subtext 183 – ‘(white man) in lancaster sugarhouse’

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, snowsports special report, demo in the square, charges for overseas staff, lost and found, shart, letters.

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EDITORIAL

For the past week it appears University House has been on lockdown. Once you walk through Reception and make for the stairs to B Floor and above you have to either explain yourself to the Security guard, or have a ‘valid pass’.

Organisations go into lockdown when they fear something. In this case, the fear is of student action over the fallout from the Snowsports Society white t-shirt social. That the information was leaked by a whistleblower and picked up by the national press shows the scale of the issue which senior management are trying to brush off. They are right to be in lockdown, because people are angry. Lancaster: we have a problem.

From the scrawling of swastikas on office doors to the Snowsports Society shitstorm, fascism in its many masks, old and new, is here on campus. It wants women in the kitchen and it thinks rape is a joke. It demands ‘free speech’ in order to promote hate, and wraps all this in either a sugar coating of intellectual rigour, or vomit stained fresher-on-a-bender banter. It is part of a wider wave of global far right populism and xenophobia that results in children being separated from their parents and incarcerated at borders, and in a ‘hostile environment’ that punishes and ostracises the very people it should be welcoming. It leads to spots and sometimes swathes of political extremism, right out in the open, in the mainstream, in government. Anger in response to this is normal and it is right.

The Students’ Union should be ashamed of itself for acting so slowly, and in future should take immediate and visible action to investigate and sanction societies that enable this kind of behaviour. They should reinstate suspended LUSU officer Chloe Long: whistleblowers should not be made scapegoats. Senior management should denounce the most recent events, and all those preceding, publicly and loudly. More than that, they should be proactive and transparent in enabling staff and students to create a positive culture that welcomes everyone… except fascists.

And the rest of us? We have to show up, and stand up to this crap wherever it appears. Let’s put the whole campus on lockdown for fascism: they shall not pass.

SNOW JOKE

Contributed by Ronnie Rowlands.

Readers of subtext will have been pleased to learn that Lancaster University is currently enjoying a flurry of coverage in the national press. Has Cary Cooper received another knighthood? Did someone devise a formula for the perfect twerk?

‘Students face probe over t-shirts daubed with swastikas.’

Oh.

As reported by the BBC, Independent, Sun, Daily Mail, Newsbeat and Lancaster Guardian, Lancaster University Snow Sports (LUSS) was investigated by the Students’ Union (LUSU), after photographs emerged of their members partying at the Sugarhouse wearing T-shirts covered in swastikas, far-right slogans, and shock humour: ‘Gary Glitter was innocent’, ‘Free Tommy Robinson’, ‘Sandyhook woz bantz’, ‘I’ve got muscles cus dad raped me’, and various assorted ‘edginess’.

One member of LUSU’s Code of Conduct panel, Black & Minority Ethnic Officer Chloe Long, grew frustrated with the time it was taking for them to reach an agreement, as well as the growing probability that a ‘soft sanction’ would be imposed, and posted the photographs (which had been removed from the Sugarhouse’s Facebook page) online, denouncing them as hate speech and deriding LUSU for not taking a firmer stance against the activities.

Within 48 hours, Long was suspended from her role and is now the subject of an investigation by LUSU for breaching the Code of Conduct, endangering an investigation, and leaking confidential information.

Factions quickly formed as debates erupted on many of Lancaster’s online spaces. Dividing lines were drawn roughly between: 1) people who felt that LUSU and the University management didn’t care about hate speech, were utterly ineffectual in tackling it, and seemed more upset at the lack of publicity and more interested in punishing the officer responsible for going public; and 2) people who felt that this was all a publicity stunt, heaping unmanageable culpability on the shoulders of LUSU and making a mountain out of a molehill.

As expected, the Free Speech Bores – you know the ones, the people who want Nazis to have free speech so they can debate them, but never actually debate them – were quick to wade in by accusing LUSU of Orwellian tyranny for suspending the society and investigating the claims.

However, since this has nothing to do with free speech whatsoever, we can dismiss this as the customary anal wind from the usual tedious suspects, and delve into the actual questions, untruths, and scandal of this story…

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WHITEWASH

The information about LUSU’s investigation into LUSS was made public because it was felt that the sanctions would be inadequate. Looking at LUSU’s past record on tackling hateful speech, it’s easy to understand why.

