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subtext 197 –
you know your worst is better than their best
- What’s Been Happening While We Were Away?
- It’s By-Election Fever
- Bailrigg Garden City
- Tolerance News
- Roll of (Dis)honour – Update
- Valete, Team Spineless
- A Post-Lockdown Utopia
- Review – ‘New Perspectives’ at the Peter Scott Gallery in June and July 2021
- Widden’s Reviews
subtext 196 –
wholly government-approved free-speaking subtext
- Campus Update: Quieter, But Not That Quiet
- Struck Off
- Diary of a Rent Strike Organiser
- Inglorious Partnerships
- Freedom of Peach
- subtext 197 –
- subtext 196 – ‘wholly government-approved free-speaking subtext’
- subtext 195 – ‘remain indoors!’, October 28, 2020
- subtext 194 – ‘voluntary subtext reductions’, June 19, 2020
- subtext 193 – ‘stay home and read subtext’, March 27, 2020
- subtext 192 – ‘strike while the subtext is hot’, February 19, 2020
- 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
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Category Archives: contributed article
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
Contributed by Ronnie Rowlands.
Readers of subtext will have been pleased to learn that Lancaster University is currently enjoying a flurry of coverage in the national press. Has Cary Cooper received another knighthood? Did someone devise a formula for the perfect twerk?
‘Students face probe over t-shirts daubed with swastikas.’
As reported by the BBC, Independent, Sun, Daily Mail, Newsbeat and Lancaster Guardian, Lancaster University Snow Sports (LUSS) was investigated by the Students’ Union (LUSU), after photographs emerged of their members partying at the Sugarhouse wearing T-shirts covered in swastikas, far-right slogans, and shock humour: ‘Gary Glitter was innocent’, ‘Free Tommy Robinson’, ‘Sandyhook woz bantz’, ‘I’ve got muscles cus dad raped me’, and various assorted ‘edginess’.
One member of LUSU’s Code of Conduct panel, Black & Minority Ethnic Officer Chloe Long, grew frustrated with the time it was taking for them to reach an agreement, as well as the growing probability that a ‘soft sanction’ would be imposed, and posted the photographs (which had been removed from the Sugarhouse’s Facebook page) online, denouncing them as hate speech and deriding LUSU for not taking a firmer stance against the activities.
Within 48 hours, Long was suspended from her role and is now the subject of an investigation by LUSU for breaching the Code of Conduct, endangering an investigation, and leaking confidential information.
Factions quickly formed as debates erupted on many of Lancaster’s online spaces. Dividing lines were drawn roughly between: 1) people who felt that LUSU and the University management didn’t care about hate speech, were utterly ineffectual in tackling it, and seemed more upset at the lack of publicity and more interested in punishing the officer responsible for going public; and 2) people who felt that this was all a publicity stunt, heaping unmanageable culpability on the shoulders of LUSU and making a mountain out of a molehill.
As expected, the Free Speech Bores – you know the ones, the people who want Nazis to have free speech so they can debate them, but never actually debate them – were quick to wade in by accusing LUSU of Orwellian tyranny for suspending the society and investigating the claims.
However, since this has nothing to do with free speech whatsoever, we can dismiss this as the customary anal wind from the usual tedious suspects, and delve into the actual questions, untruths, and scandal of this story…
The information about LUSU’s investigation into LUSS was made public because it was felt that the sanctions would be inadequate. Looking at LUSU’s past record on tackling hateful speech, it’s easy to understand why.
Throughout 2017/18, subtext documented the behaviour of an extremist right wing group on campus that was vying to attain official society status and affiliation to LUSU (see our year-end fascism roundup at http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/09/13/fascism-on-campus/ and subtext 182 http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/11/08/shredded-posters-make-good-snowflakes/). The group’s Facebook page regularly posts fascist philosophy, while its members openly express far right wing and oppressive beliefs in person and online, and have disrupted seminars and public events by rattling off half-baked fascist viewpoints and bad faith questions at tutors, speakers, and peers.
