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Tag Archives: democracy
Twenty seven people, including students, staff, former staff and city councillors, gathered in the impressive surroundings of the Council Chamber at Lancaster Town Hall on Thursday 12 March for the unofficial 2020 session of the Lancaster University Court. Jack O’Dwyer-Henry, city councillor for the University & Scotforth Rural ward, took the chair and told those present that Lancaster University had contacted the City Council that day to complain about the Court meeting, emphasising that it was not officially sanctioned by the University. The meeting noted this and continued.
Having agreed subtext 172’s report as an accurate record of the final official Court in 2018, the Court proceeded to business.
Marion McClintock, Lancaster’s Honorary Archivist, gave a brief history of the Court. As the first governing body of the University, it set up the Council in 1964. With around 350 members, its main significance was to make Lancaster accountable to the local region. Motions passed by the Court were sent to the Council, who were required to take note of them. The minutes were all extant.
In the absence of the Vice-Chancellor or the Director of Finance, Sunil Banga of Lancaster UCU introduced a discussion on the University’s current priorities. Rather than investing in staff and students, the University was focusing on capital projects, many of these financed by loans. These were arguably putting Lancaster’s finances at risk, with interest payments of £5m per annum. Meanwhile, college funds were depleted, visa support was ‘negligible’ and the University had brought in vacancy controls for Professional Services staff.
The University was focused on increasing its adjusted net cash flow via more bums on seats (or sitting on the floor, or watching materials online). Measures of cash flow did not include the University’s mounting private debt, including debts to two US companies totalling £65m. The arrangements that set up UA92, and the deal with Navitas to establish a Leipzig campus, were largely hidden. These decisions were largely taken by the Finance & General Purposes Committee of the Council, but the minutes of this committee were not, in general, available to the public.
Andrew Williams noted that UPP, Lancaster’s provider of student accommodation, was the largest outsourcing project on campus, operating 4437 rooms. Standard & Poor’s recently downgraded Lancaster’s credit rating from AA- to A+ due to the University’s exposure to UPP’s risk.
We continued to expand our overseas partnerships, with BJTU in China, Sunway in Malaysia, the Ghana campus and, coming soon, our Leipzig campus. Their students would get Lancaster University degrees, but quality assurance was ‘questionable’ and in some cases there was a lack of respect for democratic rights. The trade union representative at our BJTU campus has been told he ‘can’t be called that’ and the local authorities won’t communicate with him.
How had democratic procedures changed? Twenty years ago, the Court elected a significant number of lay members of the Council, the University’s senior governing body. Following reforms, a Nominations Committee had been set up to select lay Council members but, importantly, the Court retained the right to elect a significant number of Nominations Committee members (see subtext 4). Following the abolition of the Court, these Nominations Committee members had been quietly forgotten, meaning that the majority of members of the body charged with selecting suitable members for the Council were members of the Council!
Joe Thornberry, former Principal of Bowland College, observed that when the proposal to abolish the Court was discussed by the Senate, the proposers’ key argument was that the Court was ‘unrepresentative of the community’ – ironic when the Court was far more representative as a body than either the Council or the Senate. The abolition of the Court was the final stage of a 12-year process. Might our incoming Vice-Chancellor, Andy Schofield from Birmingham, change things? The Court thought not – Birmingham has a pretty bad reputation and had abolished its Court at the same time as Lancaster’s.
Cllr O’Dwyer-Henry, reporting on the Students’ Union, felt that the current culture there was one of acquiescence to management. Two full-time officers had resigned so far this year and a petition of no confidence in the President had recently been opened. Four trustees of the union had resigned in the last year. The AGM had passed some good ideas but these had not been acted on.
Emily Heath gave a wide-ranging report on the Climate Emergency – there was an informal working group on campus. A petition to senior managers asked them to declare a climate emergency, appoint a senior manager to deal with the issue and manage the University’s land in the interests of sustainability. Simon Guy had been given responsibility and he came across as someone who wanted to listen. However, a ‘Big Conversation’ with staff had taken place on a strike day (students had not been allowed in) and the student version that week had been ‘more of a Q&A’. Our new Health Innovation Campus was not sustainable and based on fossil fuels.
