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- subtext 192 – ‘strike while the subtext is hot’
- A TALE OF TWO UNION MEETINGS
- CASUALISATION NEWS
- PREVIEW – LANCASTER EXCHANGE II
- STUDENT DEMOCRACY UPDATE
- GO AWAY, OLDIES
- GENDER STEREOTYPING MASTERCLASS
- BUILDINGS NEWS
- FEARLESSLY SPINELESS
- LANCASTER DEBATES THE FUTURE OF UNIVERSITIES (AND TRIES TO SELL A FEW BOOKS)
- WIDDEN’S REVIEW – PIANO QUARTET CONCERT IN THE GREAT HALL
- PENGUINS, A FIRE AND A NASTY CASE OF HYPOTHERMIA
- subtext 191 – ‘fresh from the fridge’
- RETURN OF THE ANGRY DUCKS
- ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST?
- ARE YOU STILL HERE?
- subtext 191 – ‘fresh from the fridge’, December 13, 2019
- subtext 190 – ‘get subtext done’, November 1, 2019
- subtext 189 – ‘ imaginative thinking subtext’, June 28, 2019
- subtext 188 – ‘eurobants subtext’, May 23, 2019
- subtext 187 – ‘yet another meaningful subtext’, April 2, 2019
- subtext 186 – ‘stumbling towards a no deal subtext’, March 1, 2019
- subtext 185 – ‘the same subtext, only louder’, February 1, 2019
- subtext 184 – ‘life’s an illusion love is a dream’, December 17, 2018
- subtext 183 – ‘(white man) in lancaster sugarhouse’, November 23, 2018
- subtext 182 – ‘better late than ever’, November 8, 2018
- subtext 181 – ‘mean as you start to go on’, October 11, 2018
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Category Archives: contributed article
Contributed by Megan Marxel
A full room, including many recognisable as dedicated subtext readers, attended the book launch for ‘The University Challenge’ on Monday 3 February, hosted by the Institute for Social Futures. This wide-reaching book on the challenges facing (Anglo) universities was a collaboration between Prof Ed Byrne (VC of King’s College London) and Charles Clarke (former MP, former Home and Education Secretaries, Visiting Professor to Lancaster PPR, graduate of Highgate School [est 1565], Cantab, former President of the Cambridge Students Union and of the National Union of Students). I was impressed by this biography and was curious about what he had to say. But what stands out most in my memory of Mr Clarke is that he looked very bored, especially considering that this was his party.
I didn’t actually make it to the book launch itself (I was teaching), but that was just as well. I was far more interested in the panel discussion that followed. Pro-VC for Engagement Sue Black led a panel discussion on ‘What’s Wrong with Universities and How Do We Fix It?’. As the discussion was only an hour and a half long, we barely even scratched the surface.
Sue started by, somewhat defensively, clarifying that she had not set the discussion topic, which assumes that something is actively wrong with our universities. On the eve of more strikes across 74 universities, her caveat was, at best, disingenuous. She then warned the audience to avoid being ‘too strident’ in expressing our views. Her pre-emptive tone was perhaps understandable though, as Charles Clarke is the man responsible for introducing the university fees that have since gone on to indebt millions of British students.
The panel members each had 5 minutes to reflect on challenges facing universities. Little surprise, these were fairly unmemorable, generic statements about ‘collaborating more’ and ‘better clarifying mission statements’. There were a few exceptions, including when Prof Byrne argued that universities were making active choices to either serve as ‘engines of equality or engines of inequality’. Another exception was Dr Shuruq Naguib, Lecturer in Islamic Studies, who described the findings of over 1,000 interviews with British university students that highlighted the need to meaningfully tackle endemic Islamophobia across our future universities.
Despite these spikes of interest, something felt odd about the panel’s overall response to the prompt: not one person mentioned the plague of managerialism, the tragedy of student debt, relentless growth, the burdens of industrial action, or the risks of instrumentalism. Their polite skirting of the larger issues provoked a knowing sigh, ‘Ah, this is what is wrong with English universities.’
The audience’s questions were rectifying, perhaps because they included impassioned interventions from members of the Lancaster UCU Executive. Particularly memorable was an emotive question about the panel’s recurrent use of the personal pronoun, ‘we’. If ‘we’ are collectively responsible for defining the future of universities, then why do most staff and students feel so disempowered? Prof Byrne responded by highlighting a range of encouragingly democratising initiatives being undertaken at King’s College that left me envious. If true, the trajectories of Kings and Lancaster could not look more different.
Nevertheless, the panel discussion began to open up the types of honest, public debate that Lancaster so badly needs. Even if it comes under the guise of book sales, these conversations must form part of how we begin to fix the many things wrong with our universities.
Near the end of the event, a student was invited to ask a question. Unfortunately, he uttered the word ‘marketisation’. This clearly ruffled Mr Clarke, who retorted that he ‘did not quite understand what is meant by terms like marketisation, commercialisation and neoliberalisation in Higher Education’. I ended my evening by shaking his hand and offering to explain these concepts to him. He declined.
Contributed by Martin Widden
This concert on 30 January 2020 was given by a quartet of violin, viola, cello and piano – a fairly unusual combination, because the modern concert grand can easily drown out the three strings. But Mozart, that brilliant pioneer in all things musical, wrote three works for this combination, and of course he set a very high standard for everyone who followed in his footsteps. Even though the modern grand piano is far more powerful than the pianos of Mozart’s day, he wrote in such a way that (in the hands of skilled performers) the strings always seem to be equals of the keyboard instrument.
Not only were the three Mozart piano quartets object lessons in how to write for this group of instruments – they are also marvellous pieces of music. So it was entirely appropriate that this concert opened with a Mozart piano quartet, K 493 in E flat. It formed a highly satisfying beginning.
The second item in the programme was a piano quartet by the Latvian composer Peteris Vasks. Vasks was born in Aizpute in 1946 into a Baptist family. At that time Latvia lay behind the Iron Curtain, and his Baptist faith prevented him from studying composition as he wished. He therefore moved to neighbouring Lithuania, where he was able to study at the conservatorium in Vilnius. Since the Iron Curtain was lifted in 1991, he has been able to travel and work elsewhere, and has followed a mildly international career, working in Sweden, Austria, Estonia and (surprisingly) Wales, where he was composer-in-residence at the Presteigne Festival in 2006.
His music is sometimes considered minimalist, and is compared with the works of Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Arvo Pärt and George Crumb. The quartet is skilfully written and was remarkably well played, since the performers had had rather limited time for rehearsal. However, its duration of some 40 minutes didn’t seem totally justified by the rather repetitive material.
The concert finished with the Opus 25 quartet by Brahms, written when Brahms was reaching the height of his powers. All four movements of this quartet are wonderful music, but possibly the final movement, a gipsy rondo, is the most outstanding. It finishes with a fast section marked presto, which is very exciting music, to which it is easy to imagine dancing taking place in an increasing frenzy.
The three string players, who have taken the name Moricosta Trio, are all members of the BBC Philharmonic, so they are used to playing together; and Martin Roscoe is a well-loved pianist who lives locally. They played together remarkably well, and this was a very satisfying evening.
As a diligent and (short of annual leave) member of University staff I dutifully made the first-day-after-Christmas pilgrimage to our office in University House on 2nd January. Following the many complaints over previous years I arrived confident that the building would be toasty-warm. How wrong I was. Entering University House was akin to walking into a four-storey freezer.
