subtext 174 – ‘ambitious managed divergent subtext’

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, senate stuff, gary’s barmy army, bunker blues, fashion notes, pickets’r’us, sorry scan, court in the act, lusu democracy, lost and found, more lusu democracy, more lost and found, unis for sale, shart, comedy review, widden reviews, letters.

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EDITORIAL

Five days down, nine days of strike action to go (unless one side blinks today or tomorrow). It’s time for our Vice-Chancellor to state a consistent position, publicly, on the future of USS.

As subtext revealed in a newsflash last week, Prof Smith denied in Senate that – as reported in the Times that day – he’d broken ranks with the majority of Vice-Chancellors and supported a change to Universities UK’s current policy on USS. Apparently the sides are too far apart and we couldn’t afford UCU’s demands anyway.

Meanwhile, Prof Smith’s statements to staff meetings over the past few months have been broadly supportive of retaining a defined benefit scheme, and many staff had been heartened to read that ‘Mark’s on our side’ last Wednesday. Some may have decided at the last minute not to take strike action, in the belief that Prof Smith was one of the good guys and gals within UUK who deserved support.

So was the Times’s story just fake news? Or has our Vice-Chancellor been giving different messages to different audiences?

A string of Vice-Chancellors made public declarations of support for a change to Universities UK’s pensions policy in the last week, with one (Glasgow Principal Anton Muscatelli) even joining striking staff on the picket line . Now might be a good time for Prof Smith to side with the staff at his own institution …

… or not, if his statement to the Senate is a truer reflection of his thinking. If so, then he should say this openly – at least we’d know where he really stands.

SENATE SKETCHES

PLUNDERING THE PENSION

The VC opened his report with some good news. Applications are up, including a 9% increase from EU countries, while the sector average is down. Research grant income continues to be strong. Work has at last started on the new £41M Health Innovation Campus. Now for the not-so-good news. The level of university fees was now being questioned by the government (yes, that same government that increased them to over £9K in the first place). This was not good for universities, and while students might raise the odd cheer, the VC was scathing, especially about Lord Adonis’ suggestion that fees be pegged at £6K.

The big issue was the pensions dispute. The VC gave a succinct account of the recent history of USS pensions, showing how the various changes over the last few years had steadily reduced their value. There was a dispute about the size of the scheme’s current ‘deficit’ but he had thought that an agreement was close until the intervention of the Pensions Regulator. This, he believed, was political. The Regulator had been publicly lacerated over its laxity in the BHS and Capita pensions scandals and needed to show that it was on the case with USS. (Of course, an alternative interpretation might be that, as with Carillion, the Regulator was only too willing to support the employers’ interest). So this was how we got to where we are now.

At this point Senators might be forgiven if they thought that the VC was about to announce that he would be joining the picket lines himself the next day. Alas, this was not to be the case. When asked if he would be supporting LUSU’s and other Vice-Chancellors’ calls for an immediate return to national negotiations, he said emphatically that he would not. He denied the report in that day’s Times that he had joined ten other VCs in calling for a resumption of negotiations. The two sides were too far apart – he used the word ‘chasm’ – and as such there would be nothing to negotiate about. Besides, Lancaster could not afford the UCU demand for a 2% increase in the employer contribution to the pension fund. It would cut into our annual surplus, and everyone knows that our surplus is for Spine embellishments, football universities, and golf courses, not for frittering away on staff. Was there any chance of students’ getting any compensation for lost contact time, as is their right as consumers? Hardly! What about the strikers’ pay deductions? Would the money the university saved be donated to the student hardship funds, as had happened with previous strikes? Yes, of course, but only after certain university expenses had been covered. And what were these? Why, the cost of providing pensions advice to staff who would have to grapple with the complexities of a new defined contributions scheme. You can’t say that our VC doesn’t think ahead.

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ALL POWER TO THE COUNCIL!

The big agenda item for the day was a raft of constitutional changes for Senate to approve. The Chief Administrative Officer opened by stating that the proposed changes followed from the recent Council Effectiveness Review and the abolition of Court, and it was largely a tidying up operation. She would not go through these in detail as she presumed that everyone had read the papers. It soon became clear that most Senators had not read the papers. Some had, though, and the claim enshrined in the proposals that Council was ‘the supreme governing body and final decision-maker’ was challenged. According to the CAO, this was required by the Code of Practice that all university governing bodies had to observe. Not so, said some Senators, with one reading aloud what the Code actually stated. To which the CAO responded with an irrefutable alternative fact – that this is what the new Office for Students might in the future require us to do. Senate seemed happy to accept this line of reasoning. One Senator seemed particularly troubled by the proposal to give Council the sole authority to make and amend Statutes and Ordinances, ‘Henry the Eighth powers’, as he called them. Against this the VC deployed his ultimate debating weapon – the Warwick Clincher. His old employer had done this, therefore so should Lancaster. Senate duly voted in favour. However, there was by now enough disquiet about the future position of Senate in terms of academic governance that the rest of the proposed changes were withdrawn for further working. But the VC had achieved what he wanted – Council now had the sole right to make, change and remove Statutes. Lancaster can now look forward to having a much smaller Senate – just like they have at Warwick, where they don’t have colleges.

