subtext 196 – wholly government-approved free-speaking subtext

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In this issue: editorial, campus update, rent strike, partnerships, freedom of speech, strategy, testing, still recruiting, a poem, letters.

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EDITORIAL

Exactly one year ago tomorrow, UCU members up and down the country began 14 days of strike action over pensions and the four fights, just as the first wash your hands posters were going up on campus in response to what most thought would be a precautionary response to a new virus. This week, UCU members at Lancaster received ballot papers calling on them to support strike action over the University’s response to the ensuing coronavirus pandemic. As with other recent ballots for industrial action, the most important outcome may not be the actual result, but rather the turnout, as without at least 50% of local UCU members responding, the ballot will be null and void. For context, in just over two weeks’ time at least some in-person teaching is supposedly due to resume on campus, principally for courses with practical elements.

Meanwhile, the results of the January pulse survey of staff, released this week, showed that the majority of staff report that their wellbeing has been impacted as a result of the pandemic, with 250 reporting their wellbeing as poor or very poor:

https://portal.lancaster.ac.uk/intranet/news/article/working-from-home-survey-results

Perhaps as a response to these findings, the Director of Human Resources reminded everyone, in an Intranet post on 12 February, that we should feel empowered to take breaks in order to manage your own physical and mental health:

https://portal.lancaster.ac.uk/intranet/news/article/your-time-matters

So why not take a freshly-empowered break this afternoon to digest your latest edition of subtext? In a reflective issue, we’re looking at the largest student-led action in decades, the announcement of yet another partnership, and the proposed appointment of a freedom of speech champion for universities. We’ve also got a poem.

Campus Update: Quieter, But Not That Quiet

What’s campus like this term, then? With even fewer of us likely to be visiting any time soon, your intrepid correspondent reports.

You might expect the answer to be empty, but, despite what you may have read about everyone staying in their parental homes until March, there are still plenty of people around. Some of them never left at all, of course. Reportedly, around 500 students were on campus at the start of January, and that number has grown considerably since then. The Vice-Chancellor observed, at his all-staff meeting on Friday 29 January, that over 40% of campus rooms were currently occupied.

The lack of campus teaching does make the Spine startlingly quiet, even at lunchtime, but people are still there — just not moving around as much. The food outlets are still open and people are still queueing for Greggs.

Security staff seem to be busy preventing illegal parties, which appear to be more prevalent this term, in the residence blocks. Parties of up to 80 people have been reported both on- and off-campus; the BBC picked up on a recent incident in which a warehouse party with 50–70 attendees was broken up on St George’s Quay:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-55989890

Evidently, our students are increasingly disillusioned with the state in which they find themselves, though some are responding more productively than others (see our articles in this issue on the student rent strike).

Our newest facility, the Margaret Fell Lecture Theatre next to Chemistry, is now open — well, the building is, although no-one is currently using it. It’s a pleasant, tiered theatre, shaped a bit like Faraday, but with brown seats. The entrances are at the bottom, rather than the top, so students seeking to sneak into their 9am lecture late without being noticed will be very disappointed.

Much of the buzz on campus, such as it exists, comes from movement in and out of the asymptomatic coronavirus testing facility in the Great Hall.

Whether or not we resume face-to-face teaching on Monday 8 March — subtext, for one, is a little sceptical about this — it seems likely that the current slightly occupied mood on campus will persist for a long while yet.

Struck Off

Lancaster’s student rent strike, which saw thousands of learners organise remotely to challenge the University’s insistence that they pay for campus rooms that they weren’t using, ended last week. The Director of Finance reported, at the Vice-Chancellor’s all-staff meeting on 29 January, that 2,000 students had accepted management’s initial offer of a £400 goodwill payment; this offer was recently doubled to £800, which led to the decision to call off the campaign.

subtext congratulates the organisers, and those taking action, for once again highlighting the consequences of Lancaster’s student residences contract with UPP. As the Vice-Chancellor noted at the all-staff meeting, the University is liable for the rent, whether there are students in the rooms or not.

In a special report, one of the strike organisers gives their own account of the campaign.

Diary of a Rent Strike Organiser

Contributed article by Jude Rowley

Lancaster students have spent the last five weeks calling on University management to cut the rent and start taking student wellbeing seriously.