Arriving at my desk I elected to keep my coat and scarf on. The radiator was stone cold and, as individual fan heaters were banned some time ago, I resigned myself to making the best of it. Jogging on the spot was the thing. Jogging, however, makes it very difficult to work, so after two minutes I sat down.
A short while later a polar bear, which had taken up residence during the break, appeared at the door and demanded that I surrender my coat to him. For a moment I contemplated resisting his request, but he gave me an unfriendly smile and off he went with my coat.
After fifteen minutes waiting for my PC to process essential updates my fingers were numb. I wrapped my scarf around them, but soon discovered this made typing difficult and resulted in my first email being somewhat ruder than I had intended. I was still debating what to do (send emails full of verbal garbage or risk frostbite in my fingers), when I was interrupted by voices. Poking my head around the office door I noted three penguins deep in conversation with the polar bear. There was some gesticulation with flippers and glances in my direction. I retreated to my desk and had barely begun wondering what was going on when the penguins appeared beside me.
‘We want the scarf.’
‘Your scarf, we want it. Don’t be difficult or this could get ugly.’
‘Right. Grab him lads.’
Ever been slapped by a penguin flipper? It hurts. As the penguins waddled off with the scarf a figure wrapped in furs stumped past. Followed by a sled and a miserable-looking camera crew.
‘Mmmph mmph mm bfff.’
The camera crew looked at each other, nonplussed. The fur-clad figure pulled the covering away from the lower half of his face, and Sir Ranulph Fiennes indicated the corner of the office:
‘Set the fire over there. By that Yucca. Be quick about it or we’ll freeze.’
Stolidly refusing to be distracted further I returned to my PC. By this point my legs were numb and thinking was becoming difficult. Why was Sir Ranulph Fiennes in our office? Andrea was not going to be very pleased if they started a fire next to her Yucca. Maybe I’d be warmer if I had a little lie down.
I woke in the ambulance at around midday. The crew told me it had been a close thing, hypothermia being generally bad for you. Ah. I must have been hallucinating.
‘We found your coat and scarf. Why on earth weren’t you wearing them?’ The ambulance crewman looked concerned.
‘I have no idea, but I had a very odd dream about them…’
‘Think your boss also wants to speak to you urgently about some odd scorch marks in your office.’
The moral of the story? A plea to Facilities. Next year could you turn on the heating just a little earlier? I cannot otherwise be held responsible for my actions.
Many have found fault with the recent efforts of the Student Registry to track postgraduate research (PGR) students’ attendance by ‘provision in Moodle PGR Records to record supervisory meetings’ (email to supervisors, 16.10.19).
This new online system of recording all meetings between PGR students and their supervisors is being touted as a way of protecting the rights of students from negligent supervisors, as well as complying with UK Visas and Immigration’s increased scrutiny of students on Tier 4 visas.
Since the new online system offers a non-obligatory notes section in which to log the content of meetings, all the process appears to achieve is a numeric record of dated meetings. Quite how this ensures the quality of engagement from either party is unclear.
Thus we arrive at the secondary premise: surveillance of international PGR students. Students who already register with the Police, the Home Office, the University (through appraisals, registration and DNA tests) and their Departments. Students who are already the object of intense scrutiny by a Home Office intent on making life for them in the UK as uncomfortable as possible.
Caoimhe Mader McGuinness from Unis Resist Border Control (URBC) says these schemes are often presented as safeguarding students’ experience or health:
‘It is sold to lecturers as a way of making sure that the student is taken into account and sees someone, but this is also the sort of data that is used by the Home Office to, if they so wish, declare that that student hasn’t been to enough contact points and then potentially deport them.’
(See Guardian article – Hostile Environment: how risk-averse universities penalise migrants, dated 5.6.18)
It now appears the University’s need to maintain its license to recruit foreign national students (how else would we pay for all the new buildings?!) is, ironically, making it an accomplice to the Home Office, contributing to the UK’s increasingly hostile environment towards our foreign students.
I hope the readers of subtext need no wordy exposition on the intellectual and cultural benefits of a diverse PGR student population. This new system is yet another stumble down a slippery path towards exclusion, alienation and infringement of the rights of those from abroad who choose to enrich Lancaster University’s community through postgraduate research. Shame on management for their capitulation. Philip Pullman had it right: we need some scholastic sanctuary.
Contributed by Martin Widden
Some music is composed to celebrate a person – probably the best known example is Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, composed in honour of Napoleon, although Beethoven later withdrew the dedication in disgust at Napoleon’s declaring himself emperor; some portray an actual event, such as Verdi’s opera The Masked Ball, about the very real assassination of King Gustav of Sweden in 1792. But music is usually a self-sufficient form of art, existing without needing to refer to any external person or event. Nonetheless, two recent recitals in the Great Hall have been programmed to respond to the present situation in the world.
The first of these was a performance on 7 November by English Touring Opera of The Silver Lake, by Kurt Weill. (Weill was the composer who collaborated with the playwright Bertolt Brecht on The Threepenny Opera, which includes the well-known song Mack the Knife.) The story of the opera centres on an impoverished youth, Severin, who steals a pineapple and is shot and wounded by a policeman, Olim. Conscience-stricken at what he has done, Olim visits Severin in hospital, and from this follows an increasingly fantastical story, leading the pair finally to a silver frozen lake, which they are able to cross and make their way to a new future. On the bare Great Hall stage without scenery, and to the accompaniment of a 30-strong orchestra, ETO gave a compelling performance of this story about poverty, hunger and deprivation. It is particularly encouraging that, as at all ETO’s performances, the chorus was recruited locally from choirs based in and around Lancaster.
On 5 December, the Great Hall hosted a recital entitled The Labyrinth by the Israeli-American pianist David Greilsammer. Based loosely on Janacek’s suite On an Overgrown Path, this was a series of short pieces, generally improvisatory in nature, by composers ranging from the 17th century German JJ Froberger, via CPE Bach and Mozart, to the contemporary American Philip Glass. The recital lasted only about 70 minutes, but afterwards Greilsammer returned to answer questions from the audience, and it was here that he remarked that he had put together the programme to reflect the chaotic times we are living in. It was a very interesting series of works which made sense in his hands, even though in the printed programme it looked like a random list. Greilsammer was able to master the varied styles of the pieces very convincingly.
SPECIAL FEATURE: LANCASTER UNIVERSITY STUDENTS’ DISUNION
Contributed articles by Ronnie Rowlands
ONE SUGAR, PLEASE
When we covered the Students’ Union officer elections for the 19/20 academic year, your subtext correspondents observed that the new crop of officers ought to make short work of becoming popular. LUSU had been awash with scandal (sometimes justifiable, sometimes not), including the cancellation of Grad Ball, the Snowsports white t-shirt social and the initial decision (rapidly reversed) to officially recognise a society for literal, self-avowed fascists. The combustible elements lit up into a conflagration when a visceral outpouring of rage followed the decision to strip student radio station, Bailrigg FM, of its FM license and reduce its funding. The officers-elect were quick to promise that they would reverse this decision if the then-current officers did not. The decision was reversed before they took office, and all that the new officers – George Nuttall, Grishma Bijukumar, Ben Evans, Lewis Marriott, Bee Morgan and Hannah Prydderch – had to do to elicit a huge voter turnout was to promise to Make LUSU Not Sh*t Again. President Nuttall was already being exalted by Lancaster’s unofficial social media ‘sh*tposting’ pages as the bringer of a shiny new dawn.