As the LUSU societies committee was struggling to agree whether or not to fund avowed fascists (!), the LUSU Executive of elected, paid full-time officers decided to speed things up by approving their incorporation, with a number of two-bit toothless caveats (see subtext 176 http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/04/26/sufferin-succofash/) thrown into the mix. Of course, this decision was quickly overturned by a senior member of LUSU staff, as behind the scenes the University was sharing information about the group with the police (who in turn sought guidance from the Counter Terrorism Branch and the CPS). Ultimately, LUSU rejected the group’s application, and while this was a good outcome, it took many months to come about, LUSU never ever publicly condemned their activities and rhetoric, and generally didn’t tell them to ‘f*ck off’ nearly as hard as they could have.
With that track record, and the recent Code of Conduct panel seemingly leaning towards quietly sending LUSS on its way with a clip round the ear, one can see the value in lighting a bomb under LUSU to wake them up a bit. LUSU’s slowness to act is still an issue – as they themselves admitted in a public statement, the panel had convened twice without coming to a decision on sanctions, and was due to meet a third time before BME officer Chloe Long decided to go public with the evidence.
By contrast, LUSU was far faster to action when dealing with Ms Long. The investigation into LUSS lasted ten days, with a gap of nearly two weeks between the end of the investigation and the meeting of the Code of Conduct panel. subtext understands that Ms Long received notice of her hearing date, 20 November, within a day of her suspension. Certainly, being seen to act more efficiently in an investigation of a whistleblower, than into the original issue, isn’t a good look. It appears that Ms Long declined to attend her hearing.
The sanctions themselves seem, at first glance, to be proportionate. The society will be placed ‘on probation’ for a period of two years, during which time they will also have to attend various equality training sessions, and submit notice of future socials. They will also not be permitted to run events that aren’t training based… for five weeks.
But on closer inspection these are almost as feeble as those proposed for the campus fascists. The club will have to apologise publicly, which is fair enough, although we’ve yet to hear it – we also wonder if the rumours are true that the group is receiving staff support to put together their statement. Interestingly, their next event, a trip to Val d’Isere on 14 December, inhabits something of a legal grey area. On the one hand, it promises ‘loose activities, shenanigans and mental nights out’, ‘ludicrous themes’, a ‘festival night’ and a ‘pool party with a bar and DJ’. We can’t imagine anything untoward happening there. On the other, it does also offer ‘beginner and intermediate lessons.’ What a quandary!
What’s interesting is that LUSU has, regardless of how appropriate (or not) the sanctions are, been harsher than it was initially planning to be after a public backlash, and this raises a question: was the investigation prejudiced by the court of public opinion? Who knows. The LUSS executive still should probably have been hung out to dry, as we’ll get to below.
While the SU could have shaken a leg and done a bit more to show that it doesn’t take hate speech lying down – especially in light of its performance last year – there is also no denying that blaming them for absolutely everything that took place on the t-shirt social is an easy get out. People have tried to hold the Sugarhouse staff accountable for allowing this sort of rhetoric into the venue in the first place. This is less than cast-iron for a number of reasons, the main one being that it’s still unclear whether the t-shirts were graffitied before or after they’d got in to the Sugarhouse. But even if they did queue up with those slogans written on them, it may not be reasonable to expect staff to closely inspect clothing which may have been covered at the time of entry and then was displayed in a busy nightclub.
It may also be difficult to establish the intent of the people wearing the shirts. The whole point of a white t-shirt social is to invite OTHERS to daub you with obscenities, and you can imagine that a drunk and bewildered fresher on their first social could use this to distance themselves from the slogans by claiming that they weren’t their views, that they were too drunk to know what was being written on them, and that they don’t remember who wrote what, ‘honest guv’. But there is likely to be overlap between those that wore the t-shirts and those that wrote on them. We can say for certain that SOME of the people at the event wrote these slogans, and all of them must have known they would be viewed by sober people as either racist or misogynist or condoning paedophilia. It’s unlikely that the identities of those writing them will ever be known.
