sector.

(As an aside, I’m reminded of a one-liner from Dean Martin during one of the infamous Rat Pack Summit sessions in the early 1960’s, when the braggadocio and male drinking schtick; a dizzying tower of swooning and crooning, triumphantly placed amidst tuxedos and chevvy tailfins, was at the nexus of pop culture for old and young alike – something about holding onto the floor the next time it came round to stop himself falling off it….)

Given the landscape painted above, one might expect a pervasive feeling of doom, gloom and something approaching helplessness as we sit in the passenger seat reluctantly witnessing the speedometer spin clockwise as the proverbial cliff edge draws nearer. However, from both an institutional standpoint at the University of Salford, and (given this blog is a personal and tangential reflection on the day-to-day) as an individual, I genuinely don’t feel gloomy at all. If anything, I see huge potential and possibility here.

On an institutional level our Industry Collaboration Zones are an ideally placed answer to this continued ambiguity and shifting uncertainty. Facing off to the industries and communities with which the university partners, they are, by their nature, reflexive centres of disruptive innovation – their very constitution relies on change being not only necessary, but desirable. More than this, they position us perfectly in the region to capitalise on devolution and to answer the call from the government for universities to be the growth anchors for the industrial strategy. Is it comfortable and easy? No, definitely not – nothing worth doing is, and a desire for comfort and a slow moving stability speaks to a vision of a sector which I’m not sure really exists anymore – however much one might long for a stasis of position. One necessarily needs to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

So how to do this and, moreover, do it well? How to avoid slipping into a reactive mode of being/doing, as we have to necessarily adapt and flex with this uncertainty – an uncertainty certainly due to be faced by our students as they step into this fast-paced graduate landscape of change and probably adopt portfolio, or patchwork career patterns (I’m resisting calling them career paths – I don’t think they have the luxury of being that linear…)

I think, on organisational and personal levels, its about fostering a real world resilience based on a position which is actually a meeting place for seeming contradictions – and more than this – necessarily and joyfully celebrating and inviting in this seeming contradiction – I say ‘seeming’ because I don’t actually see it as contradictory in practice.

One (an institution or a person, or an operating structure or #pickyourentityofchoice) must have certainty of purpose; a sense of grounded Heideggerian being-in-the-world, whilst having the agility and tenacity to embrace change (internal and external) as a creative working dynamic, bending with the wind so to speak. I’m again reminded of the absorption I find in surfing – it’s a similar position of tension – one has the certainty of needing to ride the wave, but where one goes on the wave and what happens in the 150 yards between the wave and the shoreline is, for me, an ambiguous mixture of response and desire – a fluctuating conversation between me, my board and the water. I can’t be fixed there – that would destroy the ride. Similarly, to give oneself over completely is an exercise in futility – at that point one becomes a passive passenger – no fun at all.

So I think resilience and a means of meeting this world and its challenges comes, in part, from resolutely adopting an uncomfortable, shifting celebration of necessary, responsible, accountable agility and a certain amount of ambiguity, perhaps drawing a soft parallel to Emilyn Claid’s idea of ambiguity seen in Yes, No, Maybe. More than a threshold resilience – a coping and surviving- I think dogged consistency in this modus operandi offers the possibility of thriving. And for those of you who are up for more – here’s a really interesting little article on excelling in this vein, taken from a psychological standpoint.

See you next week.

Unity

I’ve been struggling to write this post; well practiced diversionary tactics, sidelining my attention into other avenues, have come into play. But like all shying away from something that must be done, needs to be said, or should be appropriately faced, the shying away in itself eventually becomes an irritant, a reminder that I’m not doing myself any favours.

The reason for the struggle is the necessary topic. Most weeks when I write, I feel as though I have a freedom of choice about the topic of the week – I can direct reflections or tangential musings towards this subject, or that occurrence. This week, its a different kind of choice I’ve made here – The subject matter is something that needs to be acknowledged and unpacked in this entry, the only choice is how.

This week a suicide bomber took lives and caused injury and destruction to people attending a pop concert at a stadium in Manchester – a senseless, futile, unforgivably wasteful act.

There – that’s it. That’s as much word count that the act and the person is going to get from me – I’m not going to add to the cacophony of voices that are replaying the details and the numbers and the speculations and the drama of what occurred. I see no need to further sensationalise here the event a la a style of reportage that seems increasingly seek to manipulate feeling, rather than report.

I’m going to focus on one aspect of the what next; the reaction at our University.

Ever since I came to Salford for my interview some 3 and a bit years ago now, I’ve been aware of something special at play here. Its very hard to put into words, but I felt it very tangibly during that first visit. One sees symptoms of it all over the place; in the hello’s I give and receive as I cross campus; in the ways and words our students use to reflect on their learning and their experiences here as transformative; in the willingness of colleagues from across the university to engage in the topic of the day, or a working group, or whatever.

Its a groundedness, a sense of shared endeavour, a willingness to get involved, and a cast iron, but often quiet, pride in what we do and how we do it. A key part of this is the acknowledgement that our students and our staff come from a hugely diverse range of backgrounds spanning a plethora of socio-economic and cultural contexts, so part of the unique warmth and passion that I see, and am humbled to be part of at Salford, comes from this beautiful mix of opinions, backgrounds, and ideas. And here’s the thing that sits under it all – there is, and has always been, an incredible sense of shared identity – at Salford, we have a good idea about who we are, we understand ourselves and our institutional strengths (and weaknesses) – and though this understanding, there is a unshakeable core (again, quiet most of the time) of unity – unity in diversity.

This week, in the wake of such pointless destruction, I have seen that quiet sense of a community belonging to itself – our resolve has been tested. In response to this test the sense of unity in diversity, without hesitation, has sprung to the fore and become a loud and proud voice in speech and action.

I have seen it in the pop-up stands for staff and students giving out tea and coffee and providing the space for a chat and reflection, I have seen it in the way our Students’ Union has worked tirelessly in partnership with our support services to ensure our students feel supported, I have seen it in the one minute of silence that we as a community observed this week, joining countless others up and down the country – at a quiet time of term on campus this brought out hundreds of staff and students together – I have seen it in the meetings of our faith groups and the societies that share our multi-faith centre – the faith leaders within our campus chaplaincy actively coming together to express visible unity in one shared voice and one shared message; that we will not be divided. I have also seen this unity in simple every day moments; walking through one of our restaurants at lunchtime, and listening to the melting pot of languages at play, seeing students from all over the world dotted around the seating and happily sharing space, lunch and conversation. A united, inclusive diversity that is core to us doing what we do – what is a university if not a meeting place for ideas?

And this sense of unity, normally there just as a part of a comforting background sense of how things are, now remains a strongly voiced insistence that will carry on in the coming weeks and months.

I’m immensely proud to be part of such a sense of shared togetherness. And, going forward across the coming days, this is where I will put my energies; this is where I choose to focus.

See you next week.