For instructions on how to receive subtext by email, see our About page
- subtext 193 – ‘stay home and read subtext’
- SHOWING YOU CARE
- THE (UNOFFICIAL) COURT REPORT
- SOME THOUGHTS ON TONY MADELEY
- EMAIL SIGNATURE NEWS
- WE’RE STILL THE RECORD HOLDERS
- SUBTEXT PRESENTS: A SOLUTION TO TOILET PAPER SHORTAGE
- LANCASTER UCU TEACH OUT – SELECTED REVIEWS
- WIDDEN’S REVIEW – CONCERT FOR REFUGEE CRISIS
- DEMISE OF THE PIE
- subtext 192 – ‘strike while the subtext is hot’
- A TALE OF TWO UNION MEETINGS
- CASUALISATION NEWS
- PREVIEW – LANCASTER EXCHANGE II
- STUDENT DEMOCRACY UPDATE
- subtext 192 – ‘strike while the subtext is hot’
- subtext 191 – ‘fresh from the fridge’, December 13, 2019
- subtext 190 – ‘get subtext done’, November 1, 2019
- subtext 189 – ‘ imaginative thinking subtext’, June 28, 2019
- subtext 188 – ‘eurobants subtext’, May 23, 2019
- subtext 187 – ‘yet another meaningful subtext’, April 2, 2019
- subtext 186 – ‘stumbling towards a no deal subtext’, March 1, 2019
- subtext 185 – ‘the same subtext, only louder’, February 1, 2019
- subtext 184 – ‘life’s an illusion love is a dream’, December 17, 2018
- subtext 183 – ‘(white man) in lancaster sugarhouse’, November 23, 2018
- subtext 182 – ‘better late than ever’, November 8, 2018
- subtext 181 – ‘mean as you start to go on’, October 11, 2018
- All past issues
- March 2020 (12)
- February 2020 (13)
- December 2019 (9)
- November 2019 (12)
- June 2019 (10)
- May 2019 (11)
- April 2019 (8)
- March 2019 (9)
- February 2019 (9)
- December 2018 (9)
- November 2018 (21)
- October 2018 (10)
- September 2018 (20)
- June 2018 (25)
- May 2018 (32)
- April 2018 (14)
- March 2018 (29)
- February 2018 (23)
- January 2018 (14)
- December 2017 (16)
- November 2017 (29)
- October 2017 (37)
- June 2017 (1)
Every so often during term time (and sometimes slightly later).
Letters, contributions, & comments: email@example.com
Back issues & subscription details: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/about/
In this issue: editorial, freeze, applause, court report, rip tony madeley, gender stereotyping update, democracy update, toilet paper, teach outs, widden’s review, pies, letters.
That UCU strike seems a long time ago now, doesn’t it?
As Lancaster’s staff and students adjust to a new working life involving ‘daily exercise’, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and all manner of ‘virtual learning platforms’, subtext reflects on two weeks we should have probably all seen coming, but which most of us didn’t.
For those on campus during Week 20, the atmosphere was strangely peaceful; hardly anyone around, bars and shops gradually choosing to close, and nothing but the almost-daily updates from ‘Lancaster Internal Communications’ to remind us that things were, in the wider world, definitely not getting any better.
Incidentally, subtext would be interested to know why the Vice-Chancellor has chosen to colour the ‘Lancaster University’ header at the top of his COVID-19 updates in Management School Teal, rather than the usual Lancashire Red. Is he trying to create an artificial divide between his usual chummy ‘we’re all in this together’ persona and his new, necessarily terrifying ‘vacate your offices by Monday’ persona? Every time we see that flash of green at the top of an email, we know the news is bad. The consequences could be severe – subtext has visions of groups of staff in years to come experiencing flashbacks and panic attacks every time they pass LUMS and catch sight of that oppressive shade of green.
The UCU disputes on pensions, pay and conditions continue, of course, with not a lot changed after 14 days of further strike action – except the election of a new UCU National Executive Committee that will be far more to General Secretary Jo Grady’s liking than the outgoing one. Relations locally between unions and management remain strained. Unlike several universities, including Birkbeck, King’s College London and St Andrews, which have indefinitely deferred all strike deductions in the light of the coronavirus crisis, Lancaster seems unusually keen to punish its staff as rapidly as possible, with many staff due to see a full 14 days’ worth of pay deducted from their March salary payments. Most Heads of Department seem to have been happy, under orders from HR, to ask staff to declare their strike days as soon as possible. Could the University be jittery about its financial position? This week’s announcement of a freeze on all external recruitment (see our article in this issue) suggests that they may be.
As we go to press, news has reached the subtext warehouse that the University now wants all staff to report their COVID-19 status. In an email to staff, Director of HR Paul Boustead claims that they ‘require this information to enable the University to meet its reporting requirements and respond to requests from [the] Office for Students, government and emergency services.’ While it is clear the University has a role to play in flattening the curve, and in some respects has been ahead of the government in this regard, asking all staff to disclose specific details about their health seems like a clear case of institutional overreach. Readers can of course make their own decision about whether to comply with this request, or reply to Paul Boustead with a frank indication of their views.
