Category Archives: contributed article

SPECIAL FEATURE: Black Lives Matter

VIRTUE SIGNALLING MATTERS

Much like a number of ‘brands’, including fashion labels, supermarkets and tech companies, Lancaster University’s social media accounts took part in ‘Black Out Tuesday’ on 2 June. The following day, the University’s Instagram account featured a series of images featuring slogans beginning with ‘What now?’, followed by slogans like ‘Support’ and ‘Educate’ and a few details of what the University is supposedly doing to support its black community (https://www.instagram.com/p/CA-nUaWgvkO/).

Warm words are always nice, but do little to address the real and sometimes shocking inequalities that currently exist at the University. While we are reminded every March of the University’s continuing failure to effectively tackle its gender pay gap (subtexts passim), things have been very quiet around the statistics relating to ethnicity at Lancaster. According to the most recent HESA data available from 18/19 (see https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/staff/table-2), just over 10% of staff at Lancaster were BAME. Black colleagues made up just over 1% of the total. At senior levels, the figures look even worse: There were no black professors at Lancaster University in 18/19 according to the HESA data, and around 4% of professors overall were BAME. In the absence of Lancaster and other institutions publishing information about their ethnicity pay gaps alongside gender pay gaps, we are unfortunately left with a somewhat uncertain picture, but a 2019 report by the UCU (https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/10360/Black-academic-staff-face-double-whammy-in-promotion-and-pay-stakes) found that black academic staff are paid on average 14% less than white academic staff.

Returning to the University’s Instagram feed, one of the posts raised a few eyebrows in the subtext warehouse, not to mention among members of Lancaster University’s Race Equality Network (REN): ‘Unite. Staff and students can unite through the LU Race Equality Network to share, campaign and support one another.’ As the open letter sent to the VC by the REN (see below) states, the previous VC promised in 2016 as part of the EDI Strategic Vision 2020 that Lancaster would sign up to the Race Equality Charter (REC) by 2017 with an eye to accreditation by 2020. It appears that nothing at all has been done about this since then.

It may be tempting to consider this a problem not experienced in our leafy, progressive climes, but Lancaster is by no means immune to racial harassment and discrimination. Take 2018, which brought us the Snow Sports Society white t-shirt scandal and controversial suspension of the black BME Officer who went to the press with details (see subtext 183), instances of swastikas daubed on office doors (see subtext 166) and the charming emergence of a fascist student society that disrupted lectures both public (see subtext 173) and academic (see subtext 176).

The HE environment can be at best negligent, and at worst actively hostile, for black academics and students. Recently the hashtag #BlackInTheIvory has been used on Twitter and other platforms by black academics and students from around the world to highlight the many, many different forms of discrimination and abuse they have encountered at universities. And this is where we return to the University’s virtue signalling versus a lack of concrete action and commitment to real change: there is no point putting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on social media, if the University’s actions suggest that they don’t, when it counts.

***

OPEN LETTER TO THE VC

Dear Andy Schofield,

We hope you are well and settling into the new role at Lancaster. A turbulent time to start.

We are writing regarding your inclusivity statement of 12 June. From the Lancaster University Race Equality Network’s (https://www.luren.org.uk) perspective, it was certainly good to hear of the University’s abhorrence of racism from the top. It was equally important to hear an acknowledgement of the dearth of activity thus far in attempting to address race equality at Lancaster. In the current moment this lack of action appears ever more stark.

Your statement referred to admissions criteria and representation in the Lancaster community, both key, yet the shocking race pay and attainment gaps also require attention. What was notably absent from your statement was any reference to decolonising Lancaster curricula. Unfortunately you are not alone in your reluctance (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/11/only-fifth-of-uk-universities-have-said-they-will-decolonise-curriculum). Yet decolonising work, including both specifically addressing curricula and more systematically interrogating and modifying practices in relation to student/staff recruitment, engagement, retention and attainment, has long been considered central to addressing race equality at all levels of education. Such work is currently being carried out by staff and students at Lancaster without Senior Management support, financial or otherwise.

