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Tag Archives: LUSU
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.
Claire Geddes, the former CEO of LUSU, was seconded to work on ‘strategic projects’ for barely a week before her name appeared on the LU website in another capacity: she is now the University’s Head of Governance Services, overseeing Information Governance (e.g. FoI) and the University’s own internal structures. She has gone from directing the absolute and total failure of democracy in the Students’ Union to overseeing the travesty of democracy in the University. A wise hire for those who wish to consolidate power in UMAG.
My first fixed-term casual research work for Lancaster was in 1991, just after getting my degree and graduating with £100 in my bank account (thanks, funded education!). I worked for 6 weeks at £100/week, minus the 25% emergency tax rate, leaving me with the unimaginable riches of £75/week. I had moved into a vacant room in a student house on Westbourne Road, paying ‘half-rent’ at £12.50/week (thanks, no ‘buy-to-rent’ inflation!). I digress (it happens as you approach 50, apparently). Over the next 28 and a bit years, I worked on and off for Lancaster on fixed-term contracts doing research on matters relating to the environmental crisis, with some major gaps in my work history thanks to jumping on diggers and squatting and sitting up trees ‘In Defence Of Mother Earth’ (how quaint and old-fashioned/scarily prescient!). I didn’t do teaching, and therefore, the possibility of a permanent contract was for nearly three decades an idle dream.
Imagine the hilarity when 13 days after finishing another contract and for the first time becoming an employee of another University (Leeds), the University announced its change of policy on fixed-term contracts, announcing that permanent contracts would be offered wherever possible, and this would even apply to funding-tied contracts such as those I had been on for the entire period we had to avert climate change (ah, those sweet bygone times!). It was almost as funny as when I took my one trans-Atlantic flight to a conference where I was presenting on the environmental impacts of everyday travel, and attending a session on the environmental impacts of academic conferences, and the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted and grounded all flights in the Northern Hemisphere, stranding me in the Belly of the Beast (Washington DC).
Dr Noel Cass
You report in recent issues of subtext that the decision to withdraw University e-mail accounts from retired members of staff was designed to save the University money. I fear that the reverse will be the case when retired/retiring members of staff who in appreciation of their links with the University have named it as a beneficiary in their wills will be seriously contemplating removing such legacies as they no longer feel the attachment to the University which once they enjoyed. Likewise, retired members who contribute generously to the Chancellor’s Guild and other University appeals will no doubt be thinking twice about contributing to these good causes in the future.
Is it too late to ask the Director of Information Systems Services to review this damaging decision in the light of the serious financial damage (and significant loss of goodwill) it will cause to the University and to restore e-mail access to those from whom it has been, or is to be, withdrawn?
Best wishes, and keep up the good work.
No email account, no access to numerous academic resources. Rather an exaggeration, perhaps, but ‘cheap’ cancellation makes life unnecessarily difficult.
Which tense has been used in ‘…be they sat…’? (subtext 191, editorial)
In classic Parliamentary style, MPs are not technically allowed to resign their seats. A member who, say, wants to retreat into a shed to write a self-congratulatory memoir after calling a disastrous referendum in a misguided attempt to unify their party is instead said to have ‘taken the Chiltern Hundreds’, accepting the role of Crown Steward and Bailiff of an ancient region (or manor) that no longer exists. The role has no responsibilities and provides no benefit to the holder.
On an unrelated note, news reaches us that LUSU CEO Claire Geddes has stepped down from her role and is now ‘working on a strategic project for the university on secondment’, according to a brief LUSU press release. The LU intranet contains no mention of this, and the University declined to comment when asked by SCAN.
SCAN has characterised Ms Geddes as yet another casualty of the recent Sugarhouse sale affair (see article ‘Sugar Plot Timeline’, Week 9 issue), a list that so far includes the former LUSU VP (Activities) and a number of Trustees. We can neither prove nor disprove a connection, but we note that the timing of the announcement and the silence from the University might lead one to wonder.
We wish Ms Geddes all the best in her stewardship of what will surely prove to be a very exciting, albeit vague, ‘strategic project’.
Every so often during term time.
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In this issue: editorial, sugar free, union council, apart-nope, sports, portrait, dundee, IP, emeritnews, ISS vs societies, pun corner, climate strike, letters.
Anyone walking up the Spine on Monday at around 6pm would have seen hundreds of students queueing to enter the Great Hall. A jobs fair? Yet another 6pm lecture? No. In a heartwarming display of activism, they were queueing to enter the Annual General Meeting of Lancaster University Students’ Union – an event that in recent years has seen just a few dozen diehards attending.
