Oct 282011

In our final extract from Suzanne Kelly’s interview with former RGU Principal Dr David Kennedy, he describes how the community came together, in the face of serious local business opposition, to help RGIT achieve university status in 1992, how that community spirit inspired him to raise his voice against the Menie development, and how he still gets a buzz from teaching and seeing its benefits.

“At least one good thing came out of Trump”, David Kennedy is convinced, “Community spirit”.

“Twenty years ago the Government had a policy to make polytechnics into universities. Here in Scotland they decided there would be two new universities, not very good ones I may say, one in Edinburgh and one in Glasgow. These two institutions, which previously had been local authority colleges, became centrally-funded in 1985, thus enhancing their status.

“Then in 1988, Napier in Edinburgh called itself a polytechnic, followed a couple of years later by Glasgow College who renamed itself Glasgow Polytechnic.

“The older technological institutions in Aberdeen, Dundee and Paisley still retained their old names, that is, they had not called themselves polytechnics, even though they were wholly polytechnic in educational status and character, and were longstanding members of the UK committee of polytechnics. My fellow principals simply assumed that their institutions would be included in the forthcoming legislation.

“Being a suspicious person, I phoned the Scottish Office and asked if it were right that all were going to become universities, or only the titular polytechnics? The Scottish Office spokesman confirmed that only the polytechnics would become universities. I mounted a massive campaign. RGIT, with its long and proud record in higher education, had produced several times more graduates and PhD students than Edinburgh and Glasgow put together.

“Behind the scenes, Ian Wood had played a significant part in the formulation of Government policy.

“Wood was from an old fishing family. When the offshore oil industry started in Aberdeen, there were many opportunities, and several fishing companies decided they would go into the supply vessel and stand-by vessel business. Wood was quite entrepreneurial and in the right place at the right time.

“In 1986 there was a massive drop in the price of oil, and many companies just went belly up. Ian Wood had good financial backing and mopped up a number of firms going into liquidation during that massive downturn. He was the man who persuaded the Government that Aberdeen needed a world-class university and thus didn’t want RGU to become a university.

“The irony is that the current RGU chancellor is Ian Wood, the man who did his utmost to prevent RGU becoming a reality. The people of the North East supported me in my hour of need and I wanted to return the favour and support the people of Menie Estate.”

Dr Kennedy’s strict values have not always been popularly received, however. He describes a time in his own professional life where he had to survive criticism.

“In 1992, the Queen said it was her annus horribilis. The following year was mine. Practically every day the local papers had me as the controversial man. As a result of that I have never read The Press & Journal or Evening Express since. Alan Scott who is just retiring is a good friend, but they had Derek Tucker back then. When I first came to Aberdeen, Peter Watson was the editor and he was a gentleman.

“The standards in the press have gone down, as we’ve seen. I was a victim of it all in 1993. I was eventually vindicated in the courts, but as the old saying goes – ‘if you throw enough mud some will eventually stick’. I was blacklisted by officialdom.

On the subject of his own fulfilment, Dr Kennedy returns to education, his own profession for which a passion still burns 

“As it turns out, I do a lot of voluntary teaching and I am a befriender. I currently have about ten students, adults who missed out at school in English and numeracy. I suppose in a way I am a born teacher and I fulfil myself by teaching others who are in need.

“There is satisfaction in helping other people. We must be hot-wired for it, for a cooperative nature. It is infectious. It is more fulfilling than materialistic fulfilment. When I see people understanding things for the first time, that is a terrific kick for me.”

Voice, and Suzanne in particular, are grateful to Dr Kennedy for giving his time to talk with such passion and conviction about what continues to frustrate him, drive him and sustain his zest for improving the lives of others. We can be sure that this is not the last we have heard of him and wish him success in seeking a publisher for his book. It is certain to be of huge interest to all in the NE who have had their lives touched by his life in education and the community.

Nov 262010

Voice’s Old Susannah tackles more tricky terms with a locally topical taste.

Get Well Soon

To the 126 Aberdeenshire and 169 Aberdeen City Council employees who are either sick or suspended with pay.  Perhaps there is some serious illness doing the rounds in Grampian?

The Telegraph has produced an interactive map showing Council expenditures and expenses throughout the UK; the number of our city and shire’s absentees on the payroll is many times higher than the number to be found anywhere else in Scotland.  In fact, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports Aberdeen City Council is 4th in the whole of the UK for number of staff on long-term sick – with the Shire’s council hot on its heels at No. 6. But when it comes to the average number of sick days lost per year per person, no other council in the country can hold a candle to Aberdeen:  15.5 days each year are lost on average for every one of the council’s employees. The Council makes me feel ill; looks like I’m not alone in that.