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BEST OF THE REST

The Dean of LUMS presented the formal proposal to close the Department of Leadership and Management, and split its activities between the departments of Organisation, Work and Technology, and Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Innovation. It would seem that the process to bring this about was a model of best practice, with a ‘consultative approach’ throughout ‘the project’, ‘clear communication given to staff’, and ‘consistent’ involvement with the unions. For what really happened, see subtext 169.

A proposal from the PVC (Education) for the establishment of an ‘Institute for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching’ (InELT) was warmly received, its safe passage ensured by the promise that it wasn’t going to cost any money. However, it was felt that the acronym was insufficiently cumbersome for a Lancaster University institute so it was agreed that ‘curriculum’ should be inserted somewhere in its title. Perhaps it could be called something like ‘CELT’. Now that name rings a bell…

Finally, a paper from PPR and the Deputy VC for the establishment of an ‘Interdisciplinary Research Centre focused on China’. Now this one would cost money, so the paper was a testing of the waters rather than a definite proposal. Senate rather liked the idea, and agreed that the sponsors should go ahead with putting together a more detailed proposal.

SPAWT!

APPLICATIONS WELCOME FROM AXE-WIELDING MANIACS

The search for a permanent full-time Principal for UA92 has begun. As our own HR department was clearly not up to the job, the task of finding the right person has fallen to posh recruitment consultants Anderson Quigley. Prospective candidates logging into their website will discover a mine of information to help their applications. Candidates, we are told, will need to ‘embody and exemplify the values and behaviours through which UA92 has been founded’ – (a trawl through numerous back issues of subtext will be of enormous help in this regard). However, they do not have to come from ‘an academic background’ to be eligible, clearly a recognition that the academic claims of UA92 will be somewhat elastic. But they will be required to provide ‘evidence of adopting a disruptive approach to teaching and learning’ (we’re really not making this up). Good to see that UA92 encourages applications from all sections of the community.

Our recruitment specialists also provide a lot of useful information on the thinking behind UA92. Central to this is the Target Talent Curriculum (TTC), with its ‘Ten Principles that prepare UA92 students for life’. They then go on to list eleven. It seems that a grasp of simple arithmetic will not be an essential requirement for this post.

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‘I’M UA92!…NO, I’M UA92!

One of our friends from the M32 Masterplan and UA93 Facebook group has spotted some rather curious anomalies concerning the entity known as ‘UA92’. It seems there is more than one of them. There is ‘UA92 Ltd’ registered at Companies House (managing director, Brendan Flood). This, it transpires, is actually ‘Undergraduate Academy 92’, a part of UCFB, the rival Man City-linked outfit based at the Etihad Stadium which Flood wants to become ‘the Harvard of sport’. Another Flood manifestation of the title is ‘UA92 Manchester Ltd’. Then there is ‘University Academy 92 Limited’ and ‘UA92 Old Trafford Limited’, both based in Enfield in London and both naming one Clifford Donald Wing as chief officer. To complicate the picture further, Wing is a business associate of Gary Neville and sits alongside him on the board of Zerum Consult Limited, one of a number of Zerum companies linked to Neville and all registered at the same address in Manchester.

So where is the Official UA92? Or even the Real UA92? And is there a Provisional UA92 and a Continuity UA92 lurking somewhere in the background? Will students know which one they’re signing up for? But perhaps there is a more mundane explanation for this proliferation of UA identities. Could it be that some of Gary’s erstwhile business mates have stolen a march on him and registered all the varieties of the UA92 brand, rather like internet domain names, hoping to flog them back to him at a later time?

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SPACE RACE

We have received reports of Acting UA92 Principal and Dean of FASS Simon Guy and his team being ejected from a meeting room for failing to go through room bookings. It is standard for bodies which aren’t ‘officially’ a part of the university to have difficulty securing space on campus, as the Putin fan club has found (see story below). Since, according to the VC, we’re still seeing if our partnership with Gary Neville ‘hangs together’ (even though we feature in most UA92 publicity and news coverage), it makes perfect sense to ensure that only officially affiliated bodies and societies get first dibs on space. Well done to all involved.