Then LUSU announced that its Trustee Board had voted to close and sell the Sugarhouse.
It didn’t take long for the Full Time Officers to distance themselves from the announcement. Some not particularly well-disguised leaks left the student body under no illusion as to who was responsible – the non-student Trustees, plus one ‘rebel’ Full Time Officer whose decisive vote swayed the decision. This Full Time Officer has subsequently found himself ‘un-personed’ by his fellow officers, reviled by a student body that is seeking to remove him from office and doorstepped in the LUSU building by the student media’s TV cameras.
The students weren’t going to let the Sugarhouse go without a fight. And why would they? The Sugarhouse has remained a staple of Lancaster’s dwindling nightlife and enjoys both good and bad financial years. Perhaps more importantly, the Sugarhouse is regarded as a ‘safe night out’ by students, and there should surely be a space for student-led venues to accommodate the cultural, racial, and sexual diversity among our student population.
The wise decision to call a general meeting was taken, and a ‘Save Our Sugarhouse’ motion was duly proposed… along with a pile of others, on issues ranging from affordable housing to climate change.
Yes, seizing the opportunity to bellow at the union officers in front of a huge audience, a group of Labour students set about foisting a comprehensive campaigning agenda on them. The executive couldn’t rely on the meeting becoming inquorate to jettison the motions – with proxy voting now allowed, hundreds of students were able to make their decision before the meeting, arguably making any debate pointless since the motions were already decided.
Nor could the executive hope to run down the clock or suggest that the motions should be considered in a different forum – procedural motion after procedural motion was passed, and the meeting was repeatedly extended, while motions were moved straight to a vote. Those who stayed it out, delighted that they could finally actually mandate their representatives to do something – anything! – duly voted for every single motion.
It will come as no surprise to learn that the motions to save Sugarhouse were passed. The five LUSU Officers who showed up took the opportunity to stress that they personally had voted AGAINST the closure and sale of the Sugarhouse, in a ‘People vs Parliament’ style move that deflected the anger onto the rest of the Trustee Board.
All in all, the student body finally got to vent some steam, and the groundswell of resentment that has built up over several years may have softened for a while. Whether this was the start of some real steps towards a re-democratised students’ union – which could have prevented some real catastrophes over the last couple of years – or that’s your lot for the next five years, it was heartening to see that the volcano of student anger and rebellion is still active.
THE CASE FOR COUNCIL
subtext kept a watchful eye on the gutting of LUSU’s accountability structures in 2015. We predicted at the time that culling most of the officers and dissolving the Union Council – which met fortnightly and could be attended by any student (although policy could only be voted on by officers) – and replacing it with unaccountable ‘Student Juries’ would lead to the very vacuum of accountability and engagement that has led to some of LUSU’s more questionable recent decisions.
The Union Council was a great body. It met fortnightly and was comprised of all of the Full Time Officers, all of the College Presidents and Vice-Presidents, all of the Faculty Reps and all of the Part-Time Officers. The membership had the power to propose and vote on policy, but crucially, ALL students could attend and ask questions. At each meeting, the Full Time Officers were required to deliver information and take questions, meaning that they could not escape direct scrutiny in the public eye. The whole point of Union Council was for officers to consult with their respective ‘juniors’ (the Faculty Reps with their Academic Reps, the International Officers with international students and JCR reps, you get the picture…), and to propose and vote on policy with their views in mind. Sadly, the Council became infested with grandstanders who wanted to hold inward-looking discussions about tedious personal grudges and constitutional minutiae. This in turn became ammunition for an executive, who couldn’t be bothered to undergo scrutiny and face the public, to lobby for its abolition.
Look at the situation LUSU is in now. Can anybody name the last time that the ‘Student Jury’ sat? Do people remember when LUSU introduced a ‘scrutiny panel’, which involved Full Time Officers appointing people to write reports about them that were then buried on the LUSU website? A fortnightly public meeting with the minutes released in a timely way was an ample means of keeping the paranoid headbangers at bay. If anybody said that LUSU was unaccountable, officers could just say ‘we’ve got LUSU Council. Why don’t you show up?’ With no LUSU Council, a Student Jury and a scrutiny panel that never meets, and an Executive committee that doesn’t release its minutes, LUSU’s pressure valves of old are gone. If LUSU wants to return to transparency in any lasting way, it would do wise to reinstate the structures that were so needlessly abolished in 2016.
Everyone who uses Lancaster’s IT systems will have been briefed many times on the much-publicised phishing attack this summer that led to applicants’ data being stolen – for example, see:
For most local users, the changes to IT access since then have been a relatively minor inconvenience, though they’ve caused substantial increases in workload for staff who do still have access to relevant systems and data – basically we can’t all be as functional as we used to be, because we can’t stay secure that way. But for some student societies the problems are more significant – an anonymous correspondent submits the following (content redacted to remove all the swear words):
The uni decided, over the summer, that it’s too much of a data breach hazard for societies to have IT accounts. They decided this… because staff got phished. Clearly, staff getting phished and a data breach happening that way means society IT accounts are a problem. So what do they do? Do they make a sensible choice and enforce regular password changes for society accounts? Enforce more data protection training? Remind societies to be secure?
No, they just decide to nuke society accounts. Nuke ’em entirely. Do they communicate this effectively? No they don’t.
ISS were meant to get all this sorted before term started. Naturally, it wasn’t sorted in time, but for some reason they decided to not allow room bookings to be released to societies. LUSU front desk staff had to rescue societies by doing bookings for them. Any socs who wanted to have their meeting places on their freshers’ week advertising had only from the Monday of freshers’ week to go to LUSU and book rooms.
Otherwise many many societies would have been handing out flyers that said ‘WE’RE THINGY SOC, WE LIKE THE THING… FIND US… SOMEWHERE. WE GUESS.’
On top of this, the nuking of society accounts means that now, the only way to get any room bookings done is via the personal student accounts of any exec who’ve been verified as exec members. They now seemingly have to validate ALL student exec members EVERY YEAR… which will totally happen on time. And then de-validate them whenever execs change hands. Oh, that’ll be great, won’t it?
On top of that, there’s zero policy in place for non-student exec. At all. Not one bit of thought about us. We are a thing. I’m doing an important activity-coordinating role and now I can’t access room bookings or the society’s email inbox at all – not even room bookings viewing access, so I can’t go ‘Hey, President, please book exactly these rooms at exactly these times’, unless I physically use one of them for access. Similarly, I can’t send emails as the society.
Also, society web pages can be hosted on uni servers. Those are tied to the society account. Or were. We were told that ISS wouldn’t pull society accounts until they had a solution to this, and every time we ask anyone about it, they say ‘Oh, the unioncloud page?’ and we say ‘No, the society web page hosted on uni servers, this one’ and show them, and they say ‘Oh I dunno lol’.
This has happened, our correspondent suggests, because someone’s used ‘a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.’
subtext sympathises with our correspondent but also sympathises with ISS, who found themselves all over the press this summer and facing external investigations left, right and centre. We trust that an amicable solution can be found.
Was it a deliberate joke or an unfortunate error that led Lancaster’s facilities homepage to proudly announce: ‘University invests in £11 million four-story extension to the Library’? A pun-spotting reader comments that, while it’s good to see that the library is to increase its book collection, just four more stories seems a little on the low side for an investment of £11 million.