There can be no sympathy for the LUSS executive, who, if they had the brains of a centipede, would have briefed their members against walking into a public place with antisemitic, racist, misogynist and paedophilic slogans smeared on their shirts, and made sure someone was on sober duty to keep things in check. It is the club’s executive that bears the most responsibility, which makes it all the more baffling that LUSU has allowed the existing executive to continue running the show.
This incident has at least provided an opportunity for LUSU and the Sugarhouse to develop a policy of checking what sort of materials people are bringing into their venue.
A great deal of the blame for this incident has been apportioned to the senior management. Lancaster UCU recently wrote publicly to the Vice-Chancellor, demanding to know why LUSU was investigating the incident (which was perpetrated by their members in their venue and photographed by their photographers), and not the University itself. As it turns out, the top table has been attentive to the case, and LUSU has now passed the case file over to the University Deanery to deal with. UCU remains unhappy, and accuses the University of shirking its responsibilities.
Behind the scenes, the University has quite rigorously pursued allegations of hate speech on campus, having referred the hijacking of Ruth Wodak’s public lecture to the police, who worked in collaboration with the CPS and the Counter Terrorism Branch to reach a conclusion. The Vice-Chancellor cannot be blamed for the decision not to proceed with this case, nor can he be expected to go on Twitter and name and shame his students (at least, not before the University Deanery has finished deliberating). That’s not to say that proactivity isn’t sorely lacking in the University’s internal and external communications – aside from a few assurances to the national press, they could do more to placate and assure the community when something like this happens, rather than waiting for the UCU to demand answers. If you’re a Jewish student on a night out and you see an antisemitic slogan written on someone’s shirt, you’re not going to stop and think ‘no biggie, Lancaster has a commitment to the Race Equality Charter!’ It also wouldn’t do us much harm to publicly emphasise our support of equality and opposition to fascism and extremism, what with our public image currently painting a slightly different picture. After all, however much the free speech bores emphasise that no-one present at the Sugarhouse that night complained about what the LUSS members were wearing, the reaction from (mostly) white (mostly) men to the online dissent from women and BAME students gives you an idea as to why.
While it is perhaps unlikely that this will end up being treated as a crime, one hopes that the University Deanery takes a broad-minded, moral approach to its deliberations with case, and considers not only the reputation of the University but the impact this has had on minority groups among its membership.
SNOW END IN SIGHT
This is not a lone incident. Footage has surfaced of another (allegedly) recent social, where students in the shirts of a specific college were filmed in the Sugarhouse adorned with bulletins like (apologies to those who don’t like reading this stuff): ‘F*ck the Jews’, ‘I watch nugget porn’, ‘Saville (sic) is innocent’, ’96 wasn’t enough’ (yeah, try wearing that at The Sandon), and ‘Consent is overrated’.
Clearly we need to bring this to a stop. Prevention, education and the public, institutional denunciation of hateful ideologies are the best solutions. If nothing else, this sorry affair will surely encourage society executives to know how to avoid being publicly humiliated, and venue staff to know what to look out for when people show up with their clothes covered in ink. Until then we can only hope that people try to understand the isolating impact that such behaviour has on the targets of hate speech.
Former LUSU President, Laura Clayson, stands on trial at Chelmsford Crown Court with fourteen other defendants charged with ‘terrorism related charges’; ‘endangering an airport’. The group known as the Stansted 15 are facing potential life sentences after grounding a charter flight on which 57 people were being deported to Nigeria and Ghana. Many of those on board have since been granted leave to remain through legal challenges to their deportations.
