subtext 191 – ‘fresh from the fridge’

Every so often during term time.
Letters, contributions, & comments: subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk
Back issues & subscription details: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/about/
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EDITORIAL
A new dawn has risen on a new day and a new government. Our next chance to change things in Westminster will probably be in 2025. Shall we just go back to bed?
The need for a university which challenges the marketisation of education, defends its international community and champions free speech has never been more important, but as subtext has reported in issue after issue, our management has been merrily pursuing exactly the opposite strategy for years. Our governing bodies show little or no knowledge of the issues which make our students and staff feel less and less welcome – and our students and staff have little or no knowledge of what our governing bodies do in our names.
There are, however, some reasons to be cheerful. Our students have finally realised that a students’ union governed by unaccountable appointed trustees and advised by ‘student juries’ is no way to represent their interests. The results of two referenda in Week 8, one on the proposed sale of the Sugarhouse (see subtext 190) and one on how many trustees should be elected, showed emphatic opposition to the former and widespread support for electing the majority of the latter. The trustees have decided this week to abandon the Sugarhouse sale – ‘you voted, we listened’ says a LUSU press release, which raises the question of just why the trustees had the discretion to not listen in the first place. Meanwhile, our UCU staff have recently taken strike action, with significant support from students and other campus unions.

This is no time to lessen the pressure on those in power, be they sat in University House or Westminster. If the last ten are any indication, the next five years will be dark. The most vulnerable amongst us – the disabled, those from overseas, the sick – will be bearing the brunt of it. It may be tempting to give up, but if we don’t fight now – when?

RETURN OF THE ANGRY DUCKS

It was pure picket line déjà vu. Not just the buses and cars queuing on the main drive, trying to avoid running anyone over. Not just the hand-made banners and placards, the angry ducks and the picket discos. No, what most made it seem like February 2018 all over again was that staff had downed tools (or keyboards, in most cases) for pretty much the exact same reason as before: to protest against higher pension contributions, after employers refused to fully implement the recommendations of the Joint Expert Panel convened after the last strikes.
There were some differences this time around, however. Rather than just being about pensions, this was the first industrial action at Lancaster over pay and conditions for quite some time – no doubt helped by the focus on workload and equality (in particular Lancaster’s massive gender pay gap). Unlike last time, this strike seems to have enjoyed widespread student support, including from the previously rather apolitical Students’ Union. Successively more senior managers visited the picket lines to chat with the unwashed masses. When the interim VC eventually found his way there, he faced some difficult questions, but was not subjected to quite as thorough a grilling via megaphone as the previous incumbent (see subtext 175).

Rather than striking for an increasing number of days each week spread over a month, this strike was a contiguous period of eight working days. UCU activists were said to be split over the purpose of this different pattern, with some claiming that the current structure was not conducive to negotiation. And in fact, on a national level, there seems to have been very little movement by employers. It seems likely at this point that the pickets will return in the new year, ducks and all.

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST?

In classic Parliamentary style, MPs are not technically allowed to resign their seats. A member who, say, wants to retreat into a shed to write a self-congratulatory memoir after calling a disastrous referendum in a misguided attempt to unify their party is instead said to have ‘taken the Chiltern Hundreds’, accepting the role of Crown Steward and Bailiff of an ancient region (or manor) that no longer exists. The role has no responsibilities and provides no benefit to the holder.
On an unrelated note, news reaches us that LUSU CEO Claire Geddes has stepped down from her role and is now ‘working on a strategic project for the university on secondment’, according to a brief LUSU press release. The LU intranet contains no mention of this, and the University declined to comment when asked by SCAN.
SCAN has characterised Ms Geddes as yet another casualty of the recent Sugarhouse sale affair (see article ‘Sugar Plot Timeline’, Week 9 issue), a list that so far includes the former LUSU VP (Activities) and a number of Trustees. We can neither prove nor disprove a connection, but we note that the timing of the announcement and the silence from the University might lead one to wonder.

We wish Ms Geddes all the best in her stewardship of what will surely prove to be a very exciting, albeit vague, ‘strategic project’.

ARE YOU STILL HERE?

