Issue 173 – ’empowering your opinion with impartial information’

Fortnightly during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments: subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk

Back issues & subscription details: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/about/

In this issue: editorial, campus fascists, senate newsflash, campus fools, campus activists, ua92, researchgate fail, buses fail, bomb shelter update, we need you, love poem, shart, concert review, letters.

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EDITORIAL

Back in October, subtext reported on recent incidents of office doors on campus being defaced by swastikas (see subtext 166 and 167). Now, we bring news of a campus ‘alt-right’ would-be society whose members endorse a white Christian Europe and spread tales of Israel chemically castrating immigrants (see lead story below).

Freedom of speech at Lancaster University, although defended by (almost) everyone here, has in recent years been a mostly theoretical debate. There really weren’t significant numbers of people saying things that really caused offence – not openly, anyway. Demonstrations and counter-demonstrations on ‘giving a platform to hatred’ were things that happened at other universities. Well, those times seem like they might be over, so we need to start thinking about what we should do when people propagate hate speech – at meetings, in seminars and at public events.

subtext has not seen any evidence that our new alt-righters might be planning or encouraging acts of violence – their style is more to disrupt debate and deliberately be ‘provocative’. It’s quite possible that they are really very desperate for attention and, if we leave them well alone, they’ll soon get bored and go back to retweeting memes about frogs.

So do we give them what they want, and start organising demonstrations? Or do we ignore them? And what will our students’ union do about their application for official society status? Let a student jury decide? Your comments and letters would be most welcome.

ALT-WRONG

Lancaster University now has its own alt-right, or maybe just far-right, group. Their aims supposedly include the promotion of traditional values, European heritage, culture, and identity, which seem to include less in the way of republicanism, feminism and revolutionary struggle, more in the way of Wagner, Norse mythology and a certain interpretation of Nietzsche.

Currently, their membership isn’t large enough to warrant the prospect of official recognition by the University – a rejection they consider as bureaucratic obstruction. They do, however, undertake society meetings off-campus. Photographs show that around 16 of the group’s 62 followers met in the Royal King’s Arms on 1 February.

They are also beginning to make themselves heard at University events. On 8 February, the Storey Gallery hosted a public lecture by Ruth Wodak, Professor Emerita in the Department of Linguistics and English Language and internationally renowned expert on right-wing populism and the extreme right, who presented on the theme of her recent book ‘The Politics of Fear’. Around six members of said society dispersed themselves around the room, perhaps in an effort to make it harder for the chair to ignore their questions. They raised what they said were concerns about the ethnic make-up of Europe, asking ‘how to save Europeans’ and endorsing a white Christian Europe. This is a topic recently normalised in mainstream media and publications by neo-conservative commentators like Douglas Murray.

A Lancaster University official at the event was overheard by participants to say ‘they’re not really doing any harm’. We can only hope that this comment was a calculated attempt to defuse the rather odd atmosphere at the wine reception, at which Prof Wodak ‘continued the conversation’, along with several University colleagues, with a small gaggle of testosterone-befuddled fascists, who thought it appropriate to ask/inform her: whether she agreed that European white Christian culture was superior to Islam and other cultures; that it was terrible how Muslims treated women (her response: you know that the extreme right believes women shouldn’t work, right?); what her position was on the supposedly huge criminality of migrants; the fact that all refugees raped women; and the forced castration of immigrants in Israel (a well-worn antisemitic stereotype over many centuries, she responded). They also stated they were in favour of pure-blooded ancestry; one member claimed that he was a national socialist.

If there is anything good that could be said to have come out of the attendance of self-proclaimed ‘saviours of Europe’, it is that they neatly illustrated almost every point that Prof Wodak was making about contemporary extreme right and radical right ideologies. They also managed to get themselves ejected by security staff, apparently for becoming verbally aggressive towards colleagues who continued remonstrating with them after Prof Wodak left the event.

It’s possible that this new student society will just fizzle out through lack of stamina, self-implode through infighting like most far-right groups, or heavens forfend actually use their time at university to learn why their views are so problematic. On the other hand, perhaps the VC was a little premature when he said at Senate some years ago that there was no problem with extremism at Lancaster (see subtext 146).

TEN MINUTES TO DISCUSS YOUR OWN ENABLING ACT

While student wanna-be societies might be yearning for the return of an autocratic fascist state, the University’s governance bodies seem to be doing a pretty good job of dismantling their own democratic structures. Next Wednesday’s Senate papers suggest substantial changes to the University’s statutes are on the agenda. These cover not only the abolition of Court (which was expected) but also significant weakening of the constitutional position of Senate in relation to Council. Instead of Council acting on a ‘recommendation by Senate’, they will instead act ‘following consideration of the recommendation by Senate’. In other words, Council can overrule Senate on a number of issues just so long as they ‘consider’ the recommendation first. This formulation is proposed for several statutes, all relating to matters where currently Senate has the power.