A motion calling upon the Council to discuss bullying, commercialisation and the erosion of democratic governance at Lancaster, expressing no confidence in the senior leadership team, was proposed by Mr Banga and passed by a large majority, but not without opposition from Mrs McClintock, who felt that the proposal was ‘the sort of motion that management would expect’ – asking for a different approach to governance would, she thought, be more likely to get a response.
Finally, when should the Court meet again? The meeting agreed that, whenever a Lancaster Exchange was scheduled to happen, a Court meeting should happen, as an alternative forum for debate. It was suggested that the city councillors for campus should continue to convene these meetings, to give them legitimacy. The University community should build for the next time.
And so the unofficial Court ended, as members joined the queue for drinks in the Borough.
Back in December 2018, subtext 184 reported on the Students’ Union’s unsuccessful referendum to change the make-up of its Full-Time Officer (FTO) team – a narrow majority voted ‘yes’ to the changes (yes 438, no 396, abstain 58), but the turnout failed to clear the 10% threshold needed for the decision to be binding. We speculated that the changes would be ‘rapidly booted into the long grass.’ We were wrong.
One of the leaders of the ‘no’ campaign back in 2018 was George Nuttall, now the Students’ Union President. The current FTOs have clearly learned from their experiences in 2018: if you want to make contentious changes, don’t ask the students to endorse them, just ram them through!
Thus it was that in January 2020, a new proposal to change the make-up of the FTO team was passed, by a vote of the Students’ Union Executive Committee (yes 7, no 5, abstain 1), without calling a referendum at all:
Well there we are.
Every so often during term time (and sometimes a bit after).
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The European elections are upon us. Despite the fact that the Members of the European Parliament that are returned tomorrow have absolutely no say on what happens with regard to Brexit – they are not even allowed to enter the Westminster Parliament without being signed in by a pal – this election is, just like most of the UK’s European elections over the past years, being treated as a de facto referendum on the UK’s relationship with the European Union.
It seems unlikely that Lancaster students will vote in huge numbers. Turnout in the local elections this month was 18% for the campus, the lowest in the district, although to be fair this was more than double the turnout at the 2016 by-election in that ward (see subtext 156).
An entirely unscientific poll of the University community (i.e. people that the subtext drones ran into while queuing for vegan sausage rolls) suggests that the following factors are preoccupying this small portion of the electorate:
1) Labour’s prevarication over Brexit, and whether or not there should be a confirmatory vote. One poll puts them ahead of the Brexit Party, if only Jeremy Corbyn had clearly come out in favour of a people’s vote, and miles ahead of the Tories:
2) Speaking of the Tories, the absolute trouncing they are likely to receive due to their own hallowed leader’s approach to the selfsame topic.
3) The likely beneficiaries of most of the votes that would otherwise have gone to the bigger parties: the Greens, the Lib Dems and of course the Brexit Party. The latter has a rather curious mix of rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth Faragists, a sprinkling of former members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and several people who are already salivating at the mouth at the thought of all the money they can make from their favourite kind of disaster capitalism. Pretty much all of them have some kind of saliva emission problem. And other problems too, as an expose of the many problematic beliefs and links of the Brexit Party’s MEP candidates reveals:
4) Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (Tommy Robinson to his less salubrious chums). It is unthinkable that this Islamophobic, hate-inciting and repeatedly convicted criminal should receive even more of a political platform than he already has. A high turnout seems to be the only thing that is likely to stop him, so we urge our readers to do the honourable thing, and – whoever you vote for – please vote today! As long as it’s not Tommy Robinson.
2018 saw the demise of the University Court, one of Lancaster’s oldest and most diverse decision-making bodies.
The University Court was an annual gathering bringing together a whole array of stakeholders. It made recommendations to the Senate and the Council of the university, was responsible for appointing the Pro-Chancellor, had delegates to various committees of the University, and had historically been used as an opportunity for locally based institutions and the broader community to raise concerns to the senior management. A ‘Court Review Group’ was set up by the University Council. It is not known how its members were appointed, and nobody from the University Court was invited to participate in the review. It was externally reviewed by a University of Exeter registrar who had been involved in the closure of that institution’s own Court, and the recommendations were approved by the Senate and Council, and presented as a fait accompli to the 2018 gathering of the Court, with no opportunity to vote on the proposals.