Contributed article by Ronnie Rowlands
A lot has happened since subtext broke the news of LUSU’s decision to strip Bailrigg FM of its FM license, the most significant thing being the decision to continue funding it after all.
Bailrigg FM was fortunate that the decision came in the wake of constant negative publicity and ill feeling towards the SU (not always neccessarily deserved). Suddenly the student body became incredibly angry at LUSU’s decision, along with numerous Bailrigg FM alumni who crawled out of the woodwork to join them. But in amongst the directionless online rage and rudeness was a clear argument, and a clear emerging set of reasons why this was a very, very bad idea.
While Station Manager Pascal Maguet found himself being interviewed on BBC Radio Lancashire (which is on FM…), Lancaster alumni who owe their successful careers to Bailrigg FM showed their displeasure. Some laid out precisely how this would severely limit the career opportunities of future graduates – such as James Masterton, in this excellent piece:
Others flatly said that they would be less likely to recommend Lancaster graduates to media employers if Bailrigg were to lose its license. Even the LUSU Sabb-elects publicly backed Bailrigg FM, pledging to reverse the decision once they took office. In all of its recent PR nightmares (subtexts passim), LUSU has at least had the benefit of some pockets of support / indifference. In this case, no-one stepped forward in their defence. Even with this multi-disciplinary bollocking going on, LUSU had a crack at putting out a statement, which didn’t help matters (see item below).
With the argument won and the dust settled, Bailrigg FM and LUSU were able to come to an agreement – that LUSU would continue to fund Bailrigg’s license on the proviso that Bailrigg’s management committee fulfilled strategies to tackle some of the concerns that led to LUSU souring on it, including lax show-quality control and breaches of health and safety. Fair enough. On top of that, many Bailrigg alumni have committed themselves to taking a greater involvement in the station, pledging to offer mentoring and career opportunities.
The issue with allowing a small cut is that future generations of students will have fewer opportunities, and that the loss will never be restored. Indeed, the editor of SCAN was more than happy to accept a budget cut, reasoning that fewer issues per term was fine because they would still be on fine quality paper, and anyway SCAN ‘felt too frequent this year.’ This lazy complacency is an insult to previous editors who worked hard to maintain SCAN’s print cycle, and will also make SCAN ripe for further reductions down the line, because future generations of students will have no sense of just how much has been cut.
Bailrigg FM’s tenacity, pride, and awkwardness gave us a result which proves that students absolutely can win if they organise and mobilise, and which keeps the station safe for a good few more years. It is a great success story, which came about because of the collaboration between alumni and students, and your correspondent was proud to be present at its 50th anniversary celebrations this month.
Here’s to 50 more years!
A MILLION WAYS TO BE CR-EU-L
Lancaster, both the University and the town, seemed to be well represented on the ‘Put it to the People’ March on 23 March, not least judging by the cheerful but slightly sleepy crowd of a dozen or so protestors gathered at Lancaster station at around 8:30 in the morning. The train was already packed, and picked up more protestors at each mainline station (though surprisingly few in Preston).
It was only when the train arrived in London, however, that the true scale of the impending march became apparent. Converging on Mayfair in all directions, blue and yellow garments of all kinds, cardboard signs on wooden poles, numerous banners and many, many flags were very much in evidence, as were a number of extremely silly hats.
Your subtext correspondent made his way to the start of the protest at Park Lane – after a brief but necessary brunch – only to find it… well, rather full of people. It took around an hour to get from Marble Arch to the other end of the street, and then a further three hours to get as far as Trafalgar Square (normally a 10-minute walk), despite niftily overtaking a mobile disco, a samba band and all manner of other protestors. By this point, the speeches at Parliament Square where well and truly over, despite the vast majority of marchers never getting there.
As is becoming the norm for events of this type, the best slogans and banners have been widely shared on social media. Your correspondent’s personal favourites, however, included:
– the child brandishing an evidently self-made banner proclaiming that ‘Brexit is poo poo butt face’ in bright colours, bringing some much needed gravity to the political discourse around the topic;
– the two adjacent signs with bright green cut-out pictures of salad leaves that said ‘Lettuce Romaine’ and ‘Don’t lettuce leaf’;
– ‘Article 50 does not spark joy’ next to a picture of Marie Kondo;
– The blue sign splattered with yellow paint that read ‘Pollocks to Brexit’;
– The rather dark ‘Dear Dignitas, do you do countries?’;
– And the ever so subtle ‘Frontières sans médicins’.
The mood was a strange mixture of ebullient, joyous and also angry – but not in a red-faced, shouty way. People were laughing, smiling at each other’s placards, and generally having a good time, while their anger was clearly focussed at the people they saw as having got the country into its current predicament.
The absolute highlight of the march for this correspondent, however, had to be the piper marching with the SNP London branch playing ‘Ode to Joy’. What could be a more evocative argument against Brexit than the European anthem, written in Vienna by a German composer of Flemish extraction, commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society in London and played on Scottish bagpipes?
LANCASHIRE AND YORKSHIRE EU-NITED AT LAST
Contributed article by Jenny Watts
I was unable to attend the People’s Vote March for health reasons, however, this topic remains very important to me. As a cancer patient the long term impact of Brexit on the NHS is rather alarming. I belong to a local cross-party activism group (Lancaster for Europe, find us on Twitter or Facebook) and they showed me how to donate money to cover the cost of a place, so that another student from Lancaster could attend. It was great watching the Lancaster and Yorkshire flags later on the news. Very encouraging to see the red and white roses!
The following is an interview with my Yorkshire-based parents, who were able to attend.
Q: Can you tell me what motivated you to get up at 4:30am to catch a coach departing from Hull on March 23rd?
Geoff: I was at the end of my tether! What else could I do? No one was listening to the Remain Team, or challenging the Leave lies.
Gwyneth: I wanted to stand up and be counted. When it all started back in 2016, I was really upset. But then I thought, hang on, let’s give the Leavers a chance; it might work. However, nothing I have seen, or read, has convinced me that it will actually be good for the majority of the country. I can see how it benefits billionaires though! That pesky new EU law on tax avoidance, eh?
Q: Your placards talk about honesty, do you feel deceived?
Gwyneth: Not now, personally; I hate being told lies, but I like to check stuff for myself. That lie about having to join the Euro for example, or Turkey joining the EU, or all the wonderful new trade deals…
Geoff: I am a retired police custody sergeant. Never enjoyed being lied to, and if I had practised a hundredth of as much deception professionally as this crew on my placard, I would have been sacked. Rightly so.
Q: What was the atmosphere like during the journey?
Gwyneth: Subdued, a bit tense, we didn’t know anybody or what to expect.
Geoff: Desperately short of sleep.
Q: Would you say you have a history of attending demonstrations in London?
Geoff: Never done anything like it.
Gwyneth: I’ve always been interested in human rights and welfare. As a young mum I stood for election as a Liberal for the local council, but this was my first big march. As a student in Manchester I went on demos, but only because I fancied the organiser!
Q: What happened during the march?
Geoff: Lots of chat and banter with other Yorkshire groups, making very, very slow progress towards Parliament Square. Never been in such a huge crowd, never seen such a crowd on TV, and so much warmth, good humour and anger being expressed in a very British way. Very heartening.