Throughout 2017/18, subtext documented the behaviour of an extremist right wing group on campus that was vying to attain official society status and affiliation to LUSU (see our year-end fascism roundup at http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/09/13/fascism-on-campus/ and subtext 182 http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/11/08/shredded-posters-make-good-snowflakes/). The group’s Facebook page regularly posts fascist philosophy, while its members openly express far right wing and oppressive beliefs in person and online, and have disrupted seminars and public events by rattling off half-baked fascist viewpoints and bad faith questions at tutors, speakers, and peers.

As the LUSU societies committee was struggling to agree whether or not to fund avowed fascists (!), the LUSU Executive of elected, paid full-time officers decided to speed things up by approving their incorporation, with a number of two-bit toothless caveats (see subtext 176 http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/04/26/sufferin-succofash/) thrown into the mix. Of course, this decision was quickly overturned by a senior member of LUSU staff, as behind the scenes the University was sharing information about the group with the police (who in turn sought guidance from the Counter Terrorism Branch and the CPS). Ultimately, LUSU rejected the group’s application, and while this was a good outcome, it took many months to come about, LUSU never ever publicly condemned their activities and rhetoric, and generally didn’t tell them to ‘f*ck off’ nearly as hard as they could have.

With that track record, and the recent Code of Conduct panel seemingly leaning towards quietly sending LUSS on its way with a clip round the ear, one can see the value in lighting a bomb under LUSU to wake them up a bit. LUSU’s slowness to act is still an issue – as they themselves admitted in a public statement, the panel had convened twice without coming to a decision on sanctions, and was due to meet a third time before BME officer Chloe Long decided to go public with the evidence.

By contrast, LUSU was far faster to action when dealing with Ms Long. The investigation into LUSS lasted ten days, with a gap of nearly two weeks between the end of the investigation and the meeting of the Code of Conduct panel. subtext understands that Ms Long received notice of her hearing date, 20 November, within a day of her suspension. Certainly, being seen to act more efficiently in an investigation of a whistleblower, than into the original issue, isn’t a good look. It appears that Ms Long declined to attend her hearing.

The sanctions themselves seem, at first glance, to be proportionate. The society will be placed ‘on probation’ for a period of two years, during which time they will also have to attend various equality training sessions, and submit notice of future socials. They will also not be permitted to run events that aren’t training based… for five weeks.

But on closer inspection these are almost as feeble as those proposed for the campus fascists. The club will have to apologise publicly, which is fair enough, although we’ve yet to hear it – we also wonder if the rumours are true that the group is receiving staff support to put together their statement. Interestingly, their next event, a trip to Val d’Isere on 14 December, inhabits something of a legal grey area. On the one hand, it promises ‘loose activities, shenanigans and mental nights out’, ‘ludicrous themes’, a ‘festival night’ and a ‘pool party with a bar and DJ’. We can’t imagine anything untoward happening there. On the other, it does also offer ‘beginner and intermediate lessons.’ What a quandary!

What’s interesting is that LUSU has, regardless of how appropriate (or not) the sanctions are, been harsher than it was initially planning to be after a public backlash, and this raises a question: was the investigation prejudiced by the court of public opinion? Who knows. The LUSS executive still should probably have been hung out to dry, as we’ll get to below.

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YELLOW SNOW

While the SU could have shaken a leg and done a bit more to show that it doesn’t take hate speech lying down – especially in light of its performance last year – there is also no denying that blaming them for absolutely everything that took place on the t-shirt social is an easy get out. People have tried to hold the Sugarhouse staff accountable for allowing this sort of rhetoric into the venue in the first place. This is less than cast-iron for a number of reasons, the main one being that it’s still unclear whether the t-shirts were graffitied before or after they’d got in to the Sugarhouse. But even if they did queue up with those slogans written on them, it may not be reasonable to expect staff to closely inspect clothing which may have been covered at the time of entry and then was displayed in a busy nightclub.