The reasons for abolishing Court are unclear. ‘Lack of diversity’ was presented as a reason, but the Court was more diverse than the Senate, University Council, and senior management team, so ignore that. It was also suggested that the Court consumed a lot of resources, but since the Court is being ‘replaced’ by a less accountable, less diverse ‘annual public meeting’ anyway, that can be ignored too.
What we can’t ignore is the fact that the Court of the University of Bath was instrumental in triggering a HEFCE investigation into Vice-Chancellors’ involvement in setting their own salary, and that only a few months prior our own remuneration committee was rejigged to remove the Vice-Chancellor. Just in time for the release of said HEFCE report.
What this means is that locally based institutions, alumni, dignitaries, clergymen, etc, now have no official say in the running of the university, and a tiny and unrepresentative body now has sole control over who to invite to its new ‘annual public meeting’.
It is the biggest, but by no means the only, exclusionary change to Lancaster’s decision-making this year, and you can read our coverage of this issue below:
It all started so well for the Students’ Union. In subtext 169 we reported on their campaign against an unnecessary rent increase of up to £249. To make their displeasure known, LUSU set up a stall and put £249 worth of pasta on display. A little gimmicky, we thought, but enough to get the usual ‘our costs are going up and we have the best halls ever anyway’ line trotted out by the university. And so, we sat back, and then… nothing. There was no further campaigning action, no publicity releases about negotiations, and no attempt to actually mobilise students into a General Meeting, or a protest, or anything.
And then the SU was complicit in the abolition of University Court (detailed above under UNIVERSITY COURT), the decision making body with the largest student delegation, the only one to which any student representative could propose motions and policy, and at which students had fought and won against the university.
But the University Court was due to be abolished anyway, and perhaps it wasn’t the best hill for the SU to die on if it wanted to pick more important fights. As the industrial action took hold of the entire higher education sector, and the student body increasingly swayed towards the side of the staff, subtext eagerly awaited the SU’s statement of intent, and its plan of action, before issue 173 went to print. The plan, it transpired, was to ’empower [student] opinion with impartial information.’ Yes. After making clear that it wasn’t best pleased that the action was going ahead, the SU decided that it wasn’t even going to OPPOSE it. Instead, it put out some tepid ‘on the one hand this and on the other hand that’ infographics. Thankfully, hundreds of students spontaneously organised, many of whom were heard shrieking with derision at any mention of the SU, joined by striking UCU members.
Even JCR officers weren’t safe. A series of posters denouncing the Vice-Chancellor’s salary and lack of funding for the counselling service quickly disappeared from campus, and LUSU’s higher-ups were reported to have advised the JCR officers responsible to take a different tack, apparently pledging to help ‘broaden’ the campaign and attract wider attention. As we predicted in subtext 177, such a campaign never came to fruition – LUSU simply quashed the activism.
LUSU might have made better decisions, be it on Grad Ball (which this year was cancelled for the first time since the 1970s), opposing strike action, or allowing fascism on campus to be funded, if it were more accountable to students, and hadn’t gutted almost all of its accountability structures in 2015 (as we recalled in issue 174). Could LUSU’s ‘scrutiny panel’ have curbed this behaviour? No. In subtext 174, we noted that the ‘scrutiny panel’ hadn’t met at any point during the nine months that the sitting sabbatical team had held office, and was denounced by a former appointee for producing toothless reports that ‘nobody reads.’ Perhaps a General Meeting of the student body could have passed policy? Not a chance – LUSU’s General Meeting failed to reach quoracy, because they failed to seize the enthusiasm around the rent increase in the first term, or the industrial action in the second term to drive attendance. In lieu of a quorate General Meeting, LUSU instead held an ‘online general meeting’, which is completely unconstitutional and has zero powers to authorise LUSU to do anything.
There must have been SOMETHING keeping LUSU’s political wing busy, because one now-former officer appeared on Bailrigg FM back in May boasting to a Labour Party representative that by-election turnout was healthy because LUSU had bothered to do a bit of promotional work, even though it ‘isn’t their job’ (it is).
subtext keeps a close eye on all of the university’s most influential wings, and the SU is one of them. You can read all of our reporting on the SU’s activities throughout 2017-18, which is far more detailed than our VERY brief recap, below.
