innovations (4-5)


Think W. Heath Robinson and Nick Parks. Some possibilities:

  • tea (various), of course, first and foremost
  • coffee
  • the smell of freshly-ground coffee and its brewing
  • other scents, with a menu, on demand, like in any good science fiction: to uplift the mood, raise the spirits, boost morale, and of course increase productivity; my first combo would be ginger, black pepper, cardamom, and mint; my second would be mulled wine
  • wine etc.
  • snacks (this is for my friend Carla)
  • meals, including lunch for those of us who are working from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m., or who don’t want to spend that precious hour standing in a queue. “Lunch” for academics is between 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. This fact is so little-known as to be unknown to most Powers That Be, especially those in charge of instituting mealtimes and running food on campus.

A quick digression on mealtimes:

  1. Breakfast = the first meal of the day, relative to the time at which one has woken up for the first time that day.
    Any time from dawn or 6:00 a.m., whichever is earlier, until 12:00 noon.
  2. Elevenses = self-explanatory.

  3. Lunch = that meal which is taken in the middle of one’s day; its timing will depend on the length and timing of one’s day.
    11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

  4. Tea, a.k.a. afternoon tea = 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. This meal must have a short window of opportunity, as it should involve freshly-baked goods such as OMG CAKE, which should be consumed when absolutely fresh rather than several hours after release from the oven.

  5. Dinner = between 6:00 p.m. or dusk (whichever is sooner) and the end of one’s day, that is, bedtime. Let’s say, so as to be practical, until 12:00 midnight. Also because that’s nicely parallel to breakfast.

  6. Supper (optional) = between 6:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. or dawn, whichever is later, and not after bedtime. Supper being a light one-course meal, it could be self-service: buffet à la gentlemen’s club, DIY omelette and sandwich stations, that sort of thing. Must include chafing dishes. (Our local branch of Subway could, I am confident, be trained and equipped for the job.)

My place of employment, like any other institution, likes to institute. It institutionalises its human components. This is done inhumanely, in the anti-human-resources dehumanisation process. Thus are humans rendered into better cogs in the corporate machine.

One part of this process of institutionalisation and dehumanisation is the enforcement of fixed meal-times: at set times of day, of limited duration. Now, the only mealtime for which I can see a good reason to fix a two-hour window is, as we’ve seen, tea. Because OMG CAKE. But in institutions, all meals have short set times. Lunch is 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Want to eat properly before or after then? Heaven forfend. You might find some scraps till 2:00, but that would be a lucky day indeed.

The true horror, though, is those cut-off points between meals. No flexibility, reflecting normal human variety. No overlap between meals. No fluidity. It’s a very rigid phallogocentric model, and should be resisted on feminist principle.



For other reasons too. Outside instituted decreed official mealtimes, you are declared to be “grazing.” Depending on ideological and diet-fashion point of view, this is either “good” as it is is being true to your more ancient primitive nature and you are in better touch with your true inner hunter-gatherer self; or it is “bad” and you are guilty of the sin of snacking between meals. Mostly the latter. I’m sure UBC didn’t think of this, but the combination of insufficient food on campus and restricted access times result in more snacking, often of a less healthy, balanced, and nutritious nature.

My friend Siobhán had a great idea: instituting a tea-lady with a tea-trolley. And cake, mail, and a bottom shelf with medicinal whisky, brandy, port, and frozen vodka for gargling (great stuff if your throat is going but you need to lecture). Moving around academic departments and buildings. Collecting and exchanging news and gossip along the way. Reinforcing the radical reinstatement of two of the most important meals of the day, important especially for community-building and culture (be that your own corporate “culture” or the usual common sense): elevenses and tea.

The perils of excessive regimentation and automation of essentially human processes.


One that might seem obvious and unnecessary to list: classrooms. Yet on my campus this is the last thing that gets money spent on it, and never in a proper way with full consultation with all cough “stakeholders.” See CHAIRS for some examples.

We need: more classrooms, better classrooms, with at least two if not three separate lowerable screens (so you can project more than one thing at a time), solid-state projectors too ideally, and decent lighting and air and QUIET.

A ban on trucks reversing outside while beeping, emptying the giant bins / dumpsters, restocking drinks vending machines, and all other WILL YOU FECK OFF BEFORE I SCREAM AND HAVE AN EMBARRASSING BREAKDOWN IN FRONT OF ALL MY NICE STUDENTS WHO DON’T DESERVE TO BE TRAUMATISED inappropriate work-disturbing soul-destroying noise pollution.

Just during the teaching day, that would be a start.

Otherwise one might wonder if teaching and learning and all that scholarly, academic, knowledge stuff is still central, core, and essential to a university. To its purpose and point. To its nature, identity, and definition; essential to its essence.

Screen shot 2010-03-29 at 7.04.13 PM


Some other basics:

  • food on campus, lots of it: bring on the food trucks. Should be subsidised by the university. Should be available most of the day: at least from 0600 to 0200.
  • pubs and bars: cheap and open late, and also serving food and coffee; without TVs (music permitted if quiet and unobtrusive); with certain evenings devoted exclusively to pub quizzes, board games, philosophical / political topical discussion (possibly with a visiting speaker), and stand-up comedy.
    The Gallery/Pendulum in the UBC SUB comes very close, and also have lovely staff and decent food. But it has TVs, and is a temporary venture before the two ??? return to their previous separate status, when the New SUB comes into being.
  • social hang-out areas (attached to: pubs) that have several foosball tables, pool tables, other such bar games, cards, and board games like chess and scrabble. There should be a block on wifi access here and no TV. Just good music.
  • libraries that are PLACES FOR SILENT STUDY, WORK, AND THOUGHT. And that are open 24/7.
  • offices for scholars (including final-year honours undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and sessionals) that, however small, still are a space for one person with a window and door (see A Room of One’s Own), and that are QUIET


princeton carrel

Princeton University: Firestone Library carrels, 1948; for hons. undergrads doing senior thesis research and for grad students (hello to May Mergenthaler, with whom I shared one!). Removed two years ago…

In order to be a great university, you need places for people to hang out and be brainy. That’s not just libraries and “study spaces” and some cafés that are open, O fortune, till 5 or 6 p.m. No. Faculty clubs, college bars, numerous local pubs, that sort of thing. I had my best ideas and did my best intellectual work at Princeton. In the graduate student bar, at its table footie and pool tables, and hanging around when even the bar had finally closed.

wine:results correspondence

Evidence from Cambridge

There is a reason why Oxbridge and The Ivies are highly ranked. It’s not (just) money, spending that money directly on students and scholarships (rather than disappearing it into bureaucracy and vanity construction and vapid faddy projects), meritocracy / selecting based on ability, and academic facilities (labs, libraries, classrooms–yes CLASSROOMS FFS–and of course chairs). It’s about fostering an intellectually-stimulating environment, about catalysing intellectual activity, with a view to being intellectually engaged and engaging with others all the time. And it’s great, fun, enjoyable, and happy: the hardest I have ever worked, and the least work.

Some earlier parallels:

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 9.50.04 AM

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 9.50.20 AM

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