Journalism : The free press has been called the ‘Fourth Estate’, referring to its ideal function which is acting as an unofficial fourth branch of government, providing balance and information to ensure freedom of ideas, and thereby keeping a check on government and fostering democracy.  A free, non-biased press should provide information for its readers to digest so they can reach their own conclusions.

No less a figure than outgoing Editor Derek Tucker of the Press & Journal recently addressed the ‘Society of Editors’; he complained that journalism courses are not producing the right calibrate of journalists.  Tucker said “… very few [of the journalism graduates] possess the street cunning and inquisitiveness that is the hallmark of good journalists and it often appears that English is a second language.”

Old Susannah wonders what would make for a bad newspaper.  Would it be headlines created from extremely bad, old-fashioned puns?  Gigantic photos camouflaging the lack of journalistic content?  Deliberately biased stories favouring the plans of the paper’s larger advertisers?  Elevation of minor local news stories above more important world events?  Misleading headlines and stories – perhaps (just as an example) painting opponents of City and Shire council plans (like the destruction of UTG) as being organised, ignorant trouble-makers?  Deliberate lack of investigative journalism focus on powerful local figures and institutions?  Printing stories a day or two after they appeared on the BBC website?  Elevating mediocre stories of minor sporting events to gigantic epics to fill space?  Lack of spelling and grammatical know-how?

Thankfully, we have had Mr Tucker to save us from such appalling stuff.  It is also most unkind that Derek Tucker has been given an unflattering nickname in the ‘Cockney rhyming style’.  Obviously he has studiously encouraged ‘street cunning and inquisitiveness’ at the P&J, by ensuring corruption in public and private sectors is uncovered, and by printing such a wide range of opinion and thought in the editorial section.

We wish “Miserable F…” – I mean Derek Tucker – a happy retirement.

There is nothing natural about the City’s attitude to the natural landscape

Landscapes : In my last column, I wrote about a green, leafy landscape painting of Union Terrace Gardens I’d seen.  Aberdeen City Council, too, appreciates landscapes; in its ‘Planning and Sustainable  Development’ web page it gives the nod to how very important landscapes are.

Believe it or not, landscapes are what we put buildings in. If that is not clear, they have put a picture of a tree in a wide expanse of green field on the web page to illustrate the point – although finding a sole tree in a huge field would be a hard task in this town.

While our City Planners admit on their web page that landscapes ‘..provide the settings of towns and cities and make an important contribution to environmental quality and a sense of place’, they certainly don’t want developers to think the landscape should have to stay as it is.  There is nothing natural about the City’s attitude to the natural landscape – anyone (like Mr Milne) can develop almost anything as long as once they destroy the existing natural landscape and wildlife habitats, they make some new landscape in place of the old.  As the planners put it,

“… when applying for planning permission for a new development, a landscape scheme for the external spaces around buildings will often need to accompany proposals”.

It is this policy which will allow Mr Milne to destroy Loirston Loch’s natural habitats and beauty – all he needs is a scheme to plant a shrub and have some kind of landscape at some future point.  And fair enough – when we are in the community stadium listening to Status Quo or finding out who can do the broad jump further than the next guy, we won’t care what used to be there.  The last remnants of wildlife which depend on Loirston as a stopping point to rest, feed and drink will just go to one of the many other lochs and green fields we’ve got, even if the closest is miles away – the extra exercise will probably do the animals good.  For far too long the developers have had to jump through hoops to get permission for their schemes (permission which they were always going to get in the first place).  Something had to be done to speed things up, and it has…

It is official then – no more boring old-fashioned people interested in the environment, old buildings, history, etc

Modernisation of Planning Process : Scotland, the Shire and the City have been too demanding in the past of the kindly souls who want to turn our fields into housing estates, community stadiums and shopping malls for our benefit.  Thankfully, the process for planning is being modernised.  To modernise means to update a scheme, law, or way of doing things to bring it in line with how it would have been done in the 1960s.  No more ‘unnecessary’ consultations with Community Councils – as Cove and Nigg Community Councils can attest to.  In fact, Aberdeen now boasts that

“…we only consult where necessary with the agencies – SNH, SEPA, Transport Scotland, Historic Scotland, …”

It is official then – no more boring old-fashioned people interested in the environment, old buildings, history, etc. will be engaged unless absolutely necessary.  Build what you want.  SEPA is clearly on board with this thinking already – it had a chance to make an evaluation on the planned ‘community’ stadium’ – and came up with three relatively minor objections relating to drainage and the like.  Maybe they think the concrete and parking spaces will help protect the environment. Maybe SEPA is due for a re-naming and re-branding exercise – getting rid of the quaint references to ‘Environment’ and ‘Protection’ would be a good start.