STOP PRESS – ALL IS FORGIVEN, LUSU!
That was then. This is now. subtext is pleased to report that the new team of LUSU full-time officers seem to have got off to a blistering start, by calling a student demonstration against the proposed introduction of 6pm to 7pm lectures, during this Saturday’s Undergraduate Open Day. The details:
Don’t miss your Week 1 subtext for our full report on the ‘extended teaching day’ proposals, including why you shouldn’t dramatically increase your undergraduate numbers without also dramatically increasing your lecture theatres, and why this problem isn’t going to go away any time soon.
Fortnightly during term time.
Letters, contributions, & comments: email@example.com
Back issues & subscription details: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/about/
In this issue: editorial, fash, more fash, gender pay gap, UA92 (in four parts), bad governance, more governance, assistant deans, appeal for more assistant deans, bomb shelter update, grad ball, alternative grad ball, lu text lost and found, email, lusu agm, look at what you could have won, letters.
We’ve had a relaxing vacation spent spring-cleaning the subtext warehouse and enjoying the beer garden experience far more times than is good for us. So much so, that the subtext collective is a little disappointed with what it’s had to return to.
Sure, it’s summer term, and that means flowers, fun events and fluffy ducks chirping away on the University’s bucolic parkland campus. But this year, we also have to contend with high-decibel jackhammering, widespread dust and destruction, discord over where students should hold their balls, continued chipping away at our democratic governance structures, and – oh yes – more fascism on campus. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, you all have to put up with subtext going on about it all every two weeks!
All that aside, welcome to summer term 2018 – we wish you a very happy one!
Next Wednesday’s Senate meeting will be, if the Chief Administrative Officer has her way, its final one as one of our two senior governing bodies, alongside the Council. Major proposals to amend our Charter, Statutes and Ordinances, originally proposed in February but deferred to May, following a refreshing lack of willingness by our senators to roll over when asked, are to be re-presented next week.
The changes clarify the relative powers of the Council and the Senate – and henceforth the Senate will very much be the junior partner. Here’s a summary:
– The Chancellor will no longer be the ‘Head of the University’, just a person who is able to confer degrees.
– The Court is abolished (see subtext 172). The proposed ‘Annual Public Meeting’ does not get any mention in our Statutes.
– The Council can establish and disestablish colleges, faculties and departments, without having to act on a recommendation of the Senate. It must take the Senate’s views into account, but it may overrule them.
– The Council no longer requires the concurrence of the Senate to amend the Statutes and Ordinances.
– The Senate no longer has a role in appointing the Vice-Chancellor. Previously the VC was appointed by the Council on the recommendation of a joint subcommittee of the Senate and the Council; now the decision will be made by the Council alone.
– The Council will no longer include representatives of the non-academic staff or Lancaster City Council.
Well at least we now know where we stand. Or sit. subtext readers concerned at this total power grab are advised to lobby their Head of Department accordingly.
As noted, the latest set of statute changes will remove the representatives of non-academic staff and Lancaster City Council from the University Council. This seems to have been accepted rather meekly by the parties concerned; in the case of Lancaster City Council, their last representative, Cllr Andrew Warriner, had a decidedly poor attendance record, so perhaps the city council felt it didn’t have much of a leg to stand on. But, formally, the positions remain until the Privy Council amends our statutes.
Anyone examining the current list of Council members on the Secretariat’s webpage wouldn’t know this, however, since it contains no mention of the soon-to-be-abolished positions at all! Jumping the gun? Or accepting the inevitable?
