subtext 187 – ‘yet another meaningful subtext’

Every so often during term time (and sometimes a bit after).

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

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

In this issue: editorial, people’s vote march, cheat’s charter, bailrigg fm, lancaster exchange, where’s regev?, widden, no letters.

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EDITORIAL

How to keep busy in these interesting times now that term is over? If you’ve finished tanking your damp Lancaster cellar so that it can serve as an emergency bunker, or are fed up of barricading yourself in your college bar with bargain tins of baked beans and cheap toilet roll, subtext recommends protest as a way to pass the time. Below, we consider some options.

Why not travel down to London with placards, water bottles and walking boots, especially if you have any opinions at all about the state of UK democracy? If you missed any of the protests that took place over the last couple of weeks, don’t worry. We predict there will be more.

SWP-sponsored bus to the protest of your choice full? Got too much coursework to write/mark/complete? You can always stay on campus and protest! If you’re worried you’ll fall foul of the University’s new permission-slip-and-risk-assessment Code of Conduct on Protest, which we reported on in subtext 185, don’t be. Since it came into effect on 1 February 2019 the editorial team have witnessed two protests on campus (on the occasions we’ve been able to leave the warehouse): Lancashire Youth for Environment’s #FridaysForFuture climate change protest on 15 February 2019, and a protest against the proposed visit of Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, on 27 March 2019 – the day he may, or may not, have been visiting the University. We have been unable to verify if all these protests completed the required paperwork, but we suspect that they didn’t bother, so you probably won’t have to either! If you need some inspiration for how to ignore worrying things that blatantly ignore moral and ethical standards, the University has just published its Gender Pay Gap Report for 2018.

If the weather’s too bad for outdoor activities, but you still fancy making your voice heard, why not consider contributing to the campus bastions of print and broadcast media? SCAN and Bailrigg FM would love to get your input, whilst they’re still here. Failing that, we at subtext are always looking for new editors/contributors – applications to the usual e-ddress…

PUT IT TO THE PEOPLE MARCH REPORTS

A MILLION WAYS TO BE CR-EU-L

Lancaster, both the University and the town, seemed to be well represented on the ‘Put it to the People’ March on 23 March, not least judging by the cheerful but slightly sleepy crowd of a dozen or so protestors gathered at Lancaster station at around 8:30 in the morning. The train was already packed, and picked up more protestors at each mainline station (though surprisingly few in Preston).

It was only when the train arrived in London, however, that the true scale of the impending march became apparent. Converging on Mayfair in all directions, blue and yellow garments of all kinds, cardboard signs on wooden poles, numerous banners and many, many flags were very much in evidence, as were a number of extremely silly hats.

Your subtext correspondent made his way to the start of the protest at Park Lane – after a brief but necessary brunch – only to find it… well, rather full of people. It took around an hour to get from Marble Arch to the other end of the street, and then a further three hours to get as far as Trafalgar Square (normally a 10-minute walk), despite niftily overtaking a mobile disco, a samba band and all manner of other protestors. By this point, the speeches at Parliament Square where well and truly over, despite the vast majority of marchers never getting there.

As is becoming the norm for events of this type, the best slogans and banners have been widely shared on social media. Your correspondent’s personal favourites, however, included:
– the child brandishing an evidently self-made banner proclaiming that ‘Brexit is poo poo butt face’ in bright colours, bringing some much needed gravity to the political discourse around the topic;
– the two adjacent signs with bright green cut-out pictures of salad leaves that said ‘Lettuce Romaine’ and ‘Don’t lettuce leaf’;
– ‘Article 50 does not spark joy’ next to a picture of Marie Kondo;
– The blue sign splattered with yellow paint that read ‘Pollocks to Brexit’;
– The rather dark ‘Dear Dignitas, do you do countries?’;
– And the ever so subtle ‘Frontières sans médicins’.

The mood was a strange mixture of ebullient, joyous and also angry – but not in a red-faced, shouty way. People were laughing, smiling at each other’s placards, and generally having a good time, while their anger was clearly focussed at the people they saw as having got the country into its current predicament.

The absolute highlight of the march for this correspondent, however, had to be the piper marching with the SNP London branch playing ‘Ode to Joy’. What could be a more evocative argument against Brexit than the European anthem, written in Vienna by a German composer of Flemish extraction, commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society in London and played on Scottish bagpipes?

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LANCASHIRE AND YORKSHIRE EU-NITED AT LAST

Contributed article by Jenny Watts

I was unable to attend the People’s Vote March for health reasons, however, this topic remains very important to me. As a cancer patient the long term impact of Brexit on the NHS is rather alarming. I belong to a local cross-party activism group (Lancaster for Europe, find us on Twitter or Facebook) and they showed me how to donate money to cover the cost of a place, so that another student from Lancaster could attend. It was great watching the Lancaster and Yorkshire flags later on the news. Very encouraging to see the red and white roses!
 
The following is an interview with my Yorkshire-based parents, who were able to attend.
 
Q: Can you tell me what motivated you to get up at 4:30am to catch a coach departing from Hull on March 23rd?
Geoff: I was at the end of my tether! What else could I do? No one was listening to the Remain Team, or challenging the Leave lies.
Gwyneth: I wanted to stand up and be counted. When it all started back in 2016, I was really upset. But then I thought, hang on, let’s give the Leavers a chance; it might work. However, nothing I have seen, or read, has convinced me that it will actually be good for the majority of the country. I can see how it benefits billionaires though! That pesky new EU law on tax avoidance, eh?
 
Q: Your placards talk about honesty, do you feel deceived?
Gwyneth: Not now, personally; I hate being told lies, but I like to check stuff for myself. That lie about having to join the Euro for example, or Turkey joining the EU, or all the wonderful new trade deals…
Geoff: I am a retired police custody sergeant. Never enjoyed being lied to, and if I had practised a hundredth of as much deception professionally as this crew on my placard, I would have been sacked. Rightly so.

Q: What was the atmosphere like during the journey?
Gwyneth: Subdued, a bit tense, we didn’t know anybody or what to expect.
Geoff: Desperately short of sleep.

Q: Would you say you have a history of attending demonstrations in London?
Geoff: Never done anything like it.
Gwyneth: I’ve always been interested in human rights and welfare. As a young mum I stood for election as a Liberal for the local council, but this was my first big march. As a student in Manchester I went on demos, but only because I fancied the organiser!