TALES FROM THE BUNKER

The bomb shelter simulator or marathon man experience continues apace. subtext ponders that it might be the case that senior management have sensed a ‘good day to bury (or should that be dig up, retile, dig up again, and make lots of noise with a jackhammer) bad news’ moment. The opportunities presented by the strike (i.e. empty lecture theatres and seminar rooms) have provided senior management a fortuitous moment to instruct construction workers to bang on with doing what they have been doing with added gusto. Rumours have reached the subtext warehouse that students have witnessed a noticeable increase in the banging and crashing in a variety of places on campus. Whether management have seized the moment, or it is just a coincidence, it is still the case that a building site is not the place to undertake any form of educational encounter.

FASCISN’T?

subtext’s report on racist and antisemitic comments and questions at a public lecture (see subtext 173) seems to have hurt a few feelings (see letters, below). Isn’t it amazing how quickly people who insist on their own right to express hateful opinions start throwing around words like ‘libel’ and ‘slander’ as soon as someone challenges them? As so often in right-wing populist circles, it seems free speech only travels in one direction.

Since the report, LUSU has confirmed that the group in question was denied society status ‘because there was not enough detail in the students’ plan of activity or their description of the group to convince the committee of the group’s sustainability or unique offer, two of the key criteria that all groups are judged by.’ Perhaps the applicants forgot to mention important details, like how they get hot under the collar about black actors playing historical figures on TV, or equal marriage? LUSU went on to clarify that they ‘are working with the students, as we would any student wanting to form a society, to help them address these concerns of the committee and anticipate that they will resubmit an application[…] The union respects the rights of individuals and groups to hold or express potentially controversial opinions – however, all of our groups are subject to union policies designed to deal with instances of discrimination, harassment or hate speech, which are applied accordingly if issues are reported and evidenced.’ So that’s all right then.

Despite not being a student society, the group in question nevertheless set out to organise an event on campus to discuss the life and times of Vladimir Putin, an event ostensibly co-organised by the Russian Society. Until, that is, it turned out that the Russian Society was, to quote LUSU again, ‘suspended temporarily after its president decided to step down this week and it came to light that the group does not meet a number of the union’s administrative requirements. The union is now working with the Russian Society to address these issues in order to return the group to active status.’ No doubt this sudden interest in the administrative workings of the Russian Society, which led to the campus event being cancelled, was entirely coincidental, and nothing to do with their links with the other group. But isn’t it wonderful how LUSU wants to help all societies to meet their full potential!

TALES FROM THE PICKET LINES (AND BEYOND)

PICKET’S GOT TALENT

Picture it: The angry mob of workers, wearing dirty hi-vis jackets, furiously clutching placards as, with red faces and protruding eyes, they scream ‘SCAB!’ at passing colleagues who dare to go into work. Now picture the exact opposite, and you might have some idea of how Lancaster UCU does pickets. All picket locations were well attended, but the focus of activities was undoubtedly the main drive, which saw dozens of colleagues and students from across the University on each strike day, even edging up over 100 some days.

Beginning with the event on the eve of the strike last Wednesday, a beer-fuelled banner-making session in Lancaster’s newest real ale pub, 75 Church Street, creativity and high spirits have characterised Lancaster’s approach to picketing. Banners included the expected slogans (‘Campus closed’, ‘Staff and students unite’, ‘Support our staff’, ‘Don’t axe our pensions’), along with some more… creative offerings (‘UUK: Putting the “n” in “cuts”’ raised a few eyebrows). What particularly stood out was the crafty design of the banners – the banner-making session involved lots of cutting, sticking and sewing, and even ornate calligraphy, going well beyond the usual hastily scrawled bedsheets seen at most picket lines.

Once the strike started in earnest, things got even more creative, with members showing their talents at baking, music, dancing, and even sculpture: highlights included a scratch band that worked through a repertoire of Billy Bragg and Pete Seeger songs, a picket Zumba class that had everyone jumping around, and, on the last day, snow sculptures (a mini-picket line featuring its own banners, such as ‘UUK: Cold as ice’, which caused one observer to comment ‘but not willing to sacrifice’).

Alongside the picketing, UCU also organised a ‘Teach Out’, featuring a programme of talks and workshops, mainly at the Gregson, which allowed discussion and reflection of the strike and the wider causes of the strike (see also our review of Bob Jessop’s talk, below).

Despite the all-singing and dancing picket lines, the fun did not detract from the seriousness of the pensions dispute, and UCU reports that it continues to gain new members each day of the strike.

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ESSENTIAL READING FOR THE PICKET LINE

subtext is pleased to announce a vibrant, up-to-the minute competitor publication has started up on campus. The Lancaster UCU’s daily strike update has been a simple, single-side-of-A4 publication, but it has quickly become essential reading – as well as ensuring that those crossing the picket line can’t just say ‘I’ve already got your leaflet!’ and drive on. Well done to all concerned.