JUST A LIDDLE LONGER
Actually, looking at the list of Council members, subtext noticed something interesting. The five-year term of office of our Pro-Chancellor (aka the Chair of Council), Lord Liddle, had been due to expire on 31 July 2018. Would he face any difficulties in securing a second five-year term of office (see subtext 165)? Well, now his term of office is listed as ending on 31 July 2020! What’s happened here? Has Lord Liddle struck a Granita-style deal with former security supremo Baroness Neville-Jones, our ambitious Deputy Pro-Chancellor, whose term of office is up on 31 July 2020? To be honest, we’ve no idea. Any Council members interested in serving as a mole for subtext should contact us at the usual address.
subtext was unable to report on the LUSU General Meeting last month, so here’s SCAN’s report: http://scan.lusu.co.uk/index.php/2018/03/15/union-on-the-defensive-in-ill-tempered-agm/
What was of interest to subtext was the excuses reeled off by the officer team for the poor attendance. Students were blamed for not tabling exciting agenda items and instead expecting their elected officers to show leadership and promote a talking point. A discussion about space on campus isn’t exactly going to be a huge draw, and the subtext collective does wonder why LUSU doesn’t learn the lesson from its very recent history that it isn’t actually all that difficult to achieve a quorate general meeting.
Due to the low attendance, no business could be voted on by those in attendance. The general meetings bye-law states that, in the event of inquoracy, ‘the meeting shall stand adjourned to [sic] the same day in the next week [sic] at the same time and place or to such other day [sic] as the Trustees may determine.’
At the time of writing, the meeting has not reconvened.
In the fortnight since the last edition of subtext, there has been a considerable amount of strike-related activity, both in Lancaster and at the national level.
THE LOCAL FLAVOUR
The campus picket lines have been busier than ever, with a head count of over 160 on Tuesday this week, along with music and dancing every day (Zumba being particularly popular) and even some protest poetry on Wednesday. The VC ‘visited’ on the 8th March, but received a markedly less positive reaction than the several HoDs who did their stint on the lines. A video of his visit, with added commentary by the local UCU branch, is available here: https://youtu.be/lfSTLmdnRVE
Compared to previous disputes, the staff on strike are spread across the whole range of departments in the University, with somewhat less representation from LUMS. Meanwhile, the teach out events, featuring everything from a personal history of the 84/85 miners’ strike to yoga, have also been well attended – see below.
Numerous colleagues involved in the strike have remarked what a sense of solidarity and community is emerging from being thrown together in these adverse circumstances, while the lack of day-to-day work schedules seems to have unleashed all kinds of creativity and willingness to engage in activities that we never normally have time for. Union members were particularly heartened by the strong support from students, some of whom have been coming to the picket lines and teach outs every day.
STRUCK DOWN IN ANGER
At the national level, the past few weeks have seen a flurry of activity. Universities UK (UUK) initially refused to negotiate with UCU, then agreed to meet but not reopen the decision on the pensions proposal (raising questions about what exactly they were proposing to discuss). When one VC after another came out publicly in favour of open negotiations, UUK were eventually forced into a humiliating climbdown and agreed to talks without preconditions at ACAS.
Following a few quiet days last week, and then an announcement that negotiators would be working through the weekend, Monday evening saw the announcement of a so-called agreement between UCU and UUK. This represented an improvement of sorts on the original UUK proposal, but included a worse accrual rate (1/85th of salary for each year of service vs the current 1/75th), an increase in both employee and employer contributions, and a cap of 2.5% on the rate that pensions could increase annually with inflation, meaning that if prices rise by more than this amount, pensions would lose value in real terms.
The reaction from UCU members was… not good. Very quickly, UCU Twitterati took the proposal apart, and an open letter in opposition to the proposal had collected around 3000 signatures by midnight on Monday, while a further 4000 signed by 11am the following morning.
Above all else, members were incensed by the proposal that teaching that had not taken place as a result of strike action should be rearranged. Colleagues argued that this would effectively mean doing work they had already sacrificed pay for. And in any case, there was not nearly enough time to fit 14 days’ worth of teaching into the few remaining days of term.
Throughout Tuesday, members of the union’s Higher Education Committee were subject to a frenzy of social media and email lobbying, overwhelmingly urging rejection. A meeting of branch delegates from all over the country decided almost unanimously to reject what they felt represented a betrayal of the sacrifice that members had made by being on strike.
In the end, the reject camp prevailed, perhaps helped by the large demonstration outside UCU headquarters in London, whose chants could be heard by the delegates arguing inside. The UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, later explained that the negotiators had been tightly constrained by the ACAS process in what and how they were allowed to communicate.
