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Pure Research

by Oonah V. Joslin

All this talk of redundancies was very worrying. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it affected only the Science Department but it might have repercussions for the entire Educative Institute. Management might even be affected.

An emergency breakfast meeting of senior staff was scheduled for eight o’clock Monday morning with the usual complimentary buffet. Dean Royston Bullock had e-mailed the heads of faculty personally, to ensure full attendance. Institute Manager Michael Monet would be there to back him with figures.

Dr. Brett Turtle — Biology and Human Physiology — made sure he was the first to arrive as he was normally late. He’d led both courses since staff cut-backs after the last review. He had lodged his objections as to workload — he hadn’t much to do these days so it was as well to complain vociferously — to throw them off the scent.

Dr. Ray Scopic, Chair of Physics, wore a tie this morning. For the rest, he looked just as scruffy as usual and the tie only served to emphasize his rumpled appearance, but he’d played the game.

Professor Paula Piper, Pipette, as they called her — never to her face — was exactly on time, trouser-suited and buttoned tight; about the only chemistry there was noble gases.

After the customary short ‘Power Piece Presento,’ emphasizing community links, global connections and the great work that the Institute was doing, Dean Bullock apprised them of the situation. “There simply aren’t enough students signing up for courses to keep the Science Department open. Unless some outside funding can be found, the department will have to close in the fall.”

Pipette, Scopic and Turtle looked at each other in dismay, and that was well beyond their normal level of usual communication. Each of them had so little to do that they avoided each other for fear of discovery, assuming the others to be busy with research, planning, seminars, tuition....

“Research is the answer,” Pipette piped up. “We need to attract funding for some pure research.”

“You have three months,” said the Dean. “I suggest you put your heads together.” If it came to the crunch between losing a department or management positions, there was no contest in his mind. He stalked out of the room and took his breakfast plate with him, leaving the others to chew on that.

“I can’t understand it,” Turtle said. “The student population has tripled in the past two years, but numbers in Biology keep on dropping.”

“Well, come to that,” Scopic admitted, “No-one at all has signed up for thermodynamics and even ‘The Cosmos and You,’ is undersubscribed this year despite my making it sound as encouragingly unscientific as possible.” That had been his grand recruitment idea. “I blame the schools,” he said, “and these damned faith academies. Nobody believes in science anymore. They don’t like to get things wrong. You can’t get it wrong with Soap Studies or The Evolution of the Plastic Pink Flamingo as an Art-form.”

“So, any concrete ideas?” asked Paula.

Turtle thought about Paula’s knickers and smiled, but desisted when her eye caught his. “Gas,” he said and burped more loudly than was necessary. “Well, I want the inside story so I’m putting you two in charge of finding suitable research projects and writing industrial-strength begging letters. I’ll get to work on the Dean.”

Poor Dean, they thought.

The Dean was not to be disturbed.

“He’ll want to see me,” Paula told the Dean’s PA and barged on in.

“Alright Royston, what’s this really about? Money? Jobs? Redundancies?”

“Yes,” he said.

“You’re not joking...”

“Put it this way, Paula, I may have to meet with Humanities next.”

Paula sat in the leather swivel chair opposite him. “You should’ve told us before this. Get Monet in here.”

“Michael, sit down,” said Dean Bullock. “Paula has an idea she thinks might interest us.”

Michael sat and waited.

“You know what we really need, don’t you?” Paula said.

“Yeah, money,” said Michael.

“A big new Science Department building,” continued Paula, ignoring him. “The Bullock Building.”

“How can we afford that?”

“Never say die, Royston. You sell an existing building, one of the older ones, to a redevelopment company for high-rise or car parking, raise money to build a high-status Science and Research facility and we won’t have to knock on many doors. They’ll be contacting us.”

“Like in that film...” said Michael dreamily. “Build it and they will come.”

“Shut up, Monet!”

* * *

“The Bullock Building?” Turtle had his feet up, reading the local headlines. “He’s so full of crap!”

Scopic interrupted, “Hey, don’t knock it. I had two phone calls already asking if we had a postgrad student interested in doing pure research, and one of them was MultiMinerals. It doesn’t come any purer than water.”

He nodded, adding weight to the statement, then tapped at the side of his nose. “Wonder Water’s going world wide — Third World wide, to be precise. And as well as funding the research, they’re offering a generous donation towards the... erm... ‘The MultiMinerals-Bullock Research Facility’.” He handed Paula a piece of paper with a seven-figure number written on it.

“D’you have someone in mind?” asked Paula, warming to the name.

“I thought Quillan Sapp.”

“Quillan Sapp? He’s not even a grade 1 Honours.”

“No, but he’ll do as he’s told,” said Scopic, “and I think that’s what’s required for this particular research project: Wonder Water and its Long-term Benefits to Developing Economies. They already have the GAC filter, Reverse Osmosis bottle with integrated De-ioniser and coolant, and an unlimited supply of tap water. All they need now is an independent study to corroborate that this is the best option for developing countries.”

“Isn’t that a little... dishonest?” asked Turtle.

“Depends on the size of your mortgage, I’d say,” said Paula.

“Quillan Sapp, the name has a ring to it. He could well be on his way to a Nobel Prize.”

Copyright © 2009 by Oonah V. Joslin

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