Author Archives: Ben Goldsworthy

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.

You Are Ordered to Return Whether You Want to or Not

Spare a thought for our returning second-, third- and fourth-year students; particularly those with rooms on campus this year. It seems that, whilst first-years were offered rooms on relatively flexible terms this year, including the option of studying remotely over Michaelmas Term and only beginning to pay rent after Christmas, returners are being held strictly to the conditions they signed back in December. The university’s stance is: You signed for the room, so you’ll pay for it from October, whether you’re occupying it or not. Students who decided to study away from campus, and hence declined to start paying rent, are reportedly now receiving formal letters demanding payment from college accommodation staff.

The University makes it clear in Our Promise to new students:

https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/our-promise/

that for those unable to join us on campus in September, a warm welcome will await you later in the year. Specifically, for all new students, accommodation contracts will only begin when students collect their keys, which means that if you need to move in later than expected, accommodation fees for the period before you arrive will be waived. What about returning students, though?

The official terms and conditions, at:

https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/accommodation/terms-and-conditions/

make a strict distinction between contracts accepted on or after 23 July, where deposits will be returned if the agreement is made remotely and not completed by the collection of the keys in the presence of the Lancaster University member of staff, and contracts accepted before 23 July, where no such exception applies. Hence our promise to returners seems to be pay up or else, despite the goods not exactly being supplied as originally promised.

The city councillors for the campus have pressed senior university officers on this point, most recently on 22 October:

https://www.facebook.com/LancsUniLabourCllrs/posts/1571437339725303

The councillors feel that no one should have to pay for accommodation they are not living in. As reasonable as that sounds, it appears that Lancaster University begs to differ.

Bailrigg Garden Village Update

Lancashire County Council has just opened an official consultation on remodelling Junction 33 of the M6 and creating a link road to enable drivers to by-pass Galgate on their way to and from campus and the proposed Bailrigg Garden Village. Simultaneously, they’re consulting on a Movement and Public Realm Strategy for Lancaster City Centre, asking what should be done about the one-way system. City residents have received a letter and a glossy Transforming Lancaster Travel newsletter (that promises to be but the first of many issues). The deadline for responses is 6 December 2020 and you can find the documents at:

https://www.lancashire.gov.uk/Transforming-Lancaster-Travel/

For the Galgate by-pass, there’s a short engineering options document and a very long environmental options document.

The engineers note that: The development of the South Lancaster Strategic Growth Area [i.e. building the Bailrigg Garden Village on Burrow Heights with 3,500 homes] will depend upon providing new infrastructure including the re-configuration of Junction 33 (J33) of the M6. According to the environmental options document, the scheme’s objectives are to improve Junction 33, create a link to the Bailrigg Garden Village and improve air quality in Galgate. The University is mentioned only in passing, in the environmental options document, which notes that: As the expansion of Lancaster University and Bailrigg Garden Village begin to take effect, the options for travel along the A6 highway corridor will become restricted as more demand is placed on the existing road network.

Residents are presented with six route options.

There are two Eastern Routes, linking J33 with Hazelrigg Lane to the south of campus, via routes to the east of the M6. There are a few challenges: Eastern 1 involves severing Stoney Lane in Galgate and Eastern 2 involves removing Hampson Farm near Galgate. There are two Central Routes, also linking J33 with Hazelrigg Lane, but this time heading parallel to the M6 and just to the west of it. Central 2 offers an additional link to Ashton Road but is otherwise the same as Central 1. Finally there are two Western Routes, both heading north west from J33 (Western 1) or a point slightly north of J33 (Western 2), crossing the Lancaster Canal on a new bridge and ending up in Burrow Heights.

All six routes involve continuing Hazelrigg Lane to the west at its junction with the A6, heading under the West Coast Main Line and joining Burrow Road, to give access between the A6 and the Bailrigg Garden Village. The cutting for the underbridge would be 2.4m below the level of the nearby Ou Beck and, consequently, the drainage of this area would need to be by pump. There is very little detail on the environmental impact of effectively turning the A6-Hazelrigg Lane junction into a giant crossroads. Residents of Leach House Lane, located just to the west of the existing junction, are unlikely to be happy.