So the strike continues today and tomorrow, with the fourteen further strike days set to hit assessment season, with exam marking and exam boards likely to be a particular target for local branches. This will undoubtedly have a bigger impact on students than just missing a few lectures, possibly even delaying graduations for final-years. Action short of a strike also continues: UCU members are ‘threatening’ to only do the work they are contracted to do, rather than contributing the massive amounts of unpaid overtime that normally keep universities going on a day-to-day basis.
UUK are blaming the dire situation on UCU for walking away from negotiations, while UCU’s line is that the employers could stop the strike at any point by making a fair offer. Students at Lancaster, for now, seem to be largely supportive of their local staff, though whether this solidarity will continue for a further 14 days of disruption remains to be seen.
As reported in subtext 174, UCU have been running a series of ‘teach out’ events during the strike – a different way of engaging with staff and students and anyone else who is interested in what the industrial action is about, as well as a number of other somewhat related topics.
While teach outs resemble the form of the labour that staff have withdrawn from their employer, the sessions do not necessarily follow the expected conventions of university teaching. The inherent radicalism of such a venture comes from the enforced interdisciplinarity of the project: colleagues, students and members of the public may come from any academic background, or not be involved in academia at all. It is teaching for interest’s sake, not for ‘knowledge-transfer’, measuring, testing, or satisfying government ‘key information sets’.
Lancaster UCU, together with a host of other branches, organised an alternative education experience for every day of the strike action. Most of the sessions took place at the Gregson Community Centre and were largely well attended, with many packing the Gregson Centre’s modestly-sized hall to the rafters. The curriculum features a mixture of debates, interactive workshops, informal lectures featuring some outside speakers as well as Lancaster academics, film showings, a couple of musical gigs and away from the Gregson some ‘walk and talk’ happenings. In the final days of the current round of strike action, sessions with a more restorative agenda were planned i.e. yoga and craft making.
All the sessions were open to University staff, students, and other folk from the wider community. There was a strong student presence at some sessions and even some members of the public at some events. However, it was staff from the University that made up the bulk of the attendees.
Many of the sessions focussed on the question: ‘what kind of university do we want?’ Yes, pensions were discussed, but within a wider understanding of the changing nature of the sector. Attendees remarked that they felt particularly empowered by speaking with other members of the University who they would not normally meet at work. This prompted a lot of talk about the future and how the this strong feeling of solidarity could be maintained after the dispute.
Readers may have ideas on how this ‘new space’ that the striking community has built can be maintained, and what its purpose would be once work resumes. subtext would welcome contributions on this fascinating development at Lancaster, and would be happy to play a part in future conversations.
RADICAL OR MERELY YOUNGER? A REVIEW
It seems appropriate that on Monday 12 March, midway through Lancaster’s longest period of industrial action in decades, UCU’s teach out at the Gregson played host to an event that seemed to shout, ‘Call that radical? Ha!’ Marion McClintock, Honorary University Archivist and former Academic Registrar at Lancaster, and Alison Lloyd Williams of Global Link’s Documenting Dissent project were our guides as they took us through Lancaster’s radical past, both on and off campus.
According to Mrs McClintock, Lancaster University in its early days was characterised by very conservative Heads of Department, many of whom were ex-military, alongside younger, more radical staff, who pioneered Lancaster’s distinctive degree programmes: Religious Studies (not Theology), Independent Studies, Creative Writing, Environmental Studies, Peace Studies, Marketing, and Systems Engineering. Students were given the chance to ‘grapple with subjects they’d not studied before.’ Above all, Lancaster was shaped by its first Vice-Chancellor, Charles Carter, who actively encouraged this interdisciplinary approach. We were a university that ‘was taking a fresh look at society, was taking nothing for granted and was questioning norms.’
Publications of the time, like John O’Gauntlet and Carolynne, reflected this mood and encouraged debate on drugs, sex and gay rights, although some of their editorial choices, such as pin-up girls in Carolynne, seem archaic today.
Among the many disputes of the early years were ‘the mixed bedrooms argument of 1968’, the David Craig affair (see subtexts 8 and 9) and the 1975 rent strike which lasted over 12 months. Student involvement in these disputes was strong.