It may also be difficult to establish the intent of the people wearing the shirts. The whole point of a white t-shirt social is to invite OTHERS to daub you with obscenities, and you can imagine that a drunk and bewildered fresher on their first social could use this to distance themselves from the slogans by claiming that they weren’t their views, that they were too drunk to know what was being written on them, and that they don’t remember who wrote what, ‘honest guv’. But there is likely to be overlap between those that wore the t-shirts and those that wrote on them. We can say for certain that SOME of the people at the event wrote these slogans, and all of them must have known they would be viewed by sober people as either racist or misogynist or condoning paedophilia. It’s unlikely that the identities of those writing them will ever be known.

There can be no sympathy for the LUSS executive, who, if they had the brains of a centipede, would have briefed their members against walking into a public place with antisemitic, racist, misogynist and paedophilic slogans smeared on their shirts, and made sure someone was on sober duty to keep things in check. It is the club’s executive that bears the most responsibility, which makes it all the more baffling that LUSU has allowed the existing executive to continue running the show.

This incident has at least provided an opportunity for LUSU and the Sugarhouse to develop a policy of checking what sort of materials people are bringing into their venue.

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SNOWFALL

A great deal of the blame for this incident has been apportioned to the senior management. Lancaster UCU recently wrote publicly to the Vice-Chancellor, demanding to know why LUSU was investigating the incident (which was perpetrated by their members in their venue and photographed by their photographers), and not the University itself. As it turns out, the top table has been attentive to the case, and LUSU has now passed the case file over to the University Deanery to deal with. UCU remains unhappy, and accuses the University of shirking its responsibilities.

Behind the scenes, the University has quite rigorously pursued allegations of hate speech on campus, having referred the hijacking of Ruth Wodak’s public lecture to the police, who worked in collaboration with the CPS and the Counter Terrorism Branch to reach a conclusion. The Vice-Chancellor cannot be blamed for the decision not to proceed with this case, nor can he be expected to go on Twitter and name and shame his students (at least, not before the University Deanery has finished deliberating). That’s not to say that proactivity isn’t sorely lacking in the University’s internal and external communications – aside from a few assurances to the national press, they could do more to placate and assure the community when something like this happens, rather than waiting for the UCU to demand answers. If you’re a Jewish student on a night out and you see an antisemitic slogan written on someone’s shirt, you’re not going to stop and think ‘no biggie, Lancaster has a commitment to the Race Equality Charter!’ It also wouldn’t do us much harm to publicly emphasise our support of equality and opposition to fascism and extremism, what with our public image currently painting a slightly different picture. After all, however much the free speech bores emphasise that no-one present at the Sugarhouse that night complained about what the LUSS members were wearing, the reaction from (mostly) white (mostly) men to the online dissent from women and BAME students gives you an idea as to why.

While it is perhaps unlikely that this will end up being treated as a crime, one hopes that the University Deanery takes a broad-minded, moral approach to its deliberations with case, and considers not only the reputation of the University but the impact this has had on minority groups among its membership.

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SNOW END IN SIGHT

This is not a lone incident. Footage has surfaced of another (allegedly) recent social, where students in the shirts of a specific college were filmed in the Sugarhouse adorned with bulletins like (apologies to those who don’t like reading this stuff): ‘F*ck the Jews’, ‘I watch nugget porn’, ‘Saville (sic) is innocent’, ’96 wasn’t enough’ (yeah, try wearing that at The Sandon), and ‘Consent is overrated’.

Clearly we need to bring this to a stop. Prevention, education and the public, institutional denunciation of hateful ideologies are the best solutions. If nothing else, this sorry affair will surely encourage society executives to know how to avoid being publicly humiliated, and venue staff to know what to look out for when people show up with their clothes covered in ink. Until then we can only hope that people try to understand the isolating impact that such behaviour has on the targets of hate speech.

DEMO REPORT FROM ALEX SQUARE

White t-shirts have been popping up everywhere in recent times. But a group of around 40 protestors who assembled on Alexandra Square Wednesday lunchtime showed that it’s possible to wear a white t-shirt with writing on it that does not consist of ‘jokes’ about killing or raping people.

The student-led protest, with a little logistical support from the National Education Union and UCU, featured students and staff alike sharing their views on the hate speech, racism, sexism and other isms that seem to have reared their ugly heads not only at Lancaster but throughout the country.

