OU,  post-OU

Follow the biscuits

There’s a bit of a mini-rant following but before we get to my ejection of the toys from the pram, I want to set out a general principle. If you want to know what people really value then follow what they do with the small scale stuff. All of those Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who want to disrupt school, or recommend dropping out of college? Watch where they send their kids to be educated. It’ll probably be some Montessori type institution with lots of face to face interaction, and then it’ll be an Ivy League university.

As I’ve mentioned before, biscuits provide a useful metric for revealing what an institution values. Can you order biscuits for your meeting? Can you order them for the online colleagues? What grade of biscuits do particular meetings get?

So, on to my mini-rant. As you will probably be aware (God knows I mention it enough), I’m leaving the Open University in June. Another colleague is leaving at the same time, so I enquired whether we could have a leaving event for them in IET and perhaps we could make it a joint one. The Institute is under no obligation to pay for a farewell event, but obviously they could, and I’ve been told that they won’t for either of us.

In some ways this is irrelevant. I’m more of a slip out the back door kinda guy than a jump into a helicopter on the front lawn one. But it’s a bit like finding out you weren’t invited to a wedding that you wouldn’t have gone to anyway – you still want to be invited goddammit! I will probably have a meal out in a pub in town with the GO-GN team and some friends, which was my initial plan. From the ‘follow the biscuits’ perspective however, it’s revealing. Over my near 30 years at the OU I’ve been partly responsible for bringing in around £100 million to the OU through teaching and research income. It seems a tad churlish then not to pay for some sandwiches and biscuits to say goodbye in return. The same thing happened to a colleague in a different unit who left in January, and I know they departed feeling rather disgruntled after over 20 years service. (I should add that I am having a small celebration with my lovely Open Programme colleagues when I step down from that role).

In some ways, a leaving do isn’t really about the people leaving, it’s about those staying. It says “we value you” and is also a chance to celebrate the work those leaving have done with those colleagues over the years. Obviously we could organise something ourselves, and still might, but the interdiction on institute sanctioned biscuits sends a message I think.

I suppose I could file this under “Duh, that’s capitalism” – when you leave an organisation you cease to be a commodity worth investing in. But even from that jaded perspective it feels short-sighted. Many of us who leave act as ambassadors, repost job adverts, give free talks, and hey, have blogs. We spend a lot of time and resource as an organisation in onboarding staff and we should probably expend at least a little care in offboarding (deplaning?) them too. It’s a reminder though, that while I love most of my colleagues, it’s a mistake to think the University will love you back.

I don’t know – AITA here? (AITA for blogging it? Probably). Anyway, there are rather more important things going on in the world. It’s a good example though of the follow the biscuits principle and if you see that in play where you are, it may be time to Reclaim the Biscuits (new T-shirt slogan).


  • Will Woods

    Hi Martin, You are very welcome to come and share my biscuits anytime before or after your departure. It’s not just an OU thing, I think all organisations are doing less in the way of social onboarding and offboarding activity. It’s not necessarily a conscious reduction (…but may be for some) rather a side effect of hybrid and remote working perhaps? – I’ve certainly been invited to fewer events of this type and perhaps hosted fewer too. It may be that a surprise celebration is planned for you? – That’s what I would hope would happen as you’ve been a foundational part of OU success and continuity.

    • mweller

      Bless you Will, we need to break biscuits soon 🙂 No surprise do planned, this was the official request and came back with a “denied” stamp. But yes, we’ll probably arrange something informal

  • Susan Jones

    At my institution, appearances are *everything,* so yes, when people leave they get a bit of a biscuit thing. They are ruthless with other things, but periodically toss swag at us. Yes, it does affect the culture 🙁 Under previous admin it was about serving the students and the community….

    • mweller

      Hi Susan – ha, I know what you mean, sometimes a bit of swag is meant to distract you from other stuff. But no swag is even worse 🙂

    • mweller

      Hi Alan – yes, lots of individual people inside and outside the OU are being generous, I’m just feeling sorry for myself. Time to don the dark glasses and hit the road with a full tank of gas

  • Sue Beckingham

    Utterly shocked and angry that your amazing career is not being celebrated. So many stories to share to inspire others within the OU and let’s be clear globally. If I was in charge I’d have live streamed your career achievements presented by someone who knows you. A ‘This is your life’. So that you could enjoy and hear what others you have inspired had to say.
    I’d have happily not only been there, but then shared it across the many social networks I know educators across the globe would love to hear your career story.

    • mweller

      Hi Sue! That’s a lovely thing to say, thank you. While there is probably some fragile ego involved in my reaction, it’s also a shame in as yiou say, we could make this a celebration of the Institute and promote all the things myself and my colleague have done. Seems a wasted opportunity

  • Doug Clow

    Grim but the “institutions don’t love you back” bit is wise.

    I was not eligible for a paid leaving do either, so supplied my own snacks and drinks. Which may have been contrary to the policy about catering at events but I cared more about saying thank you to the excellent people I’d worked with over ~20 years than following the letter of institutional policy.

    • mweller

      Hi Doug! Yes, I may do the same. There’s undoubtedly a bit of ego involved (don’t you know who I am??), but I also feel that with two of us going there is an opportunity to celebrate and promote IET and it seems a shame that isn’t seen. Also, without wanting to sound like a rabid marxist, by funding these events ourselves we increase the sense of community and belonging, which are attributes any organisation is always ready to exploit. So maybe they should contribute towards it?

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