When the pandemic hit last March, students — fed-up with being abandoned by University management and following in the footsteps of their predecessors in the 1974–75 academic year — decided to take action and organise a rent strike. The strike was largely successful, with millions of pounds worth of concessions having been won back in rent.

At the start of this term, students found themselves in a very similar boat. Instructed not to return to campus and to instead continue online learning from their current residence (with some exceptions, including for critical courses like Medicine), the majority of students have not returned to Lancaster. It is difficult to say exactly how many students remain on campus and how many have stayed home. Indeed, even University accommodation teams have been struggling to work this out themselves, with repeated emails to students asking them to confirm their whereabouts, likely in recognition that this would determine the scale of the reductions (if any) management may see fit to offer to students. This has since escalated, and students are now prevented from accessing their course materials on Moodle until they state their current whereabouts. However, anecdotal evidence suggests a roughly 70/30 split between those at home and those on campus.

With students on- and off-campus both being charged full rent amidst the University moving online, we decided, as a group of student organisers, to call a rent strike. Within a matter of days, over 1,300 students joined the strike, and we gathered over 1,500 signatures on our open letter calling for the rent strike demands to be met. These demands were fourfold:

– 50% rent reductions for students on campus;
– 100% rent reductions for students off campus;
– improved student well-being support, including mental health provision and hardship funding; and
– no repercussions for students on rent strike.

The most important priority of the rent strike was that no-one would be left behind. Though the 2020 student rent strike won major concessions, international students and others who were trapped on campus were not offered reductions or waivers. This time, the organisers resolved to keep pressure on the University until they made an offer that provided something for every student, regardless of their whereabouts, accommodation type, or fee status.

Management at first sought to ignore the rent strike, refusing to accept it as an organised movement rather than individual students independently deciding to withhold rent. However, we found the most effective tactic was to turn to the local and national press to put pressure on the University. It turns out that management will tolerate many things, but they draw the line at negative publicity that might undermine that prized top 10 status we hear so much about. After interviews and features on BBC News and in the local media, management eventually came out with the offer of a £400 rent reduction as a gesture of their good-will, but were quick to stress that their good-will only extended to students who: (a) were unable to return to their campus accommodation; and (b) paid their outstanding rent for the term in full. For many students subject to ever-rising campus accommodation costs, this amounts to less than 3 weeks’ rent, and was therefore met with anger and righteous indignation. An online survey found that more than 7 in 10 students rejected the offer outright.

Students felt they were not being listened to, so we called for University management to meet with rent strike organisers for constructive discussion on striking students’ demands. Eventually, with mounting student pressure, management agreed to a meeting, facilitated through the Students’ Union and informally chaired by the Students’ Union President.

This seems to mark a shift in management’s approach to student activism, as they had certainly not agreed to meet organisers of other recent student campaigns, aside from an impromptu confrontation with the then-acting Vice-Chancellor in Alex Square last February over institutional bullying (see the subtext 192 editorial). Despite these meetings, management remained predictably non-committal. Keen to insist that they are listening and that we are all in this together, they promised movement on the priority issues for the rent strikers, without actually delivering much at all.

Upping the offer for those off-campus — with nothing for those lured back to campus by necessity or by University encouragement of a return to normal after Christmas — appeared to be an attempt to turn the two groups of students against each other, in an attempt to divide our rent strike. We made it clear that students were united and would not give in until there was something offered for everyone. We were equally quick to stress throughout that we fully support the campus UCU, Unison, and Unite branches and would not tolerate any attempt by management to divide staff and students. We have been grateful to have the full support of Lancaster UCU from the outset.

Our main message throughout has been that we want recognition of the difficulties facing all students and concessions that benefit every member of the Lancaster University community. Despite assurances that this had been taken into account, management strategy did not appear to have changed. At the start of Week 15, they doubled the £400 rebate for students who would not return to campus before the 8th of March, whilst ignoring the other demands and, significantly, refusing to acknowledge that their hand had been forced by striking students.

We attempted to keep up the momentum and sustain the strike, but this became increasingly difficult. Unfortunately, management’s divide-and-conquer tactics were more successful than we’d hoped. By the end of Week 15, our numbers had dropped significantly with many students taking the £800 offer and paying their rent. At the outset of the rent strike, we set ourselves a red line: if the strike fell below 500 participants, we knew we could no longer safely continue without running the risk of repercussions or disciplinary action against individual students. Having fallen to just over half of this number, we had to take the hard decision to call off the strike.