There will no doubt be a lot to think about in the coming months. As we prepare for a term, or perhaps longer, of remote working, subtext hopes to be there to cover the serious stories and, hopefully, provide a bit of light relief. Stories, reviews and letters are more welcome than ever – send them to the usual email address.
News reaches subtext that, in an email to line managers on Wednesday 25 March, the Vice-Chancellor has announced a complete freeze on all external recruitment at Lancaster. Where an offer has already been made, this will be honoured, but all other appointments and vacancies are to be frozen.
The VC informs managers that ‘we are having to review our short to medium position regarding staff recruitment and all other costs in light of the significantly altered financial and operating position. You will be aware that we communicated last week a deferral of the most significant capital projects; i.e. the next phase of the LUMS development, the refurbishment of the east estate, and the construction of the new Engineering building. Other changes to the capital programme will follow.’ As a result, ‘all external recruitment (including through ERS) with immediate effect is being placed on hold until further notice.’
The existing vacancy control process for Professional Services staff will now apply to all roles, including ERS (the University’s in-house employment agency that lets them hire people on zero hours contracts while pretending not to have any staff on zero hours contracts) positions and proposed extensions to fixed term contracts. The process will assess whether vacancies are ‘strategically critical roles’ where the freeze should not apply.
There is some reassurance: ‘we need to ensure we are, where possible, providing job security to our existing staff and mitigating the cessation of fixed term contracts. This will require us to think differently and creatively as we redeploy staff and share our resources.’ Furthermore, ‘we will automatically place all fixed term contracts due to come to a natural end on the redeployment register.’
Fixed term staff awaiting transfer to indefinite status, as promised by the University’s new policy, are likely to be disappointed: ‘we are mindful that work is due to start in respect of the new Fixed Term Contracts Policy and this work will continue as best it can do in light of COVID-19 context. However, managers should still keep fixed term contracts under review as normal.’
This announcement will hardly have come as a surprise to anyone – after all, how many overseas students do you think we’re realistically likely to recruit for the coming year? Your subtext drones wonder how equipped the university would be, or more likely would not be, to weather a significant one-year drop in student numbers without redundancies.
We should perhaps be grateful we are not at the University of Sussex, which reportedly announced on Wednesday 25 March that all temporary contracts should be ‘terminated where possible’:
As subtext goes to press, 44 vacancies are still being advertised at: https://hr-jobs.lancs.ac.uk/
Some of you may be familiar with the ‘Clap for Our Carers’ campaign, which has recently spread across social media with the speed of, well, some sort of virus. The idea was that the people of the UK would, at 8pm on March 26th, take to their windows, porches, gardens, etc. to deliver a nationwide round of applause for those NHS staff currently on the frontline of the fight against the coronavirus.
Alas, we still haven’t got around to removing the soundproofing we installed in the subtext warehouse during the recent campus construction works (subtexts passim). However, reports reach us from those on the receiving end of this display of gratitude – reports of banged pots and pans, car horns, fireworks and applause. Suffice it to say they were extremely grateful for the show of support; good on you to those subtext readers who took part!
Twenty seven people, including students, staff, former staff and city councillors, gathered in the impressive surroundings of the Council Chamber at Lancaster Town Hall on Thursday 12 March for the unofficial 2020 session of the Lancaster University Court. Jack O’Dwyer-Henry, city councillor for the University & Scotforth Rural ward, took the chair and told those present that Lancaster University had contacted the City Council that day to complain about the Court meeting, emphasising that it was not officially sanctioned by the University. The meeting noted this and continued.
Having agreed subtext 172’s report as an accurate record of the final official Court in 2018, the Court proceeded to business.
Marion McClintock, Lancaster’s Honorary Archivist, gave a brief history of the Court. As the first governing body of the University, it set up the Council in 1964. With around 350 members, its main significance was to make Lancaster accountable to the local region. Motions passed by the Court were sent to the Council, who were required to take note of them. The minutes were all extant.
In the absence of the Vice-Chancellor or the Director of Finance, Sunil Banga of Lancaster UCU introduced a discussion on the University’s current priorities. Rather than investing in staff and students, the University was focusing on capital projects, many of these financed by loans. These were arguably putting Lancaster’s finances at risk, with interest payments of £5m per annum. Meanwhile, college funds were depleted, visa support was ‘negligible’ and the University had brought in vacancy controls for Professional Services staff.
The University was focused on increasing its adjusted net cash flow via more bums on seats (or sitting on the floor, or watching materials online). Measures of cash flow did not include the University’s mounting private debt, including debts to two US companies totalling £65m. The arrangements that set up UA92, and the deal with Navitas to establish a Leipzig campus, were largely hidden. These decisions were largely taken by the Finance & General Purposes Committee of the Council, but the minutes of this committee were not, in general, available to the public.
Andrew Williams noted that UPP, Lancaster’s provider of student accommodation, was the largest outsourcing project on campus, operating 4437 rooms. Standard & Poor’s recently downgraded Lancaster’s credit rating from AA- to A+ due to the University’s exposure to UPP’s risk.