Gwyneth: Two and a half hours after joining at Marble Arch, we were still dancing down Park Lane – literally! We were joined by various bands, and it resembled a festival when the sun came out. We had to turn back at the end of Piccadilly about 4:30pm, to return to our coach, and thousands of people were still marching, following the route to parliament. It seemed wrong to go against this tide, but we’d made our point.
Q: Do you think you will be attending marches in the future?
Geoff: Let’s hope I won’t have to.
Gwyneth: For this cause? YES!
Q: What advice do you have for those joining large demonstrations?
Geoff: Essentials – comfortable shoes, water bottle, and a sense of humour. Stick anything relevant to you on your placard, and go with the flow. Expect lies about the size of the crowd…
Gwyneth: Do it! Always decorate both sides of your placard, collect photos of the wittiest slogans, meet lovely people, realise you’re not alone.
Contributed article by Steve Wright
I read with interest, and serious concern, about Ian Meeks, LUSU VP Education’s, pyrrhic victory for ‘fairness’ in marking, achieved through the blunt and often inappropriate instrument of enforced anonymous marking (subtext 186). As such I propose it is re-dubbed a ‘Cheat’s Charter’ – because the only big winners here will be cheats. However, it is about much more than just making cheating easier, and shows a wilful disregard for education, professionalism and oversight in the institution.
I suggest the following five points are, or will be key outcomes and all should be of real concern:
– Making cheating much, much easier
– Blocking effective and innovative pedagogy
– Prioritising marks over feedback
– Imposing UG standards onto PG work
– Lack of faith in academic staff and University policies and procedures
I will address these in turn.
1 – Making cheating much, much easier
Whatever the proportion of students who cheat (differing figures are given here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-45358185 and here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43975508), the selling of essays is a growing market and a serious concern. Maybe when you’re paying so much for education it seems only a small extra cost to take on – insurance perhaps?
One of the main justifications for introducing anonymous marking is that it will benefit BAME students by eliminating unconscious bias. Some who work and write for such services seem to share the Students’ Union’s concerns about institutional racism and discrimination (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36276324 for a fascinating interview with an essay-for-cash writer).
The evidence for anonymous marking benefiting BAME students is contested. The gap for medical education exists in anonymous examinations (see https://www.ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/sites/teaching-learning/files/katherine_woolf_seminar_bme_attainment_seminar_addressing_ethnic_differences_in_attainment_in_higher_education_january_2019.pdf). Meanwhile research and evaluation by the HEA suggests that inclusivity is best served through ‘a range of assessment which includes ways to draw on experiences – personal, professional, volunteering for example – and bring those in’ (https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/bme_summit_final_report.pdf). However, bringing in those examples serves to de-anonymise students and is thus likely to be discouraged by a focus on anonymity as a cure.
By contrast anonymous marking really, and singularly, benefits those who buy essays. Furthermore, this makes effective approaches to combat cheating and enhance teaching, as well as improve inclusivity, much, much harder – if not impossible – to implement.
Whilst Turnitin offers text matching (not plagiarism detection) and there are a variety of practices and misconceptions about it (e.g. high percentage matches are not necessarily indicative of plagiarism, whereas very low matches are often indicative of other substantial issues etc), the essay-selling companies promise a plagiarism-scan passing essay (see https://www.customessaymeister.com/ for example) so this will only help identify some areas of poor academic practice NOT bought essays.
2 – Blocking effective and innovative pedagogy
Rather than making ‘Lancaster a beacon of good practice’ the Cheat’s Charter will have a chilling effect. The Certificate in Academic Practice (CAP) programme identifies innovative ways to introduce assessment that can be more than the mere summative mark the Students’ Union seeks. Good assessment also encourages good practice, additional skills and deeper learning, whilst also discouraging or preventing merely buying summative essays.
Examples include developing presentation skills, as well as preventing cheating, by asking for oral presentations. There can be processes for requesting essay plans (as distinct from purchasable ‘drafts’) or other work that associates the process with the person and the product so that early formative feedback can shape and improve work, provide constructive input and feedback as well as an audit trail precluding merely buying an assignment to be anonymously marked. Other innovative approaches such as students correcting Wikipedia entries based on research evidence and the tutor reviewing their change log – so that instead of your work resulting in an anonymous mark and an essay in the bin you actually contribute to open information access based on your privileged position with access to paywalled research – well that’s out too as it can’t be anonymous! Peer-marking of group contributions to address the dissatisfaction with a single group mark that is so clear in NSS feedback complaints? Nope – anonymity makes that too problematic.
Furthermore where there has been close work with students to help develop a piece of work and work through issues, or where more than one person may have a similar overall project, anonymity prevents customised, personalised feedback. It requires impersonal comments rather than connecting back to formative assessment and supervisory support. Anonymity has rarely made communication fairer, politer or more nuanced – just look at Twitter! Here it has an equal likelihood of undoing the careful work of personalised guidance to support students’ learning in favour of impersonal ‘objective’ harshness and judgement.
3 – Prioritising marks over feedback
The Cheat’s Charter prioritises one thing over all others: the mark. Feedback, as subtext rightly pointed out and point 2 argues extensively for, is the key element for academic improvement. Tailoring that, and connecting it to other work so it can be acted on, is much, much harder with anonymity. The implementation of this pledge prioritises the mark over the feedback, the assessment over the learning, singular attainment over ongoing education.
4 – Imposing UG standards onto PG work
The rationale for imposing this on PG programmes is that ‘exams are the main form of assessment currently marked anonymously, but Ian is keen to see the practice expanded to ensure students have all their work assessed fairly’.
This not only suggests exams are seen as fairer, but it is also a category error when imposed across all work including that of postgraduates. Despite this massive blind spot in the assumptions it is based on, there is no nuance in the recommendation or its implementation. Postgraduate work with smaller numbers, asking for examples from professional practice and experience or a bespoke topic cannot be meaningfully marked anonymously. This should be a strength, not a weakness or something to root-out, yet that is what is happening.
5 – Lack of faith in academic staff and University policies and procedures
In his comments about the introduction of anonymous marking, the VP Education said: ‘Anonymous marking reduces the risk of unconscious bias by the marker, increasing the level of confidence students can have that they are getting the mark they deserve.’
As per points 1 and 2 – this could be argued to be the case but it certainly couldn’t give a student the confidence their peers would get the marks they deserve if they were in a group, or cheated by buying an essay. It strongly suggests an assumption that all academics are so prejudiced they’re not even aware of their prejudice, and furthermore that LUSU have no faith in the University for having academic standards, academic professionalism or appropriate procedures for challenge, review or complaint.
The paradigm exploration of this has to be the plot of the History Man (for those unfamiliar the TV show was filmed at Lancaster University in the 70s and is still available to view via Box of Broadcasts which is HIGHLY recommended – see link below). In this story a right-on, left-wing academic marks down a Thatcherite student’s essay and discriminates against the student. However, the student complains and his complaint of bias is upheld. The bias isn’t the unconscious racist bias Ian suggests is rife at Lancaster, but it is bias, and even in a 70’s satire there are University procedures to handle it!
Recording available via Box of Broadcasts through the library:
The History Man, 21:00 15/02/2009, BBC4, 95 mins. https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/00DD68BC?bcast=31635147 (Accessed 04 Mar 2019)
All of the above combine to suggest that this ‘Cheat’s Charter’ is misguided, and leads away from creative pedagogy and applying insights to professional experience or context, and towards summative, anonymous, impersonal, anodyne, reduced value, standardised assessment.