This may feel like a defeat, but in many ways it is not: we have won £3 million worth of concessions in rent, significantly improved mental health services for students, and a reformed and streamlined student support fund. Perhaps even more significantly, students have mobilised and taken collective action, and there is momentum to take this forward.

Inglorious Partnerships

Contributed article

Lancaster University’s penchant for entering into partnerships on vague promises of internationalisation, i.e. how to increase overseas tuition fees, is well known (see subtexts passim ad nauseam). One doesn’t need to be reminded of COMSATS, or Goenka, or indeed several other partnerships that didn’t live to see the light of day.

But some recent alliances, with partners that have a seemingly colourful history, seem to indicate that LU’s strategy of internationalisation might come apart one day. Tempted by income expansion, and overriding any ethical or pedagogical concerns, LU operates with wild abandon when it comes to outsourcing education provision to private companies like UA92, Navitas and Study Group, and accommodation service provision to companies such as UPP, to name a few. Trade unions in the past have raised concerns about the lack of transparency in governance and decision making, including concerns about lack of consultation with staff and students, to no avail. LU partnerships remain shrouded in secrecy with no clear financial or academic accountability.

Now read on…

This story starts way back in 2007 when the university outsourced its foundation year provision to Study Group (SG) to run the International Study Centre (ISC) on campus. The initial contract was for five years, with a remit to increase international student numbers on campus. The partnership achieved this, to some extent, but only by recruiting students mainly from one country (greater than 80%). With the impact of COVID on international mobility, this opportunity has now turned into a threat. More importantly, the contract was renewed before the expiry of the first contract, in 2011, for another 10 years.

Prof Andrew Atherton came to Lancaster as Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 2013, having previously been Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Lincoln. Prof Atherton got to know SG Director Paul Lovegrove whilst at Lincoln, when SG was given a lucrative contract to run its first-year provision. Readers will remember that in 2014, a similar plan to outsource LU’s Part I to SG didn’t succeed (see subtext 121).

It is believed that Lancaster’s SG contract, which was set to expire this year, has been given another extension, but it is not clear for how long or if another deal has been struck on D Floor.

Having jumped onto the international student gravy train, the University announced in 2017 that it was entering into a partnership with Manchester United’s Class of 92 to open UA92, a football-themed university academy in Manchester. Presumably designed to attract Man U fans, the academy struggled to recruit for its first cohort in 2019–20, with just 83 students enrolled at the time of a (supportive) Quality Assurance Agency visit in January 2020. It is not yet clear whether the numbers have improved during 2020–21.

Despite several queries and concerns, the partnership remains shrouded in secrecy. LU maintains that the football university (sorry, academy) is a separate entity and not a part of Lancaster University in any way. However, Lancaster has a substantial stake in the academy (the Vice-Chancellor is a director of the holding company) and, not unsurprisingly, has reportedly made substantial losses in the venture to the tune of £1.1 million last year. It is expected that cohort size will be sufficient to break even in 2022–23, although till then the partnership will continue to make losses and is seeking a further £5m in funding. LU has acquired a further tranche of share capital in a joint venture, University Academy 92 Limited for an undisclosed amount. One wonders what research was conducted by Lancaster to gauge whether the scheme was pedagogically desirable, or even commercially viable. All cloaked in commercial in confidence. The Chair of the UA92 Board, Marnie Jane Millard, is a clear winner however — with her extensive experience of getting kids to drink Vimto, she might have some refreshing ideas for the students taking sports courses…

Things change, people move on. In 2017 Paul Lovegrove moved from SG to Navitas, another private provider of outsourced higher education provision, as CEO. A couple of years later, in 2019, Andrew Atherton moved to the University of Dundee, as Principal. Just two months after Prof Atherton left LU, the University announced another partnership agreement with Navitas to open a campus in Leipzig, Germany. Given that partnership agreements with providers on overseas territories typically involve months of multi-party negotiations, including several layers of compliance with rules and regulations of the host country, we can all safely assume that old friendships played absolutely no part in this deal. To top everything off, no staff consultation took place, which has by now become the hallmark of Lancaster. It was all going smoothly… but one can’t predict the twists and turns of fate! Unfortunately, just a few months after joining Dundee, Prof Atherton resigned his role following allegations of bullying and an investigation for failure to pay rent. Disgraced, but not out of favour, he found new employment with Navitas as Global Director Transnational Education.

