Being shouted at by the college principal
I'm doing a couple of online courses at the moment: one in Community Organising, the other in Arts Leadership. Interestingly, each course addresses power and relationships. I'm also reading about business networking and relationship-building as part of the latter course, and the work and thinking I'm doing around it has reminded me of a really important experience that I had in my late teens/early twenties.
At that point in my life, I was doing a BTEC Extended Diploma in Art & Design at the local-ish college. The principal had started in the post, replacing a really lovely welshman who I completely adored for his humanity and caring nature, a year or two earlier. As soon as she was in post, she began to turn my haven of education and enquiry, my tiny art school and the wider college, into an Entrepreneurial College. We began to have enterprise forced into our lessons with tutors telling us that, if we just made our work "sellable", we could help to raise money for the college and take a 30% cut ourselves. I, as a long-serving member of the Students' Union, moaned quite loudly about the 30% cut, and they moved it to 70%, reversing the takings that students and the college would receive for sales. I resented the fact that enterprise was a compulsory part of the curriculum and the entire art school knew it. in the first term of my final year at college, I began to try to arrange a meeting with the principal. She kept on missing our scheduled meetings, with her PA telling me each time that she was "on holiday" (in termtime). At this time, I was also trying to persuade my tutors to join a Trade Union in case the principal turned round and sacked them for allowing a student to question her regime. Eventually, I started to drop into her office each lunchtime to ask the principal's PA if she was there. After weeks of doing so, I finally caught her 'in office'! The PA showed me into the principal's private room, complete with leather upholstery. The Students' Union common room, by comparison, had grotty furniture that had been sourced from freecycle, holes worn in from years of student use.
I sat down and was asked what I wanted. I didn't beat around the bush and instead explained that "no-one likes entrepreneurship". I pointed out that selling artwork for a tiny cut in order to fund- what, the materials that we already had in our storerooms?- was unfair and that when a student signs up to study Art, or Drama, or A-levels, they're not opting into 'studying' enterprise. I added that students almost never saw the principal in the corridors or refectory, whereas her predecessor would make an effort to mingle with his students. Finally, I had been trying to meet with her all term and she was always on holiday.
"How old are you?" "20"
A pause. An intake of breath. She shouted at me. How dare I criticise her when I don't know how much she cares about the college? She cares a lot. She isn't a people-person. Enterprise is necessary for the college to survive. I couldn't just come up to her office and say that she was never at college. Yet I had. I had said all that I had been thinking about how she was changing my education, my art school, into something alien: a business.
When she finished her tirade, I just said "ok". She asked me what time I was due back in class. I started saying "one-fifteen" but she cut me off at "one-" and told me that it was five past and I needed to hurry back. I didn't argue. I went and sat in the Fine Art studio and cried. A tutor found me and took me to a senior tutor. His colleague, whom he shared an office with, was on the Teaching Union. The entire Union found out, tutors I knew from other departments told me before I'd mentioned that I'd seen the principal.
I left college that june and went on to university the following september, but on my final day at college in late june, back in the Common Room office to say goodbye to the members of staff who'd supported my Students' Union activity over the years, a friend- also an equally long-standing member of the SU- told me the news. "The principal's been sacked"
It wasn't because of me; the Trade Union had investigated how college funding was being used and discovered that the principal had been spending it on her luxury lifestyle.
This was a really important moment in my life and the reason that I still balk at the word "entrepreneurship", but more importantly, a reason for my becoming a "people-person". Seven years on, I am doing a course on Arts Leadership, having graduated from university (with a first-class Honours degree) three years ago, and reading about building a business one relationship at a time. I thought it was important for me to reflect on what I don't want to become, and I suppose I will avoid becoming my ex-college principal by maintaining my humanity and my precious and hard-won interpersonal skills as well as remaining a member of a (now) Trade Union.