Q: What happened during the march?
Geoff: Lots of chat and banter with other Yorkshire groups, making very, very slow progress towards Parliament Square. Never been in such a huge crowd, never seen such a crowd on TV, and so much warmth, good humour and anger being expressed in a very British way. Very heartening.
Gwyneth: Two and a half hours after joining at Marble Arch, we were still dancing down Park Lane – literally! We were joined by various bands, and it resembled a festival when the sun came out. We had to turn back at the end of Piccadilly about 4:30pm, to return to our coach, and thousands of people were still marching, following the route to parliament. It seemed wrong to go against this tide, but we’d made our point.

Q: Do you think you will be attending marches in the future?
Geoff: Let’s hope I won’t have to.
Gwyneth: For this cause? YES!

Q: What advice do you have for those joining large demonstrations?
Geoff: Essentials – comfortable shoes, water bottle, and a sense of humour. Stick anything relevant to you on your placard, and go with the flow. Expect lies about the size of the crowd…
Gwyneth: Do it! Always decorate both sides of your placard, collect photos of the wittiest slogans, meet lovely people, realise you’re not alone.

THE CHEAT’S CHARTER

Contributed article by Steve Wright

I read with interest, and serious concern, about Ian Meeks, LUSU VP Education’s, pyrrhic victory for ‘fairness’ in marking, achieved through the blunt and often inappropriate instrument of enforced anonymous marking (subtext 186). As such I propose it is re-dubbed a ‘Cheat’s Charter’ – because the only big winners here will be cheats. However, it is about much more than just making cheating easier, and shows a wilful disregard for education, professionalism and oversight in the institution.

I suggest the following five points are, or will be key outcomes and all should be of real concern:

– Making cheating much, much easier
– Blocking effective and innovative pedagogy
– Prioritising marks over feedback
– Imposing UG standards onto PG work
– Lack of faith in academic staff and University policies and procedures

I will address these in turn.

1 – Making cheating much, much easier

Whatever the proportion of students who cheat (differing figures are given here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-45358185 and here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43975508), the selling of essays is a growing market and a serious concern. Maybe when you’re paying so much for education it seems only a small extra cost to take on – insurance perhaps?

One of the main justifications for introducing anonymous marking is that it will benefit BAME students by eliminating unconscious bias. Some who work and write for such services seem to share the Students’ Union’s concerns about institutional racism and discrimination (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36276324 for a fascinating interview with an essay-for-cash writer).

The evidence for anonymous marking benefiting BAME students is contested. The gap for medical education exists in anonymous examinations (see https://www.ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/sites/teaching-learning/files/katherine_woolf_seminar_bme_attainment_seminar_addressing_ethnic_differences_in_attainment_in_higher_education_january_2019.pdf). Meanwhile research and evaluation by the HEA suggests that inclusivity is best served through ‘a range of assessment which includes ways to draw on experiences – personal, professional, volunteering for example – and bring those in’ (https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/bme_summit_final_report.pdf). However, bringing in those examples serves to de-anonymise students and is thus likely to be discouraged by a focus on anonymity as a cure.

By contrast anonymous marking really, and singularly, benefits those who buy essays. Furthermore, this makes effective approaches to combat cheating and enhance teaching, as well as improve inclusivity, much, much harder – if not impossible – to implement.

Whilst Turnitin offers text matching (not plagiarism detection) and there are a variety of practices and misconceptions about it (e.g. high percentage matches are not necessarily indicative of plagiarism, whereas very low matches are often indicative of other substantial issues etc), the essay-selling companies promise a plagiarism-scan passing essay (see https://www.customessaymeister.com/ for example) so this will only help identify some areas of poor academic practice NOT bought essays.

2 – Blocking effective and innovative pedagogy

Rather than making ‘Lancaster a beacon of good practice’ the Cheat’s Charter will have a chilling effect. The Certificate in Academic Practice (CAP) programme identifies innovative ways to introduce assessment that can be more than the mere summative mark the Students’ Union seeks. Good assessment also encourages good practice, additional skills and deeper learning, whilst also discouraging or preventing merely buying summative essays.

Examples include developing presentation skills, as well as preventing cheating, by asking for oral presentations. There can be processes for requesting essay plans (as distinct from purchasable ‘drafts’) or other work that associates the process with the person and the product so that early formative feedback can shape and improve work, provide constructive input and feedback as well as an audit trail precluding merely buying an assignment to be anonymously marked. Other innovative approaches such as students correcting Wikipedia entries based on research evidence and the tutor reviewing their change log – so that instead of your work resulting in an anonymous mark and an essay in the bin you actually contribute to open information access based on your privileged position with access to paywalled research – well that’s out too as it can’t be anonymous! Peer-marking of group contributions to address the dissatisfaction with a single group mark that is so clear in NSS feedback complaints? Nope – anonymity makes that too problematic.

Furthermore where there has been close work with students to help develop a piece of work and work through issues, or where more than one person may have a similar overall project, anonymity prevents customised, personalised feedback. It requires impersonal comments rather than connecting back to formative assessment and supervisory support. Anonymity has rarely made communication fairer, politer or more nuanced – just look at Twitter! Here it has an equal likelihood of undoing the careful work of personalised guidance to support students’ learning in favour of impersonal ‘objective’ harshness and judgement.

3 – Prioritising marks over feedback

The Cheat’s Charter prioritises one thing over all others: the mark. Feedback, as subtext rightly pointed out and point 2 argues extensively for, is the key element for academic improvement. Tailoring that, and connecting it to other work so it can be acted on, is much, much harder with anonymity. The implementation of this pledge prioritises the mark over the feedback, the assessment over the learning, singular attainment over ongoing education.

4 – Imposing UG standards onto PG work

The rationale for imposing this on PG programmes is that ‘exams are the main form of assessment currently marked anonymously, but Ian is keen to see the practice expanded to ensure students have all their work assessed fairly’.

This not only suggests exams are seen as fairer, but it is also a category error when imposed across all work including that of postgraduates. Despite this massive blind spot in the assumptions it is based on, there is no nuance in the recommendation or its implementation. Postgraduate work with smaller numbers, asking for examples from professional practice and experience or a bespoke topic cannot be meaningfully marked anonymously. This should be a strength, not a weakness or something to root-out, yet that is what is happening.