The beneficiaries will be cheats, the costs to reputation that result could be very high. Despite this, the imposition of this has occurred without consultation, and with a heavily bureaucratic requirement for exceptions. My fear now is which will be the next values and faith in professionalism to be burned on the pledge pyre of a LUSU officer?
As subtext goes to press, Bailrigg FM’s members have been sent an email informing them that Lancaster SU will no longer be supporting the station’s FM broadcasting license, something it has held for over 20 years. This would mean the station going online-only from the end of August 2019, and ceasing to be regulated by Ofcom. The reason is given as ‘budgetary re-evaluations’ – apparently the cost of a license, somewhere in the region of £1000 per annum, is ‘poor value for money and not enhancing the student experience.’ Members have been told there is very little that can be done about this, despite offers by the station management to try and crowdfund the money.
Supporters of SCAN and other student media must now be wondering how these ‘budgetary re-evaluations’ will affect them.
BAILRIGG SET AT £1000
Contributed article by Ronnie Rowlands
The idea that a monolith like Bailrigg FM would stand to lose its FM license is inconceivable, yet entirely inevitable, as the Students’ Union whittles itself down further and further in a desperate bid to save cash.
Only last term, the union called on students to vote ‘yes’ in a referendum proposing to reduce the number of paid officers from six to five, going as far as to denounce themselves as a waste of money whilst spouting some nonsense about ‘focusing representation.’ To no avail – the turnout was not quorate, and the SU was unable to make an eighteen grand budget cut. The SU had already made savings when it palmed major services like volunteering, international programmes, and enterprise off onto University House two years ago. And so, at last, it has no choice but to start looking at the pennies.
Bailrigg FM, and the student media as a whole, has been an easy target for many years. This is mainly because the people in LUSU responsible for financial decision-making don’t understand anything about it.
Even though my tempestuous tenure as the SU officer in charge of student media is far behind me, I still get a twitch when I recall enduring meetings listening to certain representatives flapping their gums about making SCAN online only, or making Bailrigg FM digital only. The argument has always been that not enough students listen to Bailrigg FM to justify the amount of money that goes into it, and that ‘radio is dying.’ I would not be at all surprised if such an inane contention was the clincher in whatever meeting the decision was made.
Bailrigg FM has never been about the listeners. Commanding a large audience is a bonus, not an objective. Bailrigg FM has always been about its members. The aim of Bailrigg FM is to provide a playground for budding broadcasters, journalists, producers, writers, engineers, performers, and any of the rest of them.
This is vital to a university that does not offer any vocational media degrees (until the Gary Neville University opens its doors, of course…), and doesn’t cater to such-minded students at its careers fairs. In 2015, I established the LUSU Media Conference as a means of allowing students to network with well-connected and highly experienced industry professionals, but even that seems to have shifted its emphasis towards PR, social media, digital marketing, and suchlike. The SU are entitled to do this, of course, but it only serves to diminish further the limited offerings that Lancaster has for budding ‘meeja’ types.
I hear the flapping of gums again. Am I not reacting as though Bailrigg FM is being shut down completely? Surely FM radio is, quite literally, an analogue concept in a digital age? Quite. But while FM is old-fashioned, it lends legitimacy to the station. It gets taken more seriously by awarding bodies, and it is more appealing to potential sponsors.
It also obligates you to follow Ofcom regulations. Great! Radio without limits, right?
But being bound by Ofcom requires you to follow its programme code. That means you must adhere to standards of taste and decency, show due impartiality on current affairs, play the news on the hour, avoid product placement, devote a certain amount of your airtime to certain genres, abstain from promoting dangerous behaviour, etc. Basically, it means that you have to behave like you are working at a real radio station, because that is precisely what you are doing. The discipline involved puts pressure on members not to get fined by Ofcom, on the management to ensure that certain standards are kept, and on broadcasters to behave themselves. These are all vital, vocational skills in broadcasting, journalism, and management, that students can take with them should they wish to go into ‘proper’ radio.
Rules around taste and decency force you to be a little more creative with crude ideas – the greatest episode of Seinfeld ever written was the one with the masturbation contest, and yet it never once explicitly alluded to masturbation. Taking some of your mates into a studio, getting tanked up and shouting ‘C*NT’ at each other for an hour and a half might be great fun, but Derek and Clive you are not, and it isn’t something that you’d want to put on your demo-reel.
Then there’s the small issue of policing what gets broadcast. With Bailrigg FM no longer under the jurisdiction of Ofcom, it will fall to LUSU and the University to enact procedures when somebody acts unlawfully on the air.
Such tight fisted, tiny-mindedness tells us nothing new about the SU’s financial shape. Nor does it help the perception that the SU has had a huge deficit of accountability since it did away with Union Council in 2016.
Back then, elected officers, concerned Bailrigg FM members, and the general membership of the University could have shown up to many different meetings to give the Executive a piece of their mind. Alas, more marketing types and fewer media types are being elected to the officership overseeing student media, as the SU continues to shut itself off from scrutiny.
Now, they can freely flap their gums, and merrily whittle themselves down to nothing, the potential consequences little more than static.
With thanks to James Masterton
Review by Martin Widden
Some years ago, with help from the Friends of the Lancaster Concerts, the University bought a new Steinway concert grand piano for the Great Hall. Our old Steinway had reached the stage where good pianists were complaining about the state of it, and seemed quite likely to start refusing to come to Lancaster. Having this new piano has enabled the University to bring excellent pianists to Lancaster to perform in the concert series. Last week’s concert was one such, with a recital by Eric Lu, winner of the first prize in the 2018 Leeds international piano competition.
His programme opened with the A minor Rondo by Mozart. This late piece by Mozart, dating from 1787, is full of emotion, and Lu captured this excellently in a sensitive performance. He followed this with the six Klavierstücke by Brahms. These are serious pieces, demanding the deepest insight from the performer, and again Eric Lu was able to tap into this very well despite his relatively tender years (he is 21).
After the interval, we had Handel’s Chaconne in G major, a series of variations on a theme. Handel’s skill in developing this short and simple theme into complex and mesmerising variations is remarkable.
The recital ended with the second sonata by Chopin – the one that includes as its third movement the well-known funeral march. This is a virtuoso piece, which was played with complete confidence by the pianist.
The performance of this varied and well-balanced programme by Eric Lu was highly satisfying. He evidently studies the music so that he becomes fully aware of the composer’s intentions, and his technique is so assured that he is able to communicate these to the listener very clearly.
This was an excellent recital in every way – possibly the best piano performance of recent years in the Lancaster series of concerts, and a fine end to the 2018-19 concert season.
Scene: County South Lecture Theatre, Thursday 28 February, 7pm onwards, set out cabaret style.
Audience: probably just short of 100 people, though this fluctuated a lot.
Lighting: usually this was on ‘low’, except for the several moments when (we think some of the audience were leaning on the light switches) things changed to ‘unbearably full on’ or ‘off’.
Rules: candidates would get two minutes to speak, followed by questions from the audience, when they’d have just 30 seconds to answer each query. Finally, the ‘debate’, where they’d get to ask each other questions.
After the inevitable delay, things started at 7:25pm, with the undercard. As well as electing the six full-time officers, the students’ union will also be holding by-elections next week for four part-time officer positions: Black and Minority Ethnic, LGBTQ+, Students with Disabilities and International Students. The most notable part of these husts for part-time roles, especially given some of the positions up for grabs, was the subject not mentioned – last term’s snowsports society affair. The subject would be raised more than once before the end of the night.