Let this put the lie to the notion that students are chronically apathetic. Nark them off enough and they will punish you for it. The spark for the nark this time was the proposed closure of a much-loved nightclub, and it is our hope that these students, having now experienced an intoxicating taste of activism, will develop their impulses in directions more socially rewarding than maintaining their access to 3-for-£5 VKs – perhaps the re-democratisation of their own Students’ Union, or this climate lark that everyone seems to be banging on about.
Speaking of democracy in action, as we go to press the news of the recent UCU ballot on industrial action over pay and pensions reaches the subtext warehouse. Lancaster is one of the 55 (for the pay dispute) and 43 (for pensions) institutions to both vote in favour of action and reach the 50% threshold. Expect more picket discos in the near future.
By the way, has anyone noticed that it’s now 1 November 2019 and we’re still in the European Union?
SPECIAL FEATURE: LANCASTER UNIVERSITY STUDENTS’ DISUNION
Contributed articles by Ronnie Rowlands
ONE SUGAR, PLEASE
When we covered the Students’ Union officer elections for the 19/20 academic year, your subtext correspondents observed that the new crop of officers ought to make short work of becoming popular. LUSU had been awash with scandal (sometimes justifiable, sometimes not), including the cancellation of Grad Ball, the Snowsports white t-shirt social and the initial decision (rapidly reversed) to officially recognise a society for literal, self-avowed fascists. The combustible elements lit up into a conflagration when a visceral outpouring of rage followed the decision to strip student radio station, Bailrigg FM, of its FM license and reduce its funding. The officers-elect were quick to promise that they would reverse this decision if the then-current officers did not. The decision was reversed before they took office, and all that the new officers – George Nuttall, Grishma Bijukumar, Ben Evans, Lewis Marriott, Bee Morgan and Hannah Prydderch – had to do to elicit a huge voter turnout was to promise to Make LUSU Not Sh*t Again. President Nuttall was already being exalted by Lancaster’s unofficial social media ‘sh*tposting’ pages as the bringer of a shiny new dawn.
Then LUSU announced that its Trustee Board had voted to close and sell the Sugarhouse.
It didn’t take long for the Full Time Officers to distance themselves from the announcement. Some not particularly well-disguised leaks left the student body under no illusion as to who was responsible – the non-student Trustees, plus one ‘rebel’ Full Time Officer whose decisive vote swayed the decision. This Full Time Officer has subsequently found himself ‘un-personed’ by his fellow officers, reviled by a student body that is seeking to remove him from office and doorstepped in the LUSU building by the student media’s TV cameras.
The students weren’t going to let the Sugarhouse go without a fight. And why would they? The Sugarhouse has remained a staple of Lancaster’s dwindling nightlife and enjoys both good and bad financial years. Perhaps more importantly, the Sugarhouse is regarded as a ‘safe night out’ by students, and there should surely be a space for student-led venues to accommodate the cultural, racial, and sexual diversity among our student population.
The wise decision to call a general meeting was taken, and a ‘Save Our Sugarhouse’ motion was duly proposed… along with a pile of others, on issues ranging from affordable housing to climate change.
Yes, seizing the opportunity to bellow at the union officers in front of a huge audience, a group of Labour students set about foisting a comprehensive campaigning agenda on them. The executive couldn’t rely on the meeting becoming inquorate to jettison the motions – with proxy voting now allowed, hundreds of students were able to make their decision before the meeting, arguably making any debate pointless since the motions were already decided.
Nor could the executive hope to run down the clock or suggest that the motions should be considered in a different forum – procedural motion after procedural motion was passed, and the meeting was repeatedly extended, while motions were moved straight to a vote. Those who stayed it out, delighted that they could finally actually mandate their representatives to do something – anything! – duly voted for every single motion.
It will come as no surprise to learn that the motions to save Sugarhouse were passed. The five LUSU Officers who showed up took the opportunity to stress that they personally had voted AGAINST the closure and sale of the Sugarhouse, in a ‘People vs Parliament’ style move that deflected the anger onto the rest of the Trustee Board.
All in all, the student body finally got to vent some steam, and the groundswell of resentment that has built up over several years may have softened for a while. Whether this was the start of some real steps towards a re-democratised students’ union – which could have prevented some real catastrophes over the last couple of years – or that’s your lot for the next five years, it was heartening to see that the volcano of student anger and rebellion is still active.