Many of the activists are affiliated with the End Deportations Now movement, which aims to stop the inhumane practice of deporting people at a moment’s notice to potentially unfamiliar and unsafe places – places that, as recent press stories have highlighted, they may have never even seen as an adult. The deportees are often asylum seekers, many of whom have fled dangerous and hopeless situations and have built a life in the UK. Many people consider the deportation of these people a violation of human rights and a number of organisations, including Amnesty International, are calling for an end to the practice. Amnesty consider the Stanstead 15’s charges to be political in nature and are monitoring their case. (https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/stansted-15-amnesty-observe-trial-amid-concerns-anti-deportation-activists)
Although it may seem that the charges against the defendants are disproportionate and thus unlikely to hold, the recent case of the Frack Free Four, three of whom were sentenced to fifteen or sixteen months each in prison for non-violent direct action, sets a scary precedent for harsh and extreme sentencing of peaceful protesters. One hopes the case in question does not follow suit. In a democracy much shaped by positive social changes brought about by peaceful protest, these recent rulings are an unwelcome insight into the current attitude of the justice system. The ‘hostile environment’ which Theresa May initiated for people from outside the UK now extends to their defenders and peaceful protesters in general. To tar these protesters with the brush of terrorism and threaten them with life imprisonment is absurd and cruel. As one of Laura’s friends observed: ‘Can you think of anyone less akin to a terrorist? The lass vomits unicorns and rainbows.’
The Stansted 15’s trial started on Monday 1st October and is scheduled to last six weeks. You can find out more about the End Deportations Now movement, and keep up to date with the trial via http://enddeportations.com/. Please show your support by sending messages of solidarity to End Deportations Now, contacting your MP (e.g. was anyone from the Windrush generation on board?) and spreading the word about the #stansted15 on social media. Please send solidarity messages to the 15 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read about the Frack Free Four here: https://reclaimthepower.org.uk/news/support-the-frack-free-four/
Review: Kathryn Stott
It is often asserted that the sound of a violin improves in a period when it is being played quite intensively. And not only the violin – similar claims are made for other stringed instruments. Such claims are widely believed by musicians, but although careful scientific tests have been done to examine the truth of them, unfortunately no one has managed to prove that such improvements actually occur.
A piano is a very different case, because every piano is a complex mechanism, which could suffer if it is not given some exercise. The University’s Steinway concert grand, which sits silent in the corner of the Great Hall more than 99% of the time, could undoubtedly benefit from being played more.
The Steinway was given plenty of exercise at the recital given on 1 March by the pianist Kathryn Stott. The three Danzas Argentinas by Ginastera (1916-1983) are percussive and highly original compositions, written by Argentina’s foremost composer when he was aged only 20 – the pianist clearly enjoyed playing these exuberant pieces. Another test for both pianist and the Steinway was provided by Percy Grainger’s arrangement of the love-duet between Sophie and Octavian, from Der Rosenkavalier, by Richard Strauss. As the programme note said, Grainger particularly admired Strauss’s music for its ‘sumptuous vulgarity’: there is no way to perform this music without luxuriating in this, and Kathryn Stott did so.
To prepare the audience’s palate for these excesses, she opened each half of her concert with two arrangements of works by Bach, the Siciliano arranged by Wilhelm Kempff from the second lute sonata, and the cantata Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, arranged by Myra Hess. These pieces are very far from vulgar, and Kathryn Stott played them excellently, demonstrating both her own versatility and that of the piano.
The arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring had been played by Hess herself in London’s National Gallery on 10 October 1939 in the first of the long series of lunchtime recitals she curated every weekday without fail throughout the Second World War, and beyond – a total of almost 2000 concerts spanning a period of more than six years. She was supported in this by Kenneth Clark, the then Director of the Gallery, and was created DBE by King George VI for her contribution to maintaining the morale of the people of London during the War. Incidentally, those concerts were very informal. There was no advance booking, and audience members were free to walk in and out as they pleased between movements, or indeed to stroll around, lean against the walls, or sit on the floor. And why not?
Contributed by Martin Widden.
As part of the series of UCU Teachout sessions being run during the strike period, Distinguished Professor Bob Jessop delivered a talk, ‘Universities Inc’, to a packed out audience at the Gregson Centre. The talk explored what Prof Jessop termed ‘academic capitalism’ and its relationship to an increased financialisation of the UK Higher Education system, and situated the ongoing pensions dispute in a wider context of structural economic changes taking place within universities.