First up for the full-time officer positions were the candidates for Vice-President Activities – the post responsible for overseeing student sports and societies. Traditionally a hotly contested role, this year only two candidates – Ben Evans and Cameron Jones – duked it out.
Evans gave a lucid, no-nonsense speech clearly outlining his experience and his ambitions. Having played for men’s rugby, and served on both the Roses Committee and County JCR Exec, Ben pledged to support mental health initiatives within sports, and identified numerous ways of improving intercollegiate sporting competitions such as the Carter Shield. He also identified timetabling issues which prohibited PostGrads from becoming involved in sports, and pledged an online calendar for sports practices and games.
Next was Cameron Jones – the Swimming Captain – whose emphasis was on recruiting more ‘top-level’ athletes for various sports societies, which he aimed to do by taking advantage of the recent addition of Sports Science to Lancaster’s degree offerings.
Hands shot up. A question was asked about gender-neutral changing rooms for trans students at the sports centre. Jones recognised how difficult it’d be to implement this, given that the sports centre is not run by LUSU. Evans was similarly sceptical but noted that the impending extension of the Sports Centre might provide an opportunity to lobby for such changes. Two perfectly grounded, realistic responses, which nonetheless led to a smattering of students taking to Twitter to denounce both candidates for hate speech.
Both candidates were asked how they planned to improve engagement with under-represented sports – Evans favoured more comms limelight and highlighting the achievements of under-represented groups, such as women’s rugby opening this year’s Roses. Jones favoured tailored campaigns to recruit for under-represented sports, citing #ThisGirlCan – a campaign to promote women’s sports – as an example. The candidates also quizzed each other – Jones asked Evans how he planned to achieve the Bingo-Card ‘Wednesday Afternoons’ being free for all, while Evans asked Jones if his ‘elite athletes outreach’ policy was potentially alienated to people who were already members of various sports teams.
It was refreshing to hear from two evenly matched candidates who were knowledgeable of developments within the university, and how they could be taken advantage of to improve sports provision. However, NO MENTION OF SNOW SPORTS!
Vice-President Campaigns and Communications was next – a contentious one, given that the Students’ Union had tried to referendum the post out of existence only a couple of months ago. Presumably, then, we could expect tubthumping, prominent campaigners to show us why the role was vital. Err.
Terry Tucker, a Bailrigg FM presenter, was up first. The role of Campaigns & Communications Vice-President requires the postholder to oversee the operations of the student media – Bailrigg FM, SCAN, LA1 TV – and Tucker was able to demonstrate that he had been involved in them all for a long time (some more than others). Moving on to campaigns, he proposed campaigns to eliminate stigma and shame among the 35% of students with mental health problems, as well as to take on rent increases – both of which he feels are linked.
Lewis Marriott pledged transparency. So often a buzzword, transparency has been a real problem for LUSU in recent years, as their decision-making has grown more and more opaque since it abolished most of its democratic structures in 2016.
Citing his Social and Events experience on The County College’s JCR Executive, Marriott gave bog standard pledges to use big screens and promotional drives to promote student media. Tucker, meanwhile, favoured greater training for student media members from media professions. In his opinion, improving the skill set of members would lead to more awards for SCAN, Bailrigg FM, and LA1TV, ergo more prestige.
Neither candidate held back when invited to quiz each other. Tucker asked Marriott why he had only just got involved in student media, who responded that it just wasn’t well promoted enough. Marriott asked Tucker what he had achieved as Disabilities Officer to justify mentioning it – ‘within weeks I revived Students with Disabilities Forum, achieved quoracy, finally updated its terms of reference, and built solid foundations for future officers’ came the firm response.
Campaigns and Comms is a diverse role which attracts diverse manifestos – in this case, it is very much a marketing bod against a student media guy.
One of the candidates for Vice-President Education having (seemingly) withdrawn, three remained. One, Bogdan Angheluta, had excellent powers of oratory, including expert hand gestures, but his platform seemed a little thin to your subtext drones, consisting basically of ‘if it can be done in the Management School, it can be done anywhere.’ The other two, Valentina Piredda and Bee Morgan, had less rhetoric, but stronger policies. Neither hesitated to point out when they thought something wasn’t achievable and – therefore! – not in their manifestos. Valentina, the current Mature Students’ Officer, emphasised her knowledge of postgraduate and part-time students’ concerns, while Bee, a Natural Scientist, stressed her success in improving departmental representation for combined honours students.
The issue of lecture capture – and whether it should be compulsory – showcased the candidates’ different approaches. ‘I’m realistic,’ said Bee, noting that recording all lectures isn’t possible and pointing out that Lancaster’s current system of lecture capture isn’t that great anyway, often failing to capture either the lecture materials – especially if written on a whiteboard – or the lecturer (see subtext 141). Valentina supported making the practice more widespread but didn’t promise anything more. Bogdan insisted that it was possible to make capture compulsory, and cited the example of two lecturers – in the Management School, of course – who initially said ‘no’ but later changed their mind. So there.
Laurie Butler, one of the candidates for Vice-President Welfare & Community, easily wins the ‘innovation in poster design’ award here. No grinning visage. No colour. Minimalist style, e.g. just a big ‘equals’ sign to show his commitment to equality. The effect was akin to a poster advertising a new piece of radical theatre, rather than the usual ‘vote for me!’ style – indeed, the first time your reviewers saw Laurie’s posters, they made a mental note to check out the latest programme for the Nuffield Theatre. subtext fears this might be his downfall, however, since having large ‘vote for me!’ posters is generally a vital part of a candidate’s campaign.
Laurie’s hustings was, similarly, very different from that of his opponents, Sruthi Chilukoti and Grishma Bijukumar. Sruthi and Grishma’s speeches emphasised their strong welfare campaigns experience at Lancaster, while staying away from anything too contentious – Sruthi was particularly interested in training and support for societies’ welfare officers, while Grishma emphasised sexual health and bystander training. Laurie’s speech, while a lot less polished, and frequently veering closer to education campaigns rather than welfare, was explicitly political, supporting ‘participatory budgeting’ (students having a say in how the union’s money is spent), opposing the effects of Brexit, and campaigning to end the university’s investments in fossil fuels.
The most notable question concerned the snowsports society affair and its impact on our students. Grishma and Sruthi emphasised how important it was to listen to the students who’d been affected, while Laurie gave a passionate denunciation of the far right on campus: ‘we’ve fought you before, we’ll fight you again, and we’ll win!’
Hands down, Vice-President Union Development was the most entertaining hustings of the night, as two competent former JCR presidents, John Clayton and Richard Smith*, took on Hannah Prydderch, also a former JCR president, who introduced herself as ‘the Welsh one’ and proceeded to wipe the floor with both John and Richard. All three spoke of the need for JCR training and how to engage more students in union democracy, but Hannah did so with better slogans and more memorable promises. Hannah’s policies struck a progressive tone – notably, while John was equivocal on the union’s affiliation to the National Union of Students (NUS), and Richard openly endorsed a referendum on disaffiliation from the NUS, Hannah not only supported continued NUS affiliation but pointed out one of its key benefits – ‘making your drinks cheaper at sugar!’
And we haven’t mentioned Meegan Clark yet. Where to begin?