There were numerous and varied critiques of the University and Students’ Union’s actions and inactions, urgent appeals to action, and powerful testimony about personal experiences of hate speech, hate crime, and other attacks and harassment.

While a small group of students with hoodies and partially covered faces standing off to the side made some spectators wonder whether there was a confrontation brewing, this turned out to only be the Roleplaying Society, who were meeting on the Alexandra Square steps and felt a bit cold.

The take-away message from the demo: no justice, no peace… and do something!

HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT UPDATE

A petition has been launched against the fees charged to non-EEA citizens working at Lancaster, and the University’s (in)activity in helping those who have to pay them. Supporters note that, whilst some universities fully cover these costs, Lancaster’s loan scheme fails to cover all relevant expenses and must be repaid quickly. Staff at other universities have successfully persuaded their institutions to change their policies on non-EEA staff, and this campaign seeks to put similar pressure on Lancaster. A subtext reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, writes:

‘While the university talks about work-life balance, and gauges performance based on the enforced Staff Survey, this is one that slips under the cracks. Interestingly, this situation leads to rather uncomfortable decisions made by staff which would be unpalatable to staff not in the same situation. Decisions like putting off having a child for another 6-12 months so that they wouldn’t have to pay for the child’s visa fees irrespective of how loudly their biological clocks are ticking away. Frankly, the mood is sombre. No one expects the university will support individuals in any form and there’s quiet acceptance of the fact that early career staff end up with an effective take-home wage lower than their PhD students’ bursaries because of these costs directly associated with employment.’

You can find the petition at:

https://www.change.org/p/allstaff-lancaster-ac-uk-stop-discriminating-policies-at-lancaster-university-that-leave-non-eea-staff-in-debt

More information can be found here:

https://lancsinternational.home.blog/

LU TEXT LOST & FOUND

After a short absence, subtext’s repository of Lancaster’s mentions in the national press that inexplicably weren’t picked up by VickyText’s media roundup returns.

When the VC said he wanted Lancaster to become a university famed for its sporting activities, we’re not sure that this is what he had in mind.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/lancaster-university-students-officer-tshirts-murder-abuse-rape-jokes-society-suspended-a8641831.html

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-46205164

(We were also in the Mail and the Sun… but we decided we didn’t want to give them the ad money by linking to them.)

SHORT SHART SHOCK

FROM: Mike M. Shart, VC, Lune Valley Enterprise University (LuVE-U).
TO: ALL STAFF
CC: Hewlett Venklinne, Convenor of External Esteem (External).
SUBJECT: LuVE-U in the News!

Dear all,

I am delighted to announce the realisation of one of the key strategic aims set out in our five year plan. You may remember attaining the rank of ‘best university in the north west of Grassington’ and hiring 90% Knights of the Order of the Garter in all departments by the year 2030 as being key to this plan.

Attaining nationwide recognition as a serious sportsing university was also pretty high up on the list, and I can now reveal that LuVE-U has penetrated the public consciousness, attracting considerable media attention for its sportsing activities!

Our thanks must go to the LuVE-U Bobsleighers (LuVE-BS). Admittedly, I assumed that sports teams had to achieve something – like win a tournament or break a record or something – to attract such attention, but Hewlett tells me that the social side is important, and that if the Bobsleighers have broken any records, it’s the record for ‘most fun socials.’ Back of the net!

In other news, it has been suggested by the same newspapers that we at LuVE-U don’t take hate speech seriously. I was confused by this, but thankfully Hewlett was there as ever to untangle all the complex media jargon for me, and they are quite right – we don’t take hate speech seriously, we just ignore it and don’t let it bother us, otherwise that’s how the bullies win. [Hewlett — is that what you said before? Please check this before I sent it out to all the staff!!]

So, another good day for LuVE-U, I’m sure you’ll all agree!

Best wishes,
Mike.

[Also Hewlett – could you amend the PDFs of the 5 year plan to include what I said about us being good at sportsing. Thanks.]