We continued to expand our overseas partnerships, with BJTU in China, Sunway in Malaysia, the Ghana campus and, coming soon, our Leipzig campus. Their students would get Lancaster University degrees, but quality assurance was ‘questionable’ and in some cases there was a lack of respect for democratic rights. The trade union representative at our BJTU campus has been told he ‘can’t be called that’ and the local authorities won’t communicate with him.
How had democratic procedures changed? Twenty years ago, the Court elected a significant number of lay members of the Council, the University’s senior governing body. Following reforms, a Nominations Committee had been set up to select lay Council members but, importantly, the Court retained the right to elect a significant number of Nominations Committee members (see subtext 4). Following the abolition of the Court, these Nominations Committee members had been quietly forgotten, meaning that the majority of members of the body charged with selecting suitable members for the Council were members of the Council!
Joe Thornberry, former Principal of Bowland College, observed that when the proposal to abolish the Court was discussed by the Senate, the proposers’ key argument was that the Court was ‘unrepresentative of the community’ – ironic when the Court was far more representative as a body than either the Council or the Senate. The abolition of the Court was the final stage of a 12-year process. Might our incoming Vice-Chancellor, Andy Schofield from Birmingham, change things? The Court thought not – Birmingham has a pretty bad reputation and had abolished its Court at the same time as Lancaster’s.
Cllr O’Dwyer-Henry, reporting on the Students’ Union, felt that the current culture there was one of acquiescence to management. Two full-time officers had resigned so far this year and a petition of no confidence in the President had recently been opened. Four trustees of the union had resigned in the last year. The AGM had passed some good ideas but these had not been acted on.
Emily Heath gave a wide-ranging report on the Climate Emergency – there was an informal working group on campus. A petition to senior managers asked them to declare a climate emergency, appoint a senior manager to deal with the issue and manage the University’s land in the interests of sustainability. Simon Guy had been given responsibility and he came across as someone who wanted to listen. However, a ‘Big Conversation’ with staff had taken place on a strike day (students had not been allowed in) and the student version that week had been ‘more of a Q&A’. Our new Health Innovation Campus was not sustainable and based on fossil fuels.
A motion calling upon the Council to discuss bullying, commercialisation and the erosion of democratic governance at Lancaster, expressing no confidence in the senior leadership team, was proposed by Mr Banga and passed by a large majority, but not without opposition from Mrs McClintock, who felt that the proposal was ‘the sort of motion that management would expect’ – asking for a different approach to governance would, she thought, be more likely to get a response.
Finally, when should the Court meet again? The meeting agreed that, whenever a Lancaster Exchange was scheduled to happen, a Court meeting should happen, as an alternative forum for debate. It was suggested that the city councillors for campus should continue to convene these meetings, to give them legitimacy. The University community should build for the next time.
And so the unofficial Court ended, as members joined the queue for drinks in the Borough.
Contributed by Nigel Annis
Tony was the University’s Safety and Radiation Protection Officer, a position he held from 1985 until 2011. As you will know, he died suddenly at home on 23rd February.
I worked with Tony for almost 20 years in the Safety Office, but I knew him for many years before that when I worked at UCLan. Over all those years I never ceased to marvel at the way he could get people to do things they just didn’t want to do. Shortly after I first came to Lancaster I was sitting with him in Furness Bar after I had had a bit of an argument with someone over a safety issue. He said to me, ‘These academics. They don’t like to be told what to do. You’ve got to nudge them a little, persuade them subtly, buy them a coffee or even better, a pint, tell them how valuable their research is, be their friend and then they’ll do it.’ And that’s why Lancaster has such a good record on health and safety, because Tony didn’t tell people what to do, he asked them, and he was greatly respected for this. He was completely at ease in his dealings with people, from the VC to the lowest-paid operative on campus.
Tony was a pragmatist in his approach to health and safety. He would never dismiss a suggestion out of hand just because it appeared at first sight to be hazardous. The Students’ Union came to him one day asking whether they could abseil down Bowland Tower for Children in Need. The VC was worried, the University Secretary was worried, I was worried. The response of your average safety person would probably be: ‘Abseil down Bowland Tower? How high’s the Tower? 150 feet? A long way to fall. Sorry. No.’ Tony’s response: ‘Abseil down Bowland Tower? Hmmm. That sounds a bit… wacky! Come up to my office and we’ll sit down and work out how to minimise the risk.’ And that’s the way he did things – sensibly. On this particular occasion the event went ahead, Tony retired to Furness Bar with his fingers crossed, and everyone was happy, not least the charities that benefitted. (Although I never heard him say ‘Can I have a go?’)
Tony had another string to his bow, perhaps a bigger one than safety, and that was the colleges, in particular, Furness College. When Tony became its Principal it was like a whirlwind hitting the place. To say that he went the extra mile for its staff and students doesn’t really do him justice. He put his heart and soul into making Furness the most popular college on campus, organising lunchtime seminars, evening wine tastings (those went down well) and trips for the students to the Lakes, local hostelries, concerts and opera. As he said, ‘They’re paying us £9000 to be here. We need to entertain as well as educate!’ He was well known for performing what I would call ‘random acts of kindness’, like the occasion when the Boat Club discovered on the Friday that they had no van or driver to take their canoes to York for the Roses weekend. When Tony heard about this, what did he do? He dropped everything, hitched his car up to this enormous boat trailer with six canoes on it and drove to York and back, sacrificing his weekend into the bargain. I’m sure many people will recall occasions when he went far beyond the call of duty to help staff and students out of a tricky situation.