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SAMBA UP THE TOWN HALL STEPS

Following the last of the UCU ‘teach out’ sessions held at the Gregson on Wednesday (28th February) a spontaneous (well, almost) unauthorised march took place through the city centre towards the town hall. Forty or so ‘raggle-taggle’ folk trotted, skipped and samba-ed their way accompanied by drums, maracas, bits of wood that made noises, washboards, whistles and squeaky toys. They tramped through the streets to congregate on the town hall steps for an impromptu rally. They were joined by members of the National Education Union (formally the NUT) and a smattering of other trade union members, and quite a large number of students who supported the strike – so not quite as unplanned as was made out! Cue lots of speeches, calls-to-arms and witty chants, accompanied by a surprising number of motorists blasting their horns in support. However, it was jolly cold and after participants had fun photographing their fellow frozen demonstrators it was felt that they had made their presence known (before the police had got to twig what was going on). Banners were packed way and folk hurried home to a hot cup of something. Grand turn out for a (sort of) spur-of-the-moment event, but for folk to stand around in the bitter cold for so long says quite a lot – although exactly what is open to debate!

SCAN-DAL

In subtext 173, we suggested that a SCAN comment piece on the Gary Neville University, published last October, was the first time the publication had covered this story. As SCAN’s Associate Editor Michael Mander points out (see letters, below), the publication had in fact published two stories on the Gary Neville University – once in March 2017, and once in October 2017. The subtext collective is happy to correct any errors, and would like to draw readers’ attention to more UA92 coverage, published by SCAN shortly after the release of issue 173: tinyurl.com/y9hkn4sz

COURT FORT

subtext has extensively covered the recent abolition of University Court (subtexts passim), but has yet to give much thought to the ‘annual public meeting’ that top table seeks to replace it with. Thankfully, student newspaper SCAN has unearthed some interesting information on management’s plans for the future.

According to a University statement, the new public meeting ‘will provide an opportunity to widen the diversity of groups we have not traditionally reached through court membership.’ As we reported in subtext 169, the membership of the Court was the most diverse of any top-level governance body in the University. The Court could have easily represented new groups by voting to expand its own membership, but heigh ho. The new public meeting will allow ‘attendees to engage more immediately in the development of the University.’ So there you have it – apparently the public meeting will take place more often than the annual meeting of the Court, and stripping it of its decision-making and appointing powers will somehow provide greater opportunities to help ‘develop’ the university.

So, what will the membership be? As helpfully explained to SCAN: ‘The first event will target […] around 200, and […] invite a broader range of stakeholders, including student groups, the general public, regional businesses, voluntary and community organisations, as well as current external members of the Court.’ Erm… Okay. So the first meeting of the Annual Public Meeting will have a smaller membership than the Court, and the first order of business will be to invite stakeholder groups previously already represented by the Court to the following year’s meeting. Okay? Okay.

SPECIAL REPORT: SCRUTINY MUTINY

subtext spent a large amount of the 15/16 academic year remonstrating with the Students’ Union and advising it not to implement its ‘democratic review’, an initiative which involved LUSU reviewing democracy and deciding it wasn’t very good. LUSU subsequently abolished its council, and handed all of its power to two bodies. First, its executive committee, whose membership is unknown and whose minutes have not been published in two years. Second, a ‘student jury’, which had its deliberations published once about eighteen months ago and may well have met every day since then for all we know. The new model has been effective – the SU seems not to have taken a discernible stance on any politically charged issue since the new system came into being (if it has, it certainly hasn’t been rushing to tell us). A stark contrast to the old system, in which the SU had a large representative council consisting of officers representing a diverse range of students which met every two weeks, voted on policy, and routinely uploaded its minutes, agendas, and copies of policies it had both passed and rejected.

It was not hard to predict (and we did) that the new democratic system would be the unmitigated failure it has proven to be, and would drastically reduce transparency, but we were somewhat heartened by the creation of a ‘Scrutiny Panel’ (see subtext 155) – a truly independent body which would hold LUSU to account. Its members were to be appointed by LUSU officers rather than elected by the student body. Yes – LUSU officers hand picked who would scrutinise them, and no we aren’t making this up! So, surely the robustly critical Scrutiny Panel has by now taken LUSU to task over its complete lack of transparency, right?

You’d think so, but according to SCAN, the Scrutiny Panel has yet to meet this academic year! One former member of the panel, who resigned in disgust, fumed to SCAN that they had been ‘appointed to, rather than elected to’ the body. ‘Nobody has heard of it and it produces a report that nobody reads. It is a scandal that the Full Time Officers are allowed to do nothing at our expense with no scrutiny,’ they went on to say.

In the same report, LUSU defended itself: ‘getting a group of students in the room at the same time can prove difficult.’ It can? Seminar tutors may sympathise, but if LUSU hasn’t been able to get eight people into a room in five months, then no wonder it’s having such difficulty taking a stance on anything. LUSU goes on: ‘at the Annual General Meeting […] students will have the opportunity to hold all officers accountable.’ This is the same AGM that the 15/16 LUSU officers denounced as unfit for purpose, and that subtext pointed out was never going to reach quoracy if its agenda was focused on tedious bureaucracy. No doubt a robust discussion on a Scrutiny Panel that ‘nobody has heard of’ producing ‘a report that nobody reads’ is sure to have LUSU’s next AGM bursting at the seams.

