Tag Archives: Ronnie Rowlands

SPECIAL FEATURE: LANCASTER UNIVERSITY STUDENTS’ DISUNION

SPECIAL FEATURE: LANCASTER UNIVERSITY STUDENTS’ DISUNION
Contributed articles by Ronnie Rowlands
ONE SUGAR, PLEASE
When we covered the Students’ Union officer elections for the 19/20 academic year, your subtext correspondents observed that the new crop of officers ought to make short work of becoming popular. LUSU had been awash with scandal (sometimes justifiable, sometimes not), including the cancellation of Grad Ball, the Snowsports white t-shirt social and the initial decision (rapidly reversed) to officially recognise a society for literal, self-avowed fascists. The combustible elements lit up into a conflagration when a visceral outpouring of rage followed the decision to strip student radio station, Bailrigg FM, of its FM license and reduce its funding. The officers-elect were quick to promise that they would reverse this decision if the then-current officers did not. The decision was reversed before they took office, and all that the new officers – George Nuttall, Grishma Bijukumar, Ben Evans, Lewis Marriott, Bee Morgan and Hannah Prydderch – had to do to elicit a huge voter turnout was to promise to Make LUSU Not Sh*t Again. President Nuttall was already being exalted by Lancaster’s unofficial social media ‘sh*tposting’ pages as the bringer of a shiny new dawn.
Then LUSU announced that its Trustee Board had voted to close and sell the Sugarhouse.
It didn’t take long for the Full Time Officers to distance themselves from the announcement. Some not particularly well-disguised leaks left the student body under no illusion as to who was responsible – the non-student Trustees, plus one ‘rebel’ Full Time Officer whose decisive vote swayed the decision. This Full Time Officer has subsequently found himself ‘un-personed’ by his fellow officers, reviled by a student body that is seeking to remove him from office and doorstepped in the LUSU building by the student media’s TV cameras.
The students weren’t going to let the Sugarhouse go without a fight. And why would they? The Sugarhouse has remained a staple of Lancaster’s dwindling nightlife and enjoys both good and bad financial years. Perhaps more importantly, the Sugarhouse is regarded as a ‘safe night out’ by students, and there should surely be a space for student-led venues to accommodate the cultural, racial, and sexual diversity among our student population.
The wise decision to call a general meeting was taken, and a ‘Save Our Sugarhouse’ motion was duly proposed… along with a pile of others, on issues ranging from affordable housing to climate change.
Yes, seizing the opportunity to bellow at the union officers in front of a huge audience, a group of Labour students set about foisting a comprehensive campaigning agenda on them. The executive couldn’t rely on the meeting becoming inquorate to jettison the motions – with proxy voting now allowed, hundreds of students were able to make their decision before the meeting, arguably making any debate pointless since the motions were already decided.
Nor could the executive hope to run down the clock or suggest that the motions should be considered in a different forum – procedural motion after procedural motion was passed, and the meeting was repeatedly extended, while motions were moved straight to a vote. Those who stayed it out, delighted that they could finally actually mandate their representatives to do something – anything! – duly voted for every single motion.
It will come as no surprise to learn that the motions to save Sugarhouse were passed. The five LUSU Officers who showed up took the opportunity to stress that they personally had voted AGAINST the closure and sale of the Sugarhouse, in a ‘People vs Parliament’ style move that deflected the anger onto the rest of the Trustee Board.
All in all, the student body finally got to vent some steam, and the groundswell of resentment that has built up over several years may have softened for a while. Whether this was the start of some real steps towards a re-democratised students’ union – which could have prevented some real catastrophes over the last couple of years – or that’s your lot for the next five years, it was heartening to see that the volcano of student anger and rebellion is still active.
***
THE CASE FOR COUNCIL
subtext kept a watchful eye on the gutting of LUSU’s accountability structures in 2015. We predicted at the time that culling most of the officers and dissolving the Union Council – which met fortnightly and could be attended by any student (although policy could only be voted on by officers) – and replacing it with unaccountable ‘Student Juries’ would lead to the very vacuum of accountability and engagement that has led to some of LUSU’s more questionable recent decisions.
The Union Council was a great body. It met fortnightly and was comprised of all of the Full Time Officers, all of the College Presidents and Vice-Presidents, all of the Faculty Reps and all of the Part-Time Officers. The membership had the power to propose and vote on policy, but crucially, ALL students could attend and ask questions. At each meeting, the Full Time Officers were required to deliver information and take questions, meaning that they could not escape direct scrutiny in the public eye. The whole point of Union Council was for officers to consult with their respective ‘juniors’ (the Faculty Reps with their Academic Reps, the International Officers with international students and JCR reps, you get the picture…), and to propose and vote on policy with their views in mind. Sadly, the Council became infested with grandstanders who wanted to hold inward-looking discussions about tedious personal grudges and constitutional minutiae. This in turn became ammunition for an executive, who couldn’t be bothered to undergo scrutiny and face the public, to lobby for its abolition.

Look at the situation LUSU is in now. Can anybody name the last time that the ‘Student Jury’ sat? Do people remember when LUSU introduced a ‘scrutiny panel’, which involved Full Time Officers appointing people to write reports about them that were then buried on the LUSU website? A fortnightly public meeting with the minutes released in a timely way was an ample means of keeping the paranoid headbangers at bay. If anybody said that LUSU was unaccountable, officers could just say ‘we’ve got LUSU Council. Why don’t you show up?’ With no LUSU Council, a Student Jury and a scrutiny panel that never meets, and an Executive committee that doesn’t release its minutes, LUSU’s pressure valves of old are gone. If LUSU wants to return to transparency in any lasting way, it would do wise to reinstate the structures that were so needlessly abolished in 2016.

LETTERS

Dear subtext,
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.
Name supplied
***
Dear subtext,
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’.
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Glossary_of_collective_nouns_by_subject
Regards,
James
***
Dear subtext,
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.
Name supplied
***
Dear subtext,
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!
Yours,
Ronnie Rowlands
***
Dear subtext,
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.
Yours,
Andrew Williams

Acting General Secretary, Lancaster University Labour Club, and latent SCAN News Editor

BAILRIGG NOT-FM

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

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

***

BAILRIGG SET AT £1000

Contributed article by Ronnie Rowlands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

With thanks to James Masterton