There is also a proposal to change the procedure for making ordinances by removing the requirement for Senate ‘concurrence’ with any changes or new ordinance. As for Council itself, there is a proposal for extending the maximum term of office from six to nine years – for lay members, not for University representatives. There are other changes that look innocuous but probably will have the effect of increasing Council’s powers. And the amount of time allocated on the Senate agenda for discussing this power grab? TEN WHOLE MINUTES! It remains to be seen whether our senators show any more spine than usual when faced with what essentially amounts to rendering the body they sit on powerless if Council wants to push something through, even in areas that are absolutely central to Senate’s remit.

STUDENT CITIZENS’ ADVICE BUREAU?

‘To govern is to choose. To appear to be unable to choose is to appear to be unable to govern.’ So said a wise person… well, OK, actually it was Nigel Lawson. Still, it’s a good quote.

LUSU’s executive committee has decided against taking a position on the UCU strike. They report that, ‘Lancaster University Students’ Union sympathises with the position of the UCU and their members, but in the best interests of our students we do not wish to see this action go ahead and believe all sides of the debate have a part to play in reducing the impact on our members’ education. It was decided that we as your students’ union would take the position of supportive communication, in that we will endeavour to provide impartial information pertaining to both sides of the dispute, making sure that each of you are supported, empowered and informed enough to take your own stance on this matter. We understand that this is a big issue and there will be students on either side of the argument, therefore our priority is reducing the impact on your academia.’

They’ve been as good as their word. What should students do? Well, LUSU has produced two infographics. ‘If you support UCU strike action…’ then you can lobby the VC and ask your lecturers how you can support them. But ‘If you don’t support UCU strike action…’ then you can lobby the VC and encourage academic support from your lecturers. That’ll tell them.

Some readers may feel relieved that, at least, LUSU hasn’t come out against the UCU and NUS position on the strike. But, others will argue, the duty of a students’ union is to take a decision and fight hard for it. Are students really getting ‘value for money’ when their union behaves more like the Citizens’ Advice Bureau than a representative body?

Two years ago LUSU abolished most of its democratic decision-making processes, removing Union Council and replacing it with a labyrinthine system of ‘student juries’ and referendums, to be called upon to reach a consensus – slowly – whenever the executive proposed doing anything contentious. Non-resolutions like the current position on strike action are, as we predicted, the result.

STUDENT ACTIVISM SHOWS SOME SIGNS OF LIFE

subtext counted 66 people at Lancaster UCU’s ‘Everything students need to know about the strike’ meeting on Tuesday 13 February in the Faraday Lecture Theatre, which was either disappointingly low or surprisingly high, depending on your expectations. The lead presenter, Dr Jacob Phelps, started off by stressing how dull pensions were, and followed this with a lively 15-minute presentation on the subject. Particularly entertaining was Dr Phelps’s spine-chilling story of ‘the covenant’ – the shadowy conspiracy that plots to destroy our retirements. No, not really. According to the Pensions Regulator it means ‘the employer’s legal obligation and financial ability to support their defined benefit scheme now and in the future.’

Dr Phelps closed by stressing that ‘a university that doesn’t care long-term for its staff doesn’t care for its students,’ and listing three things which students could do: help get others informed; use your powerful voice; and get involved.

Questions followed, and everything was all very polite, until LUSU was mentioned, at which point there were literal shrieks of derision from several of the students present: ‘They’re not trying! They took a stance to not take a stance!’ Many of the UCU members present were happy to share their memories of the days when students’ unions used to behave, well, like students’ unions: ‘They used to organise! That is the point of a students’ union.’

As far as your subtext correspondent could see, none of the LUSU sabbaticals turned up.

SPAWT!

MARKET RESEARCH? WHO NEEDS IT!

In subtext 171 we reported an attempt by a Stretford resident to obtain more information on UA92 via a Freedom of Information request to the University. Despite being given the old ‘commercial in confidence’ brush off, the resident persisted, with follow-up questions seeking more detail relating to the University’s first response. The information revealed in that reply is intriguing. The resident wanted to know what market research had been conducted which convinced the University that UA92 was a viable proposition. It turns out the answer was… not very much.

Lancaster regularly carries out research into the national student market and it was information from this, rather than anything specifically relating to UA92 and Stretford, that informed its decision to go ahead. Despite the claims made by Gary Neville and his pals that local young people would benefit from UA92, it turns out that they will not be targeted any more than those in the UK as a whole. The only differentiation in projected numbers is between ‘domestic’ and ‘international’. Then there is the matter of student retention, already a cause for concern for the Bailrigg campus. According to the publicity, potential UA92 students will be ‘non-traditional’ in that they are less likely to aspire to a university education and will not have the qualifications to enter ‘traditional’ HE. These are precisely the type of students likely to drop out, yet Lancaster’s projections for UA92, according to the FOI response, are based on ‘average non-continuation rates informed by HEFCE’s data’. In other words, the University is assuming that the UA92 drop-out rate will be in line with that of the sector as a whole.