5 – Lack of faith in academic staff and University policies and procedures

In his comments about the introduction of anonymous marking, the VP Education said: ‘Anonymous marking reduces the risk of unconscious bias by the marker, increasing the level of confidence students can have that they are getting the mark they deserve.’

As per points 1 and 2 – this could be argued to be the case but it certainly couldn’t give a student the confidence their peers would get the marks they deserve if they were in a group, or cheated by buying an essay. It strongly suggests an assumption that all academics are so prejudiced they’re not even aware of their prejudice, and furthermore that LUSU have no faith in the University for having academic standards, academic professionalism or appropriate procedures for challenge, review or complaint.

The paradigm exploration of this has to be the plot of the History Man (for those unfamiliar the TV show was filmed at Lancaster University in the 70s and is still available to view via Box of Broadcasts which is HIGHLY recommended – see link below). In this story a right-on, left-wing academic marks down a Thatcherite student’s essay and discriminates against the student. However, the student complains and his complaint of bias is upheld. The bias isn’t the unconscious racist bias Ian suggests is rife at Lancaster, but it is bias, and even in a 70’s satire there are University procedures to handle it!

Recording available via Box of Broadcasts through the library:

The History Man, 21:00 15/02/2009, BBC4, 95 mins. https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/00DD68BC?bcast=31635147 (Accessed 04 Mar 2019)

All of the above combine to suggest that this ‘Cheat’s Charter’ is misguided, and leads away from creative pedagogy and applying insights to professional experience or context, and towards summative, anonymous, impersonal, anodyne, reduced value, standardised assessment.

The beneficiaries will be cheats, the costs to reputation that result could be very high. Despite this, the imposition of this has occurred without consultation, and with a heavily bureaucratic requirement for exceptions. My fear now is which will be the next values and faith in professionalism to be burned on the pledge pyre of a LUSU officer?

BAILRIGG NOT-FM

As subtext goes to press, Bailrigg FM’s members have been sent an email informing them that Lancaster SU will no longer be supporting the station’s FM broadcasting license, something it has held for over 20 years. This would mean the station going online-only from the end of August 2019, and ceasing to be regulated by Ofcom. The reason is given as ‘budgetary re-evaluations’ – apparently the cost of a license, somewhere in the region of £1000 per annum, is ‘poor value for money and not enhancing the student experience.’ Members have been told there is very little that can be done about this, despite offers by the station management to try and crowdfund the money.

Supporters of SCAN and other student media must now be wondering how these ‘budgetary re-evaluations’ will affect them.

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BAILRIGG SET AT £1000

Contributed article by Ronnie Rowlands

The idea that a monolith like Bailrigg FM would stand to lose its FM license is inconceivable, yet entirely inevitable, as the Students’ Union whittles itself down further and further in a desperate bid to save cash.

Only last term, the union called on students to vote ‘yes’ in a referendum proposing to reduce the number of paid officers from six to five, going as far as to denounce themselves as a waste of money whilst spouting some nonsense about ‘focusing representation.’ To no avail – the turnout was not quorate, and the SU was unable to make an eighteen grand budget cut. The SU had already made savings when it palmed major services like volunteering, international programmes, and enterprise off onto University House two years ago. And so, at last, it has no choice but to start looking at the pennies.

Bailrigg FM, and the student media as a whole, has been an easy target for many years. This is mainly because the people in LUSU responsible for financial decision-making don’t understand anything about it.

Even though my tempestuous tenure as the SU officer in charge of student media is far behind me, I still get a twitch when I recall enduring meetings listening to certain representatives flapping their gums about making SCAN online only, or making Bailrigg FM digital only. The argument has always been that not enough students listen to Bailrigg FM to justify the amount of money that goes into it, and that ‘radio is dying.’ I would not be at all surprised if such an inane contention was the clincher in whatever meeting the decision was made.

Bailrigg FM has never been about the listeners. Commanding a large audience is a bonus, not an objective. Bailrigg FM has always been about its members. The aim of Bailrigg FM is to provide a playground for budding broadcasters, journalists, producers, writers, engineers, performers, and any of the rest of them.

This is vital to a university that does not offer any vocational media degrees (until the Gary Neville University opens its doors, of course…), and doesn’t cater to such-minded students at its careers fairs. In 2015, I established the LUSU Media Conference as a means of allowing students to network with well-connected and highly experienced industry professionals, but even that seems to have shifted its emphasis towards PR, social media, digital marketing, and suchlike. The SU are entitled to do this, of course, but it only serves to diminish further the limited offerings that Lancaster has for budding ‘meeja’ types.

I hear the flapping of gums again. Am I not reacting as though Bailrigg FM is being shut down completely? Surely FM radio is, quite literally, an analogue concept in a digital age? Quite. But while FM is old-fashioned, it lends legitimacy to the station. It gets taken more seriously by awarding bodies, and it is more appealing to potential sponsors.

It also obligates you to follow Ofcom regulations. Great! Radio without limits, right?

Perhaps.

But being bound by Ofcom requires you to follow its programme code. That means you must adhere to standards of taste and decency, show due impartiality on current affairs, play the news on the hour, avoid product placement, devote a certain amount of your airtime to certain genres, abstain from promoting dangerous behaviour, etc. Basically, it means that you have to behave like you are working at a real radio station, because that is precisely what you are doing. The discipline involved puts pressure on members not to get fined by Ofcom, on the management to ensure that certain standards are kept, and on broadcasters to behave themselves. These are all vital, vocational skills in broadcasting, journalism, and management, that students can take with them should they wish to go into ‘proper’ radio.

Rules around taste and decency force you to be a little more creative with crude ideas – the greatest episode of Seinfeld ever written was the one with the masturbation contest, and yet it never once explicitly alluded to masturbation. Taking some of your mates into a studio, getting tanked up and shouting ‘C*NT’ at each other for an hour and a half might be great fun, but Derek and Clive you are not, and it isn’t something that you’d want to put on your demo-reel.

Then there’s the small issue of policing what gets broadcast. With Bailrigg FM no longer under the jurisdiction of Ofcom, it will fall to LUSU and the University to enact procedures when somebody acts unlawfully on the air.

Such tight fisted, tiny-mindedness tells us nothing new about the SU’s financial shape. Nor does it help the perception that the SU has had a huge deficit of accountability since it did away with Union Council in 2016.

Back then, elected officers, concerned Bailrigg FM members, and the general membership of the University could have shown up to many different meetings to give the Executive a piece of their mind. Alas, more marketing types and fewer media types are being elected to the officership overseeing student media, as the SU continues to shut itself off from scrutiny.