Even when the Scrutiny Panel was actually meeting, the ‘scrutiny’ was somewhat less than comprehensive. subtext has learned that a typical meeting involved LUSU officers submitting a questionnaire (written by LUSU staff) to the Scrutiny Panel, who would rate their answers on a scale of ‘Needs Improvement’ to ‘Outstanding’, along with supporting comments which were largely positive due to the majority of the panel being friends with and appointed by the LUSU Officers. No wonder a meeting hasn’t been held all year, if this is the sort of ruthless pillorying that officers have to live in fear of.

Readers may agree that LUSU should be held to a high standard. That it failed to meet such a standard only affirms our belief that its democratic review has proven to be a disaster not only for the SU, but for the interests of students at this University as a whole.

LU TEXT LOST AND FOUND

Those who follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/LUSubtext – you really should ‘like us’, we occasionally update the page and everything!) will have seen our latest takedown of the fake news media.

This time the culprit was the Times, which had the temerity to suggest that our Vice-Chancellor would be so fiscally reckless as to support further negotiations between UCU and UUK. As we noted on Facebook, the VC vehemently denied these claims at a subsequent meeting of the Senate, deeming UCU’s demands too expensive for the university to afford. But coverage is coverage, and if LU Text isn’t going to acknowledge Lancaster’s contribution to the public discourse, then subtext will: tinyurl.com/y98gbsey

ANALYSIS: LUSU ELECTIONS

The nominations for the next batch of LUSU Sabbatical Officers have closed, and it has the potential to be historic. The winners will have been announced by the time subtext’s next issue is out, and readers can expect a full analysis of LUSU’s new lineup. For now, we will focus on the Presidential race, which is a 3 way dance between Josh Woolf, Rhiannon Jones, and Siri Hampapur.

It is not unheard of for a sitting officer to re-run, and while Vice-Presidents have re-run for the same positions with varying degrees of success, Josh Woolf is the first sitting LUSU President to re-run for his position in nine years (the last being Michael Payne, who was successfully re-elected for a 2nd term as LUSU President in 2009). Rhiannon Jones, on the other hand, is the first former LUSU sabbatical officer (not just President) to complete a term of office, return to their studies, and then re-run for office after a year out.

It is already an unusual election, but what can we expect from the candidates? Last year we criticised current President Josh Woolf for his non-committal, light-on-policy manifesto which, as we predicted, translated into a docile Presidency. It hasn’t gone down well with students – even the Lancaster Labour club, many of whose members backed his candidacy, have publicly spoken out against Woolf’s unwillingness to pick a side during the strike action.

But Rhiannon Jones cannot reasonably claim to offer an antidote, given her similar politics-lite approach that Woolf inherited and built upon. Siri Hampapur, meanwhile, is lacking in any kind of representative experience, aside from having led LA1 TV, the student television station. So much for the talent, now let’s turn to their manifestos.

Hampapur promises to address soaring rents, fees, and parking costs. With no political experience within LUSU, and no evidence that she knows how to engage with the university’s structures to effect change in these areas, we have little confidence in her ability to deliver this – current President Josh Woolf was similarly inexperienced when he ran on the same promises, and his record speaks for itself. She also promises to ‘hold truth the power’, which we assume is her way of saying ‘speak truth to power’ – we admire the attempt to invoke George Fox’s famous phrase, at least. She goes on to promise greater consultation with PG students (we’ll believe that when we see it). In particular, she wishes to lobby for the option for postgrad students to stay in their undergrad college, an option which has already existed since the official College review of 2015. The rest of it is perfectly honourable – less sexual harassment, better mental health provision, and being available to students are fine things, but when the opposite would be to advocate for more sexual harassment, worse mental health provision, and being less available to students, you have to wonder if there’s much substance here.

Woolf’s manifesto opens by telling us how hard he’s been fighting to keep down the cost of living, improve communication, and speed up the completion of the Spine refurbishment. What he doesn’t mention is any of his successes in these battles. Woolf is very proud of how visible and approachable his officers have been since he took office, and how he wants to introduce more structures to hold LUSU to account. Since he hasn’t even effectively wielded the existing structures (see above) , and has presided over a very opaque year for LUSU, we struggle to see why he should be trusted to deliver on these promises. People reading his manifesto (the thinnest of the three on offer) might also ask why he can’t achieve any of these things in the four months he has left in office. His (lack of) stance on the strike action has also not done him many favours with a group of students that is quite large and well mobilised at the moment. But then, the sitting President always has the steepest climb, we’re sure.