THE CASE FOR COUNCIL
subtext kept a watchful eye on the gutting of LUSU’s accountability structures in 2015. We predicted at the time that culling most of the officers and dissolving the Union Council – which met fortnightly and could be attended by any student (although policy could only be voted on by officers) – and replacing it with unaccountable ‘Student Juries’ would lead to the very vacuum of accountability and engagement that has led to some of LUSU’s more questionable recent decisions.
The Union Council was a great body. It met fortnightly and was comprised of all of the Full Time Officers, all of the College Presidents and Vice-Presidents, all of the Faculty Reps and all of the Part-Time Officers. The membership had the power to propose and vote on policy, but crucially, ALL students could attend and ask questions. At each meeting, the Full Time Officers were required to deliver information and take questions, meaning that they could not escape direct scrutiny in the public eye. The whole point of Union Council was for officers to consult with their respective ‘juniors’ (the Faculty Reps with their Academic Reps, the International Officers with international students and JCR reps, you get the picture…), and to propose and vote on policy with their views in mind. Sadly, the Council became infested with grandstanders who wanted to hold inward-looking discussions about tedious personal grudges and constitutional minutiae. This in turn became ammunition for an executive, who couldn’t be bothered to undergo scrutiny and face the public, to lobby for its abolition.
Look at the situation LUSU is in now. Can anybody name the last time that the ‘Student Jury’ sat? Do people remember when LUSU introduced a ‘scrutiny panel’, which involved Full Time Officers appointing people to write reports about them that were then buried on the LUSU website? A fortnightly public meeting with the minutes released in a timely way was an ample means of keeping the paranoid headbangers at bay. If anybody said that LUSU was unaccountable, officers could just say ‘we’ve got LUSU Council. Why don’t you show up?’ With no LUSU Council, a Student Jury and a scrutiny panel that never meets, and an Executive committee that doesn’t release its minutes, LUSU’s pressure valves of old are gone. If LUSU wants to return to transparency in any lasting way, it would do wise to reinstate the structures that were so needlessly abolished in 2016.
Everything was supposed to be sorted. UK students accepted to Lancaster through Clearing had not been allocated on-campus accommodation this year, but they needn’t worry – plenty of ‘Lancaster University Approved Off-Campus Accommodation for First Year Students’ would be available, all of it ‘Lancaster University Homes APPROVED’. The glossy leaflet set out three recommended choices: 1 to 3 Cable Street (built and in use, run by The Student Housing Company); St Leonard’s House (refurb of an existing building, run by Homes for Students); and Caton Court, between Back Caton Road and Bulk Road (a new build, run by Aparto). The first two options were occupied without a hitch, but Caton Court? Ah.
According to the leaflet handed out to applicants attending Clearing open days, Caton Court would offer a mix of 10-bed townhouses and flats with en suite rooms, starting from £120 and rising to £150 per week. The artist’s impressions looked attractive and there’d be on-site support, a gym, a sky lounge and a cinema space. Everyone was confident it would be completed on time.
Of course, it wasn’t. Come the start of term, we understand that those destined for the top two floors were required to stay in hotels for Welcome Week before finally being able to occupy their rooms, and the block as a whole resembled a building site. Flyers were handed out on the Spine, noting ‘power cuts’, ‘laundry not open’, ‘frequent false fire alarms’, ‘unmarked fire escapes’, ‘leaking windows’, ‘broken tables’, ‘broken kettles’ and ‘microwaves in place of ovens’. All this, the (anonymous) flyer noted, was ‘proudly advertised by Lancaster University Students’ Union’.
The city councillors for the University were quickly on the case, detailing residents’ complaints in excruciating detail through a press release, complete with pictures of holes in ceilings, traffic cones blocking access to non-functioning lifts, and a fire curtain with ‘a hole cut through it to enable residents to escape if it is lowered again’:
The ‘Living’ office on campus, whose sign had been advertising that it worked in partnership with Aparto, has now covered up the Aparto logo with a sheet of red plastic. Caton Court was one of many subjects discussed at this week’s Students’ Union AGM, with one of the successful motions noting that LUSU Living ‘had a lucrative agreement (until its suspension on 17 October) to advertise Caton Court, an Aparto property, which has had serious concerns around its fitness for habitation. Aparto is a trading name for Hines, a US property giant.’
It would be very easy indeed to load the blame onto Aparto and their contractors the Eric Wright Group, but in their defence – delays happen, and these are often unforeseen. The staff working for Aparto (locally, at least) are working hard to solve their students’ problems. Any new build is going to resemble a building site for weeks, or even months, after it initially opens, and there will always be ‘snagging’ issues. Things now seem to be settling down.