Now, they can freely flap their gums, and merrily whittle themselves down to nothing, the potential consequences little more than static.

With thanks to James Masterton

REPORT – THE LANCASTER EXCHANGE

‘You’re here to witness an experiment!’ announced Pro-Chancellor Lord Liddle, as Lancaster’s first annual public meeting, The Lancaster Exchange, got underway in LICA at 10:30am on Saturday 30 March 2019. Would the new event justify the controversial decision to abolish its predecessor, the University Court (see subtext 172)? subtext went in with an open mind.

The main topic of conversation over coffee seemed to be the relative lack of publicity. An email had gone out to most, but not all, former members of the Court. LU Text had mentioned it on 8 March. A quarter-page advert had appeared in the Lancaster Guardian (just two days previously, though). There was a webpage with plenty of information, if you knew that it was there! Some of those present commented that they’d first heard about the event via subtext.

Turnout ended up at somewhere between 110 and 120, pretty much the same as the number who attended the final Court meeting. The composition was different, however. Very few members of management, or the University Council, had attended the last Court, but there had obviously been a three-line whip to get them to the Exchange – deans, associate deans, Pro-Vice-Chancellors and Council members were all milling around. This meant that there were rather fewer ‘ordinary’ people present, although it was reassuring to note the presence of several longstanding Court members, including Claire Hensman, Lord Judd, Ian Saunders and Jacqueline Whiteside. Only a handful of students were present, but holding the event after the end of term probably didn’t help.

In we went, and the layout was cabaret-style, with 13 round tables for us to choose from. This made proceedings more informal but also made it trickier to observe contributions from the floor. The first few items – a short welcome from the Chancellor, a ‘warm-up speech’ from Lord Liddle, the Vice-Chancellor’s report on the last year, and then a Q&A to the VC – would have been familiar to previous Court members. After that, though, we were promised a ‘panel discussion’ followed by four ’roundtable debates’, before the VC would wrap things up at the end.

Lord Liddle was optimistic. He’d always imagined that a University Court should include ‘a procession to music from Die Meistersinger,’ but ‘we’ve tried to move on from that.’ Prof Dame Sue Black, our Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Engagement, was going to ‘lead an exchange of ideas,’ but first it was time for ‘our wonderful Vice-Chancellor’ to give his report.

The VC’s presentation was well-paced and entertaining, with plenty of infographics. Those who have seen his report to departments this year will be familiar with many of the slides, which focused on the Augar Review of Higher Education, Brexit, UA92, Leipzig and the new developments on campus. Major investments in 2017/18 included the Physics refurbishment, Isolab, phase 2 of the Library redevelopment, the mock courtroom and the Big Screen. Isolab was mentioned in particular as a world-leading building that was made possible largely through philanthropic donations, and the VC noted the new ‘Donor Wall’ in the Library. Visitors were encouraged to look at the ‘tremendous’ new Spine. Coming up would be the Health Innovation Campus, the LUMS Space Programme, phase 3 of the Library redevelopment, the Accessible Campus initiative, the LICA refurbishment, the Sports Hall extension and our new 400-seat lecture theatre. The VC praised the university’s engagement with the local area, mentioning Sue Black twice and the Eden North project once.

The headline finances, displayed on a single slide, looked reassuring but the VC sounded his first note of caution, observing that we were needing to take out loans to finance our projects.

Questions followed on students’ mental health, student housing, international student recruitment and the importance of preserving open spaces on campus, but the one which animated Prof Smith the most was on the attitude of the press to higher education: ‘where do you start?’ Because of David Willetts’ decisions as a minister, universities were still relatively well-funded in England, and some elements were ‘somewhat resentful of that.’ Universities had been strongly remain-voting, and ‘we get labelled as bastions of the left wing… it’s just not true!’ If only!… thought some people in the audience.

The best one-liner came from a local resident who worked for Ludus Dance, who asked, ‘is Lancaster a university town? Or is Lancaster University just near a town?’

On, next, to the panel discussion, led by… Sue Black, who was going to explore ‘what is the role of a university in the 21st century?’ With her were Chancellor Alan Milburn, Yak Patel from the local CVS, Students’ Union President Rhiannon Llystyn Jones, and Alistair Eagles from Seatruck Ferries, ‘a ferry company that actually has ferries.’

The debate seemed hamstrung by a humdrum choice of subject, as the speakers spoke earnestly about communities, poverty, skills, jobs, opportunities and so forth. Ms Jones discussed students’ mental health – this was perhaps the last mention of students’ problems, as opposed to the problems students are perceived to cause, all day. Sue Black made the intriguing assertion that, ‘I think I have become the equivalent of Tinder for the University!’

Mr Eagles, the last and best speaker, boldly noted that he didn’t like ‘engagement’, preferring the word ‘integration’, and noted that he could have said all this in Coventry – ‘what can we do that’s so different?’ We had a world leading management school, but relatively few business startups – why? How many of our students did local work placements? Just as things were getting rather animated, however, we broke for a short coffee break.

We then split up into four groups for ’roundtable discussions’ on Healthy Communities, Digital & Innovation, Economic Development, and Heritage & Culture. In each group, there were rather more people present than would fit around the tables, so people expanded outwards to form a big circle, giving them something of an ‘encounter group’ feel. Feedback from the sessions seems to have been very good – the University seemed to have persuaded some significant local decision-makers to come along and listen. University Council members, in particular, seemed very interested in what people had to say.

The VC summed up by saying he was ‘going to slightly disagree with Alistair Eagles,’ who had asked: what makes us different? ‘I already think we are different,’ said the VC, citing the colleges, UA92 and Leipzig. Perhaps Sue Black’s title should now be changed to PVC for Engagement and Integration, he wondered, in the light of Mr Eagles’ comments?

Prof Smith felt that ‘the whole dynamic is very different from our old meeting and, I think, better.’ The Chancellor agreed that ‘it had been a really fascinating meeting.’ subtext’s verdict – 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.

And so the Lancaster Exchange closed in good humour at 1pm, as everyone joined the queue for a buffet lunch.

HAS ANYONE SEEN AN AMBASSADOR?

A group of around 35 activists, some from campus, others from the city, met at 6pm on Wednesday 27 March to protest against the possible appearance of the Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev, on campus.