Our last issue recounted the University’s decision to remove the email accounts of hundreds of retired staff on a cost-benefit analysis that determined that they were no longer worth the expense. Since then, we’ve heard from a further six readers: all retired members of staff; all dedicated supporters of the university; and all cheesed-off at having been told to Foxtrot Oscar by the organisation to which many of them have dedicated over half of their lives. In a letter to subtext, Gerry Cotter observes that, even as it tells its former members to go away, the University manages to add an extra helping of unpleasantness. Another reader notes that ‘the excuse this time seems to be a change of Microsoft site licensing, when it was only last year that we were all forced to move to Microsoft!’

The most frustrating aspect of this, of course, is the lack of any serious recourse. When, in 2015, University Council discussed removing privileges from retired members (see subtext 128), at least the matter was being discussed at senior committee level. This decision seems to have just happened, as a way to balance the books, with no approval needed. How many of today’s Council members are even aware of the issue?

HONG KONG PHOOEY

Lancaster University does not seem to be showing a lot of solidarity with its Hong Kong students at the moment. Private Eye and SCAN reported recently on the college accommodation manager who ordered a student to remove a display of sticky notes in a kitchen window which spelled out ‘Stand with Hong Kong’ – SCAN’s story is online at:
https://scan.lancastersu.co.uk/2019/12/04/hong-kong-posters-raise-free-speech-questions-on-campus/
This was not the only recent incident of censorship. On 13 November, a reader wrote to let us know that, at 8:50am that morning, three members of Security were taking down pro-Hong Kong posters. Our reader made enquiries and was told that the University was removing all such posters because they were ‘against the Students’ Union’s rules.’ Lancaster Poster Code 1, Freedom of Speech 0.
On a related note, a group of Hong Kong students came down to the Sports Centre picket line on the first day of the UCU strike to share their stories and to show their solidarity:
https://twitter.com/ZoeFLambert/status/1198982862013370368

Readers with other tales of anti-HK censorship on campus are encouraged to contact subtext at the usual address.

TIERS 4 FEARS

Contributed article
Many have found fault with the recent efforts of the Student Registry to track postgraduate research (PGR) students’ attendance by ‘provision in Moodle PGR Records to record supervisory meetings’ (email to supervisors, 16.10.19).
This new online system of recording all meetings between PGR students and their supervisors is being touted as a way of protecting the rights of students from negligent supervisors, as well as complying with UK Visas and Immigration’s increased scrutiny of students on Tier 4 visas.
Since the new online system offers a non-obligatory notes section in which to log the content of meetings, all the process appears to achieve is a numeric record of dated meetings. Quite how this ensures the quality of engagement from either party is unclear.
Thus we arrive at the secondary premise: surveillance of international PGR students. Students who already register with the Police, the Home Office, the University (through appraisals, registration and DNA tests) and their Departments. Students who are already the object of intense scrutiny by a Home Office intent on making life for them in the UK as uncomfortable as possible.
Caoimhe Mader McGuinness from Unis Resist Border Control (URBC) says these schemes are often presented as safeguarding students’ experience or health:
‘It is sold to lecturers as a way of making sure that the student is taken into account and sees someone, but this is also the sort of data that is used by the Home Office to, if they so wish, declare that that student hasn’t been to enough contact points and then potentially deport them.’
(See Guardian article – Hostile Environment: how risk-averse universities penalise migrants, dated 5.6.18)
It now appears the University’s need to maintain its license to recruit foreign national students (how else would we pay for all the new buildings?!) is, ironically, making it an accomplice to the Home Office, contributing to the UK’s increasingly hostile environment towards our foreign students.
I hope the readers of subtext need no wordy exposition on the intellectual and cultural benefits of a diverse PGR student population. This new system is yet another stumble down a slippery path towards exclusion, alienation and infringement of the rights of those from abroad who choose to enrich Lancaster University’s community through postgraduate research. Shame on management for their capitulation. Philip Pullman had it right: we need some scholastic sanctuary.

GAME OF THRONES

A lighter note now. Your subtext correspondent was astonished to find a toilet seat in their building split in two, and even more so to find that a colleague in ISS had seen the same thing. Over decades of toilet use, neither had ever seen such a thing before. They wondered just what the scale of the problem might be, so did the only natural thing: issued an FoI request to the University asking how many toilet seats they had got through over the last few years.
In 2016, the University purchased 337 seats. In 2017, 271. In 2018, 163. University residents and visitors do appear to be getting less destructive in their sitting, but 163 is still almost one every two days.