The students loved Tony. And something else: the students’ parents loved him as well. I can see them now on Degree Day, queuing up in Furness Bar to meet him and thank him for helping their sons and daughters through an occasionally difficult three years of higher education.
I, and countless others, have been enormously fortunate to have known Tony and to have learnt some valuable ‘life lessons’ from him.
I was browsing some old ‘Private Eye’ magazines a few days ago and came across a poem in the ‘Poetry Corner’ section of one of them, devoted to the satirist Willie Rushton who had recently died. I would like to plagiarise some lines of that poem because I think they are totally appropriate to Tony:
‘So farewell then Tony Madeley.
You were much loved.
And you will be much missed.’
Ex University Safety Office (1984-1986, 1992-2008)
Following up our story (see subtext 192) on Lancaster’s not-in-any-way-pandering-to-stereotype set of email signature templates, featuring Mr Jo Bloggs the officer and his loyal personal assistant, Ms Jane Bloggs, a subtext reader emails to let us know that our article may have ‘prompted them to do something’. Upon investigation, we were pleased to see that Jo Bloggs no longer has any specific pronouns, while his PA Jane has been replaced by the gender-neutral Alex Bloggs. Well done ISS! Though we remain somewhat concerned at the suggestion of rampant nepotism! See the new templates at:
As coronavirus fever first gripped the country, and as the government prepared to enact emergency laws to postpone all public elections, one solitary local council by-election took place on Thursday 19 March 2020, for the Upper Stoke ward of Coventry City Council. Other by-elections had been scheduled for that day, but called off unilaterally by their returning officers, and no further by-elections are likely to take place anywhere in the UK for the foreseeable future.
Gurdev Singh Hayre (Labour) won the Upper Stoke ward with 639 votes, out of 1214 who cast ballots, 651 of whom were postal voters. A shockingly low turnout of 9.02%.
Surely this pandemic-affected turnout must be a record low for recent public elections? Apparently not, commentators concluded – there was another council by-election, in 2016, where the turnout had been even lower, 7.12%, and the winning candidate had been returned with just 98 votes. Where could that have been?
You’ve guessed it. The University & Scotforth Rural by-election for Lancaster City Council (see subtext 156), held on 8 December 2016, continues to defeat all comers in the apathy stakes. It’s comforting to know that even the fear of catching COVID-19 has nothing on our students’ tendency to avoid the polls on a cold day.
1) Receive this latest issue of subtext
2) Print off this latest issue of subtext
3) Problem solved
One of the most inspiring aspects of the UCU strike was, once again, the series of ‘Teach Out’ sessions in the Gregson Centre. The 15 events at the Gregson, held between Thursday 20 February and Wednesday 11 March, included readings of radical fiction, an alternative guide to the University’s finances and a workshop on the role of journalists during the civil war in El Salvador. Here are just a few reviews.
RED AND GREY
A good-sized audience (especially as it was the second teach-out session of the day) turned out on Wednesday 4 March to hear Veronika Koller’s history of the Quakers in Lancashire and their connections to Lancaster University.
The colours of Lancaster University, red and grey, are Quaker colours. Several buildings at Lancaster University, including the eventually-to-be-finished 400-seater Margaret Fell Lecture Theatre, are named after Quakers. There’s a Quaker collection in the Library and an MA in Quakerism in the Modern World. Why the close connection?
The Quakers were founded locally. George Fox, though originally from Leicestershire, journeyed to Lancashire and had a vision on Pendle Hill in 1652. The foundation of the Quakers is usually dated from the day, soon after his vision, when he preached to crowds on Firbank Fell, near Sedbergh. Fox was later imprisoned in Lancaster Castle. The Quakers have had a strong presence in North Lancashire ever since, and when Lancaster University was founded, its first Vice-Chancellor, Charles Carter, was a Quaker.
Quaker values are summarised by the acronym STEPS: Simplicity, Truth, Equality, Peace and Sustainability. How does today’s Lancaster University measure up to these values?
Simplicity – a life full of forms, reports, action plans and metrics;
Truth – the University’s motto is ‘truth lies open to all’, but this truth is often concealed;
Equality – pay gaps, precarity and large salaries for senior managers;
Peace – the George Fox Six and more recent bullying cases;
Sustainability – the University has made many unethical investments.
The 2004 case of the George Fox Six, when a group of students disrupted an arms conference being held in the George Fox Building (of all places) and were prosecuted for aggravated trespass, summed up the contradictions between the University’s values and actions. When students stop being students and become knowing subjects, Koller reflected, ‘the University comes down on them like a ton of bricks.’ Today, Lancaster departments continue to collaborate with the defence industry – BAE Systems is a significant local employer and always welcome at our student careers fairs – and the University hasn’t yet committed to divest from its investments in fossil fuels. On the positive side, we have our wind turbine, other renewable energy initiatives and good food sustainability.