Jones’ manifesto is the only one to focus on achievements. While she is quick to highlight the high voter turnout in the 2017 General Election, she doesn’t mention the December 2016 council by-election, and its glorious turnout of 7.12%. Furthermore, while she illuminates LUSU’s lobbying over the 2017 Higher Education Bill being mentioned by members of the House of Lords, she was less willing to support an NSS boycott – an NUS-endorsed act of disobedience which would have have a far more palpable effect on lawmaking if more institutions had got on board. The most promising part of Jones’ manifesto is a pledge to address its appalling democratic structures(discussed elsewhere in this issue of subtext.) That she failed to discard them in her first year of office, when it was already clear that they were destined for failure, doesn’t fill us with confidence that she’ll be any more willing this time around.

Candidate hustings take place at 6.00 pm on Monday 5th March in Barker House Farm. Voting opens on Wednesday 7th March and closes Friday 9th March.

ANOTHER LU TEXT LOST AND FOUND

From the top table to the student body, everyone is working hard to get the Lancaster brand out there. Yesterday, the Lancaster Guardian ran a story on the student body’s mobilisation in support of the strikes. Yes, in lieu of a stance/spine from the Students’ Union, students have independently organised an impressive campaign of support – they have set up a Facebook page (tinyurl.com/y9ldrpea), and so far nearly 700 students have signed an open letter to the VC in support of staff (tinyurl.com/yaqramg8). This is highly impressive work for an ad hoc group of students (imagine how much more support the campaign would have if the pathetic Students’ Union had taken a meaningful stance), and that LU Text hasn’t mentioned this coverage of enterprising Lancaster students is a mystery to us(!): tinyurl.com/y882w22y.

UNIVERSITIES INC.

As part of the series of UCU Teachout sessions being run during the strike period, Distinguished Professor Bob Jessop delivered a talk, ‘Universities Inc’, to a packed out audience at the Gregson Centre. The talk explored what Prof Jessop termed ‘academic capitalism’ and its relationship to an increased financialisation of the UK Higher Education system, and situated the ongoing pensions dispute in a wider context of structural economic changes taking place within universities.

Prof Jessop considered the core historic functions of the university as an institution, namely the provision of higher education and the carrying out of scientific research, and HE’s shifting in line with the forces of marketisation. Whereas in the post-war era of welfare statism and mass production HE institutions such as Lancaster University were designed to create ‘mental labour’ for an increasingly post-industrial society, Prof Jessop explained how today’s universities are behaving more like financial institutions. Since the 1980s, democratic participation in university governance have been sidelined in favour of professionalised management, he argued, adding that since the early 1990s senior academics were asked to attend business management style sessions. Such professionalisation of university management has, he argued, only worsened over subsequent decades.

Jessop highlighted how the diminution of government grants has lead to an increasing reliance upon endowments, greater numbers of fee paying students, bonds, credit markets, and rents to fund themselves. Indeed, having issued first bond in British HE in 1995, Lancaster University can be seen as having been a pioneer in such financial marketisation.

Drawing attention to the expansion of campuses in recent decades, Jessop highlighted how it is real estate (rather than the intellectual labour of staff) that has proven to be the key asset of the contemporary university, recalling a former Lancaster Vice Chancellor telling him that when talking to other managers he would boast of being ‘a seven crane vice chancellor,’ clearly demonstrating how the building up of physical assets on campuses has become so central to UK HE as a source of economic value and revenue.

The talk showed how in such a marketised environment, one only worsened by the new Higher Education Act and the uncertainties of Brexit, British universities are now fearing credit rating downgrades, and are seeking to drastically reduce their labour costs as a result.

From the talk, a bleak picture of contemporary UK HE emerged. As institutions embrace the process of financialisation precarious staff face further immiseration, with students treated primarily as a revenue stream.

In the subsequent Q&A session, the pensions strike itself was viewed by several contributors as having opened up an opportunity for more critical engagements with the university and the ills it inflicts upon staff and students alike. The question of how to reach the wider public and inform them of the dire situation in HE was also raised, with a contributor criticising a recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme for narrowly focusing on the extravagance of individual Vice Chancellors as opposed to offering the public a more structural critique of the processes of marketisation.

I found Prof Jessop’s talk an illuminating one for highlighting the complex challenges facing those of us within the marketised university, and for all the bleakness of the situation, I found that the subsequent discussion of how to resist these processes filled me with hope that we can build a more democratic and just HE system.

Contributed by Toby Atkinson, PhD candidate (Sociology)

SHART ATTACK

DRAFT
FROM: Mike M. Shart, VC, Lune Valley Enterprise University (LuVE-U).
TO: Rosemary Thyme, Education Editor, The Times.

SUBJECT: Your article.