LETTERS

Dear subtext,

In the last but one Capita survey, one LUMS department was particularly identified for ‘bullying’. By the next survey it was lauded how that situation had improved. To which the (rather obvious) reply is that, by the tendency of those who are bullied to quit, the metric is more likely to improve. This might apply to other ‘well-being’ criteria?

Name and address supplied

subtext 182 – ‘better late than ever’

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, staff survey, unions, lusu, fascists, academies, musicians’ co-op, all workers are men, fire, offshoring, buses, widden, eating, letters.

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EDITORIAL

In days gone by vice-chancellors used to boast about how many cranes their campus featured (see subtext 9). These days, their prevailing rally cry seems to be ‘It’s definitely not us’, as they rush to reassure their students, staff and other interested parties that they are not one of the three universities that is close to bankruptcy – perhaps because of the very cranes, and associated building projects.

Of the universities in the North West, one of which is allegedly in this unfortunate position, Bolton’s VC George E Holmes was quick off the mark to let people know how healthy his, er, his university’s finances were via the media, while our very own Mark E Smith (readers may wonder whether a middle name beginning with an ‘E’ is a prerequisite to be VC of a North-Western uni) chose to share the good news that it is someone else in his recent all-staff meeting. No doubt other VCs will follow, though there has thus far been a conspicuous silence from the University of Cumbria, which has been running at a loss according to the most recent set of accounts available on its website, and whose financial woes were highlighted by The Guardian as long ago as January (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jan/30/fears-university-closures-office-for-students).

Among all these denials of bad fortune, there seem to be few VCs willing to stick their necks out and talk about what a colossally stupid idea it is to run universities as if they were part of a market, and treat education as a tradeable commodity like cheese. If a university were allowed to close because of bankruptcy, a number of media sources have pointed out this would have a huge impact not only on current students, but would also lead to hundreds if not thousands of job losses, and – for universities in smaller towns or cities – could devastate the local economy. The tarnished reputation of degrees from a failed university may also impact on the government’s favourite indicator of HE success, namely employability. While it seems unlikely that the university sector will somehow reverse the relentless onslaught of marketisation, perhaps one or more bankruptcies and the subsequent mess may be just the wake-up call we need to change course. Just as long as it’s definitely not us!

UCU SAY NO WAY SURVEY

The 2018 staff survey is now live. This has been covered by subtext already (see subtext 178 for example) but the real excitement for us this month is whether UCU’s call for a boycott will gain any traction. After all, our staff traditionally take the path of least resistance with the biennial survey and ‘just do it’. It can’t hurt, can it? Presumably the university takes our comments on board.

A look at the current staff survey results page at:

https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/current-staff/staff-survey-results/

is not very encouraging, opening as it does with ‘the results are in for the Lancaster University Staff Survey 2014,’ and linking to Capita’s report from January 2015. Turnout – 63%. Hm, can we find any record of the 2016 exercise anywhere? After a bit of work, we found it on Box. Turnout – 73%.

Rather like the National Student Survey, staff surveys consist of statements to which we can ‘agree’, ‘tend to agree’, ‘tend to disagree’ or ‘disagree’. Responses in 2016 were generally ‘positive’, although subtext wonders whether it is really so positive that 26% agreed with ‘relationships at work are strained’, while 36% disagreed with ‘I feel fairly rewarded for the work I do.’

Whatever their misgivings, UCU has actively participated – as HR is keen to remind people – in the Staff Survey Planning Group all year, so why the boycott now? According to the email sent to Lancaster UCU members by the branch Vice-Chair, UCU ‘sought to engage with the management response to the last survey, but this was not made possible for us to do in a meaningful way. […] A questionnaire-based staff survey could conceivably be used to support collegiate workplace improvement, but the current approach does not lend itself to doing this.’

Specifically, UCU feels, benchmarking our results against other institutions is flawed, because management will think, ‘if we do not get worse result than the rest of the sector, then all is fine,’ and benchmarking requires standardised questions which ‘severely limits what we can say freely due to the lack of open-ended questions and what we can learn about local conditions.’ Benchmarking also relies on using Capita, and LUCU ‘has ongoing concerns about relying on Capita, given their track record.’