It was never clear whether Mr Regev was actually coming to campus, or whether he had even been planning on coming. Reportedly he’d been booked to address the Politics Society, but this meeting had been cancelled. Or had it? Various people walked around campus peering into lecture theatres to try and discern evidence of a gathering, but there was no sign of any heightened security. The sight of a large black luxury car provoked a brief frenzy of interest… until the person behind the wheel turned out to be a Lancaster student.

The new Code of Practice on Protests (see subtext 185) led to a certain amount of bravado (permission for this event had not been sought) coupled with paranoia (were we under observation from University House?). In the event, no one disrupted the protest, and the consensus was that the ambassador was nowhere near Lancaster, but it had still been worthwhile to gather together.

Those present came from a wide variety of organisations and perspectives; the leaflet being handed out, produced by the Lancaster Palestine Solidarity Campaign, emphasised the need to listen to other voices in the Israel-Palestine conflict besides the ambassador’s, and included links to Jewish and Israeli organisations devoted to peace.

Some of those present felt this message of Jewish and Arab unity was marred by some of the chanting, in particular the divisive ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!’ – not everyone joined in with this. This aside, the sentiments were overwhelmingly inclusive and peaceful.

It is unknown whether Mr Regev is planning to come to Lancaster in the near future.

AN EXCEPTIONAL PIANO RECITAL

Review by Martin Widden

Some years ago, with help from the Friends of the Lancaster Concerts, the University bought a new Steinway concert grand piano for the Great Hall. Our old Steinway had reached the stage where good pianists were complaining about the state of it, and seemed quite likely to start refusing to come to Lancaster. Having this new piano has enabled the University to bring excellent pianists to Lancaster to perform in the concert series. Last week’s concert was one such, with a recital by Eric Lu, winner of the first prize in the 2018 Leeds international piano competition.

His programme opened with the A minor Rondo by Mozart. This late piece by Mozart, dating from 1787, is full of emotion, and Lu captured this excellently in a sensitive performance. He followed this with the six Klavierstücke by Brahms. These are serious pieces, demanding the deepest insight from the performer, and again Eric Lu was able to tap into this very well despite his relatively tender years (he is 21).

After the interval, we had Handel’s Chaconne in G major, a series of variations on a theme. Handel’s skill in developing this short and simple theme into complex and mesmerising variations is remarkable.

The recital ended with the second sonata by Chopin – the one that includes as its third movement the well-known funeral march. This is a virtuoso piece, which was played with complete confidence by the pianist.

The performance of this varied and well-balanced programme by Eric Lu was highly satisfying. He evidently studies the music so that he becomes fully aware of the composer’s intentions, and his technique is so assured that he is able to communicate these to the listener very clearly.

This was an excellent recital in every way – possibly the best piano performance of recent years in the Lancaster series of concerts, and a fine end to the 2018-19 concert season.

LETTERS

Nothing to see here.

subtext 186 – ‘stumbling towards a no deal subtext’

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/

In this issue: editorial, Leipzig, annual meeting, fascists, LUSU hustings, fpsp, ads, widden, letter.

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EDITORIAL

The students’ union VP Education, Ian Meeks, has scored a major win in his campaign for anonymous marking. It’s written up on the SU website at:

https://lancastersu.co.uk/articles/vp-education-gains-support-for-anonymous-marking-proposal

As subtext understands it, the university’s Academic Standards and Quality Committee has accepted his argument that all written assessments at Lancaster should, henceforth, be anonymous. subtext hears that there is also support for a proposal that all submissions should be made electronically.

Well done to the union for their persistence. But should we be celebrating? In the LUSU article, Mr Meeks notes that, ‘anonymous marking reduces the risk of unconscious bias by the marker, increasing the level of confidence students can have that they are getting the mark they deserve.’ If all that students gained from their work were the mark, his argument is hard to refute.

Assignments aren’t all about marks, though.

The reason we ask students to regularly submit their thoughts to us is not so we can just give it a ‘B+’ and say ‘well done’. Markers think long and hard about their feedback, pointing out errors and suggesting ideas for improvement, and this is greatly helped when the marker knows the identity of the person they’re feeding back to. They’ll have a rounded view of where they’ve gone wrong before, which overarching themes they frequently address, and so forth. From a logistical point of view, many assignments are handed back in person, with the marker keen to follow up their written comments with discussion and support. How would this work?

Well, you could keep the assignments anonymous until the marking’s over, maybe, and only then reveal to all concerned the identity of the people you’ve been assessing. This could work, although in practice most markers get to know their students’ styles of argument. This is especially true in the many departments where coursework is usually handwritten.

Blanket electronic submissions would also be difficult to implement. We sympathise with students who regularly have to leg it to campus to meet a submission deadline, when they could have just uploaded their thoughts to Moodle – but equally, it would be odd if a student ran onto campus and made it to their department on time, only to be told ‘sorry, you’ll need to scan that and upload it!’ Markers are certainly not going to be thrilled if – as seems possible – they’re told that, from now on, they’ll need to do all their marking on screen. Has occupational health been consulted?

What would work well in some departments may well cause massive problems in others, and we think this should be an issue which should be left to departments, in consultation with their students and staff.

ANOTHER GLORIOUS SUBTEXT VICTORY

subtext 185 reported on the curious absence of any calling notice for the promised annual public meeting to replace the University Court. Surely at least a ‘date for your diary’ should have been announced? One hour and forty minutes later…

…former external members of the Court received their invitation to ‘The Lancaster Exchange’, our annual public meeting. What a coincidence!

Held in LICA, this will be ‘an interactive forum, designed to meet the widest range of needs and enable us to better engage with our communities and stakeholders.’ It should provide ‘an opportunity to share your ideas on the role of the university and how we can work together for the benefit of our communities.’

Sounds good, and subtext’s drones hope to be in attendance. There don’t seem to be any details on the university’s website yet, but we hope that many of our readers will make the journey to campus that day.

The date? Saturday 30 March. Scheduling your annual showcase less than twelve hours after Brexit is a courageous decision, we think – it’ll certainly give participants plenty to talk about.

LANCASTER GOES TO LEIPZIG

A campus in Leipzig, then! What’s going on there? Let’s start with the official announcement:

https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/news/lancaster-announces-new-campus-in-leipzig-germany-1

The person sat next to the Vice-Chancellor, signing the agreement on behalf of private education provider Navitas, is Paul Lovegrove, former director of Study Group International (SGI). Study Group has run Lancaster’s International Study Centre since 2007 (see subtext 17) and has a presence on many campuses, notably at Lincoln, where Mr Lovegrove worked closely with Andrew Atherton, once Senior Deputy VC at Lincoln and latterly Deputy VC of this parish.