Meegan’s definitely a maverick. She has a distinctive style, coming out from behind the lectern and acting like she’s at an open mic night. During the ‘debate’ stage, where the candidates ask each other questions, she would have given The Sweeney a run for their money when it came to interview style. And if those pen pushers in University House give her any grief…
But when it comes to her policies, well, we tried our best, but there was nothing there. In a rather surreal stream of consciousness peppered with insults, just one sensible point stood out – no, it wasn’t a good idea to extend the election campaign period, given the amount of candidates’ time it took up and the fact that most candidates also had part-time jobs.
And so came the main event. In recent years, the race for President has been a drab affair. The former JCR President and the populist insurgents work to find out who can most convincingly promise to listen to students hardest… and whoever has the largest college wins.
County Democracy and Finance Officer* George Nuttall wanted to re-inspire faith in the union, introduce drug testing kits, address the black attainment gap, and introduce separate full time officers for sports and societies. Furness President Will Groarke wanted to improve visibility, crack down on neglectful landlords, and work on better bus pass deals for PG students. Two perfectly workmanlike candidates, we thought. And then Danny Mirza, a colourful character from Grad college, got up to speak.
There was little in the way of content in Mirza’s speech, but it was hard not to get swept up in his ‘Dr Nick from The Simpsons’ style, replete with singing and dancing. There was talk of grad jobs and buddy schemes. Your correspondents wondered if he could pull off an upset if he really worked the kitchens…
…until the candidates started questioning each other. In a lengthy diatribe that no doubt soured the room against him, Mirza attacked both candidates for having policies covering the remits of other officers – ignoring the policies that clearly didn’t, and seemingly advocating for the abolition of the post. Both candidates defended themselves well against this, skilfully swinging the room back in their favour and bringing Mirza’s waffle into sharp relief.
Questions from the floor were drab. A question about Israeli and Palestinian tensions was not well addressed by any of the candidates (the phrase ‘I will go and speak to the Jews’ found its way into one of Mirza’s answers…). All of the candidates stressed their fearlessness in confronting senior management – Danny is a Senator, George a University Councillor.
All in all, a traditional showing, with two strong collegiate candidates and an eccentric.
The event closed at 11pm. subtext would like to wish all the candidates well – for them the next two weeks will possibly be the most intense experience of their lives.
Contributed by Ronnie Rowlands and James Groves
* NOTE: Errors in the email version (we originally listed Richard Smith as Richard Clark, and George Nuttall as County President, rather than Democracy and Finance Officer) have been corrected in the web version.
Review: BBC Phil plays the Great Hall
The concert given in the Great Hall on 7 February was the first by the BBC Philharmonic since they were re-appointed as the University’s Orchestra in Residence in December. The large audience proved once again that concerts by a full symphony orchestra are a sure-fire hit: the concert was a sell-out. It featured two substantial works: a clarinet concerto by Edward Cowie entitled Ruskin’s Dreams, and the sixth symphony of Tchaikovsky.
A Lecturer in Music at Lancaster from 1973-1983, Cowie is not just a composer, but also a successful painter, particularly of birds. In his programme notes for the concert, Cowie suggests that his life has some parallels with Ruskin’s: both were painters, both were sufferers from some form of mental illness. These overlaps can surely be of very limited significance. Still, the clarinet concerto was, it seems, inspired by Ruskin’s life and works, and by Lake Coniston, which is where Ruskin spent his later life. Whilst he was at Lancaster in the 1970s, Cowie’s compositions were miniatures, so it came as a surprise to find him writing skilfully for a full symphony orchestra. It’s too soon to know whether Ruskin’s Dreams will enter the regular concert repertoire.
Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony is nicknamed the Pathétique, a name suggested to him by his brother and accepted by the composer, and the music clearly suggests self-pity. There are several possible reasons for this. One is that Tchaikovsky suffered severe personal problems due to his homosexuality and the failure of his marriage. What is more, composing symphonies did not come naturally to Tchaikovsky. A symphony is an extended work for orchestra, usually in several separate and contrasted movements, with a formal structure, particularly for the first movement: this form was established in the days of Haydn and Mozart. Being essentially an emotional composer, Tchaikovsky could not flourish under the constraints imposed by this form. His sixth symphony is not only an expression of his personal misery, but it also seems to echo the spiritual hunger of our age. It is always a popular item on an orchestra’s programme, as it was in the Great Hall. The BBC Phil clearly know the symphony very well and they gave it full romantic value.
The composer conducted the first performance of the symphony in St Petersburg in early October 1893. He made some small revisions for the second performance, planned for later in the month, but before that could take place, Tchaikovsky had unfortunately died. This symphony uses the orchestra’s resources to the full, and the BBC Phil rose to the occasion very well.
Contributed by Martin Widden
By its rapid growth, by the transformation of its activities and by the churn of its staff, there is a tendency for HR to forget (and so to ignore) the rules of the game, with the result that they seem to reset the rules as and when needed.
Let’s try a thought experiment: the report of a grievance investigation is passed to a grievance appeal panel. With a three-person panel, impartial appraisal is likely. Yet, the company retains its trump card. Reports to HR are ‘private and confidential’, meaning that the complainant is prohibited from making the panel’s recommendations public. An act of censorship?
Change is also noteworthy in respect of the annual PDR whose parameters have undergone many changes. Five or so years ago, the advice to PDR trainee reviewers was (i) to work with no more than eight individuals and (ii) that the purpose of a PDR is not to facilitate the task of managing a department. How times change.
As ‘line manager’ (rather than a ‘first among equals’), it is implicit that the head of an academic department may apply such pressure upon their charges that (in the imagination of HR) it is now a ‘rare occasion where a reviewer and reviewee do not agree’. There is no basis to support the idea that disagreement is ‘rare’, as the current PDR format is spanking brand new. Within the current configuration of the PDR, HR advises that ‘if issues cannot be resolved by your Head, you should refer the matter to your Dean, Faculty Manager or Divisional Director (as appropriate).’
Well-motivated independent ‘disagreements’ from colleagues with careers to build invite danger; and the pressure to comply with company lines is further heightened by the recent justification from HR of the use of outside consultants to resolve any PDR disagreements. Where trust and confidence are vital elements of collegial relations, the decision to appoint an outside consultancy on that ‘rare occasion where a reviewer and reviewee do not agree’ is indeed extraordinary.
Language is indeed alive. Once familiar in their use but now largely devoid of meaning are ‘collegiality’, ‘primus inter pares’, ‘scholarship’ and ‘patet omnibus veritas’.
Contributed by Gerry Steele.
A subtext reader has sent us this version of a very old internet meme…
In the beginning there was a Plan.
And then came the Assumptions.
And the Assumptions were without form.
And the Plan was without substance.
And darkness was on the face of the workers.
And they spake amongst themselves saying
‘It is a crock of shit, and it stinks!’
And the workers went unto their Managers and said
‘It is a plan of dung, and none may abide the odour thereof.’
And the Managers went unto their Assistant Directors saying
‘It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong, such that none can abide by it.’
And the Assistant Directors went unto their Directors saying
‘It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength.’
And the Directors spake unto the Vice Chancellor, saying unto him
‘It promotes growth, and is very powerful.’
And the Vice Chancellor went unto the Senate, saying unto them
‘This new Plan will actively promote growth and vigour in this University, with powerful effects.’
And the Senate looked upon the Plan and saw that it was good.
And the Plan became Policy.
This is how shit happens.
Source: an old yellowed printout found behind shelving in the CC machine room