Fast forward to 2021, when the University announces a new partnership between LU, Navitas and UA92:

https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/news/international-students-to-benefit-as-ua92-and-navitas-sign-new-partnership

The Vice-Chancellor welcomed the new development, which will attract more international students to UA92’s unique degree programmes – good for students and good for the overall diversity of UA92 and the local area. In what ways? Mr Lovegrove announced that Navitas was delighted to be partnering with UA92 and this new relationship strengthens our existing partnership with Lancaster University. Was, one wonders, Prof Atherton involved in the deal in some way? If so, he seems to be keeping a low profile as he doesn’t appear on any of the media releases. A wise move, perhaps, lest it have rekindled former colleagues’ memories of his allegedly less-than-collegial behaviour as Deputy Vice-Chancellor. However, there may be another twist to this: is Navitas seeking to take over the running of the lucrative ISC from SG? Readers may be interested to know that the SG partnership in Leicester University has now been taken over by Navitas, where Mr Lovegrove was reportedly influential in clinching the deal.

Finally, allegations of bullying have recently emerged at LU Ghana, run in partnership between Lancaster University and the Transnational Academic Group, another private provider. Concerns have also been raised at LU-BJTU College over health and safety issues, under-resourcing of provision and misleading staff about life at the Weihai campus. For those not familiar with the location of LU-BJTU College, it is based at Nanhai, in a relatively remote area about 60km from Weihai city centre, although the marketing materials and all references to LU-BJTU College refer to it as the Weihai campus. One staff member described this as similar to a college building in Morecambe being called the Manchester campus [older readers may know this trick as the EasyJet shuffle – Eds].

Freedom of Peach

Just as subtext was preparing to go to press, the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP fired a culture war salvo that we felt merited further discussion.

No doubt eager to divert focus from their contributions to our highest-in-Europe COVID death tally, the government has announced plans to install a national free speech champion with the power to fine universities (and students’ unions) who they believe to have infringed on academic freedom and freedom of speech. This is part of a raft of other measures proposed by the Education Secretary in response to unacceptable silencing and censoring on campuses. Supporters and detractors were quick to voice their thoughts along largely predictable political lines. More at the BBC here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-55995979

As with many hot-button political topics lately, worries about freedom of speech (particularly on campus) appear to be largely imported from the US context which is, as ever, many years and degrees of intensity ahead of us. Crucially, though, it also has a very different legal environment to the UK, which will stymie any attempt to transplant political debates verbatim, as this proposal ably demonstrates.

Lacking the concreteness of the first amendment, defining just what free speech means in the UK is a more slippery prospect. At the pointiest end of the wedge are proscribed terrorist organisations (National Action, al-Qaida, etc.), for whom it is a criminal offence to profess to belong to, to express support for or to arrange a meeting in support of — presumably this will remain outside the remit of the free speech champion.

At the broader end of the wedge is the UK’s (very un-US, very European) landscape of hate crimes and, more importantly, hate incidents — otherwise non-criminal actions that are alleged to have been motivated by hate, which may be recorded as such and which the police may choose to follow-up on. One supportive voice in the BBC article — an Oxford University academic who previously had an invitation to a conference celebrating women withdrawn over her stance on transgender rights issues — could still be liable to find her comments fall afoul of current hate legislation if perceived to do so by others, no matter how protected the underlying act of speech may be. It’s not clear how the proposed measures would address this.

And, finally, outside of the wedge entirely, are those speakers who will test the government’s proposed commitment to freedom of speech to its absolute limits. Older readers may remember groups such as the Paedophile Information Exchange, whose founder (and Lancaster alumnus) Tom O’Carroll advocated for the age of consent to be lowered to four.

On a very different note, there is the arrest of photographer Andy Aitchison on 28 January for documenting a protest outside a controversial refugee detention centre in Kent, and the well-publicised case of the Stansted 15 (see subtext 184) — the latter group may have just been vindicated on appeal, but how certain are we that this government (or any other) is interested in protecting all points of view in equal measure?