The Stretford resident also wanted to know what information had been gathered on students’ likely disposable income, on car ownership, on public transport usage, on local domicile – all those factors that would justify Trafford Council’s contention that UA92 would be a key driver for local regeneration. The University’s response was that no research had been conducted in any of these areas. So, what justifies Trafford Council’s optimism? Have they conducted their own research, or have they, like Lancaster, been swayed by the charm and celebrity of Gary and the boys? No doubt these and other UA92 questions will be on the minds of voters in the May local elections, where ‘Tory flagship council’ Trafford could be lost to Labour. Should that happen, we’ll be into a whole new ball game,as they say.

(With thanks to the excellent ‘M32 Stretford Masterplan and UA92’ discussion group on Facebook for this information)

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UA-LCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

In what we think was its first mention of the Gary Neville University since the story broke a year ago, SCAN ran a head to head, ‘for / against’ opinion piece on the subject. subtext readers may be surprised to see that the author of the ‘against’ piece was a member of staff, not least a member of staff who was happy to be named (‘big shoutout’ to Dr Jacob Phelps, FST). More surprising, however, was that the ‘for’ piece came from an anonymous source. Not only was SCAN unable to find someone willing to put their name to a defense of the Gary Neville University, SCAN was unable to find a member of staff to write one! The author refers to themself as ‘a student’. Is UA92 so embarrassing that even students won’t put their name to opinion pieces defending it, or did SCAN get so close to the deadline without someone willing to support it that they hastily ghostwrote any old bobbins?

Whoever wrote the piece claimed that the ‘naysayers have given no clear, coherent argument against UA92…’

Clearly they haven’t been reading subtext for the past year!

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LU TEXT LOST AND FOUND

The public pressure against the Class of ‘92 continues to mount, and it continues to make the national press. This time, campaigners are unhappy with the idea of Gary Neville & co taking over Turn Moss, which is green belt land and a habitat of local wildlife. By our count, the Class of ‘92 has had to withdraw and rejig every bit of planning permission they’ve applied for, and their property development efforts are become increasingly unwelcome and irritating to residents, as reported in a number of national media organs:

https://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/gary-neville-class-92s-plans-12027042

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2018/feb/14/manchester-residents-gary-neville-redevelopment-plans

DIDN’T DO THE RESEARCHGATE

ResearchGate recently contacted a member of the subtext collective about some exciting development – a new member of staff was joining his research project. Just two slight problems – the actual project finished some time back and the ‘new’ member of the team died a few years ago. Sensitivity and tact obviously ain’t built into their algorithm.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES?

Your travel correspondent was unfortunate to be travelling up to work last week (8th February) when the bus broke down. Distinct smell of burning as the bus croaked its last at St. Martin’s bus stop. The driver ushered everyone off and folk milled around wondering what to do. It was actually a nice warm day so for your correspondent the journey was completed on foot – a very pleasant stroll along the meandering cycleway. However lighting struck twice and this week (13th February) another journey, another breakdown and an altogether different outcome. It was pouring with rain so the dis-embarked passengers stood under the shelter and umbrellas to await the next bus. It was not long in coming but of course it was already quite full – the driver of the newly arrived bus was very calm and packed us all on as best he could. Lots of steam emanating from soaked passengers but everyone was jolly nice to one another and we all poured out at the underpass and went on our various ways. See, not all travel stories end badly!

IS IT SAFE?

The bomb shelter experience has morphed into the ‘Marathon Man’ experience in some areas of campus. Instead of the room shaking and dust gently falling on participants’ heads, students are treated to an intermittent high pitched drilling noise that is both deafening and painful. All reminiscent of the famous scene from the 1976 movie ‘Marathon Man’, directed by John Schlesinger, in which the baddie, played by Laurence Olivier, tortures the goodie, played by Dustin Hoffman, by drilling into his tooth while repeatedly asking: ‘Is it safe?’

That scene is often described as one of the most frightening sequences in film. The experience in the teaching room, whilst not frightening, was unpleasant and certainly did not feel safe.

SUBTEXT NEEDS YOU

The subtext collective tries its best to be everywhere, but we’re only human. Could you help enliven an issue of subtext with a review or an article?

For example – were you at the Town Hall on Tuesday 6 February 2018 to see Mike Hill’s talk on fracking? We know it was well-attended and we know it discussed the possibility of fracking coming to Lancaster, but none of the collective was there. Were you? Would you like to tell us what happened?

Or perhaps you saw The Fall play the Great Hall on 9 November 1985. Would you be willing to write a review of this bit of musical history? Courtesy of the band’s gigography, we know the setlist and we know that Brix asked for a TV so she could watch Dynasty, but none of the collective was there. We’re confident our readers would love to know what happened.

Looking ahead, there’ll be dozens of events and happenings taking place during the UCU strike, but the collective can’t attend all of them. It would be great to receive your snippets and impressions.

Guest articles and reviews are what makes subtext such a lively little community. So, next time you’re heading somewhere which you think fellow subtext readers might find interesting, we’d greatly appreciate it if you could take a pen with you and send us your reflections. Contributions can be with or without a named byline.

Oh, and if you’re really keen, we are on the lookout for new collective members! Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more.