Improvements to the staff experience due to the 2016 survey do seem to be rather limited. On the 2018 staff survey site, examples given are a revamp of the Employee Assistance Programme, more flexible benefits, a ‘clearer PDR process’ (ahem! – see subtext 153) and, thanks to the faculty professional services project, creating ‘a more positive environment for thinking and talking about change which, in turn, has created a more positive platform for change.’ Feedback from those for whom ‘change’ meant ‘P45’ does not seem to have been highlighted.

Will the UCU boycott have an effect? If it reduces the turnout compared with 2016 then, just maybe, the university might consider something different for 2020. Or maybe not.

UNION SILO BLUES

Every year the five main UK Higher Education unions (including the three recognised at Lancaster University) haggle and bargain over pay rates for staff in the sector with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA, acronym fans!).

This year the unions’ joint claim was for an increase of 7.5% or £1500 (FTE) whichever is higher, and a minimum wage of £10 per hour, plus demands around the gender pay gap and precarious contracts. Full details here: http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/9311/UCUBANHE29/pdf/HE_Pay_claim_submitted.pdf

UCEA’s final offer was a pay increase of 2% or £425 (FTE), whichever is higher, alongside promises to tackle the gender pay gap and casualisation issues at a sector level. Full details here: https://www.ucea.ac.uk/download.cfm/docid/CD07D3D7-EBCE-4027-9FB2DF4F48C39D6E

Unsurprisingly, most of the unions rejected the UCEA offer, and both Unison and UCU decided to ballot their members about taking industrial action.

Now. Given that there has to be co-ordination and communication at a national level to do this, and given that UCU have recently taken successful industrial action over pensions (that arguably only really affected the highest paid staff) and given that the gender pay gap at Lancaster University is the third worst in the country, and… well, you’d think that there would also be a level of joined-upness locally…

Erm, well, no. UCU and Unison ballots went ahead at Lancaster University simultaneously, with the left hand not knowing what the… left hand was doing. Just think what a little joined up thinking and campaigning could have achieved.

On a national level, despite a high turnout from UCU members, very few institutions met the 50% turnout legal requirement. Lancaster hit 44.9%, though among those members who did return their ballots, 69.7% supported strike action and 80.7% action short of a strike. In Unison, an ‘overwhelming majority’ of HE members voted to take strike action, but unfortunately that tricky 50% turnout threshold was once again not reached.

Our subtext drones made discreet enquiries amongst professional services colleagues to see if we could get a comment from a Unison member, but everyone had their heads down. In the end we asked the branch contact for a few words:

‘The Lancaster University Unison branch has been dormant for quite some time, and there’s currently just me and one other volunteer who are trying to get things up and running again. We didn’t have members’ contact details to try and organise any meetings around the pay offer. It would have been really good to know that UCU were also balloting, maybe hold some joint meetings, share information and campaign together about this.’

On the other hand, we just had to lob a brick out of the warehouse window to hit a UCU member who was prepared to comment:

‘On this occasion it looks like Lancaster UCU missed an opportunity to collaborate with Unison. There are numerous issues on which we already do work together with our sister unions, and we will try to continue to stand up for all University staff by standing together with Unison and Unite.’

Given the current state of affairs in the subtext warehouse (see subtext 181 editorial) we totally recommend being in a union, but please give your branch officers a prod to talk to the other ones!

FROM SIX TO FIVE

Speaking of unions, the students’ union is planning a restructure:

https://lancastersu.co.uk/officer-review

The October meeting of its trustee board agreed a reduction in the number of full-time officers from six to five, keeping the President but replacing the proliferation of five Vice-Presidents (activities, campaigns & communications, education, welfare & community, and union development) with four new posts: activities officer, education officer (undergraduate), postgraduate officer, and welfare officer. There will be a referendum in Week 8, and campaign teams for and against are being formed this week.

So, aside from the cosmetic name changes, we’re losing campaigns & communications, and union development, in favour of a full-time postgraduate officer. Not many are likely to oppose the loss of the union development post (formerly the General Secretary, aka ‘the President’s sidekick’), but the loss of a full-time political role in charge of LUSU media is more significant, and as for the proposal that undergraduates should be allowed to both stand and vote for the full-time postgraduate officer – well, good luck justifying that to the PG Board!