In summary, noted Koller, ‘peace does not mean being soft and gentle about anything – but it does mean no violence.’
THE RIGHT TO KNOW
Andrew Williams began his talk on ‘the right to know as a tool of resistance’ on Monday 9 March with quotes from E P Thompson’s ‘Warwick University Ltd: Industry, Management and the Universities’ (Penguin, 1970), an account of the 1970 student occupation of Warwick’s administration building, and the events that followed from it. The affair uncovered widespread political surveillance of staff and students, complete with leaks, whistleblowers and listening devices, and explored the importance of information, and how it is controlled: important papers would appear unannounced, inaccurate minutes would circulate, and the realisation grew that ‘knowledge is power’.
Of course such activities would never be tolerated here…
Williams went through the four main pieces of legislation that enable us to request information from public bodies: the Freedom of Information Act 2000, in force since 2005; the Data Protection Act 2018 (and its predecessors from 1984 and 1998); the Environmental Information Regulations 2004; and the various Public Records Acts.
Tony Blair now regrets passing the Freedom of Information Act 2000, but it has dramatically changed the rights of individuals to request information from public bodies. Universities, despite their hybrid ‘public-private’ status, are explicitly designated ‘public bodies’ for the purposes of the FoI Act. It was used to, for example, obtain a copy of our former VC’s email, dated 23 August 2019, on support for off-campus students, at a time when incoming first years were being advised to sign agreements with off-campus residences that weren’t ready for occupation (see subtext 190).
In FoI requests, ‘exemptions are the rule’, usually under Section 40 of the FoI Act, as modified by the DPA Act, which creates numerous exemptions for ‘personal data’. There is a long appeals process for FoI requests: firstly there should be an internal review, then the matter can be taken to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), and from there there is a route to a First Tier Tribunal, an Upper Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and lastly, in theory, the Supreme Court.
The lesser-known Environmental Information Regulations are very helpful – indeed, in many situations, they can be more useful than the FoI Act, because when dealing with requests under these regulations, there is a presumption in favour of disclosure. A large number of bodies fall within the scope of the regulations (e.g. United Utilities and MI5) and they can be used to make requests on the state of the elements or the impact of legislation on the environment.
At Lancaster, management holds a ‘knowledge monopoly’ and this leads to a fundamental imbalance of power. Using FoI, DPA or EIR requests is one way for journalists and researchers to challenge this monopoly. For example, Williams had successfully obtained copies of emails showing that the proposed sale of the Sugarhouse had been discussed (January 2019) some months before the proposal was disclosed to students (September 2019). It was possible to find out information about the University’s investment portfolios, showing that Lancaster has interests in British American Tobacco, Glaxo SmithKline and BAE Systems amongst others. Information obtained following the highly-publicised phishing attack on the University in July 2019 showed that, while one person had been arrested, they had later been released with no charges known.
Aspiring investigators should ask for something very specific, and/or ask to search within parameters. The Centre for Investigative Journalism outlines two techniques: ‘grazing’ (targeting specific information lying outside the exemptions) and ‘mining’ (stopping at nothing to get the information). Requests should be acknowledged within 18 hours; a response should normally be received within 20 working days.
The meeting concluded by considering possible requests for information that could be made, including the amount of strike pay deducted after each round of UCU industrial action, disaggregated by faculty, and the turnover of staff at Lancaster’s Beijing Jiaotong University (BJTU) campus. If subtext readers have any other creative suggestions, please send us (or firstname.lastname@example.org) your thoughts.
Contributed by Martin Widden
Prompted by the refugee crisis across the Mediterranean, the programme for the recital given on 5th March by the twelve-strong a capella choir Stile Antico was focused on John Dowland’s set of pavans for voice and lute, Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares. (According to Dowland’s contemporary Thomas Morley, a pavan was ‘a kind of staid music, ordained for grave dancing’.) Although dating from the early 17th century, these pavans seem completely appropriate to the tragedies being played out in the 21st, before our eyes as it were: indeed, the first pavan, which opens with the words ‘Flow my tears, fall from your springs! Exiled for ever let me mourn’, could have been composed for the recent Syrian crisis.
Only one of the seven pavans, the first, had a text; the remaining six were purely instrumental pieces, although all were melancholy in flavour. However, Stile Antico commissioned the poet Peter Oswald to provide texts for the remaining six pavans, highlighting contemporary issues of displacement and exile through the prism of Dowland’s music. These pieces were performed in the Great Hall recital on 5th March, alongside the superb Lamentations by Robert White, a contemporary of Dowland. The verses of these Lamentations describe the grief and desolation of the Israelites exiled in Babylon, but they will have had extra significance for White: being almost certainly a Catholic in Elizabethan England, he may well have felt like an exile himself.
Also on the programme was a series of pieces for oud (a form of lute from the Middle East), played by Rihab Azar, a Syrian oud player.
