Category Archives: newsflash

ARE YOU STILL HERE?

Our last issue recounted the University’s decision to remove the email accounts of hundreds of retired staff on a cost-benefit analysis that determined that they were no longer worth the expense. Since then, we’ve heard from a further six readers: all retired members of staff; all dedicated supporters of the university; and all cheesed-off at having been told to Foxtrot Oscar by the organisation to which many of them have dedicated over half of their lives. In a letter to subtext, Gerry Cotter observes that, even as it tells its former members to go away, the University manages to add an extra helping of unpleasantness. Another reader notes that ‘the excuse this time seems to be a change of Microsoft site licensing, when it was only last year that we were all forced to move to Microsoft!’

The most frustrating aspect of this, of course, is the lack of any serious recourse. When, in 2015, University Council discussed removing privileges from retired members (see subtext 128), at least the matter was being discussed at senior committee level. This decision seems to have just happened, as a way to balance the books, with no approval needed. How many of today’s Council members are even aware of the issue?

GAME OF THRONES

A lighter note now. Your subtext correspondent was astonished to find a toilet seat in their building split in two, and even more so to find that a colleague in ISS had seen the same thing. Over decades of toilet use, neither had ever seen such a thing before. They wondered just what the scale of the problem might be, so did the only natural thing: issued an FoI request to the University asking how many toilet seats they had got through over the last few years.
In 2016, the University purchased 337 seats. In 2017, 271. In 2018, 163. University residents and visitors do appear to be getting less destructive in their sitting, but 163 is still almost one every two days.

Just who are the granite-bottomed monsters responsible for this overlooked slaughter?

PREVARICATION NEWSFLASH

On the eve of pensions strike, Lancaster UCU members were cheered by a report in that day’s Times that VC Mark Smith had joined ten other university leaders in calling for a return to national negotiations. This represented a fundamental change in his position but, alas, it proved to be fake news. A couple of hours later he was asked about his change of heart and he denied the story emphatically. He did not see any value in calling for a resumption of talks because the two sides were too far apart. And anyway, Lancaster could not afford what UCU was asking for.

See subtext 174, out next Thursday, 1st March, for a full report.

TEN MINUTES TO DISCUSS YOUR OWN ENABLING ACT

While student wanna-be societies might be yearning for the return of an autocratic fascist state, the University’s governance bodies seem to be doing a pretty good job of dismantling their own democratic structures. Next Wednesday’s Senate papers suggest substantial changes to the University’s statutes are on the agenda. These cover not only the abolition of Court (which was expected) but also significant weakening of the constitutional position of Senate in relation to Council. Instead of Council acting on a ‘recommendation by Senate’, they will instead act ‘following consideration of the recommendation by Senate’. In other words, Council can overrule Senate on a number of issues just so long as they ‘consider’ the recommendation first. This formulation is proposed for several statutes, all relating to matters where currently Senate has the power.

There is also a proposal to change the procedure for making ordinances by removing the requirement for Senate ‘concurrence’ with any changes or new ordinance. As for Council itself, there is a proposal for extending the maximum term of office from six to nine years – for lay members, not for University representatives. There are other changes that look innocuous but probably will have the effect of increasing Council’s powers. And the amount of time allocated on the Senate agenda for discussing this power grab? TEN WHOLE MINUTES! It remains to be seen whether our senators show any more spine than usual when faced with what essentially amounts to rendering the body they sit on powerless if Council wants to push something through, even in areas that are absolutely central to Senate’s remit.

UNIVERSITY COURT NEWSFLASH

GOODBYE TRANSPARENCY

Regular readers of subtext will know that issues outside the regular fortnightly cycle are released very rarely, and only on issues that the collective deems to be urgent.

As predicted by subtext, the University Court is to be abolished (subtexts 166, 169, 170, 171).

Its final meeting, where members will discuss, but not vote on, the terms of abolition, will take place on Saturday 27 January.

The Court’s external reviewer, David Allen, had asked for the Court to be consulted before any final decision were taken. In his report to the Council, Mr Allen felt that it would be ‘important, if change is contemplated, to devise a careful communication strategy so that Court in January is not simply confronted with a fait accompli,’ and emphasised that ‘it is for Council, not Court, to decide what should happen but it would be courteous to listen to Court’s views, expressed at its next meeting in January 2018, prior to making any changes to University legislation.’

It would seem that the Council carefully noted Mr Allen’s points, decided to be discourteous, approved the Court’s abolition at its November meeting, and agreed to present a fait accompli to the Court’s January meeting, ‘to ensure that members are aware of the rationale for the decision’. Gee, thanks. This decision was taken in secret – minutes are still not available and Mr Allen’s report, which has now been tabled for discussion by the Court, is still marked as ‘Confidential to the University’. The Court is to be replaced with an Annual Public Meeting, although it seems unlikely that this will have any formal status in Lancaster’s governance structures.

Another possible change could end up being even more significant. Mr Allen proposes that the Nominations Committee, which oversees the appointment of Council members and is regarded by many as the only safeguard we have against cronyism within that body, should be entirely gutted.

At the moment the Nominations Committee contains 4 ex-officio members, 2 members appointed by the Council, 2 members appointed by the Court, and 2 members appointed by the Senate. Mr Allen recommends that this be replaced with 100% of the members appointed by the Council. A self-perpetuating oligarchy with members accountable to no-one, perhaps? At present, due to the secrecy of the Council’s deliberations, subtext doesn’t know if the Council endorsed Mr Allen’s recommendation. But we aren’t optimistic.

In its current form, the Nominations Committee was established in 2006, when the Court lost its right to directly appoint members of the Council. Court members were explicitly assured that their influence would continue to be felt via the Nominations Committee. Clearly, if you’re going to abolish the Court, then you’ll need to change the Nominations Committee. We didn’t expect a coup d’état though!

Can members and friends of the University do anything about this? Well, if we don’t at least try, then the answer will surely be ‘no’!