Student media at Lancaster is now de-politicised, barring a few exceptions on SCAN’s team, so the loss of a full-time media sabbatical might just reflect reality. The days when SCAN could openly oppose the union’s political strategy are long gone. The activities officer gets to be SCAN’s editor-in-chief, but only as a small part of their brief.

How, though, did the proposal get through to allow undergraduates to vote (and so have the decisive vote) on the postgraduate (who doesn’t have to be a postgraduate) officer? We’re told that, ‘as the officer would be a senior/full-time officer of the students’ union and a trustee, legally any student will be eligible to vote for them. It wouldn’t be restricted to postgraduates.’ What’s more, ‘any full member of the students’ union would be eligible to stand for this role – even if they’re not actually a postgraduate student themselves.’

Our legal correspondent describes this as ‘bollocks’. Exhibit A – UCL Union, which has a sabbatical Postgraduate Students’ Officer, open only to, and chosen only by, postgraduate students. Admittedly, we wouldn’t be the only students’ union to let undergraduates choose its postgraduate officer – Warwick seems to do it, and of course whenever Warwick does anything, Lancaster soon follows.

SHREDDED POSTERS MAKE GOOD SNOWFLAKES

Everyone’s least favourite fascist not-quite-a-student-society has been putting up posters on campus this week. In an unintentional parody of the ‘back to the good old days’ element of their rhetoric, the posters are composed mainly of cut and pasted ‘newspaper headlines’ that actually seem to have been printed off the internet. They are largely sensationalist in tone, with the usual semi-deranged rants about marginalised groups. Keeping up the virtual note, this non-soc suggest you contact them via their social media channels. How about you don’t do that.

HOW TO GET THE ANSWER YOU WANT – A CONSULTATION MASTERCLASS

Lancashire’s schools used to be a mostly academy-free zone. The previous Labour-led administration at County Hall were strongly against them, and even devised a cunning plan to employ if the government ordered them to ‘academise’ every school in the county. This would involve establishing a wholly-owned but technically arms-length company to act as an ‘academy chain in name only’.

How things change. It’s likely that, by the end of 2018, there will be no more local authority controlled mainstream secondary schools in the Lancaster district. In the last 12 months, Heysham High has been taken over by Star Academies (prop. Tauheedul in Blackburn), Carnforth High has been taken over by the Bay Education Trust (prop. Ripley St Thomas) and now the last two, Morecambe High and Central Lancaster High, seem likely to join the Bay Education Trust also.

In Morecambe’s case, this is happening against its will – if you do badly in an Ofsted inspection, you must suffer – but Central’s bid for conversion, which has not yet been confirmed, is voluntary, led by the head and (most of) the governors. An extraordinary meeting of the governing body on Wednesday 21 November will make the final decision, taking the views of parents, teachers and the local community into account.

In theory. Looking at the consultation documents, in particular the formal letter sent to parents by the head on 5 October, subtext predicts a strong majority in favour of conversion. Why? Naturally the letter is careful not to show any bias on the part of its author: ‘Working together […] will enable teachers to share resources and training […]; we hope to make all three of the strong schools in the Trust even better!’ And the response form is a masterpiece of even-handed data gathering, as parents are asked to choose from options 1, 2 and 3:

‘Option 1 – I have a number of comments I would personally like to make and I attach a letter for consideration of the Governing Body.’

‘Option 2 – I would like to know more about the proposals and would be interested in attending a short meeting on 17th October with other parents to ask further questions for clarification.’

‘Option 3 – I am quite happy with the proposals and I don’t need more information.’

In other words, if you just tick the box, we’ll leave you alone; but if you don’t share our vision, you need to tell us WHY, and we want DETAILS, and we want to hear from you PERSONALLY. And if you want to just say you aren’t happy – well, that’s not on the list.

UP ON THE ROOF

Musical subtext readers will be aware of the Lancaster Music Co-op. Founded by former students in 1985 in a semi-abandoned former coachbuilder’s premises, the Co-op has run as a not-for-profit rehearsal rooms and recording studio for 33 years. A lot of people credit the Music Co-op as being the reason that Lancaster has a disproportionately large live music scene for its size (and can thus support large tourist-attracting events such as the Music Festival).