The final piece in the recital was a new work Bodrum Beach, commissioned by Stile Antico from the composer Giles Swayne, which was first performed at the 2019 Brighton Festival. This takes as its starting point the poem Dover Beach, by Matthew Arnold, but the piece was animated by the press photographs of the dead body of a three-year-old boy face down on a Turkish beach opposite the island of Kos – another refugee tragedy.
This piece closed what had been a very well rounded programme, illuminated by excellent programme notes, and brilliantly performed by the singers of Stile Antico.
It also closed the season of Great Hall concerts, since the final concert unfortunately had to be cancelled owing to the COVID-19 emergency.
Contributed by Paul Arthur
Perhaps it is my age. Or my impoverished 70’s upbringing. Or, just maybe, it is that pies taste good and salad… well, let’s face it, it’s no competition.
For a number of years I have enjoyed lunchtime forays into the pastry-encased joy* of the Bowland Pie. In fairness I had not made the pilgrimage for some time when I discovered, to my utter horror, that Bowland is now a Salad Bar.
‘What?!!!’ My outrage was evident to colleagues (it is hard not to be evident in the closely-packed virus-fermenter that is the workspace favoured by University House). The discovery had been triggered by a suggestion that we should embark on a pie lunch as we had not done so in some time. Over the next few minutes the office buzzed with comments ranging from muted dismay to shouted demands for industrial action.
To understand my sense of loss you must first appreciate the extent to which pies are at the very core of my existence. Whilst travelling in New Zealand some years ago I wrote a blog in which I sampled pies as I travelled (New Zealanders make very good pies). My well-thumbed pie bible ‘Life of Pies’ by the venerable Martin Tarbuck is oft reached-for if I am to travel in the UK. I have shares in Greggs, although that is actually making the best of a bad lot where campus pie-provision is concerned.
Why? Why would you replace pie with salad? Salad has its place, of course. Somewhere in the footer of a menu that features a long list of excellent pies, perhaps.
So, my plea to our revered University Catering colleagues is this. Bring back the Bowland Pie, lest I fade away living a life of quiet despair as I rock in a corner of University House.
* Disclaimer: I am aware that the Bowland Pie was not, in fact, encased in pastry. As a pie topped in pastry it did not, in my somewhat puritanical approach to the world of pie, achieve full compliance with the definition. ‘Joy’ is also stretching things a bit, but I am using a little artistic licence here in order to make my point.
As the most recent Head of Department of the late School of Independent Studies, I am assuming I can consider inviting myself to authorise my own access to the University’s IT and email?
Reading the letters in subtext 192, I was struck by a sense of deja vu. Continuing members continuing to be insulted by the management on the strange basis that providing them with such things as an email address is costly to the university. I wrote before, a long time ago, pointing out that no real calculation of costs of providing IT and library access to continuing members had been made.
It is not legitimate to calculate that cost by dividing the entire cost of these services by the total number of users, to get a prime cost per head, and then to multiply that by the number of continuing members. Prime cost per head and marginal cost are not the same thing. Provision of services to continuing members only costs anything if it means extra staff have to be hired, extra servers bought or leased, more books purchased, et cetera. Until marginal cost has been correctly calculated, there is no case for alienating this group of former colleagues. If the real marginal cost has been calculated, then I think we ought to be told what that is and how it was arrived at, in order to be able to make a judgement about management’s stance, right or wrong, on this question.
Dr Richard Austen-Baker
Senior Lecturer in Law
Lancaster University Law School
My attention was drawn by a recent news story on the University Portal page, ‘Fixed-term contracts and casual working policy: update’.
One line particularly jumped out at me, which I’m sure colleagues in the Linguistics Department could devote entire research articles to: Paul Boustead, Director of Human Resources & Organisational Development said, ‘Our aim is to continue the effective partnership exhibited throughout the construction of this policy whilst we further mature the roll out plan.’
On the basis of this alone, I think Director Boustead deserves a promotion, as this is a truly visionary refashioning of the English language and sure to become a classic case study on postgraduate Management Discourse modules across the country. Meanwhile, as I celebrate a decade of casual contracts at Lancaster University, I will continue in the hope of rolled out plans being effectively exhibited before I mature any further.
[Truly in keeping with our Quaker value of Simplicity – ed.]
In response to the letter from the frustrated Dr Noel Cass, I think we need to address some of the confusion over the new indefinite contracts. Indefinite contracts can now be given to those whose work is externally funded with a finite end as is the case with many research projects, as Noel points out. The word indefinite suggests that the contract will provide security when the funding runs out, but this is not the case. At the end point of the project, the position for the staff member on the indefinite contract is exactly as it would have been on a fixed term contract, redeployment list access/redundancy. In these circumstances indefinite is not indefinite.
As much as I was disappointed by this situation, a friend did point out that the other benefits of having an indefinite contract are important too. It sometimes makes a difference when applying for mortgages, if your contract is indefinite, and there might be a positive impact with some maternity/paternity/adoption leave scenarios. Sadly, fixed term funding can delay people buying houses and starting a family, due to the financial uncertainty.