None of this is to say that this could not be a laudable initiative, only that it is a more nuanced one than adopted US-centric political talking points let on. There are indeed threats to freedom of speech, and many of them stand outwith the hoary left-right divide. Confucius Institutes are prevalent across the UK higher education landscape, for example, and not without controversy; as Chinese government-funded tools, would they welcome robust discussion on that same government’s alleged crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and elsewhere? Will the risk of finding themselves financially on the hook for hosting such attitudes turn UK universities away from the promise of lucrative foreign investment? And how about actions that indirectly inhibit freedom of speech by limiting opportunities for open discourse, such as Lancaster University’s abolishment of the University Court (see subtexts passim) or overuse of commercial in confidence’ (see subtexts equally passim)?

subtext expects that nobody wishes to see the emboldening of groups like Lancaster’s (seemingly-now-defunct) Traditionalist Society (see subtext Annual Review 2017–18) to populate the airwaves at the expense of the security and safety of others, though we fear that, mishandled, this may well be the result of these measures. We’ll do our best to keep you updated.

Taking Bailrigg Campus by Strategy

The latest draft of the University’s strategic plan for 2020–2025, released following an extended period of consultation with staff, students and stakeholders, is now available to view on the Intranet:

https://portal.lancaster.ac.uk/intranet/news/article/first-look-at-the-new-university-strategy

What sort of place does the Vice-Chancellor think Lancaster will be in four years’ time?

Whereas our previous two Vice-Chancellors had firm ambitions for us to be top in the North West, top 10 in the UK, and top 100 in the world (see as far back as <a href="https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/subtext/archive/issue071.htm” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>subtext 71), there are fewer specific targets in this document, and the targets we set are less specific — there’s no longer any mention of us being rated top in the North West or top 10 in the UK and, while the top 100 reference remains, we’ll now just be making further progress towards a top 100 position in key global rankings of universities.

The most laudable, and probably most ambitious, pledge comes near the start: our aim is to be carbon net zero for carbon emissions from electricity and heating by 2030 and net zero from all other emissions by 2035. This has already been agreed by the Council. The document also offers a commitment to the colleges, including exploring the potential for colleges to provide a meeting ground for academic staff from different disciplines and career stages, and considering whether to allow new postgraduate taught students to join any college.

Looking at our research, which is apparently the North Star that will guide our strategy in the coming years, things will be interdisciplinary, with that word appearing nine times in the space of two pages, and have impact, with that word appearing six times in the same two pages. The only specific target for research is a commitment to increase the proportion of our income from enterprise activity from under 5% to 7.5%; the document notes that increasing the proportion of our total income derived from research to more than 25% would bring our income in line with our direct competitors, but doesn’t offer any pledges.

Turning to teaching, our superiors have clearly noticed how thrilled we all are to spend half our working lives on Teams, and want to give us more of it. Lancaster will facilitate delivery at multiple sites and campuses, via online and blended delivery and through the development of a more inclusive curriculum and support our staff and students to participate to their fullest potential in online and hybrid modes of learning and knowledge transfer. It looks like we may be asking alumni to sign up for regular online CPD courses: we are keen that our graduates re-engage with Lancaster throughout their lives to refresh and re-equip and extend their skills as their careers develop. Supporters of our flexible full-time degree structures may be worried at the pledge for a curriculum which is more streamlined, simplified, spans subject boundaries, and exploits synergies with our partners, which suggests fewer courses and no more multi-subject Part I.

Finally it’s time for engagement, or, as the document puts it, to engage actively with our community of communities. This seems to be a mix of high-value, high-impact projects — the Health Innovation Campus, Eden North, Net Zero North and the Lancashire Cyber Foundry — and a wish to get more heavily involved in our local FE colleges, specifically Lancaster & Morecambe, Furness, Carlisle and, most intriguingly, Blackpool & The Fylde, where apparently we’re going to create a Multiversity, whatever that is.

The final version of the strategy will be presented to the Council’s March meeting for approval, so those seeking to comment have around a fortnight to do so — any contributions should be sent to strategy@lancaster.ac.uk.

Testing Testing Testing

Our lateral flow coronavirus testing facility, located in the Great Hall, is now open. Staff and students are being encouraged to make use of it:

https://portal.lancaster.ac.uk/intranet/cms/coronavirus/staff-asymptomatic-testing

It’s all very efficient, with stewards directing you towards the (short) queue and handing out barcoded entry tickets. The process of registering the information from that ticket, via your phone, takes a bit of learning. After scanning the barcode with a QR code reader, you’re asked whether you want to register with or without the NHS app. Your correspondent blundered at this point by selecting the NHS option, only to be told by the helpful steward, it’s easy, just make sure you don’t select the NHS option! Five minutes later, having waited for a registration email that never came, the same steward advised going to one of the helpfully-provided iPads in the lobby, where the non-NHS registration process was completed in under a minute.