Just who are the granite-bottomed monsters responsible for this overlooked slaughter?

WIDDEN’S REVIEW – CAN MUSIC COMMENT ON A POLITICAL SITUATION?

Contributed by Martin Widden
Some music is composed to celebrate a person – probably the best known example is Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, composed in honour of Napoleon, although Beethoven later withdrew the dedication in disgust at Napoleon’s declaring himself emperor; some portray an actual event, such as Verdi’s opera The Masked Ball, about the very real assassination of King Gustav of Sweden in 1792. But music is usually a self-sufficient form of art, existing without needing to refer to any external person or event. Nonetheless, two recent recitals in the Great Hall have been programmed to respond to the present situation in the world.
The first of these was a performance on 7 November by English Touring Opera of The Silver Lake, by Kurt Weill. (Weill was the composer who collaborated with the playwright Bertolt Brecht on The Threepenny Opera, which includes the well-known song Mack the Knife.) The story of the opera centres on an impoverished youth, Severin, who steals a pineapple and is shot and wounded by a policeman, Olim. Conscience-stricken at what he has done, Olim visits Severin in hospital, and from this follows an increasingly fantastical story, leading the pair finally to a silver frozen lake, which they are able to cross and make their way to a new future. On the bare Great Hall stage without scenery, and to the accompaniment of a 30-strong orchestra, ETO gave a compelling performance of this story about poverty, hunger and deprivation. It is particularly encouraging that, as at all ETO’s performances, the chorus was recruited locally from choirs based in and around Lancaster.

On 5 December, the Great Hall hosted a recital entitled The Labyrinth by the Israeli-American pianist David Greilsammer. Based loosely on Janacek’s suite On an Overgrown Path, this was a series of short pieces, generally improvisatory in nature, by composers ranging from the 17th century German JJ Froberger, via CPE Bach and Mozart, to the contemporary American Philip Glass. The recital lasted only about 70 minutes, but afterwards Greilsammer returned to answer questions from the audience, and it was here that he remarked that he had put together the programme to reflect the chaotic times we are living in. It was a very interesting series of works which made sense in his hands, even though in the printed programme it looked like a random list. Greilsammer was able to master the varied styles of the pieces very convincingly.

LETTERS

Dear subtext,
I read with interest the letter in subtext 190 from ‘Name Supplied’ on the vexed issue of Vacancy Management. I heartily endorse all their sentiments relating to the way that Vacancy Management works in practice, and the lamentable way that the concept of ‘career development’ for Professional Services staff has been sidelined in the wake of the PS Review – even though it recommended the opposite and the Athena SWAN process specifically asks institutions what they are doing to enhance the career development prospects of their PS staff. LU’s long-term failure to grasp the nettle on this issue may not be unconnected to the all-too predictable failure of the institution’s submission for a Silver Athena SWAN award in November 2018 – luckily (!) the Bronze institutional award which we are about to apply for conveniently fails to include PS staff in its purview. This situation does not bode well for the meaningful improvement of Gender Equality in this institution, something that is badly needed as our woeful Gender Pay Gap attests.
However, the specific point I wanted to address was Name Supplied’s comment on the belated claim that of course Vacancy Management would be affecting academics too, and that this would be handled in the departments rather than centrally. What does this mean in practice? In my experience it means that when a much-valued academic colleague takes early retirement on medical grounds, their role is left unfilled for virtually two years. Their work is picked up by a variety of colleagues, several of whom are not on academic contracts. From my own perspective, I am about to cover for this colleague’s absence for the second year in succession on a distance-learning course… and here I am on a PS contract. Presumably if I was to go off on sick leave at the crucial moment my role would not be backfilled, leaving the students without a tutor… or perhaps another academic colleague would be leant on to pick up the slack. Either way it is a most regrettable situation whereby the standards that our students are led to expect can only be delivered thanks to the goodwill of colleagues… over a matter of weeks, months and even years.
Keep up the good work, one and all.
Name supplied
***
Dear subtext,
I’m one of the continuing members who has just lost their email account. The day after it finished I checked it and was greeted by this message:
You have repeatedly attempted to log in with a username or password that is invalid. Your account is currently locked out and cannot be used.
The ‘repeatedly’, apart from being nonsense, makes what is already a charmless message sound positively threatening. I wasn’t expecting thanks for all the years of hard work, but did this have to be so harsh and unpleasant?
Best wishes,
Gerry Cotter

subtext 190 – ‘get subtext done’