If subtext were advising a disgruntled Caton Court resident, we might suggest they direct their annoyance instead at the University which promised them luxury accommodation in Caton Court, without mentioning anywhere on its publicity that at the time of printing, Caton Court didn’t actually exist.
On the backfilling of Professional Services roles…
Despite knowing the given, valid, reasons why the University felt the need to authorise any backfilling of PS roles and consequently save money, it still seems a bit odd. Effectively, we undertook a PS Review that was supposedly never about cutting staff, but lo and behold, after the outcomes are forgotten, we start losing PS roles.
There was an outcome from the Professional Services Review which highlighted a lack of career progression for PS staff. Shortly afterwards we get the halt on backfilling of professional services roles.
Any roles which were rejected for backfilling are likely to be roles which are lost forever. If the backfill is refused and we manage to limp along with fewer staff, why would they ever be replaced down the line?
The initial communication about the backfill situation specified that this process was for PS staff only. After the initial backlash it was then said that of course it would be affecting academics too, but this would be handled in the departments rather than centrally. So the situation is impacting everyone, they just omitted to mention it in the initial communication. Though, seemingly, the departments do seem to have managed to put through some academic promotions whilst rumours were circling, not much earlier, of them struggling to backfill some of the PS staff maternity cover.
PS staff have always known, due to the nature of their roles, that the University valued them less, but recent communications over the backfill of PS roles made it a little more explicit. This is a strange situation relating only to working in academia. We all know that the University is a good place to work, particularly in the absence of much other local employment, but the effect on morale of ranking the importance of staff based on whether they are an academic or a PS member, regardless of grade, is damaging.
If academic staff decide to go on strike again due to USS pension issues, it might not be well-received by colleagues on grades 1-6. Anyone who needed to cross the picket line during the previous strike ended up late for work as traffic slowed. For some this will have meant a shortened lunch break in order to make up their hours. As much as many would like to support colleagues and empathise with their disappointment at their eroded contracts, staff with a Local Government Pension commented that it was galling to be told that a 19% contribution was an insult – LGPS gives a contribution of around 14% (which is actually very generous compared to industry standards). Anyone on a grade 6 or above was able to work from home and avoid the unpleasant crossing of picket lines, but this is not an option for those on grades 1-5.
In regards to the proposal for collective nouns for senior managers, Wiktionary already has a nice glossary of collective nouns. The one for managers is ‘an asylum of managers’.
Is it possible to apply a little humour to effect change regarding the wording of the automatic notice on emails originating outside the University?
‘This email originated from outside of the University. Do not click links or open attachments unless you recognise the sender and know the content is safe.’
‘Outside of’ is bad enough, but ‘from outside of’ is excruciating!
Thank you, guardians of my sanity.
The Students’ Union’s just held its first quorate General Meeting since 2014. That meeting was headlined by a motion that I had authored, in relation to a campaign that I had spearheaded. Similarly for the last quorate General Meeting before that, in 2013. Subsequent LUSU officers have long bemoaned their inability to do this, making the usual lame excuses of ‘outmoded structures’ and ‘changing habits’ when no-one showed up, but the formula has always been tried and true, so let me share five simple tips for student tubthumpers of the future who want to get people out of their beds and into the Great Hall.
1. You won’t get 300 students into a room to listen to your officer reports and vote on your affiliations. A General Meeting needs a single issue to draw people. In 2014, it was fee and rent increases. In 2013, it was the closure of the music degree and the threat of further cuts. In 2012, it was the threatened redundancy of departmental administrators. Sell the consequences of inaction, and they will come.
2. A General Meeting also needs to be tightly controlled by the executive, and should be a campaigning tool disguised as a democratic exercise. The purpose is to announce what it is that you’re furious about, and tell the students that you can’t do anything about it unless they turn up and vote. Thus, your officers have the mandate to act, and the democratic vote to use as ammunition against university management.
3. A General Meeting should not last more than 30 minutes. It is a burst of excitement that draws quoracy in the first place, and that excitement should not be sapped away by grandstanders getting up to quote bye laws and propose procedural motion after procedural motion. The Chair should make sure that everything is constitutionally sound in order to avoid a chapter / verse yawnfest. Leave that to your backroom, minuted meetings – not your big rally.
4. Keep speakers and speeches to a minimum. Chances are, everyone there has already made up their minds, and just wants to vote for their officers to go forth and fight.
