Monday, January 28, 2008

Martin Amis makes more than a monkey out of Manchester

KARL Marx once quipped wryly about his great work Capital, that seldom could anyone have written so much about money in general while holding so little of the specific.

Martin Amis has written a novel called Money, but he certainly knows how to get hold of the stuff.

MANCHESTER UNIVERSITY recently had to get rid of 750 jobs, including teaching staff, so it could climb out of £30 million in debt, the uni authorities said, no doubt with tears in their eyes.

But never mind, things are looking up, it seems. The university has found the dosh to pay Amis an £80,000 salary as Professor of Creative Writing. If that does not sound much, it's for only 28 hours work - a year - teaching graduate students. He does not have to move to the North West city, just honour it with the occasional visit.

Apparently the Uni thinks this appointment was quite a coup, worth paying for to acquire prestige. Unlike your clogs and grime northern realists, Amis, 58, son of novelist Kingsley, has made his name for style and imaginative use of English, more froth than ale mebbe, but they say it attracts the students. I can imagine. He is also getting invited on TV, so he can lament our loss of pride in empire and respect of state, and denounce "multiculturalism", blaming it for terrorism.

Just the thing for a city raised on cotton from the slave South and Egypt, whose history is of Peterloo, Plug-plot riots, Chartists and Manchester Martyrs, Pankhursts, and Pan-Africans. Maybe the Arndale would never have been bombed if Mankies hadn't been so fond of Irish pubs, and bands playing the Minstrel Boy on the Catholic Whit Walks. Martin Amis wants us to stop being so tolerant of Muslims.

Amis was signed up by the university last year, but only now has reporter Yakub Qureshi, using the Freedom of Information Act, been able to bring out in the Manchester Evening News just how much the visitor from London is costing.

As he points out, Manchester University recently shed 750 posts by redundancy or early retirement to get itself out of £30m of debt.

"About £10m of that debt was taken on to pay for the appointment of Amis and other top academics as the university pushes to be recognised as one of the world's top institutions by 2015. Today union leaders criticised the size of the salaries. Most visiting lecturers are paid between £20 - £50 an hour."

He goes on:

"As part of his duties, the writer runs a 90-minute seminar for students on the post-graduate writing course. But these tutorials run for only 12 weeks in the year - meaning his total teaching time is just 18 hours.

"And, unlike other lessons in the course, his subject is not assessed, meaning he is not required to carry out any marking of students' work.

"His contract stipulates he must make four public appearances and teach one session at the summer writing school - each of the five appearances lasting around two hours. The total annual commitment of seminars and appearances is 28 hours, although these hours do not include preparation or research time.

"Other staff at the university expressed surprise at the massive hourly wage.
Dave Jones, senior Unite union organiser who represents 600 technical staff at the university, said: 'We understand why people like Martin Amis are being sought by the university and recruitment is a competitive business.

"'But I think those staff who are left after the various redundancies and early retirements need to know that there will also be investment into their careers as well, along with the new structure of the university.'"
"£3,000 an hour for Amis, Yakub Qureshi, Manchester Evening News. 25 January, 2008.

Why do universities need to compete, and who are they supposed to impress to gain their "world reputation" ? (I'd have thought Manchester's name in science, what with Jodrell Bank and the Christie Institute, was sufficient, but I'm just a layman). Is this business of selling yourself with big name visiting professors billed like pop stars anything to do with advancing scholarship, serving the surrounding community, or offering a sound education? I'd be interested to see what happens if Amis falls out of fashion, as literary tastes change, do they replace him?)

I used to be proud when people asked me where I was from to say "Manchester" (we've a couple of good football teams). Mind you, I would like to specify that I'm from the cultured side, that is Salford, a city in its own right, you may know it as "Dirty Old Town", but it inspired Lowry, Al Read, Shelagh Delaney and my schoolmate Mike Leigh, and before them Fred Engels, and novelist, Walter Greenwood, who had summat to write about, and didn't need any posh London boy coming to teach him "creative writing".

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