Every so often during term time.
Letters, contributions, & comments: subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk
Back issues & subscription details: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/about/
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EDITORIAL
Anyone walking up the Spine on Monday at around 6pm would have seen hundreds of students queueing to enter the Great Hall. A jobs fair? Yet another 6pm lecture? No. In a heartwarming display of activism, they were queueing to enter the Annual General Meeting of Lancaster University Students’ Union – an event that in recent years has seen just a few dozen diehards attending.
Let this put the lie to the notion that students are chronically apathetic. Nark them off enough and they will punish you for it. The spark for the nark this time was the proposed closure of a much-loved nightclub, and it is our hope that these students, having now experienced an intoxicating taste of activism, will develop their impulses in directions more socially rewarding than maintaining their access to 3-for-£5 VKs – perhaps the re-democratisation of their own Students’ Union, or this climate lark that everyone seems to be banging on about.
Speaking of democracy in action, as we go to press the news of the recent UCU ballot on industrial action over pay and pensions reaches the subtext warehouse. Lancaster is one of the 55 (for the pay dispute) and 43 (for pensions) institutions to both vote in favour of action and reach the 50% threshold. Expect more picket discos in the near future.

By the way, has anyone noticed that it’s now 1 November 2019 and we’re still in the European Union?

SPECIAL FEATURE: LANCASTER UNIVERSITY STUDENTS’ DISUNION

SPECIAL FEATURE: LANCASTER UNIVERSITY STUDENTS’ DISUNION
Contributed articles by Ronnie Rowlands
ONE SUGAR, PLEASE
When we covered the Students’ Union officer elections for the 19/20 academic year, your subtext correspondents observed that the new crop of officers ought to make short work of becoming popular. LUSU had been awash with scandal (sometimes justifiable, sometimes not), including the cancellation of Grad Ball, the Snowsports white t-shirt social and the initial decision (rapidly reversed) to officially recognise a society for literal, self-avowed fascists. The combustible elements lit up into a conflagration when a visceral outpouring of rage followed the decision to strip student radio station, Bailrigg FM, of its FM license and reduce its funding. The officers-elect were quick to promise that they would reverse this decision if the then-current officers did not. The decision was reversed before they took office, and all that the new officers – George Nuttall, Grishma Bijukumar, Ben Evans, Lewis Marriott, Bee Morgan and Hannah Prydderch – had to do to elicit a huge voter turnout was to promise to Make LUSU Not Sh*t Again. President Nuttall was already being exalted by Lancaster’s unofficial social media ‘sh*tposting’ pages as the bringer of a shiny new dawn.
Then LUSU announced that its Trustee Board had voted to close and sell the Sugarhouse.
It didn’t take long for the Full Time Officers to distance themselves from the announcement. Some not particularly well-disguised leaks left the student body under no illusion as to who was responsible – the non-student Trustees, plus one ‘rebel’ Full Time Officer whose decisive vote swayed the decision. This Full Time Officer has subsequently found himself ‘un-personed’ by his fellow officers, reviled by a student body that is seeking to remove him from office and doorstepped in the LUSU building by the student media’s TV cameras.
The students weren’t going to let the Sugarhouse go without a fight. And why would they? The Sugarhouse has remained a staple of Lancaster’s dwindling nightlife and enjoys both good and bad financial years. Perhaps more importantly, the Sugarhouse is regarded as a ‘safe night out’ by students, and there should surely be a space for student-led venues to accommodate the cultural, racial, and sexual diversity among our student population.
The wise decision to call a general meeting was taken, and a ‘Save Our Sugarhouse’ motion was duly proposed… along with a pile of others, on issues ranging from affordable housing to climate change.
Yes, seizing the opportunity to bellow at the union officers in front of a huge audience, a group of Labour students set about foisting a comprehensive campaigning agenda on them. The executive couldn’t rely on the meeting becoming inquorate to jettison the motions – with proxy voting now allowed, hundreds of students were able to make their decision before the meeting, arguably making any debate pointless since the motions were already decided.
Nor could the executive hope to run down the clock or suggest that the motions should be considered in a different forum – procedural motion after procedural motion was passed, and the meeting was repeatedly extended, while motions were moved straight to a vote. Those who stayed it out, delighted that they could finally actually mandate their representatives to do something – anything! – duly voted for every single motion.
It will come as no surprise to learn that the motions to save Sugarhouse were passed. The five LUSU Officers who showed up took the opportunity to stress that they personally had voted AGAINST the closure and sale of the Sugarhouse, in a ‘People vs Parliament’ style move that deflected the anger onto the rest of the Trustee Board.
All in all, the student body finally got to vent some steam, and the groundswell of resentment that has built up over several years may have softened for a while. Whether this was the start of some real steps towards a re-democratised students’ union – which could have prevented some real catastrophes over the last couple of years – or that’s your lot for the next five years, it was heartening to see that the volcano of student anger and rebellion is still active.
***
THE CASE FOR COUNCIL
subtext kept a watchful eye on the gutting of LUSU’s accountability structures in 2015. We predicted at the time that culling most of the officers and dissolving the Union Council – which met fortnightly and could be attended by any student (although policy could only be voted on by officers) – and replacing it with unaccountable ‘Student Juries’ would lead to the very vacuum of accountability and engagement that has led to some of LUSU’s more questionable recent decisions.
The Union Council was a great body. It met fortnightly and was comprised of all of the Full Time Officers, all of the College Presidents and Vice-Presidents, all of the Faculty Reps and all of the Part-Time Officers. The membership had the power to propose and vote on policy, but crucially, ALL students could attend and ask questions. At each meeting, the Full Time Officers were required to deliver information and take questions, meaning that they could not escape direct scrutiny in the public eye. The whole point of Union Council was for officers to consult with their respective ‘juniors’ (the Faculty Reps with their Academic Reps, the International Officers with international students and JCR reps, you get the picture…), and to propose and vote on policy with their views in mind. Sadly, the Council became infested with grandstanders who wanted to hold inward-looking discussions about tedious personal grudges and constitutional minutiae. This in turn became ammunition for an executive, who couldn’t be bothered to undergo scrutiny and face the public, to lobby for its abolition.