But the Music Co-op is under threat, having recently been handed an eviction notice from Lancaster City Council because their building is unsafe, mainly due to the state of the roof (although curiously – they have six months to depart so there is clearly no immediate danger to life and limb). So what, you might ask, why should we care if a bunch of musos can’t manage their building properly? The wrinkle in this story is that the Music Co-op is an island of creativity in a sea of car parks that has picturesquely been designated the ‘Canal Quarter’ (see subtext 179). And also: the building is owned by the City Council.

The City Council have kept the Music Co-op on an rolling 2-week lease with a peppercorn rent for 30+ years, a lease that effectively prevents them from accessing any funding to develop the premises or the enterprise, as what funder wants to give money to a project that could be kicked out with two weeks notice? And each developer (Centros Miller, British Land) that has been involved in the regeneration of this area of Lancaster has dangled different carrots in terms of rehoming the Co-op or fixing the building. As owners of the building, the Council have done no repairs themselves.

There is an ongoing campaign by the Music Co-op to rescind their eviction notice, which went viral last month, with national press attention and support from The Lovely Eggs (who started at the Co-op), Phill Jupitus, Marc Riley, Sleaford Mods, John Robb and Billy Bragg amongst others. Thousands of people signed a petition to save the Co-op; local MP Cat Smith has called on the Council to sort things out; and within the Council itself a cross-party group of Councillors is pushing for the rescinding of the eviction notice and for constructive talks about how the Co-op can be supported.

Want to know more? You can watch ‘Glass Roof’, the documentary made to celebrate 30 years of the Music Co-op, here: https://youtu.be/UuHCa-khx-Q (get ready to spot at least one member of LU staff, and the most ingenious indoor rainwater diversion device ever!). If you’ve got the urge to donate, you can contribute to their crowdfunder here: https://www.gofundme.com/save-lancaster-music-co-op

WITHERING HEIGHTS

People in the Management School have been confused in recent weeks by signs visible around the fire doors outside Lecture Theatre 4 stating ‘CAUTION: Men Working Overhead’ – many staff on the top floor of LUMS are actually female! On closer inspection, it appears that the signs were put up by Bagnalls Painting & Decorating, who seem to operate a strict men-only policy for work that’s too high for the ladies to reach, even in heels. The subtext collective are left wondering whether University procurement regulations require external contractors to demonstrate equal opportunities practices, and whether we can invite external contractors to Gender Pay Gap meetings.

A LITTLE TOO DRY?

We’re used to seeing the fire brigade on campus, often due to a false alarm, but they were really needed at 10pm on Monday 15 October when a fire started in Furness Launderette due to a faulty dryer. Furness was evacuated, dozens of students gathered to watch from the hill leading to the residence blocks, and the porters were looking worried for a while. Everything was brought under control, fortunately, and the next morning the only sign that all had not been well was that the launderette was closed for repairs. Well done to everyone who worked hard to avert what could have been a very serious incident.

HOME IS WHERE THE OFFSHORE COMPANIES ARE

Choosing somewhere to live as a student is no mean feat. With the advent of ensuite accommodation, the days of a manky shared house and rows over whose milk is whose in the fridge may be gone for many, but there are still hurdles that the student renter has to face, not least: is their hard-borrowed cash ending up helping offshore investors evade UK income tax?

Research by Lancaster City Councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox shows that a number of flats or houses rented out to Lancaster University students are owned or managed by offshore companies:

– 1-3 Cable Street (233 rooms) is part of Global Student Accommodation (GSA). GSA is ultimately incorporated in the Cayman Islands, and the Cable St property is owned by a Jersey company.
– The site of the Bulk Road student village (631 rooms, and nicknamed ‘Asthma Towers’ by one of our long-standing readers), currently under development by American company Hines, is owned by a Jersey-based company called HPH Lancaster Limited.
– A house in Dallas Rd is owned by a Seychelles-based company, and properties on Greaves Rd, Albion St and Prospect St are owned by a Jersey-based company.

This information has been provided to the students’ unions at Lancaster University and University of Cumbria, who will hopefully steer students away from paying rent to these companies in favour of landlords who aren’t avoiding UK taxation.