If as you say you are committed to listening and learning, we hope you will take some time to listen to students from Lancaster University’s Why Is My Curriculum White? campaign, speaking at Decolonise UoK – Stories of Unbelonging (https://youtu.be/irkeT2aalIE), an event run by the University of Kent in March this year. These are our students’ lived experiences. They need to be heard.

We note also your commitment to seeing the University sign up to the Race Equality Charter, ‘and all that this entails’ by which, we presume, you refer to applying for Bronze Accreditation within 3 years of becoming a member. Having been promised this before in the EDI Strategic Vision 2020 (https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/edi/strategic-vision-2020/) you will forgive us if we do not wait with bated breath. LUREN understands that a feasibility study is currently ongoing to identify whether the University can fulfil its commitment to race equality without becoming a member. LUREN is clear that REC membership and accreditation by 2025 is vital if Lancaster is to fulfil its commitments to race equality, and concrete move in the right direction would be the establishment of a Self-Assessment Team and the appointment of a dedicated member of staff with relevant experience.

Race, as a protected characteristic, has long been ignored at Lancaster University, and our attempts to engage Senior Management in the experiences of staff and students from diverse ethnic backgrounds has fallen on deaf ears. But the public consciousness is shifting: Black Lives Matter. Prioritising the education, experience and wellbeing of staff and students is long overdue, but right now institutions, particularly HE institutions, are coming under the microscope. Empty words of commitment are considered simply insufficient (https://twitter.com/divanificent/status/1267746578615480323?s=20). What is required right now is action. We have attached the report by Sofia Akel (https://tinyurl.com/yc6zbocd) from 2018 outlining the situation at Lancaster specifically alongside recommendations. The REC, too, comes with an inbuilt set of requirements and recommendations. As David Lammy so eloquently put it on Radio 4 yesterday (https://tinyurl.com/ya3xtchp), instead of another review commission (or in Lancaster’s case a feasibility study) – implement them.

We wrote to Maria [Piacentini] regarding the suitability of a donation by the University to the Black Cultural Archives (https://blackculturalarchives.org), but have not heard anything further. This would be a good first step in demonstrating the University’s ‘commitment’ to race equality to your staff and students.

We are hopeful that your leadership represents a fresh start to race equality work at Lancaster University. We are tired, and angry, and disappointed. But we are also hopeful. We have every confidence that you will fulfil your responsibility to initiate action, given the broader mainstream narratives of racism in the UK right now. Lancaster has a dubious history of slave trading (https://tinyurl.com/y83n7wqt) but our past does not have to reflect our future. The University has the potential to become a leading light in HEI race equality. We hope that you will see fit to make it happen.

We look forward to hearing from you.

The LU Race Equality Network

If any subtext readers would like to be added to the LUREN mailing list, please contact m.barty-taylor@lancs.ac.uk

Cancel the Rent

A contributed report from your socially distanced subtext correspondent

Student members of ACORN, the tenants and community union, put up a banner saying cancel the rent above the University underpass, and cancel the rent and housing is health posters onto white boards across campus on Monday 25 May, as part of the current student rent strike on campus. In order to comply with lockdown regulations, the exercise involved a very small number of activists who live in campus accommodation and it lasted only c. 40 minutes. Physical distancing was adhered to at all times.

Students involved in the exercise said that there are currently c. 200 students still on rent strike over unfair rent claims made by the University. Many students are stuck on campus due to the lockdown; this affects international students in particular. The University had not yet shown its willingness to negotiate with the students, who made their demands several weeks ago. The students stuck on campus still have to pay the full rent despite many services not being provided, and those who, due to the lockdown rules, had to leave belongings in their abandoned rooms still have to pay 25%.

The students involved in the banner action said that they now struggle with the supply of basic essentials on campus, especially a scarcity of fresh fruit and vegetables. They have had to rely on the heavily overpriced campus Spar and campus central markets, which they say have only a very limited supply of everyday essentials. Fruit and vegetables currently sold in the shops on campus are limited and often near their expiry date. They are also overpriced, compared to the prices for the same items in grocery shops in town. The students also lamented that due to the COVID-19 lockdown, cleaning doesn’t take place in their halls, yet they are still asked to pay for it.