Look at the situation LUSU is in now. Can anybody name the last time that the ‘Student Jury’ sat? Do people remember when LUSU introduced a ‘scrutiny panel’, which involved Full Time Officers appointing people to write reports about them that were then buried on the LUSU website? A fortnightly public meeting with the minutes released in a timely way was an ample means of keeping the paranoid headbangers at bay. If anybody said that LUSU was unaccountable, officers could just say ‘we’ve got LUSU Council. Why don’t you show up?’ With no LUSU Council, a Student Jury and a scrutiny panel that never meets, and an Executive committee that doesn’t release its minutes, LUSU’s pressure valves of old are gone. If LUSU wants to return to transparency in any lasting way, it would do wise to reinstate the structures that were so needlessly abolished in 2016.

APART-OH-NO

Everything was supposed to be sorted. UK students accepted to Lancaster through Clearing had not been allocated on-campus accommodation this year, but they needn’t worry – plenty of ‘Lancaster University Approved Off-Campus Accommodation for First Year Students’ would be available, all of it ‘Lancaster University Homes APPROVED’. The glossy leaflet set out three recommended choices: 1 to 3 Cable Street (built and in use, run by The Student Housing Company); St Leonard’s House (refurb of an existing building, run by Homes for Students); and Caton Court, between Back Caton Road and Bulk Road (a new build, run by Aparto). The first two options were occupied without a hitch, but Caton Court? Ah.
According to the leaflet handed out to applicants attending Clearing open days, Caton Court would offer a mix of 10-bed townhouses and flats with en suite rooms, starting from £120 and rising to £150 per week. The artist’s impressions looked attractive and there’d be on-site support, a gym, a sky lounge and a cinema space. Everyone was confident it would be completed on time.
Of course, it wasn’t. Come the start of term, we understand that those destined for the top two floors were required to stay in hotels for Welcome Week before finally being able to occupy their rooms, and the block as a whole resembled a building site. Flyers were handed out on the Spine, noting ‘power cuts’, ‘laundry not open’, ‘frequent false fire alarms’, ‘unmarked fire escapes’, ‘leaking windows’, ‘broken tables’, ‘broken kettles’ and ‘microwaves in place of ovens’. All this, the (anonymous) flyer noted, was ‘proudly advertised by Lancaster University Students’ Union’.
The city councillors for the University were quickly on the case, detailing residents’ complaints in excruciating detail through a press release, complete with pictures of holes in ceilings, traffic cones blocking access to non-functioning lifts, and a fire curtain with ‘a hole cut through it to enable residents to escape if it is lowered again’:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/19eyI2gfV2EXkZs4pn2bPGxSFUdvQE84wNJ6BLB_mqCw
The ‘Living’ office on campus, whose sign had been advertising that it worked in partnership with Aparto, has now covered up the Aparto logo with a sheet of red plastic. Caton Court was one of many subjects discussed at this week’s Students’ Union AGM, with one of the successful motions noting that LUSU Living ‘had a lucrative agreement (until its suspension on 17 October) to advertise Caton Court, an Aparto property, which has had serious concerns around its fitness for habitation. Aparto is a trading name for Hines, a US property giant.’