Impending strike action was the sole subject of discussion at what were otherwise two very different Lancaster UCU General Meetings, one on 22 January and the other on 18 February. Both were relatively well-attended – the January one looked packed because it was in the cosy Marcus Merriman Lecture Theatre, while the February one looked sparsely attended because it was in the cavernous (and freezing cold!) County South Lecture Theatre, but in truth there were probably around 60 attendees at each.
Members at the January meeting, held when the 14 days of action had been proposed but not agreed to, were worried and apprehensive. Despite an upbeat introduction by local UCU President Julie Hearn, suggesting we ‘look over the ocean’ at France, where a general strike seemed imminent, the majority of speakers advised caution. One thought this seemed the wrong time to take further action; another was worried that members were being asked to ‘go back out’ after no visible progress; another flatly suggested that the union’s tactics had failed. Those backing 14 days felt we currently had the momentum – and if we didn’t act now, there was no guarantee we’d reach the 50% threshold again. It was not logical to say, ‘we’ve not achieved much, so we shouldn’t go back out on strike!’
The meeting had officially been called to gauge opinions, and a motion supporting the planned strike action had been proposed, but it was agreed by everyone present that a vote was not appropriate (subtext’s view is that it would probably have fallen). One member perhaps summed up the majority: ‘no one is saying, don’t take strike action. We want to take strike action – but we don’t want to take 14 days’ strike action.’
The January meeting agreed to invite one of the national negotiators up to speak to a future meeting – a very wise decision, in retrospect, because the February meeting, with national pay and conditions negotiator Robyn Orfitelli (University of Sheffield) as lead speaker, was a much more optimistic affair.
Despite spending nearly four hours to travel from Sheffield to Lancaster by train, Dr Orfitelli was upbeat – about what the negotiators had already achieved on pay and conditions, and why she thought we needed to take further action. After a long period of silence, the employers had written to the unions in the last few days, with strike action imminent, asking for a meeting – a tactic they’d used just before the last strike, when talks started on the second strike day. ‘A lot of progress has been made’ in those talks, she reported, but not enough.
The unions want a negotiating framework for working conditions. UK-wide principles should be agreed as the ‘bottom line’, following which there should be locally-negotiated implementation of these principles. UCEA, the employers’ pay negotiators, offered some ‘principles on precarity’ and a commitment to information gathering, but there was still no progress on a sector-wide response to the workload crisis or – of course – on the headline pay offer. All of the ‘four fights’ were, at their core, equality issues. Universities were making financial choices which devalue their staff and students.
There were plenty of questions.
– ‘What’s the plan if the employer just sits this out?’ ‘I don’t think they will,’ replied Dr Orfitelli, adding that, when UCU members want us to stop taking action, they will tell us.
– What incentive do employers have to settle in one dispute, given we’d still be on strike due to the other dispute? Dr Orfitelli believed that, the instant that one of the two (UCEA for pay, Universities UK for pensions) breaks, the pressure ramps up on the other. These organisations are all ‘literally down the hall from each other.’
– Could reducing the number of fixed-term staff have the unintended consequence of placing more indefinite staff at risk, due to larger redundancy pools? Dr Orfitelli noted that campaigning was often like playing Whack-a-Mole.
– On pensions, Dr Orfitelli reported that employers had recently been reconsulted, and many are unwilling to take on extra contributions. Reports of ‘111 USS employers’ presumably means that each Oxbridge college is being counted as a separate institution. To get a resolution, we either need to get USS to fundamentally change, or get Universities UK to temporarily take on additional contributions. The Joint Expert Panel (JEP) was ‘over’ – it had delivered both of its reports, and its members were not directly involved in negotiations.
– Were there disagreements between the pay negotiators and the General Secretary? Both had sent emails to members, with different takes on the dispute, at almost exactly the same time! Apparently, there was no disagreement, just a ‘slightly different tone.’ The negotiators were concerned that members did not have access to them and their thoughts, and they were unaware that the General Secretary would be writing to members that day.
– If there was movement on job insecurity but zero movement on pay, would the negotiators recommend that members be balloted on the deal? ‘We’re not ruling anything out.’
– And the most unsympathetic VC? Birmingham, apparently!
At one point Dr Orfitelli floated the idea of a REF, TEF and KEF boycott, which was met with a round of applause.
The meeting ended with thanks for Dr Orfitelli. Four hours on Transpennine Express well spent!
Casual readers may be forgiven for thinking that subtext’s drones are embittered cynics whose philosophy can be summed up as ‘D Floor bad, HR enablers of bad’. In an effort to challenge this notion, here’s a vote of thanks for the new ‘Fixed-term Contracts and Casual Working Policy and Procedure’, drafted by a working group involving the campus unions and approved by the Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC) on 4 November 2019. It isn’t easy to find online, and hasn’t yet been put on HR’s page of policies and procedures, but can be accessed on the intranet here:
The Director of HR comments that the new policy ‘underlines our commitment to making sure staff feel secure and supported at this university.’ It’s been lauded in the House of Commons by Cat Smith MP, who invited the Minister of State for Universities and Science to ‘join me in welcoming the changes at Lancaster University’ (Commons Hansard, 20 January 2020). In short:
1) Fixed-term contracts will only be used in these circumstances: cover for temporary staff absence; cover for one-off peaks in demand; recognised and time-limited training programmes; and if a staff member requests it (the latter includes situations where an external funder stipulates that their funding is conditional on the position being fixed-term).