The students reported that it feels strange and somewhat eerie to live on an almost deserted campus.

Nuttall Officers

Contributed article by Ronnie Rowlands

Back in those heady, wistful days of February 2020, subtext reported that the students’ union (LUSU) had passed a drastic restructure of its executive officer team without adequate consultation.

LUSU’s reorganisation continues apace, with the sacking of President George Nuttall and the resignation of Vice-President (Welfare & Community) Grishma Bijukumar in April. This follows the departure of Vice-President (Union Development) Hannah Prydderch and Vice-President (Activities) Ben Evans, who both resigned earlier in the academic year, citing a ‘toxic workplace culture’ as the primary reason.

LUSU sabbatical officers skedaddling before their time is a rare, but not unheard of, thing. Throughout its history, LUSU has seen a handful of officer-elects failing their exams and therefore being ineligible to take office. Then there was the guy who won, then immediately resigned in horror upon learning who the other winners were. One officer elect was arrested for assault and barred from taking up office, his insistence that he could adequately execute his duties from a jail cell not quite cutting it with the powers that be.

But LUSU has never found itself down four officers. Just what the bloody hell went wrong?

Throughout his election campaign in 2019, George Nuttall was exalted by the snarky student social media as the saviour of the student voice, which had been sorely lacking since LUSU jettisoned most of its accountability structures in 2015 (subtexts passim). He had a history of activism (well, of giving off the impression that he did…) and, having served on the JCR Executive of the County College, was an obvious choice.

Having barely got its legs under the table, the Nuttall Ministry was immediately beset by the decision of LUSU’s Trustee Board to close the Sugarhouse, swayed to a majority by the vote of one sabbatical officer. A series of tactical (but not particularly subtle) leaks led to the very public outing and larruping of Vice-President (Activities) Ben Evans, who resigned shortly thereafter citing a toxic bullying culture within the officer team.

But still, the Sugarhouse was saved, and the Nuttall Ministry rode the wave of good PR as a substitute for doing much else. In February 2020, Nuttall was re-elected in an unopposed contest. Moments after his re-election, Vice-President (Union Development) Hannah Prydderch resigned.

Her resignation did not follow a surreptitious smear campaign. She left suddenly, citing bullying among the executive officer team as the reason, its concurrence with Nuttall’s re-election open to one very stark interpretation.

LUSU, which was spinning its tyres in the mud and failing to implement any of the policies that were passed at its general meeting in November, limped along.

*

On May 1, LUSU released the following statement:

‘George Nuttall was dismissed from office today following an independent investigation into complaints received by the Union […] Following a hearing, it was decided that […] Mr Nuttall should be dismissed from his post with immediate effect.’

At no point in LUSU’s history has a President been dismissed, either by the Trustee Board, or following a vote of no confidence. An army of sycophants, many of whom are friends with Nuttall on Facebook, immediately took to social media to decry LUSU’s senior management for turfing out ‘the most popular President in institutional memory’.

‘This is what happens when you try to stand up to Uni management – you’re destroyed’ thundered one unhappy student. The verdict of the Facebook Friends of Democracy was that a Good Man had been ousted for ruffling too many feathers.

This just doesn’t ring true.

Your author is proud to have served as a Vice-President of LUSU in 2014-15, and to have been a notoriously obstructive arsepain during his entire time at Lancaster.

Yes, it is true that the journeymen at LUSU’s top table would prefer a supine officer team and a quiet life. Nevertheless, my team and I: picketed open days; plastered campus with photoshopped posters of the Vice-Chancellor; occupied University House; and routinely showed up university management in front of its stakeholders. Yet we were never sacked.

Hell! My President, Laura Clayson, was the most notorious megaphone militant leftie of her era. She went on to be tried for terror-related charges in the Stansted 15 case, and you’re seriously telling me that this guy was subjected to a calculated whitewash for putting his name to a few terse open letters to D-Floor?

Give me a break.