It would be very easy indeed to load the blame onto Aparto and their contractors the Eric Wright Group, but in their defence – delays happen, and these are often unforeseen. The staff working for Aparto (locally, at least) are working hard to solve their students’ problems. Any new build is going to resemble a building site for weeks, or even months, after it initially opens, and there will always be ‘snagging’ issues. Things now seem to be settling down.

If subtext were advising a disgruntled Caton Court resident, we might suggest they direct their annoyance instead at the University which promised them luxury accommodation in Caton Court, without mentioning anywhere on its publicity that at the time of printing, Caton Court didn’t actually exist.

WHEN I’M UA64

After all the hype, UA92 is now open and teaching inside a refurbished Kellogg’s cereal factory in Stretford, where we hope the students are all having a ‘grrreat!’ time.
The staff-student ratio is certainly looking impressive – almost Oxbridge-like – although this seems to owe more to the under-recruitment of students rather than the generous recruitment of staff. The subtext drones have picked up the number ’64’ on several occasions, which seems borne out by stories in the press such as ‘Ex-Manchester Utd stars’ university shunned by students after only recruiting 64 — despite promising 650 places’ in the S*n on 27 September. Due to such low numbers, very few teaching staff have been directly employed by UA92 – ‘maybe 8 or 9’, we hear.
During August and September, UA92 was aggressively marketing itself to students who found themselves in Clearing. How tricky was it to get in via that route? Prospective students needed the equivalent of three ‘D’s at A Level to get on to one of UA92’s degree schemes, whilst if they didn’t quite have those grades, they could still enrol for a 1-year Certificate of HE (with the possibility to switch onto the degree scheme later) with the equivalent of three ‘E’s.
Despite these worrying figures, it *is* possible to start a UA92 degree in November or January, so we may yet see the student numbers creep up. The links with Trafford College seem to be yielding a decent trickle of applicants, and UA92’s publicity – which if we’re honest is starting to grow on us – is emphasising how students can combine study at UA92 with work and caring responsibilities. And, hey, what’s not to like about being on a degree scheme with (very) small class sizes and a (very) spacious refurbished building?

Anecdotes from any current UA92 students or staff on ‘how it’s all going’ would be much appreciated.

PAINTING BY NUMBERS

How much would you charge for an official portrait? As part of Mark E. Smith’s leaving celebrations the University commissioned, as is standard practice, an official portrait of our former leader. The painting by Nathalie Beauvillain Scott can be viewed on the staff intranet, alongside a link to a ‘goodbye’ interview by Lancaster’s Honorary Archivist Marion McClintock, at:
https://portal.lancaster.ac.uk/intranet/news/article/farewell-to-vice-chancellor-professor-mark-e-smith
Scott has regularly been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the BP Portrait Awards:
https://www.murals-portraits.co.uk/portraits
One of subtext’s readers was intrigued, and submitted an FOI request – ‘Please can you disclose how much the portrait of Prof Mark Smith, published on the 19th of September, cost the University?’ The University’s response: ‘The total cost of the portrait including the framing was £12,910.’
Is this excessive? According to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ website, fees for a portrait can be ‘substantial’, rising to £100,000, but equally ‘their starting point can be less than £2,000.’