Lancaster’s college system played an important role in Lancaster’s free-thinking tradition; Sir Noel Hall, one of the university’s founders, was formerly Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford and had insisted that the colleges must form an integral part of Lancaster’s governance.
Why are things not like that any more? Lancaster’s rising research reputation in the 1980s meant that staff and students no longer had as much time to spend on innovative teaching or political discussion, and even Prof Carter was subject to the same pressures as everyone else.
Ms Lloyd Williams gave a history of the Documenting Dissent project, which was inspired by Lancaster Castle and its status as a symbol of state power and the location of Lancashire’s most important court. Many dissenters, including several chartists, had been tried there.
Lancaster is particularly significant in LGBT history, given the number of people prosecuted for homosexuality at the Castle, but more happily due to the significant presence during the 1970s of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) on campus, and the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) in town. Lancaster University pioneered women’s studies and radical feminism, while the very first CHE Conference took place in Morecambe.
More recently, the case of the George Fox Six, where six students and ex-students disrupted a conference in George Fox Lecture Theatre 1 and were promptly prosecuted for aggravated trespass, shows both that the dissenting tradition is still there … but that the university is no longer as tolerant as it was. The Documenting Dissent website includes an account of the affair, including an interview with Matthew Wilson, one of the six.
Contributions from the floor included comments from several people who have been encouraging the radical tradition at Lancaster for decades, including city councillor Andrew Kay, who remembered long campus debates on ‘this house will not give a platform for racist and fascist speakers’ and ‘this house is glad to be gay’, and former city councillor Tony Pinkney, who thought two years stood out in particular – 1886, when William Morris’s talk in the town led to the founding of the Socialist League, and 1999, when Lancaster elected its first ever group of Green Party councillors.
The Documenting Dissent project’s website is at: http://www.documentingdissent.org.uk/
DEMOCRACY IS THRIVING … ELSEWHERE
There have been many Vice-Chancellorial U-turns on USS and risk recently, but the most notable ones have come from the VCs at Oxford and Cambridge, both on 7 March. Given that the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge were all treated as separate institutions in Universities UK’s September 2017 survey of attitudes to institutional risk, this is a major shift.
Why the change? Of course, we are happy to accept that both VCs will have reached their decisions sincerely. But Oxford’s VC, Prof Richardson, has probably been helped by the meeting of Oxford’s Congregation on 6 March, at which a resolution seeking to overturn Oxford’s existing stance on pensions was first blocked controversially, and then discussed outside, where it passed 442 to 2.
Likewise, Cambridge’s VC, Prof Toope, doubtless had his mind sharpened by the impending ballot of Cambridge’s Regent House, on a motion submitted by 501 members, which seeks to amend Cambridge’s official view on USS.
For readers not familiar with how Oxford and Cambridge work, the Oxford Congregation and Cambridge Regent House are the supreme governing bodies of those institutions, made up of all academic staff. They can, and occasionally do, overrule the University Council.
True democracy in action! But wait. Surely these forms of governance must violate the Committee of University Chairs’ Higher Education Code of Governance, the document which our Chief Administrative Officer in particular is very fond of (see subtext 174 and other subtexts passim)?
Well … yes. But they seem to be doing OK, all things considered.
Now that our Court has met for the final time, and our Senate has willingly handed its power to amend statutes over to our Council, perhaps we should start advocating something similar here? After all, our VC’s usual answer when challenged about centralising power is ‘the Warwick clincher’ – they do it at Warwick so it must therefore be a good thing – so perhaps we should start playing ‘the Oxford gambit’ in response.
subtext spent a large amount of the 15/16 academic year remonstrating with the Students’ Union and advising it not to implement its ‘democratic review’, an initiative which involved LUSU reviewing democracy and deciding it wasn’t very good. LUSU subsequently abolished its council, and handed all of its power to two bodies. First, its executive committee, whose membership is unknown and whose minutes have not been published in two years. Second, a ‘student jury’, which had its deliberations published once about eighteen months ago and may well have met every day since then for all we know. The new model has been effective – the SU seems not to have taken a discernible stance on any politically charged issue since the new system came into being (if it has, it certainly hasn’t been rushing to tell us). A stark contrast to the old system, in which the SU had a large representative council consisting of officers representing a diverse range of students which met every two weeks, voted on policy, and routinely uploaded its minutes, agendas, and copies of policies it had both passed and rejected.