Dear Rosemary,

I am writing to you regarding the coverage in an article you wrote for the Times. In particular, you name me, the Vice-Chancellor of LuVE-U, as one of 11 VCs calling for USSUK to ‘get back around the table with UCUnison.’ I appreciate how the email from my former Director of Publicity / Positivity Amalgamation, Hewlett Venkklinne, might have lead you to your suggestion that I support further discussions between the parties, but I hasten to add that Venkklinne is a disgruntled former employee, who was merely trying to disrupt my leadership by suggesting that I am weak. For example, I never demanded ‘fresh talks’ with lecturers. Needless to say, I did demand this, because Hewlett would only write something I told him to write. But what I actually want is fresh talks in which USSUK reiterates its unwillingness to bow to the demands of the UCUnison, since UCUnison clearly didn’t hear us the first time. Furthermore, you suggest that I have called for negotiators to get ‘back round the table.’ And you’re right, I do. I want negotiators to get back round the table with their students, so that they can continue to teach them like I’m paying them to do.

I haven’t read the rest of the article because it’s behind a paywall, but I can assure you that whatever Hewlett says to you is untrue because he no longer works here, and as such you should ignore it.

Best,
MMS.

***

FROM: Mike M. Shart, VC, Lune Valley Enterprise University (LuVE-U)
TO: Hewlett.Venkklinne123@blueyonder.co.uk
SUBJECT: FWD Your article.

Hewlett,

Could you let me know if the above is alright to send to the Times, please? Thanks.

REVIEW: DAVE SPIKEY, A JUGGLER ON A MOTORBIKE

Dave Spikey played the Grand Theatre on the night of the first day of the industrial action. However, no mention of strikes, Brexit, Trump, or Boris in this act: the gathered throng was treated to two hours of beautifully crafted mini tales and sketches based around the story of his comedy career. Dave had been working in the NHS for 19 years as a Biomedical Scientist when in 1987 someone uttered the immortal words, ‘You’re really funny, you should be a comedian’. Only a few months later he won the national talent show ‘Stairway to the Stars’, clinching the award with a routine about a juggler on a motorbike. Thirteen years later on Friday 13th October 2000, he switched off his microscope for good and now in 2017/18 his tour celebrates the 30th anniversary of his comedy career. In the show, he looks back on his life and his journey from working class kid to Chief Biomedical Scientist to much-loved comedy performer and writer.

All of this was populated with various larger than life characters – lots of references to his work on ‘Phoenix Nights’, which produced giggles of recognition from the audience. Very little swearing and when he did it was for effect, although many stories were quite filthy in a very British innuendo fashion. For a lot of the audience the trip down his childhood memory lane evoked a degree of nostalgic pleasure. This was all delivered in a down-to-earth ‘Northern’ way, his interplay and analysis the basis for clever, laugh-after-every-line comedy. He is not only a very funny accomplished comedian, but also one of the finest raconteurs around – your cultural correspondent cried with laughter on more than one occasion.

The audience also gave your correspondent pause for thought. The packed theatre was full of white, predominantly older couples – leaving the Grand is always a slow affair but this evening seemed an even more laborious business. While not conducting a rigorous survey, your correspondent was also of the opinion that he was the only member of the audience employed by the University. Please write in to prove him wrong but this is not the first time that he has been struck by the different socio-demographic groups that attend the Dukes and the Grand, two theatres a hundred yards apart from each other.

MARTIN WIDDEN: ‘THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN EARS’

Review: Kabantu at the Nuffield

Five young musicians in line across the stage of the Nuffield, one of them squatting over a bongo drum. This was Kabantu, the Manchester-based band that played in the Lancaster Arts Concert Series on 17 February.

As well as the drum, the line-up consisted of violin, cello, bass and guitar, all of whom played standing up – which for a cellist is a highly unusual thing to do. It’s achievable if, as here, the instrument is fitted with a long enough spike to raise it to a playable height. So: no chairs.

No music stands, either. The group plays from memory and/or by improvising, so they don’t need any copies.

Very little electronics on show either.

All this fits with the influence of busking on the group. Four of the five musicians met at the Royal Northern College of Music, where they were classically trained, but in this group they have extended their range into a much broader spectrum of styles. Their repertoire spans from Scottish traditional tunes, Bulgarian folk music, Israel, South Africa and beyond, performed with remarkable skill on their instruments, or by whistling, or in some cases by all five musicians singing excellently in close harmony.

It is unusual for the International Concert Series to feature what was in effect a fusion performance, but it made for a very enjoyable evening.

LETTERS

Dear subtext,

Mr. Fleming’s letter (subtext 173) is factually inaccurate, and shows complete disregard for the strength of staff feeling on this issue at his alma mater, which had the highest turnout in the ballot in England and third highest in the UK, with over 88% endorsing strike action. I would like to respond to each of the points made in the letter in turn.