Prof Jessop considered the core historic functions of the university as an institution, namely the provision of higher education and the carrying out of scientific research, and HE’s shifting in line with the forces of marketisation. Whereas in the post-war era of welfare statism and mass production HE institutions such as Lancaster University were designed to create ‘mental labour’ for an increasingly post-industrial society, Prof Jessop explained how today’s universities are behaving more like financial institutions. Since the 1980s, democratic participation in university governance have been sidelined in favour of professionalised management, he argued, adding that since the early 1990s senior academics were asked to attend business management style sessions. Such professionalisation of university management has, he argued, only worsened over subsequent decades.
Jessop highlighted how the diminution of government grants has lead to an increasing reliance upon endowments, greater numbers of fee paying students, bonds, credit markets, and rents to fund themselves. Indeed, having issued first bond in British HE in 1995, Lancaster University can be seen as having been a pioneer in such financial marketisation.
Drawing attention to the expansion of campuses in recent decades, Jessop highlighted how it is real estate (rather than the intellectual labour of staff) that has proven to be the key asset of the contemporary university, recalling a former Lancaster Vice Chancellor telling him that when talking to other managers he would boast of being ‘a seven crane vice chancellor,’ clearly demonstrating how the building up of physical assets on campuses has become so central to UK HE as a source of economic value and revenue.
The talk showed how in such a marketised environment, one only worsened by the new Higher Education Act and the uncertainties of Brexit, British universities are now fearing credit rating downgrades, and are seeking to drastically reduce their labour costs as a result.
From the talk, a bleak picture of contemporary UK HE emerged. As institutions embrace the process of financialisation precarious staff face further immiseration, with students treated primarily as a revenue stream.
In the subsequent Q&A session, the pensions strike itself was viewed by several contributors as having opened up an opportunity for more critical engagements with the university and the ills it inflicts upon staff and students alike. The question of how to reach the wider public and inform them of the dire situation in HE was also raised, with a contributor criticising a recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme for narrowly focusing on the extravagance of individual Vice Chancellors as opposed to offering the public a more structural critique of the processes of marketisation.
I found Prof Jessop’s talk an illuminating one for highlighting the complex challenges facing those of us within the marketised university, and for all the bleakness of the situation, I found that the subsequent discussion of how to resist these processes filled me with hope that we can build a more democratic and just HE system.
Contributed by Toby Atkinson, PhD candidate (Sociology)
Review: Kabantu at the Nuffield
Five young musicians in line across the stage of the Nuffield, one of them squatting over a bongo drum. This was Kabantu, the Manchester-based band that played in the Lancaster Arts Concert Series on 17 February.
As well as the drum, the line-up consisted of violin, cello, bass and guitar, all of whom played standing up – which for a cellist is a highly unusual thing to do. It’s achievable if, as here, the instrument is fitted with a long enough spike to raise it to a playable height. So: no chairs.
No music stands, either. The group plays from memory and/or by improvising, so they don’t need any copies.
Very little electronics on show either.
All this fits with the influence of busking on the group. Four of the five musicians met at the Royal Northern College of Music, where they were classically trained, but in this group they have extended their range into a much broader spectrum of styles. Their repertoire spans from Scottish traditional tunes, Bulgarian folk music, Israel, South Africa and beyond, performed with remarkable skill on their instruments, or by whistling, or in some cases by all five musicians singing excellently in close harmony.
It is unusual for the International Concert Series to feature what was in effect a fusion performance, but it made for a very enjoyable evening.
Review: Scarlatti and Cage in the Great Hall
Domenico Scarlatti (born Naples in 1685, and so an exact contemporary of J S Bach) wrote over 500 sonatas for harpsichord, nearly all of them short and in just one movement of simple AABB form – two halves, each of them repeated. John Cage (1912-1992) also wrote short keyboard sonatas, also nearly all of AABB form, but only sixteen of them. They were all intended to be played on a ‘prepared’ piano, which entails placing screws and bolts between the strings, together with rubber rings, plastic strips and an eraser, all of whose positions are precisely specified. This produces some strange sonorities – in some cases a thud rather than a musical sound.