The engineers strongly prefer Central 1 as it’s the cheapest route, it doesn’t involve crossing the Lancaster Canal and the drainage is superior.

The environmental report prefers Western 1 and Western 2 from a noise reduction point of view, but opts for Central 1 from a traffic flow reduction point of view: Central 1 is the only route option achieving a reduction of flow in the A6 through Galgate in both directions, in all peak periods and years modelled. The Central 2 option might actually increase traffic flow due to cars cutting across between the A6 and Ashton Road.

The simultaneous consultation on the Lancaster one-way system has a prettily designed options document offering eight future visions that are, roughly: do nothing; return the loop to two-way traffic; keep the loop but make one lane for buses and cycles only; two-way to the west, buses and cycles only to the east; two-way to the east, buses and cycles to the west; no through city centre traffic; no through city centre traffic during the day; and a £12 congestion charge. There is a distinct lack of costings for any of the options, but the congestion charge is appraised as the greenest choice.

Following the consultation, Lancashire County Council’s Cabinet will make its final decision on the options in February 2021. This doesn’t seem like a lot of time to analyse the responses, but of course, they may want to get their decision over with before the whole council is up for re-election in May.

Bus News

subtext‘s intrepid Stagecoach correspondent reports…

Worries about virus transmission on public transport to and from campus have been, justifiably, one of the main concerns expressed by staff and students alike. So, how safe are things on the ground?

Signs as you embark ask passengers to sit in a window seat, with an empty row in front and behind you, but are these rules being enforced? Not really, but only because the buses are so sparsely populated that the risk now seems quite small, with many who would normally travel by bus opting to walk, cycle or drive instead. Your correspondent has only seen one example of a bus full sign being displayed, on a number 100 as it whizzed past the Infirmary; every other time, there have been at most 10 people on each deck.

The don’t sit next to anyone advice is adhered to rigorously, whilst the make sure there’s an empty row in front and behind you advice is being interpreted more flexibly: complied with if the numbers (or convenience) allow it, but not if they don’t. Almost everyone is dutifully wearing a mask, although this is reportedly not the case on some of the city centre shuttle services. Usually there will be at least one window open, so pack a parka.

subtext‘s paradoxical conclusion: for as long as many are avoiding Stagecoach because they’re worried about the risk of travelling by bus, the numbers on the buses will remain so low that the risk is likely minimal. Alas, in true tragedy of the commons style, as soon as enough of us realise this, the numbers are likely to rise until the risk becomes something to really worry about.

Maybe we shouldn’t be printing this story.

Widden’s Review – Songs in the Great Hall

Contributed by Martin Widden

It is good to be able to report that some things are getting back to something like normal, or at any rate to New Normal: the University’s International Concert Series resumed on the evening of Thursday 8 October. The furniture in the Great Hall had been rearranged to provide the necessary distance between the social bubbles in the audience. One might have feared that this would destroy any atmosphere that might otherwise have been generated, but – all praise to the organisers – it had been done very thoughtfully: each little group had its designated space, consisting of one or more chairs at a small folding table with a tablecloth, on which had been placed a sheet bearing the names of the members of the little group, and beside it a small vase of flowers. If the group had pre-ordered drinks, they were waiting on the table too. The Hall looked almost festive.

The programme for the evening consisted of two song cycles by the composer Franz Schubert, both of them setting poems by Wilhelm Müller. Each is for a solo singer and pianist, and consists of a series of twenty or so songs on a single narrative theme. The first to be performed at the recital, die schöne Müllerin, tells the story of a young journeyman miller walking through a wood beside a stream, which leads him to a mill. He falls in love with the miller’s daughter, but his love is frustrated by the arrival of a glamorous hunter, who supplants him. It is not completely clear how the story ends, except that it doesn’t end well for the young man, who submits himself to the stream and presumably drowns. The young baritone Huw Montague-Randall told this story well, with excellent German diction.

The second cycle, Winterreise (winter journey), is again a tragic tale of a young man’s love for a girl, but it is not just about his failure to capture her love. As the narrator wanders through a winter landscape, he bids his farewell not only to his beloved who has forsaken him, but this time he appears to be leaving all human company. Appropriately, Schubert’s setting of these downbeat poems is set almost entirely in minor keys. This second song cycle was sung by another baritone, Roderick Williams, who acted it out in a quite moving way.