1. UCU has a strong mandate for industrial action, given by its members through an average turnout of more than 58% across all 68 institutions that were balloted (a record), with 88% voting for strike action and 93% for action short of a strike. Membership is at record levels, with over a 100 members joining UCU at LU in the last two-three weeks alone. The only thing that seems to be over the top is UUK’s intransigence to negotiations, given a number of VCs across the sector, including institutions like Loughborough, Glasgow, Warwick, Birkbeck, Goldsmiths, Strathclyde, London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine and others are publicly calling for a resumption of national talks.

2. While previous pension arrangements are indeed protected, under proposed changes the future pension arrangements will not be protected from 2019. Proposed changes mean our pensions will move from the current defined benefit scheme (which guarantees the rate of pension received in retirement), to a defined contribution scheme (fixing the rate of pay contributing to pension). Crucially, when the chief executive of USS was asked when he visited Lancaster how USS would protect members from the vagaries of the financial markets and that put members pensions at considerable risk, no answer was forthcoming.

3. We are not working in the private sector – our pensions are just a small recompense for our very modest salaries. Modest in relation to the private sector, with very little movement between grades over the lifetime of work, and with the ‘initial investment’ of time and effort spent in gaining qualifications to work in a University that many in the private sector are not required to make. It seems disingenuous to make any comparisons with the private sector, and hardworking academic and related staff would find any comparisons with employer contributions to a pension scheme in the private sector particularly odious. Those who work in the education sector do so because they have a special set of values, of public good and not individual benefit. Our lifetime contributions to our pensions are being put at risk of markets, with it being left to the individuals to decide what they want to do with their pension pot upon retirement. Do we think vultures would be circling? We only have to see what has happened at British Steel recently.

4. UCU has proposed a range of models that illustrate how defined benefits can be maintained by modest increases in contributions (for e.g. 1% for the employees if employers decide to accept the September valuation), lowering of accrual from 1/75th to 1/80th, and willingness to negotiate on salary thresholds. UUK have rejected all proposals outright saying they will only accept a defined contribution scheme.

Sunil Banga

UCU Exec, Pensions Officer

***

Dear subtext,

I have been trying to understand the reasons for the current pensions dispute, and have found this talk by Carlo Morelli, an economics lecturer at Dundee University really useful:

Most interesting in the talk to me was that the changes appear likely to make the resulting scheme very unattractive to potential new members, causing the very shortfalls in money that Universities UK claim to want to prevent. Over time, USS could fall apart, and each University is legally required to act as guarantor to the current scheme. As I understand it, the danger is therefore not limited to staff pensions, but in the worst case could even affect each university, because each would be required to fund their ex-staff’s existing final salary defined pensions. I am left wondering whether Universities UK are doing a good job of representing the interest of UK universities.

Mike Cowie

***

Dear subtext,

I was disappointed to see, in your most recent mailout, the claim that SCAN’s UA92 debate column was ‘its first mention of the Gary Neville University since the story broke a year ago.’

This is incorrect. The debate column was published on October 23 2017. We first reported on the Gary Neville University in March 2017 (tinyurl.com/yaw4q7go). We published a second article on October 5 2017 [tinyurl.com/ydftypme].

A Google search for ‘SCAN Gary Neville’ would have produced these articles as the first two results. Alternatively, the SCAN editorial team are happy to search our archives if you need clarification of our coverage in future.

Best,

Michael Mander

SCAN Associate Editor

***

Dear subtext,

I would like to issue a complaint regarding your recent article entitled ‘Alt Wrong’. The article is blatantly libellous on numerous accounts, among which are your claims that we are somehow affiliated with the ‘alt right’, that we are ‘fascists’, ‘national socialists’, in favour of ‘pure blooded ancestry’, and further that we were ‘verbally aggressive towards colleagues’ leading us to be ‘ejected by security staff’. There are many other examples of these outright falsities, and the fact that subtext never reached out to our society for comment only reinforces the impression that you did not intend to fairly represent our society, only to defame it. We have numerous eye-witness accounts that can corroborate this.

While you may argue that the article never mentions our society by name, you made explicit reference to us, such that the article incited opposition to the society which may have escalated to violence were it not for the measures put in place by the University. The University felt the need to hire security and have a member of the police present to ensure that peace was kept, which demonstrates the threat that arose directly from the misrepresentations present in your article. Given these threats, I would ask that my name is not posted on your site, due to the false perception of our society that exists both on and off campus.

Your newsletter claims to be one in favour of free speech ‘without fear of backlash’, yet here our impression is that you are presenting things that did not happen as fact, in order to manufacture backlash with the intent of de-platforming our society.

We request that you remove this inflammatory article and issue an apology, in the interests of preventing further undue backlash and promoting intellectual diversity on campus.

Name withheld on request.

[As the writer acknowledges, subtext did not name the organisation they claim to represent – Eds.]