In these times of austerity and Professional Services recruitment freezes, subtext readers may wonder whether next time, given the world-class talents of our Fine Art students, we might considering enlisting their services instead. Or maybe one of our readers would be interested? If you’d like to have a go at painting an enduring image of MES, we’ll happily publish it on our Facebook page for free.

JUTE, JAM AND RENT DISPUTES

Our former Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s tenure as Principal of Dundee University continues to go from strength to strength. The following appeared in The Herald on 30 October 2019:
https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/18004372.professor-andrew-atherton-removed-office/
According to a Dundee spokesperson, ‘Professor Atherton, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, was suspended from office on September 13, pending an investigation which remains to be completed. That process includes an investigation carried out by someone external to the University.’ There will be no further comment from Dundee until the investigation is over.
According to The Courier on 31 October 2019, this could relate to unpaid rent:
https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/local/dundee/1010699/298k-a-year-dundee-university-principal-suspended-for-allegedly-not-paying-rent/

The Courier understands that, ‘Professor Atherton, 53, had been staying at University House on Perth Road but had refused to pay the full amount of rent due on the property.’

IP UNDER PRESSURE

Lancaster’s new intellectual property (IP) policy has been unveiled, effective from 1 August 2019:
https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/research/research-enterprise-services/ip-support/
Well done to Research & Enterprise Services, who have put in a lot of work to create a policy and webpage that looks very helpful for staff. Some students may not be so happy, though.
As a reminder, here’s a rough primer on IP law: when an employee creates something in the course of their employment, the thing is the intellectual property of their employer (benevolent employers may, of course, seek to share the benefits). When a student creates something in the course of their studies, the thing is the intellectual property of the student (and they decide whether to share the benefits). Attempts in the 90s to require Lancaster students to sign their IP rights over at registration led to loud and vocal protests – and a climbdown by management.
Our new policy agrees that students own what they create, but some of the ‘circumstances where the University will require the student to assign their IP’ should be raising eyebrows. In particular, we now require research students to sign over their IP rights if they have ‘received significant financial support from the University (for example stipend or fee waiver) to undertake the research.’ For the avoidance of doubt, ‘this does not include any hardship or widening participation financial support.’ Readers may wonder whether this would stand up in court, unless the University is now claiming that university-funded research students should be classed as staff – in which case surely they should be granted employment protection and pension rights?
Similarly, any student who ‘builds upon existing IP generated by University staff’ or ‘participates in a research project funded by the University’ is required to sign over their IP. This might be acceptable practice for a principal investigator taking on new research associates, but research students are not the same as postdocs.

Lancaster already has a questionable reputation for making some of its funded research students carry out teaching – for no pay and no recognition of employment rights – as a condition of funding. Will be also be known as the place where funded research students are required to sign their intellectual property rights over – again, for no pay and no recognition of employment rights? subtext hopes very much that the PG Board was consulted about this.

GOODBYE EMERITI!

Sad news reaches subtext from a retired member of staff. The University has decided to delete his email account, along with the email accounts of many other retired and honorary staff, with effect from the beginning of November. A curtly-worded email from ISS informs those about to lose their accounts that, no, you can’t export your emails, and no, you can’t have your emails forwarded to another address.
subtext has reported on the rather curmudgeonly way Lancaster treats its former staff, particularly when they want to retain access to email or the library, before (see subtext 128). What has prompted the latest cull? Reportedly it’s partly to do with the way Microsoft prices its services. Since the shift to Office365 and other subscription-based services, it’s possible for Microsoft to know exactly how many users are making use of its services, and bill the University accordingly.
What’s more – it’s no longer possible to ‘just have an email account’ at Lancaster these days. Every account carries a cost, because as part of the package you’ll get ‘Apps Anywhere’, the handy package which enables Lancaster account holders to access hundreds of apps, well, anywhere. So to all the extra Office365 licences required for emeritus staff with email you can add dozens of licences for software they probably never use, but they could if they wanted.

One silver lining – we’re assured that it is still possible for retired and honorary staff to retain library access, even without an email account, and it is still possible to access online journals (although you will need to come into the library to view them). So we do still value our former staff – as long as they don’t incur any licence costs.