In his song cycles Schubert uses the piano very skilfully to illustrate the songs, for example to evoke the sound of the water in the stream in die schöne Müllerin. In fact, the piano part is perhaps of equal importance with the sung part. We were fortunate at the Great Hall recital to have Gary Matthewman at the piano, for he was able to reflect the mood of the songs in his playing very sensitively. The final song in Winterreise, der Leiermann, describes a hurdy-gurdy man who is standing just outside the village hoping to collect money on his little plate, but sadly the plate is empty. The piano reproduced the sad music of the hurdy-gurdy quite accurately.

This was a very satisfying start to the season of Great Hall concerts – let’s hope further concerts will be able to go ahead.

Letters

As we overturned the mailbag, the only thing that emerged was a solitary moth.

subtext 194 – ‘voluntary subtext reductions’

Increasingly less 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, BLM, open letter, appeal for editors, online teaching, rent strike, liddle, phones, nuttall, elections, pandemic, letters.

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EDITORIAL

Our new Vice-Chancellor was clearly trying to strike a Churchillian note when drafting his 10 June email to all staff. I am encouraged, he noted, by the resilience and dedication I have seen in Lancaster since my arrival, and with that spirit, we will face whatever may come as a united and collegial team. Very inspirational, for sure, but if it achieved anything it was to cement the fear that Lancaster University’s position is about as secure as the British Expeditionary Force in Dunkirk.

Whilst we’ve saved maybe £3–5m through furloughing, the announcement that the University Council is seeking to reduce spending by £66m over the coming financial year makes this belt-tightening seem relatively minor. This figure is based on the Council’s middle risk scenario, which supposes that around 20% of incoming EU and overseas students will not appear in October, leading to corresponding reductions in fee and accommodation income. Our cash flow is not great, with reportedly less than 2 months of cash in hand for paying salaries. Interest payments on £65m of private debt can’t be helping either.

The £66m in savings are to be split three ways: £22m saved by deferring our capital expenditure; £22m saved by making non-payroll budget savings; and £22m saved from payroll, hopefully to be achieved through voluntary options.

These options formed the main topic of conversation at an anxious informal meeting of Lancaster UCU, held on 11 June with 54 members present. Senior management had reportedly agreed to take a 10% cut in their salaries for the 3 month period beginning on 1 August; less, proportionately, than the amount that striking staff have already lost this year. Those opting for a voluntary pay cut will, officially, take their full normal salary but donate a portion of it back to the University through Payroll Giving, so preserving their pension contributions. Why the arbitrary division of £66m into three equal parts? UCU members were unsure. A more formal meeting of Lancaster UCU on 18 June was so popular that some members were unable to get in, as numbers had reached the Zoom-imposed maximum of 100.

On 16 June all staff received another email, from the Vice-Chancellor and the Pro-Chancellor, offering some ideas: making a contribution of your salary, delaying the financial reward element of promotions, purchasing additional annual leave, temporarily reducing your working hours, career breaks, flexible furloughing etc. Everyone is invited to participate in a survey to opt-in to a range of voluntary options which will help reduce the overall pay bill in the short term. The Vice-Chancellor will give up 20% of his salary.

The FAQ for the survey tries to reassure everyone that, there will be no direct consequences as a result of this survey or impact to you if you decide not to participate — what about indirect consequences, then? — but adds, in a way that can’t help coming across as slightly menacing, that the more staff who are able to participate then the stronger the University’s response to this financial situation will be.

Are we overreacting? Undergraduate recruitment figures are very good (our total number of firm accepts for 2020–21 entry now exceeds the corresponding figure for 2019–20 entry, which makes this year one of our best ever) although postgraduate taught figures are not quite as rosy. An email from the Director of HR to line managers, sent on 16 June, notes that the measures are designed to help protect the cash flow of the University over the three month period from 1 August to 31 October because there is a need for immediate cash preservation. Are we finding it more difficult to obtain credit at the moment? How are Leipzig and UA92 looking these days? Letters and thoughts to the usual address, please.