Mr Lovegrove first came to subtext’s attention in June 2014, when in a Senate newsflash, we outlined SGI’s plan to deliver Part I modules here: ‘fag packet rumours echoing around the subtext warehouse suggest that the Deputy Vice-Chancellor has already given the green light for SGI to recruit to their Part 1 Lancaster study programme (intended to be drawn up in close consultation with relevant departments), and SGI are gearing up to launch this as an addition to their product offering…’

As we reported in subtext 121, senators were not amused, and ‘speaker after speaker exposed the flaws in the proposal.’ Joe Thornberry, then Principal of Bowland, noted that ‘if Senate agreed to this now it would be the crossing of a very important line, with consequences that had the potential to damage seriously the university’s reputation.’ The proposal was withdrawn.

Five years later, Mr Lovegrove is back and he’ll be helping to lead an entire campus on our behalf, as CEO of Navitas’s University Pathways in Europe. We trust that our senators fully scrutinised the tender process. Navitas will be responsible for administrative staff, support services, student recruitment and a foundation year, with Lancaster staff teaching the degree programmes.

Fingers crossed

STUDENTS’ UNION HUSTINGS – A REPORT

Scene: County South Lecture Theatre, Thursday 28 February, 7pm onwards, set out cabaret style.

Audience: probably just short of 100 people, though this fluctuated a lot.

Lighting: usually this was on ‘low’, except for the several moments when (we think some of the audience were leaning on the light switches) things changed to ‘unbearably full on’ or ‘off’.

Rules: candidates would get two minutes to speak, followed by questions from the audience, when they’d have just 30 seconds to answer each query. Finally, the ‘debate’, where they’d get to ask each other questions.

After the inevitable delay, things started at 7:25pm, with the undercard. As well as electing the six full-time officers, the students’ union will also be holding by-elections next week for four part-time officer positions: Black and Minority Ethnic, LGBTQ+, Students with Disabilities and International Students. The most notable part of these husts for part-time roles, especially given some of the positions up for grabs, was the subject not mentioned – last term’s snowsports society affair. The subject would be raised more than once before the end of the night.

***

First up for the full-time officer positions were the candidates for Vice-President Activities – the post responsible for overseeing student sports and societies. Traditionally a hotly contested role, this year only two candidates – Ben Evans and Cameron Jones – duked it out.

Evans gave a lucid, no-nonsense speech clearly outlining his experience and his ambitions. Having played for men’s rugby, and served on both the Roses Committee and County JCR Exec, Ben pledged to support mental health initiatives within sports, and identified numerous ways of improving intercollegiate sporting competitions such as the Carter Shield. He also identified timetabling issues which prohibited PostGrads from becoming involved in sports, and pledged an online calendar for sports practices and games.

Next was Cameron Jones – the Swimming Captain – whose emphasis was on recruiting more ‘top-level’ athletes for various sports societies, which he aimed to do by taking advantage of the recent addition of Sports Science to Lancaster’s degree offerings.

Hands shot up. A question was asked about gender-neutral changing rooms for trans students at the sports centre. Jones recognised how difficult it’d be to implement this, given that the sports centre is not run by LUSU. Evans was similarly sceptical but noted that the impending extension of the Sports Centre might provide an opportunity to lobby for such changes. Two perfectly grounded, realistic responses, which nonetheless led to a smattering of students taking to Twitter to denounce both candidates for hate speech.

Both candidates were asked how they planned to improve engagement with under-represented sports – Evans favoured more comms limelight and highlighting the achievements of under-represented groups, such as women’s rugby opening this year’s Roses. Jones favoured tailored campaigns to recruit for under-represented sports, citing #ThisGirlCan – a campaign to promote women’s sports – as an example. The candidates also quizzed each other – Jones asked Evans how he planned to achieve the Bingo-Card ‘Wednesday Afternoons’ being free for all, while Evans asked Jones if his ‘elite athletes outreach’ policy was potentially alienated to people who were already members of various sports teams.

It was refreshing to hear from two evenly matched candidates who were knowledgeable of developments within the university, and how they could be taken advantage of to improve sports provision. However, NO MENTION OF SNOW SPORTS!

***

Vice-President Campaigns and Communications was next – a contentious one, given that the Students’ Union had tried to referendum the post out of existence only a couple of months ago. Presumably, then, we could expect tubthumping, prominent campaigners to show us why the role was vital. Err.

Terry Tucker, a Bailrigg FM presenter, was up first. The role of Campaigns & Communications Vice-President requires the postholder to oversee the operations of the student media – Bailrigg FM, SCAN, LA1 TV – and Tucker was able to demonstrate that he had been involved in them all for a long time (some more than others). Moving on to campaigns, he proposed campaigns to eliminate stigma and shame among the 35% of students with mental health problems, as well as to take on rent increases – both of which he feels are linked.

Lewis Marriott pledged transparency. So often a buzzword, transparency has been a real problem for LUSU in recent years, as their decision-making has grown more and more opaque since it abolished most of its democratic structures in 2016.

Citing his Social and Events experience on The County College’s JCR Executive, Marriott gave bog standard pledges to use big screens and promotional drives to promote student media. Tucker, meanwhile, favoured greater training for student media members from media professions. In his opinion, improving the skill set of members would lead to more awards for SCAN, Bailrigg FM, and LA1TV, ergo more prestige.

Neither candidate held back when invited to quiz each other. Tucker asked Marriott why he had only just got involved in student media, who responded that it just wasn’t well promoted enough. Marriott asked Tucker what he had achieved as Disabilities Officer to justify mentioning it – ‘within weeks I revived Students with Disabilities Forum, achieved quoracy, finally updated its terms of reference, and built solid foundations for future officers’ came the firm response.

Campaigns and Comms is a diverse role which attracts diverse manifestos – in this case, it is very much a marketing bod against a student media guy.