It was not hard to predict (and we did) that the new democratic system would be the unmitigated failure it has proven to be, and would drastically reduce transparency, but we were somewhat heartened by the creation of a ‘Scrutiny Panel’ (see subtext 155) – a truly independent body which would hold LUSU to account. Its members were to be appointed by LUSU officers rather than elected by the student body. Yes – LUSU officers hand picked who would scrutinise them, and no we aren’t making this up! So, surely the robustly critical Scrutiny Panel has by now taken LUSU to task over its complete lack of transparency, right?
You’d think so, but according to SCAN, the Scrutiny Panel has yet to meet this academic year! One former member of the panel, who resigned in disgust, fumed to SCAN that they had been ‘appointed to, rather than elected to’ the body. ‘Nobody has heard of it and it produces a report that nobody reads. It is a scandal that the Full Time Officers are allowed to do nothing at our expense with no scrutiny,’ they went on to say.
In the same report, LUSU defended itself: ‘getting a group of students in the room at the same time can prove difficult.’ It can? Seminar tutors may sympathise, but if LUSU hasn’t been able to get eight people into a room in five months, then no wonder it’s having such difficulty taking a stance on anything. LUSU goes on: ‘at the Annual General Meeting […] students will have the opportunity to hold all officers accountable.’ This is the same AGM that the 15/16 LUSU officers denounced as unfit for purpose, and that subtext pointed out was never going to reach quoracy if its agenda was focused on tedious bureaucracy. No doubt a robust discussion on a Scrutiny Panel that ‘nobody has heard of’ producing ‘a report that nobody reads’ is sure to have LUSU’s next AGM bursting at the seams.
Even when the Scrutiny Panel was actually meeting, the ‘scrutiny’ was somewhat less than comprehensive. subtext has learned that a typical meeting involved LUSU officers submitting a questionnaire (written by LUSU staff) to the Scrutiny Panel, who would rate their answers on a scale of ‘Needs Improvement’ to ‘Outstanding’, along with supporting comments which were largely positive due to the majority of the panel being friends with and appointed by the LUSU Officers. No wonder a meeting hasn’t been held all year, if this is the sort of ruthless pillorying that officers have to live in fear of.
Readers may agree that LUSU should be held to a high standard. That it failed to meet such a standard only affirms our belief that its democratic review has proven to be a disaster not only for the SU, but for the interests of students at this University as a whole.
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.
‘To govern is to choose. To appear to be unable to choose is to appear to be unable to govern.’ So said a wise person… well, OK, actually it was Nigel Lawson. Still, it’s a good quote.
LUSU’s executive committee has decided against taking a position on the UCU strike. They report that, ‘Lancaster University Students’ Union sympathises with the position of the UCU and their members, but in the best interests of our students we do not wish to see this action go ahead and believe all sides of the debate have a part to play in reducing the impact on our members’ education. It was decided that we as your students’ union would take the position of supportive communication, in that we will endeavour to provide impartial information pertaining to both sides of the dispute, making sure that each of you are supported, empowered and informed enough to take your own stance on this matter. We understand that this is a big issue and there will be students on either side of the argument, therefore our priority is reducing the impact on your academia.’
They’ve been as good as their word. What should students do? Well, LUSU has produced two infographics. ‘If you support UCU strike action…’ then you can lobby the VC and ask your lecturers how you can support them. But ‘If you don’t support UCU strike action…’ then you can lobby the VC and encourage academic support from your lecturers. That’ll tell them.
Some readers may feel relieved that, at least, LUSU hasn’t come out against the UCU and NUS position on the strike. But, others will argue, the duty of a students’ union is to take a decision and fight hard for it. Are students really getting ‘value for money’ when their union behaves more like the Citizens’ Advice Bureau than a representative body?
Two years ago LUSU abolished most of its democratic decision-making processes, removing Union Council and replacing it with a labyrinthine system of ‘student juries’ and referendums, to be called upon to reach a consensus – slowly – whenever the executive proposed doing anything contentious. Non-resolutions like the current position on strike action are, as we predicted, the result.
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’!