Onward, then, to the Great Hall, where you’re directed to one of around 16 booths, in which a helpful assistant takes you through the process of taking a swab, rubbing it on your tonsils (pause for gagging) and then sticking the same swab up one of your nostrils, until you feel resistance, rotating it a few times, and then withdrawing (you’ll want to blow your nose at this point).

That’s it. In and out in fifteen minutes. The result comes within half an hour, via text message. All done, until the next appointment — you’re encouraged to book a repeat session three days later.

subtext Still Wants You

Why not really make the most of your freshly-empowered break times (see this issue’s editorial) by getting involved with subtext, whether as an occasional contributor, a proof-reader or an editor? We offer no benefits, no pay and no glory. It’s fun, though. Please don’t think you need training or experience — we don’t have a clue what we’re doing either.

Get involved with our motley crew by emailing subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk.

Middle Management Mindfulness

Contributed by a reader

They come, they go, head honchos called Deans,
Each one instigating yet another counting of beans,
Trim trim the gold standard crew,
Yet another, yet another, PS review!

Need to make cuts, budget slicing, push push,
Take the quality service, reduce to homogeneous mush,
Think central can students support, no, just a number, no chat,
Academics watch out, your workloads to grow with new hat.

Better to trim faculties to essential management,
Keep the gold standard service, avoid student lament,
Do you see, do you listen, what keeps us afloat?
Oh hey, too late, they’re on the elsewhere boat.

Letters

Dear subtext,

Inspired by your piece on David Starkey’s prompt removal from Lancaster’s Honorary Degree list, I had a look at some of the other members. While I only used Google and Wikipedia, there seem to be at least two figures of note. One faces historical child sex abuse allegations and the other had endorsed a far-right political party (among other fascistic career links) within the same decade that they were honoured by the university.

I’m not suggesting that these figures be necessarily removed, however, it is likely that any potential full senate of Lancaster University figures reviewing honorary degree holders would have access to greater records (as well as the reason for their recognition) than a student with a laptop. Perhaps a proper assessment is required by the university to avoid issues in the future.

S. Dillane

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Come on readers! We know there are more national lockdowns per year than subtexts at the moment, but we still love to hear from more of you.

subtext 195 – remain indoors!

Frequency determined by contributions received.

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

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

In this issue: editorial, campus tour, unsafe teaching spaces, call for contributors, honorary graduates, lost and found, paying for empty rooms, Galgate by-pass, bus report, widden’s review, no letters.

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EDITORIAL

And so we find ourselves in the strangest academic year that any Lancaster colleague, alumnus or emeritus will be able to recall. Whilst subtext usually takes some time off during the summer holiday, our hiatus this year means we have missed out on an awful lot since our previous June missive.

The campus is again abuzz with student activity, albeit confined primarily to a handful of increasingly-chilly outdoor seating areas. We have one fewer honorary graduate and one more Pro-Chancellor; LUSU has a full complement of officers again, but no money and no nightclub. We’ve settled into yet another new normal just in time for the government to declare a new new normal, whilst promising an even newer normal to come.

Plus ça change, however. Many of the issues that led to last year’s strikes have yet to be addressed. It is perhaps now, more than ever, that the actions of university management must be held up to the greatest scrutiny, particularly as hard decisions may have to be made in order to safeguard its financial future (or, for the cynical, long-desired changes are brought in under the guide of post-pandemic necessity).

We do not envy the position of those who will have to make such decisions, but we do pledge to do our best to ensure that they are made with due care, justification and transparency, as (we are sure) will you all.

Tranquil Repose

subtext usually tries to avoid telling its readers about things they already know, such as new features on campus, but this term — well, it’s a bit different. Many staff haven’t been back since evacuating in March and may be wondering what the place is like these days; allow us to be your guide.

In short, it’s peaceful. During the day you might only pass 20–30 people, though all the terrifying Protect and Survive-style posters give the place a slightly eerie atmosphere.