***

One of the candidates for Vice-President Education having (seemingly) withdrawn, three remained. One, Bogdan Angheluta, had excellent powers of oratory, including expert hand gestures, but his platform seemed a little thin to your subtext drones, consisting basically of ‘if it can be done in the Management School, it can be done anywhere.’ The other two, Valentina Piredda and Bee Morgan, had less rhetoric, but stronger policies. Neither hesitated to point out when they thought something wasn’t achievable and – therefore! – not in their manifestos. Valentina, the current Mature Students’ Officer, emphasised her knowledge of postgraduate and part-time students’ concerns, while Bee, a Natural Scientist, stressed her success in improving departmental representation for combined honours students.

The issue of lecture capture – and whether it should be compulsory – showcased the candidates’ different approaches. ‘I’m realistic,’ said Bee, noting that recording all lectures isn’t possible and pointing out that Lancaster’s current system of lecture capture isn’t that great anyway, often failing to capture either the lecture materials – especially if written on a whiteboard – or the lecturer (see subtext 141). Valentina supported making the practice more widespread but didn’t promise anything more. Bogdan insisted that it was possible to make capture compulsory, and cited the example of two lecturers – in the Management School, of course – who initially said ‘no’ but later changed their mind. So there.

***

Laurie Butler, one of the candidates for Vice-President Welfare & Community, easily wins the ‘innovation in poster design’ award here. No grinning visage. No colour. Minimalist style, e.g. just a big ‘equals’ sign to show his commitment to equality. The effect was akin to a poster advertising a new piece of radical theatre, rather than the usual ‘vote for me!’ style – indeed, the first time your reviewers saw Laurie’s posters, they made a mental note to check out the latest programme for the Nuffield Theatre. subtext fears this might be his downfall, however, since having large ‘vote for me!’ posters is generally a vital part of a candidate’s campaign.

Laurie’s hustings was, similarly, very different from that of his opponents, Sruthi Chilukoti and Grishma Bijukumar. Sruthi and Grishma’s speeches emphasised their strong welfare campaigns experience at Lancaster, while staying away from anything too contentious – Sruthi was particularly interested in training and support for societies’ welfare officers, while Grishma emphasised sexual health and bystander training. Laurie’s speech, while a lot less polished, and frequently veering closer to education campaigns rather than welfare, was explicitly political, supporting ‘participatory budgeting’ (students having a say in how the union’s money is spent), opposing the effects of Brexit, and campaigning to end the university’s investments in fossil fuels.

The most notable question concerned the snowsports society affair and its impact on our students. Grishma and Sruthi emphasised how important it was to listen to the students who’d been affected, while Laurie gave a passionate denunciation of the far right on campus: ‘we’ve fought you before, we’ll fight you again, and we’ll win!’

***

Hands down, Vice-President Union Development was the most entertaining hustings of the night, as two competent former JCR presidents, John Clayton and Richard Smith*, took on Hannah Prydderch, also a former JCR president, who introduced herself as ‘the Welsh one’ and proceeded to wipe the floor with both John and Richard. All three spoke of the need for JCR training and how to engage more students in union democracy, but Hannah did so with better slogans and more memorable promises. Hannah’s policies struck a progressive tone – notably, while John was equivocal on the union’s affiliation to the National Union of Students (NUS), and Richard openly endorsed a referendum on disaffiliation from the NUS, Hannah not only supported continued NUS affiliation but pointed out one of its key benefits – ‘making your drinks cheaper at sugar!’

And we haven’t mentioned Meegan Clark yet. Where to begin?

Meegan’s definitely a maverick. She has a distinctive style, coming out from behind the lectern and acting like she’s at an open mic night. During the ‘debate’ stage, where the candidates ask each other questions, she would have given The Sweeney a run for their money when it came to interview style. And if those pen pushers in University House give her any grief…

But when it comes to her policies, well, we tried our best, but there was nothing there. In a rather surreal stream of consciousness peppered with insults, just one sensible point stood out – no, it wasn’t a good idea to extend the election campaign period, given the amount of candidates’ time it took up and the fact that most candidates also had part-time jobs.

***

And so came the main event. In recent years, the race for President has been a drab affair. The former JCR President and the populist insurgents work to find out who can most convincingly promise to listen to students hardest… and whoever has the largest college wins.

County Democracy and Finance Officer* George Nuttall wanted to re-inspire faith in the union, introduce drug testing kits, address the black attainment gap, and introduce separate full time officers for sports and societies. Furness President Will Groarke wanted to improve visibility, crack down on neglectful landlords, and work on better bus pass deals for PG students. Two perfectly workmanlike candidates, we thought. And then Danny Mirza, a colourful character from Grad college, got up to speak.

There was little in the way of content in Mirza’s speech, but it was hard not to get swept up in his ‘Dr Nick from The Simpsons’ style, replete with singing and dancing. There was talk of grad jobs and buddy schemes. Your correspondents wondered if he could pull off an upset if he really worked the kitchens…

…until the candidates started questioning each other. In a lengthy diatribe that no doubt soured the room against him, Mirza attacked both candidates for having policies covering the remits of other officers – ignoring the policies that clearly didn’t, and seemingly advocating for the abolition of the post. Both candidates defended themselves well against this, skilfully swinging the room back in their favour and bringing Mirza’s waffle into sharp relief.

Questions from the floor were drab. A question about Israeli and Palestinian tensions was not well addressed by any of the candidates (the phrase ‘I will go and speak to the Jews’ found its way into one of Mirza’s answers…). All of the candidates stressed their fearlessness in confronting senior management – Danny is a Senator, George a University Councillor.

All in all, a traditional showing, with two strong collegiate candidates and an eccentric.

***

The event closed at 11pm. subtext would like to wish all the candidates well – for them the next two weeks will possibly be the most intense experience of their lives.

Contributed by Ronnie Rowlands and James Groves

* NOTE: Errors in the email version (we originally listed Richard Smith as Richard Clark, and George Nuttall as County President, rather than Democracy and Finance Officer) have been corrected in the web version.

FASCISTS

Worrying news reaches subtext of Generation Identity (GI) leaflets being left in the Learning Zone at the beginning of February. GI is very much the modern face of the European far-right, but behind its ‘lambda’ logo and black-and-yellow colour scheme lurks the same old evil. Its main aim, as it proudly states, is to stop and reverse the process by which ‘the indigenous European population is replaced by non-European migrants.’

We urge any subtext readers finding GI material on campus to hand it in to the University Safety Office.

WHAT WAS THAT ALL ABOUT, THEN?

