Ivory Tower: we eavesdrop on the interviews for a new appointment at the OfS
In a galaxy far, far away…
James Wharton: Come in, do sit down. Mr Wader, is it?
Interviewee: Vader, Lord Vader.
Wharton: Just like me.
Wharton: Yes, I’m a Lord too.
Vader: Of the Sith?
Wharton: Of the Conservative Party.
Vader: You don’t know the power of the dark side.
Permanent secretary: He ran the prime minister’s election campaign, so I think that’s a given.
Wharton: Did you come by motorbike?
Wharton: Of course, now, thank you for coming today Lord Vader to this interview for the role of director for freedom of speech and academic freedom.
Vader: What is the difference?
Vader: Between freedom of speech and academic freedom, the candidate’s pack is not clear.
Wharton: Err… good question Mr, err… Lord Vader. Can you help us here Susan?
Chief executive: No, sorry, wasn’t my idea.
Vader: They cannot be the same thing, otherwise they would not both be in the job title.
Wharton: Shall we just get started? We do have to stick to time.
Vader: The force is weak in this one.
Wharton: Lord Vader…
Vader: Has it passed yet?
Wharton: The time?
Vader: The Freedom of Speech (Higher Education) Bill that would create this role.
Wharton: Err, strictly no, it hasn’t.
Vader: Should you be interviewing for it then?
Wharton: Permanent secretary?
Permanent secretary: That is a policy decision, I cannot get involved in that one.
Chief executive: Don’t drag me into it.
Vader: The force is strong in these two.
Wharton: Darth, if I may… is that Welsh?
Wharton: Can I begin by asking you Lord Vader why do you want to join the board of the Office for Students?
Vader: Ever since the fall of the galactic empire, I have been looking for opportunities.
Wharton: You were deputy head of the empire, I believe.
Vader: I obeyed my master, the emperor.
Chief executive: We have your CV Lord Vader, do carry on.
Vader: Yes, so I have been looking for opportunities and then I heard about the OfS boots on the ground campaign, and I thought that sounds like me.
Wharton: That is about something slightly different.
Vader: Invasion, conquest and domination.
Wharton: It’s to do with progression, completion and employability, I think. Susan?
Chief executive: There might be an opportunity for the new director to become involved in the inspections.
Vader: I would enjoy that. I have much experience in bending terrified people to my will.
Wharton: Yes, it’s quite the resumé. Now, can you tell us what direct experience you have of freedom of speech issues.
Vader: To encourage Princess Leia to speak I destroyed the planet of Alderaan.
Permanent secretary: Did you though? I seem to remember at the time that this was a decision taken at a higher management level.
Vader: I find your lack of faith disturbing.
Wharton: I’m not sure if this role calls for destroying anything.
Chief executive: Really?
Wharton: Not in a literal sense. Perhaps, you could expand a little for us Lord Vader, you were talking about free speech.
Vader: I wanted to crush the rebellion.
Wharton: I think we can all agree on that. I’m sure the minister will be impressed by your commitment to talking about the benefits of empire.
Vader: The empire stretched across the entire galaxy before it was brought down by Ewoks.
Wharton: I think you mean wokes.
Vader: Annoying little creatures that live in the woods?
Permanent secretary: Sussex, mostly.
Chief executive: Warwick, as well, apparently.
Vader: And the Jedi?
Wharton: Is that one of those international campuses?
Vader: I want to hunt down and destroy Obi Wan.
Wharton: Everyone? I’m not sure if the role calls for that.
Chief executive: Well.
Permanent secretary: It says in your application letter that you want to stop millennials talking. Is that right?
Vader: I want to stop the Millennium Falcon.
Permanent secretary: Sorry, the handwriting is a bit of a scrawl.
Wharton: Now, looking at the essential criteria for the role, perhaps you could give us an example of an instance when you demonstrated an ability to lead a complex debate and shape public and sector attitudes, in a dynamic environment.
Vader: I betrayed the Jedi council and plunged the galaxy into an age of darkness.
Wharton: To be honest you seem a little overqualified for this job. Have you thought about applying to be the prime minister’s ethics adviser?
Vader: When I left, I was but the learner. Now I am the master.
Permanent secretary: Sorry did you work here before?
Vader: I started out as a clerk for HEFCE.
Chief executive: Hold on, are you little Ani Skywalker who used to do my photocopying in Stoke Gifford?
Vader: That is a name that no longer has any meaning for me.
Wharton: Yes, well I can understand that about Stoke Gifford. Tell me Lord Vader what is your view on apprentices?
Vader: There are always two.
Permanent secretary: I know the stats aren’t great, but I think there are more than that.
Vader: There are always two, a master and an apprentice. That is the way of the dark side.
Wharton: Don’t let Michelle hear you say that. We’ll all get 20 minutes on why too many people are going to university.
Wharton: Yes, she’s the universities minister, believe it or not. Now, Lord Vader, I think my colleagues might have some questions for you.
Permanent secretary: So, this role will be public facing and journalists will be interested in what you have to say about all manner of topics not necessarily related to your brief. For example, what would you say to a press enquiry about changes to the repayment terms of student loans?
Vader: I am altering the deal, pray I do not alter it any further.
Permanent secretary: Very pithy. And what might you say to young people protesting at an event attended by yourself and the education secretary?
Vader: Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me.
Wharton: Impressive, most impressive.
Vader: That is my line.
Chief executive: Lord Vader, communication with the sector is key to this role. What might you say to a vice-chancellor who has questioned the evidence base of one of your decisions?
Vader: Don’t make me destroy you.
Chief executive: Fair enough. And how do you feel about statues?
Vader: I froze Han Solo in carbonite, and he hung as an ornament in the palace of Jabba the Hutt.
Wharton: Yes, that refurbishment of the No 10 flat has been controversial. Now, I think we have asked enough questions Lord Vader, do you have anything you would like to ask us?
Vader: I feel a disturbance in the force. Your feelings have betrayed you. Didn’t we meet at Cpac in Budapest?
Wharton: Hungary? Never been there in my life, mate. You must be thinking of some other completely different Lord James Wharton of Yarm. If you mean that video thing, sorry, I was not aware of all the participants.
Vader: You seemed a bit close to Viktor Orbán for my liking.
Wharton: For your liking?
Vader: You have got to draw the line somewhere.
Wharton: You literally command armies of stormtroopers.
Wharton: Well, thank you for your time, Lord Vader, we do have other candidates to see.
Vader: One last thing, just in case it helps, I have made a contribution.
Wharton: To the sector?
Vader: To the Conservative Party by-election campaigns.
Wharton: I see.
Vader: Search your feelings, you know it to be true. I am your donor.
Wharton: We’ll be in touch Mr Vader, goodbye.
Wharton: What did we think?
Chief executive: There are better candidates.
Wharton: I agree.
Permanent secretary: To be honest, your bridge partner’s brother-in-law still seems the best we’ve seen.
Wharton: Ok, who’s next? Oh, an international candidate, a Mr Ming the Merciless, sounds promising…