Facilities staff have done wonders with signage, hand sanitiser stations and other nuts-and-bolts provisions to minimise any risks. The one-way system in most buildings is usually surplus to requirements, as your chances of passing someone on your corridor are fairly minimal.

WHSmith is closed with no indication of when it will re-open, but Greggs and the ice cream parlour are still trading, whilst Costa is open for take-away drinks and food only.

The campus SPAR on Edward Roberts Court, largely unchanged since it moved into that unit at the end of the ’90s, has had a major makeover. The external fascia has been replaced, the corridors are wider, the coffee machine is near the entrance and the checkout area has been remodelled. The selection does seem to be slightly reduced — one of the appeals of the old SPAR was the bargain warehouse that’s packed to the rafters effect — but the overall shopping experience is a great deal more pleasant. It’s (almost) worth a journey.

The new 400-seat lecture theatre between Faraday and County South seems to be close to completion (from the outside, anyway) and it looks attractive. The Management School extension is almost finished too, although style-wise this resembles a giant Portakabin.

All the college bars, except the Herdwick, re-opened at the start of term — and were well-used during Welcome Week — but now that we are officially a Tier 3 campus, only Fylde’s and Cartmel’s are still trading. The system for ordering food and drink takes a bit of time to get used to (go in, sit down, scan QR code on the table, go to online menu, order, wait for person to approach asking for payment, pay by card, wait for order, receive it in a few minutes) but is well-run. Watching groups of suitably-distanced staff and students sat outside Fylde bar, one could almost forget the odd times we’re in.

In the evenings you often see clusters of students sitting outside (no more than six at a time, of course) on the steps of Edward Roberts Court or Alexandra Square, socialising as best they can. Student societies are mostly meeting online, but there are still plenty of event posters adorning the campus noticeboards.

Because parcels are no longer delivered to colleges, there is now a central parcel collection point on Edward Roberts Court, which has taken over the unit previously occupied by the St John’s Hospice charity shop, who have sadly left campus with no plans to return. This has led to very long, socially-distanced queues of students forming at most times of the day, often snaking all the way down past Furness. Some students have rightly complained that the collection point, and in particular the marquee-style tent erected outside it, is currently blocking the wheelchair access route up to Alexandra Square, thus requiring students in wheelchairs to take the long way round via the lift outside Pizzetta.

The underpass has an efficient one-way system in operation, with one staircase down only and the other staircase up only; so efficient, in fact, that one wonders why they didn’t think of this before. Buses are running as normal (see our bus update later in this issue) but cycle use has increased.

The overall effect is rather like the one year later… coda you often see at the end of a disaster movie, where, even in the face of catastrophe, the signs are that things might just, one day, return to normal. Let’s hope so.

Demanding an Unsafe Teaching Environment

Amongst the many strange bits of guidance issued to staff in recent weeks, Managing a Safe Teaching Environment, a set of rules on masks and social distancing issued on 2 October 2020, is well worth a closer look. Many teaching staff will have been wondering whether, faced with a potentially difficult situation in a teaching space, they should put health and safety considerations first. There is now a definitive answer from the University – no.

The document is officially unauthored, but the file properties credit Prof Alisdair Gillespie (Law School) as the creator.

Staff are reassured that masks aren’t really needed in the first place: if a person is in a class without a mask then, so long as social distancing is maintained, the risk of transmission is not increased significantly. The word significantly is doing some heavy lifting there.

Social distancing regulations are treated very seriously and can be enforced by Security. If a student refuses to maintain social distance, you can ask them to leave and take a note of their name. If they refuse to leave, you may need to contact Security or end the class.

But as for masks – well, there are valid reasons why some students are exempt from wearing them. They may choose to wear a sunflower lanyard to indicate their exempt status, or use an e-exemption card on iLancaster, but this is not a requirement. In a classroom situation, students and teachers will understandably be concerned if someone turns up not wearing a mask or displaying a sunflower lanyard. What should the teacher do?

The University’s official advice is: you must do nothing, even if you believe the student may be putting others at risk, or if other students have indicated their concern. There is no requirement for students to inform the tutor that they have an exemption in advance of the session. Politely asking to see a student’s e-exemption card, or discreetly inviting a student outside to have a socially distant chat about safety, may be embarrassing or exclusionary. If other students voice their worries, your duty is to remind them that some students are exempt, and do everything you can to ensure that students not wearing a mask don’t feel uncomfortable. The most you can do is note the offending student’s name and take it up with them afterwards. Could be a bit late by then!