* 

Irrespective of the choreographed outcry, LUSU is an employer, bound by employment law. If a thorough investigation into a complaint is undertaken and that complaint is substantiated, then any organisation worth its salt will follow its HR policy. It seldom ends well for organisations which choose to cover up complaints and protect their figureheads.

There were demands for the nature of the complaints to be made public, but anybody with the brains of a centipede knows that such a move would compromise the anonymity of complainants. Given the way in which the choreographed sycophants have already publicly shamed LUSU officers and Trustee Board members this year, it is easy to see why LUSU might want to protect the complainants.

Some of the choreographed sycophants suggested that Nuttall should have been subjected to a motion of no confidence, to afford the students an opportunity to democratically remove their President.

I harbour some support for this idea. What a pity, then, that a motion of no confidence in George Nuttall, lodged by a student via the LUSU website in March, was summarily withdrawn due to unspecified ‘legal reasons’! Oddly, the Facebook Friends of Democracy had little to say about this.

Then there’s the suggestion that Nuttall is ‘the most popular President in institutional memory’. I would be interested to know what metric was used to make that claim. Whilst it is true that Nuttall was re-elected to the Presidency with ‘70% of the vote’, this isn’t particularly difficult when you’re the only candidate running. Even then, 70% is low for an uncontested election! For most people on campus, the ‘institutional memory’ only stretches back for about three years.

Nuttall does not fare nearly as well in your author’s ‘institutional memory’, which stretches back a decade. In the context of ten years, and using the same metric, Nuttall’s popularity is historically low. There have been three other uncontested sabbatical elections in the last decade – one victor was returned with 83% of the vote, one with 79%, and one with 82%. Furthermore, Nuttall’s re-election campaign attracted 552 votes to Re-Open Nominations, the highest vote share for RON in any sabbatical contest for at least ten years.

Had I the time or inclination, I’d go back further, but this isn’t about sticking the boot into someone while they’re down. It’s about believing people who have been victimised.

I was utterly horrified to see the scorn, deflection, and denial from an organised army of sycophants on social media, their blind rabidity dwarfing the sparse voices of concern for the victims of bullying. The University of Lancaster has been beset by a culture of bullying this year, and it is disheartening to see that culture running so rampantly through LUSU; ostensibly the ‘Good Guys’; its victims dismissed by a court of public opinion that should know better.

Last year, I didn’t envy Nuttall the mess he had to clear up. This year, I do not envy our President-elect the task of lifting LUSU out of the ditch that Nuttall has left it in.

WIDDEN’S REVIEW – CONCERT FOR REFUGEE CRISIS

Contributed by Martin Widden
Prompted by the refugee crisis across the Mediterranean, the programme for the recital given on 5th March by the twelve-strong a capella choir Stile Antico was focused on John Dowland’s set of pavans for voice and lute, Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares. (According to Dowland’s contemporary Thomas Morley, a pavan was ‘a kind of staid music, ordained for grave dancing’.) Although dating from the early 17th century, these pavans seem completely appropriate to the tragedies being played out in the 21st, before our eyes as it were: indeed, the first pavan, which opens with the words ‘Flow my tears, fall from your springs! Exiled for ever let me mourn’, could have been composed for the recent Syrian crisis.
Only one of the seven pavans, the first, had a text; the remaining six were purely instrumental pieces, although all were melancholy in flavour. However, Stile Antico commissioned the poet Peter Oswald to provide texts for the remaining six pavans, highlighting contemporary issues of displacement and exile through the prism of Dowland’s music. These pieces were performed in the Great Hall recital on 5th March, alongside the superb Lamentations by Robert White, a contemporary of Dowland. The verses of these Lamentations describe the grief and desolation of the Israelites exiled in Babylon, but they will have had extra significance for White: being almost certainly a Catholic in Elizabethan England, he may well have felt like an exile himself.
Also on the programme was a series of pieces for oud (a form of lute from the Middle East), played by Rihab Azar, a Syrian oud player.
The final piece in the recital was a new work Bodrum Beach, commissioned by Stile Antico from the composer Giles Swayne, which was first performed at the 2019 Brighton Festival. This takes as its starting point the poem Dover Beach, by Matthew Arnold, but the piece was animated by the press photographs of the dead body of a three-year-old boy face down on a Turkish beach opposite the island of Kos – another refugee tragedy.
This piece closed what had been a very well rounded programme, illuminated by excellent programme notes, and brilliantly performed by the singers of Stile Antico.
It also closed the season of Great Hall concerts, since the final concert unfortunately had to be cancelled owing to the COVID-19 emergency.