Once in a while something amazing happens. The University decides to engage with its Professional Services (PS) staff (albeit mainly those located in the Faculties) about their working lives in a way that’s pretty good: a huge consultative exercise about how things can be made better, a listening exercise where participants feel heard and valued.

Then, at the point when the results have been taken on board and digested, somehow everything collapses into a black hole of management-speak and vague promises.

Such has been the Faculty Professional Services Project (FPSP, acronym fans!). For nearly two years this wide-ranging project covered everything from the student experience, through the support needs of staff supporting research projects, to career progression, and culminated in a presentation to PS staff on 29 January 2019.

Starting promisingly with refreshments, the next hour consisted of senior management and faculty managers presenting the results of the project. Things will be done, we were told. Some things were already being done, but the work is very complex. Some of the recommendations of the project already align with some other things that are happening. Some stuff has been found to work well in one area of the University and can be rolled-out to other areas. And, of course, due to lack of resources, we would have to find ‘creative’ ways of doing things.

This blandness was underscored by the visuals: the screen behind the speakers played headshots of all the project contributors on a perpetual loop. Whilst this gave a nice warm glow initially – oh, it’s so-and-so from that Department! – after ten minutes it had a dizzying, almost hypnotic effect. As a result your subtext drones confess that they found it pretty hard to stay focused, and had to resort to trawling the official news sources to conjure up this description of events:

‘Almost two years after the project started, the project has resulted in many improvements at our University, including:

– A new microsite designed to help you develop your skills and plan your career at Lancaster;
– A new submissions and feedback portal for student assessments (cf. this issue’s editorial);
– Stronger links between student wellbeing support services and a proposal for a case management system;
– A new combined office model for student administration;
– The collaborative approach of the project resulting in changes to the way many of the participants work.’

Towards the end of the hour, your subtext drones were jolted out of their light trance by the announcement from Paul Boustead that PS staff were unlikely to ever have parity with academic staff. Whilst that’s probably not news to most University staff, it’s a pretty bald statement from the Head of HR. Shortly afterwards the ‘loop-of-faces’ was broken by a screenshot of a soon-to-be-launched ‘Career Management’ portal. This will be a one-stop shop for PS staff looking for career support, including advice, coaching, information on ‘job families’ and secondment opportunities. There then followed a bit of a pre-emptive telling-off: if we offer secondment opportunities, you have to take them. Little recognition there for staff on fixed term contracts, nor much consolation for staff who want to stay in their current roles, but actually get a level of pay that reflects the work they actually do.

The Q&A session at the end revealed further concerns about job families, the approach to the combined office for student administration, and a fleeting mention of the gender pay gap (although two questions on this submitted via iLancaster were ignored).

In short – whilst all the presenters acknowledged that the project was one of the best pieces of staff engagement the University has achieved, the event itself was a wasted opportunity to build on the goodwill generated amongst Faculty Professional Services staff during the project, and limped towards a self-congratulatory, well-meaning, ‘we’re on it’ piece of backslapping. The following comment, overheard at the end of the presentation, pretty much sums up the experience: ‘What was that all about, then?’

You can see the full video of the event here [staffwall]:

https://dtu-panopto.lancs.ac.uk/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=0a8ca9b3-9803-4267-b8fc-a9dd00921749

Final reports from the project are here [staffwall]:

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/fpsp/

NO ONE’S WATCHING

Fancy learning Chinese calligraphy? How about Tai Chi? Perhaps you’d like to pick up touch rugby? And were you aware that Adam Taylor of Lancaster Medical School is to receive the Basmajian Award from the American Association of Anatomists?

For these and similar public information messages, just sit in an empty lecture theatre where, thanks to a new initiative from ISS, you will experience a constant diet of news, views and adverts, whenever there are no lectures scheduled, whether you want to or not. The Confucius Institute seems to be responsible for a high proportion of the messages on display, along with Lancashire Fire & Rescue and the Students’ Union.

Well, why not? It beats just staring at a blue screen showing the time. subtext found the experience slightly mesmerising, although we’re not sure how many students will share our fascination.

Just make sure you keep your kitchen clean, though

WIDDEN’S WONDERFUL WORLD OF WOODWIND

Review: BBC Phil plays the Great Hall

The concert given in the Great Hall on 7 February was the first by the BBC Philharmonic since they were re-appointed as the University’s Orchestra in Residence in December. The large audience proved once again that concerts by a full symphony orchestra are a sure-fire hit: the concert was a sell-out. It featured two substantial works: a clarinet concerto by Edward Cowie entitled Ruskin’s Dreams, and the sixth symphony of Tchaikovsky.

A Lecturer in Music at Lancaster from 1973-1983, Cowie is not just a composer, but also a successful painter, particularly of birds. In his programme notes for the concert, Cowie suggests that his life has some parallels with Ruskin’s: both were painters, both were sufferers from some form of mental illness. These overlaps can surely be of very limited significance. Still, the clarinet concerto was, it seems, inspired by Ruskin’s life and works, and by Lake Coniston, which is where Ruskin spent his later life. Whilst he was at Lancaster in the 1970s, Cowie’s compositions were miniatures, so it came as a surprise to find him writing skilfully for a full symphony orchestra. It’s too soon to know whether Ruskin’s Dreams will enter the regular concert repertoire.

Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony is nicknamed the Pathétique, a name suggested to him by his brother and accepted by the composer, and the music clearly suggests self-pity. There are several possible reasons for this. One is that Tchaikovsky suffered severe personal problems due to his homosexuality and the failure of his marriage. What is more, composing symphonies did not come naturally to Tchaikovsky. A symphony is an extended work for orchestra, usually in several separate and contrasted movements, with a formal structure, particularly for the first movement: this form was established in the days of Haydn and Mozart. Being essentially an emotional composer, Tchaikovsky could not flourish under the constraints imposed by this form. His sixth symphony is not only an expression of his personal misery, but it also seems to echo the spiritual hunger of our age. It is always a popular item on an orchestra’s programme, as it was in the Great Hall. The BBC Phil clearly know the symphony very well and they gave it full romantic value.

The composer conducted the first performance of the symphony in St Petersburg in early October 1893. He made some small revisions for the second performance, planned for later in the month, but before that could take place, Tchaikovsky had unfortunately died. This symphony uses the orchestra’s resources to the full, and the BBC Phil rose to the occasion very well.

Contributed by Martin Widden

LETTER

Dear subtext,

Roger Kemp is right. Please use a font that can be read.

Michael Heale