Ah well, at least we’re not allowing students who are coughing and sneezing to stay in our seminar rooms. What’s that… we are? Yes, we are. Remember, students with colds are entitled to attend classes and asking a student to leave the class when displaying symptoms of a cold is likely to prove highly embarrassing and distressing to a student, potentially leading to complaints. Well, at least we know they’ll be wearing masks… oh…

As an aside, it’s interesting that the risk of Lancaster receiving a (possibly vexatious) complaint seems to alarm senior management more than the risk of staff and student infection.

Prof Gillespie’s guidance received endorsement from a surprising source on 15 October, in an email from Lancaster UCU to its members. Having sought clarification from HR and the Safety Office about face coverings in classrooms, and what to do if students don’t wear them, the union’s stance is that, it’s tricky – but the short answer, reasonably, seems to be that we can and should do NOTHING.

subtext readers are reminded that, according to section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 on workplace health and safety, they have the right not be subject to any detriment by their employer if, in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which he could not reasonably have been expected to avert, he left (or proposed to leave) or (while the danger persisted) refused to return to his place of work or any dangerous part of his place of work. If you think someone is potentially putting you and your students in danger then you are within your rights to leave, bringing your students with you.

subtext Still Wants You

One would be forgiven for thinking that the handful of names at the bottom of each issue of subtext represents the full number of people responsible. As editors, we’re primarily responsible for making everything look nice (or as nice as 10pt Courier New can look, at least); the real meat of each issue is largely the result of our correspondents (both credited and uncredited, both regular and irregular), without which subtext would not be able to carry on.

Our publication frequency is a function of how much we receive from our correspondents: we don’t have an issue until we have enough content to fill one.

We’ve posted a few adverts for new editors, but what we really need is more contributors. So, if you have something worth sharing (be it a report from an event you attended, an article on Lancaster Uni history, an opinion piece, a tip, etc.) please do drop us an email at subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk.

Finally, we don’t imagine we’ll ever find ourselves included in any official orientation material for new starters, so please do share us with any colleagues you know who may be interested in, but have yet to be exposed to, our parochial muckraking exploits.

Roll of (Dis)Honour

So, vale Dr David Starkey. Barely a week after subtext 194 hit virtual newsstands, the not-so-good doctor was expounding his take on the history of slavery – a topic on which, as a monarchical historian with an emphasis on the Tudor period, he was no doubt the most pre-eminent expert that the YouTube show Reasoned could find. Cue an angry response, and hurried efforts to disown the man once called the rudest man in Britain by no less a renowned bastion of civility than the Daily Mail.

A little under a month later, on 24 July, our own institution announced in a press release that it had revoked Dr Starkey’s 2004 honorary degree. Many will be happy, but we here in the subtext warehouse remain sticklers for proper process. Surely the final decision on revoking a degree should have been taken by the full Senate, not a hurriedly-convened huddle of senior managers?

The press release states that Dr Starkey could no longer be regarded as an appropriate role model for current and future students of Lancaster. This is curious, given that the university roll of honour continues to list one Sir Cyril Smith MBE DL, awarded an LLD (Honoris Causa) in 1993, following seven years’ service as our Deputy Pro-Chancellor between 1978 and 1985. Could this be the same Cyril Smith who, after his death, was found to have been a prolific abuser of children?

The complete list is available here:

https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/about-us/ourpeople/honorary-degrees/

LUText Lost & Found

Whilst Lancaster has thus far avoided any of the scenes that have blighted some of our Mancunian fellow-institutions (as far as we are aware, none of Lancaster’s students have been forced to remain within their accommodation by Security), we are not above charging self-isolating students £17.95 per day for food parcels; packages that, when purchased from Asda, are apparently worth £2.70 a meal. A bold move. The full story is available at:

https://www.lancasterguardian.co.uk/education/self-isolating-students-lancaster-university-charged-ps1795-day-food-parcels-2995387

According to annual monitoring data sent by Lancaster to the Office for Students, just 11% of the students we admitted in 2018–19 were from the most deprived quintile of households:

https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/admissions/ofs-transparency-data/

It’s difficult to see this figure changing any time soon.