DEMISE OF THE PIE

Contributed by Paul Arthur
Perhaps it is my age. Or my impoverished 70’s upbringing. Or, just maybe, it is that pies taste good and salad… well, let’s face it, it’s no competition.
For a number of years I have enjoyed lunchtime forays into the pastry-encased joy* of the Bowland Pie. In fairness I had not made the pilgrimage for some time when I discovered, to my utter horror, that Bowland is now a Salad Bar.
‘What?!!!’ My outrage was evident to colleagues (it is hard not to be evident in the closely-packed virus-fermenter that is the workspace favoured by University House). The discovery had been triggered by a suggestion that we should embark on a pie lunch as we had not done so in some time. Over the next few minutes the office buzzed with comments ranging from muted dismay to shouted demands for industrial action.
To understand my sense of loss you must first appreciate the extent to which pies are at the very core of my existence. Whilst travelling in New Zealand some years ago I wrote a blog in which I sampled pies as I travelled (New Zealanders make very good pies). My well-thumbed pie bible ‘Life of Pies’ by the venerable Martin Tarbuck is oft reached-for if I am to travel in the UK. I have shares in Greggs, although that is actually making the best of a bad lot where campus pie-provision is concerned.
Why? Why would you replace pie with salad? Salad has its place, of course. Somewhere in the footer of a menu that features a long list of excellent pies, perhaps.
So, my plea to our revered University Catering colleagues is this. Bring back the Bowland Pie, lest I fade away living a life of quiet despair as I rock in a corner of University House.
* Disclaimer: I am aware that the Bowland Pie was not, in fact, encased in pastry. As a pie topped in pastry it did not, in my somewhat puritanical approach to the world of pie, achieve full compliance with the definition. ‘Joy’ is also stretching things a bit, but I am using a little artistic licence here in order to make my point.

LANCASTER DEBATES THE FUTURE OF UNIVERSITIES (AND TRIES TO SELL A FEW BOOKS)

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.

WIDDEN’S REVIEW – PIANO QUARTET CONCERT IN THE GREAT HALL

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.

PENGUINS, A FIRE AND A NASTY CASE OF HYPOTHERMIA

Contributed article
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.’
‘I’m sorry?’
‘Your scarf, we want it. Don’t be difficult or this could get ugly.’
‘Erm…’
‘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.

TIERS 4 FEARS

Contributed article
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.

WIDDEN’S REVIEW – CAN MUSIC COMMENT ON A POLITICAL SITUATION?

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

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.

SOCIETY EMAILS GET ‘NUKED’

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:
https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/07/23/lancaster_university_data_breach/
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.

NO PUNNING IN THE LIBRARY

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.

ANOTHER GLORIOUS VICTORY

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:

https://medium.com/@ChartUpdate/no-static-at-all-6efd54ea1382

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!

PUT IT TO THE PEOPLE MARCH REPORTS

A MILLION WAYS TO BE CR-EU-L

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

LANCASHIRE AND YORKSHIRE EU-NITED AT LAST

Contributed article by Jenny Watts

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CHEAT’S CHARTER

Contributed article by Steve Wright

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

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

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

I will address these in turn.

1 – Making cheating much, much easier

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

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

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

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

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

2 – Blocking effective and innovative pedagogy

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

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

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

3 – Prioritising marks over feedback

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

4 – Imposing UG standards onto PG work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recording available via Box of Broadcasts through the library:

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

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

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

BAILRIGG NOT-FM

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

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

***

BAILRIGG SET AT £1000

Contributed article by Ronnie Rowlands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

With thanks to James Masterton