5. Officers, take ownership of the agenda! You want a General Meeting to be your chance to tell the students that you need their support to go forth and fight their cause. So get up, speak, tell them you are raring to go and thank them for taking the time out of their day. Monday’s General Meeting lacked that great oratory from the executive, and swiftly degenerated into a two hour b*ll*cking session as officers grovelled like restaurant managers apologising for the disgruntled waiter. It’s all well and good letting the students vent at you, but it’s far better to inspire their trust and support!
It was my pleasure to participate in perhaps the greatest exercise of democracy the Students’ Union and the University have seen for many, many years. I must pay particular tribute to a handful of students who went above and beyond in the weeks building up to the meeting and during the meeting itself, in particular Cllr Jack O’Dwyer-Henry and Cllr Oliver Robinson, as well as Atree Ghosh who was behind the Save Our Sugarhouse campaign. Many others played very important roles and they know who they are. There were stumbles along the way, but in the face of blatant obstructionist behaviour by senior SU staff members, a fantastic outcome was achieved for all.
Acting General Secretary, Lancaster University Labour Club, and latent SCAN News Editor
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!
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.
– subtext, 2 April 2019
We need to ensure the union’s activity maximises the benefits for the most students, as a collective we do not see that holding an FM licence achieves this and is the best use of our resources.
- LUSU, 9 April
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.
– subtext, 2 April
With the broadcasting landscape changing and the rise of online-only radio stations, this change presents an opportunity for Bailrigg FM to modernise and give its members an experience that reflects the modern media landscape and the changing habits of listeners.
– LUSU, 9 April
[…] being bound by Ofcom requires you to […] 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 […] These are all vital, vocational skills […] that students can take with them should they wish to go into ‘proper’ radio.
– subtext, 2 April
Removing the FM licence will mean that the station will no longer need to adhere to Ofcom regulations and will give the station more freedom and flexibility, such as removing the requirement to broadcast 24/7, and relaxing restrictions on timing of certain content.
– LUSU, 9 April
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
Every so often during term time.
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The students’ union VP Education, Ian Meeks, has scored a major win in his campaign for anonymous marking. It’s written up on the SU website at:
As subtext understands it, the university’s Academic Standards and Quality Committee has accepted his argument that all written assessments at Lancaster should, henceforth, be anonymous. subtext hears that there is also support for a proposal that all submissions should be made electronically.
Well done to the union for their persistence. But should we be celebrating? In the LUSU article, Mr Meeks notes that, ‘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.’ If all that students gained from their work were the mark, his argument is hard to refute.
Assignments aren’t all about marks, though.
The reason we ask students to regularly submit their thoughts to us is not so we can just give it a ‘B+’ and say ‘well done’. Markers think long and hard about their feedback, pointing out errors and suggesting ideas for improvement, and this is greatly helped when the marker knows the identity of the person they’re feeding back to. They’ll have a rounded view of where they’ve gone wrong before, which overarching themes they frequently address, and so forth. From a logistical point of view, many assignments are handed back in person, with the marker keen to follow up their written comments with discussion and support. How would this work?
Well, you could keep the assignments anonymous until the marking’s over, maybe, and only then reveal to all concerned the identity of the people you’ve been assessing. This could work, although in practice most markers get to know their students’ styles of argument. This is especially true in the many departments where coursework is usually handwritten.
Blanket electronic submissions would also be difficult to implement. We sympathise with students who regularly have to leg it to campus to meet a submission deadline, when they could have just uploaded their thoughts to Moodle – but equally, it would be odd if a student ran onto campus and made it to their department on time, only to be told ‘sorry, you’ll need to scan that and upload it!’ Markers are certainly not going to be thrilled if – as seems possible – they’re told that, from now on, they’ll need to do all their marking on screen. Has occupational health been consulted?
What would work well in some departments may well cause massive problems in others, and we think this should be an issue which should be left to departments, in consultation with their students and staff.
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.
In case you missed it… the result of the Students’ Union’s referendum to change its full-time officer team (see subtext 182) has been announced, and it shows a decisive victory for the ‘don’t care!’ campaign. On a 6% turnout of 892 votes, the votes were: Yes 438 (49%), No 396 (44%) and Abstain 58 (7%). As the union notes, ‘students’ union rules on referendums state that a voter turnout of at least 10% is required in order for decisions to be upheld, and therefore the proposal did not pass’:
The referendum voting website was kept separate from the sites to vote for JCR executives, with different closing dates. Did the union executive miss a trick by not bundling the votes together? The County College had a turnout of almost 30% for its JCR elections, with Furness and Grizedale Colleges not too far behind, so it seems so – although given the large ‘No’ vote amongst the few who did turn out, it’s distinctly possible that the proposals would have been rejected anyway.
subtext was unenthusiastic about the proposals, particularly the idea of establishing a full-time Postgraduate Officer who would be elected by a majority undergraduate electorate, but this doesn’t seem to be the main issue that galvanised the lively ‘No’ campaign: ‘Do you want more support for Sugarhouse? Vote NO’ claimed its Facebook page. The proposed loss of the Vice-President Union Development – which is what the strapline was referring to – certainly did not go down well with JCR officers, who queued up to oppose the changes.