2) ‘All staff currently employed on fixed-term contracts will be automatically moved onto indefinite contracts,’ unless their role falls into one of these four cases.
3) Casual (in other words hourly-paid) contracts will only be used in these circumstances: very short term roles up to 12 weeks in duration; and ad hoc roles with no regular pattern of work and no obligation between the parties to offer or accept work (i.e. zero-hour contracts).
The unions offered particular praise to HR Service Delivery Manager Matt Ireland for overseeing the drafting and approval process. All in all, a good news story…
…except that doubts are now setting in amongst union activists regarding HR’s commitment to implementing it. Mr Ireland has now left Lancaster to work for an NHS Trust in East Lancashire.
Let’s look at the current list of vacancies. Among them is an advert for a Business Analyst in Admissions and Outreach (ref N2348), who ‘will focus on the implementation of a new postgraduate admissions system.’ This is ‘a fixed term role, initially until 31st October 2020.’ There’s also a role as Business Relationship Officer for the Lancashire Cyber Foundry (ref N2347), part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, which seeks to develop ‘a unique business support programme for small to medium enterprise businesses across a range of industrial sectors.’ This is ‘a fixed term post until 30 September 2022’ – note that, according to the new policy, ‘time-limited funding, in itself, will not be justification to place an individual on a fixed-term contract.’ Maybe you’d like to be a Disability Advisor (ref N2338), leading on ‘support for disabled students on the new Frontline postgraduate Social Work programme.’ This is ‘a two year fixed term appointment.’
Have recruiting managers just not got the memo, or has the memo not been sent in the first place?
What about those currently on fixed-term contracts – can they expect to receive letters confirming their indefinite status any day now? It seems unlikely: HR’s page on ‘ending fixed-term contracts’ has not been updated since March 2019 and still claims that, ‘if you wish to extend a fixed-term contract, you need to submit a Manager Request using Core MyHR. Alternatively, a request to Transfer to Indefinite Contract can be made. If managers are awaiting authorisation so that further employment can be offered it is strongly advised that a case for redundancy is made in parallel as a precautionary measure. Any such proposal can be withdrawn once authorisation has been received.’
It may, then, be some time before Lancaster is, to quote the policy, ‘using indefinite contractual arrangements wherever possible and reducing the use of fixed-term and casual arrangements.’ But the policy is there – subtext would be interested to hear any evidence of it actually being used.
The second annual Lancaster Exchange, the replacement for our much-missed University Court, will be on Thursday 12 March 2020 in Lancaster Town Hall, from 5pm until 8pm.
subtext was optimistic after the first Lancaster Exchange, concluding that ‘it was more like a pilot episode than an experiment, but if management really publicises next year’s meeting, makes the topics for discussion a little less boilerplate, and involves the students a lot more, it could be really very good indeed’ (see subtext 187). How are preparations for Lancaster Exchange II going?
According to the draft agenda, the first subject will be Eden Project North, after which ‘we will be exploring the University’s role in contributing to the development of the region as a healthy, prosperous and sustainable place.’ Important topics, true, but arguably more boilerplate than a plumbing convention.
Publicity seems better than last year; 2019’s attendees have been emailed with an invitation and the event even has a website:
The local Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District are promoting the event; the Exchange is clearly seen as a good way to ‘engage with the local community.’
Unfortunately, calling the meeting for a Thursday night has put the kibosh on alumni attending in significant numbers, and the event isn’t even currently listed as an event on the University’s alumni page. Many students and staff will still be in lectures and seminars at that time – and even those lucky enough to finish by 5pm are unlikely to be attracted by an immediate three-hour meeting in town. It’s a shame this problem wasn’t noted at the planning stage.
…they’ve called the event during the strike! Any students and academic staff looking for a constructive way to raise their concerns with management, in a comfortable city-centre setting, now have the perfect opportunity to do so – just head to the Eventbrite page and reserve your place, before it’s too late:
Suddenly the event is looking a lot more exciting than at first glance.
Back in December 2018, subtext 184 reported on the Students’ Union’s unsuccessful referendum to change the make-up of its Full-Time Officer (FTO) team – a narrow majority voted ‘yes’ to the changes (yes 438, no 396, abstain 58), but the turnout failed to clear the 10% threshold needed for the decision to be binding. We speculated that the changes would be ‘rapidly booted into the long grass.’ We were wrong.
One of the leaders of the ‘no’ campaign back in 2018 was George Nuttall, now the Students’ Union President. The current FTOs have clearly learned from their experiences in 2018: if you want to make contentious changes, don’t ask the students to endorse them, just ram them through!
Thus it was that in January 2020, a new proposal to change the make-up of the FTO team was passed, by a vote of the Students’ Union Executive Committee (yes 7, no 5, abstain 1), without calling a referendum at all:
Well there we are.