In the Great Hall on Thursday 26 October, the American pianist David Greilsammer performed an interesting programme in which eight Scarlatti sonatas were alternated with seven sonatas by Cage. The University’s two concert grand pianos were placed end to end on the Great Hall stage, with Greilsammer sitting on the piano stool between the two keyboards, so that when he had finished playing one sonata, he could swivel quickly round to the opposite keyboard and begin on the next sonata, by the other composer. The programme of fifteen sonatas was played without a break or an interval.
Scarlatti spent much of his active life in Portugal, where he was employed as the harpsichord teacher of Princess Maria Barbara. In spite of, or more likely because of, his musical isolation, his sonatas are fascinatingly quirky and distinctive. They would of course have been played on the harpsichord – the piano had not yet been invented. When Greilsammer entered and positioned himself on the stool, the lights were dimmed to the point where it was impossible to read the programme, which rather defeated the object of having it.
He opened the first Scarlatti sonata playing ppp – so quietly that some of the notes barely spoke at all. Then he suddenly switched to playing extremely loudly. What was the point of these extreme contrasts? It was unclear, but they were very unsettling. Of course, if the Scarlatti sonatas had been played on a harpsichord, in which the strings are plucked rather than struck by hammers as in a piano, such contrasts would not have been possible. This would have been more appropriate. It would also have been impossible to open so very quietly.
The Cage sonatas were a complete contrast. Although completely written out, they sounded quite free, and of course their genre is totally different from the sonatas by Scarlatti. Greilsammer seemed more at home in this modern American music than in the Scarlatti sonatas, where his idiosyncratic performance seemed to this critic too self-indulgent.
Having said this, it was an interesting recital, no doubt introducing many members of the audience to Cage’s music.
Contributed by Martin Widden.
By Martin Widden
It was once the convention that a concert would begin with a work by a composer from early times; the programme would then move chronologically through pieces by successively more recent composers. A concert by a string quartet might open with a quartet by Haydn (1732-1809), the composer who virtually invented the genre. Next might come a quartet by Beethoven (1770-1827), and the concert might perhaps close with a piece by Dvorak (1841-1904).
Not so the programmes put together by the Brodsky quartet: in their Great Hall concert on 19 October, they rejected the obvious chronological order, opening their performance with a new work they had commissioned from the Japanese composer Karen Tanaka, born in 1961. This was followed by the 4th quartet by Shostakovich. Written in 1949, while Stalin was still in power, the quartet takes a considerable risk by including Jewish themes, or at least music that is Jewish in character. Shostakovich’s music had recently been denounced, and he had been dismissed from his post as professor at the Moscow Conservatory, so he was extremely hard up. Despite this, the quartet evokes the horrors experienced by the Jewish people during the Second World War. The players gave it their all, to the extent that the leader broke a string during the performance. He returned to the stage after an absence of less than a minute; remarkably, the players carried on as if nothing had happened. The quartet was not performed until 1953, after Stalin’s death.
In the second half of the concert the players focused on a particular musical form: the fugue. (For those unfamiliar with this form, a fugue is based on a simple theme – the subject (a single line of notes), which is played at the outset. This subject theme then enters successively at different pitches, and all are developed together with further entries, so that the whole becomes a fascinating and complex work.)
Towards the end of his life, J S Bach composed The Art of Fugue, demonstrating the range of possibilities of composing in this form, and also his own skill at composing in the genre. This is pure music, which can be performed on any instrument or group of instruments, provided it lies within their range of pitch. The Brodsky quartet played two pieces from The Art of Fugue in their concert, showing convincingly that the string quartet is an excellent medium for performing this music.
They followed this with a fugue for string quartet by Mendelssohn, a brilliant demonstration of his skill as a composer for this group of instruments.
They concluded their concert with a performance of the Grosse Fuge opus 133 by Beethoven, originally composed as the finale of his opus 130 quartet. As its title suggests, it is a massive work, taking some 17 minutes to play. The publisher persuaded Beethoven to compose a shorter and less demanding movement as the conclusion of this quartet, which was published as opus 130. But the original fugal movement, now known as opus 133, remains a towering achievement.
This concluded a fascinating concert: excellently played by the Brodsky quartet, and a great start to the 2017-18 Great Hall concert season.