Will the proposals return next term? Even if they did, presumably any change would come too late to change the full-time officers for 2019-20, so it seems likely they’ll be rapidly booted into the very long grass.
Every so often during term time.
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For the past week it appears University House has been on lockdown. Once you walk through Reception and make for the stairs to B Floor and above you have to either explain yourself to the Security guard, or have a ‘valid pass’.
Organisations go into lockdown when they fear something. In this case, the fear is of student action over the fallout from the Snowsports Society white t-shirt social. That the information was leaked by a whistleblower and picked up by the national press shows the scale of the issue which senior management are trying to brush off. They are right to be in lockdown, because people are angry. Lancaster: we have a problem.
From the scrawling of swastikas on office doors to the Snowsports Society shitstorm, fascism in its many masks, old and new, is here on campus. It wants women in the kitchen and it thinks rape is a joke. It demands ‘free speech’ in order to promote hate, and wraps all this in either a sugar coating of intellectual rigour, or vomit stained fresher-on-a-bender banter. It is part of a wider wave of global far right populism and xenophobia that results in children being separated from their parents and incarcerated at borders, and in a ‘hostile environment’ that punishes and ostracises the very people it should be welcoming. It leads to spots and sometimes swathes of political extremism, right out in the open, in the mainstream, in government. Anger in response to this is normal and it is right.
The Students’ Union should be ashamed of itself for acting so slowly, and in future should take immediate and visible action to investigate and sanction societies that enable this kind of behaviour. They should reinstate suspended LUSU officer Chloe Long: whistleblowers should not be made scapegoats. Senior management should denounce the most recent events, and all those preceding, publicly and loudly. More than that, they should be proactive and transparent in enabling staff and students to create a positive culture that welcomes everyone… except fascists.
And the rest of us? We have to show up, and stand up to this crap wherever it appears. Let’s put the whole campus on lockdown for fascism: they shall not pass.
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.
Speaking of unions, the students’ union is planning a restructure:
The October meeting of its trustee board agreed a reduction in the number of full-time officers from six to five, keeping the President but replacing the proliferation of five Vice-Presidents (activities, campaigns & communications, education, welfare & community, and union development) with four new posts: activities officer, education officer (undergraduate), postgraduate officer, and welfare officer. There will be a referendum in Week 8, and campaign teams for and against are being formed this week.
So, aside from the cosmetic name changes, we’re losing campaigns & communications, and union development, in favour of a full-time postgraduate officer. Not many are likely to oppose the loss of the union development post (formerly the General Secretary, aka ‘the President’s sidekick’), but the loss of a full-time political role in charge of LUSU media is more significant, and as for the proposal that undergraduates should be allowed to both stand and vote for the full-time postgraduate officer – well, good luck justifying that to the PG Board!
Student media at Lancaster is now de-politicised, barring a few exceptions on SCAN’s team, so the loss of a full-time media sabbatical might just reflect reality. The days when SCAN could openly oppose the union’s political strategy are long gone. The activities officer gets to be SCAN’s editor-in-chief, but only as a small part of their brief.
How, though, did the proposal get through to allow undergraduates to vote (and so have the decisive vote) on the postgraduate (who doesn’t have to be a postgraduate) officer? We’re told that, ‘as the officer would be a senior/full-time officer of the students’ union and a trustee, legally any student will be eligible to vote for them. It wouldn’t be restricted to postgraduates.’ What’s more, ‘any full member of the students’ union would be eligible to stand for this role – even if they’re not actually a postgraduate student themselves.’
Our legal correspondent describes this as ‘bollocks’. Exhibit A – UCL Union, which has a sabbatical Postgraduate Students’ Officer, open only to, and chosen only by, postgraduate students. Admittedly, we wouldn’t be the only students’ union to let undergraduates choose its postgraduate officer – Warwick seems to do it, and of course whenever Warwick does anything, Lancaster soon follows.