Tag Archives: senate

subtext 185 – ‘the same subtext, only louder’

Every so often during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments: subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk

Back issues & subscription details: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/about/

In this issue: editorial, rules on protests, UCU ballots again, not the Court report, steele, vintage satire, shart, restaurant review, letters.

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EDITORIAL

There’s been a Senate meeting this week… but the days when Senate papers were pored over with interest are long gone. Openness and scrutiny have given way to agenda items that are ‘RESTRICTED’, ‘RESERVED’, ‘COMMERCIAL IN CONFIDENCE’, ‘STRICTLY IN CONFIDENCE’ or some combination of these. Senate members have (mostly) fallen under the spell of being the select few ‘in the know’ and happily play along with this cloak-and-dagger game, while journalists – the few permitted to attend, that is – are basically barred from reporting on any of the really interesting stuff. Senate reports now read more like ‘wicked whispers’-style gossip columns, where reporters try their best to drop hints about what might have been said or done, without actually naming anyone or anything.

All we know, for example, about November’s Senate debate on the ‘Senior Team Structure at Lancaster University (Strictly Confidential and Restricted)’ is that they concerned the ‘future structure of the senior leadership team afforded by the forthcoming departure of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor.’ Oh really… do tell us more! No. All we can report is that the Senate ‘agreed that it was fully supportive of the proposals’ and that one comment ‘concerning a proposed role-title was noted and would be considered further by the Vice-Chancellor as part of finalising the proposals for Council.’ Curiouser and curiouser… well, probably not, to be honest, but it’s much more exciting when you label it ‘STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL’, isn’t it?

Cognitive dissonance kicks in once you notice that all the old Senate minutes are still available online (to current staff and students) and we’re thus able to offer more scrutiny of Lancaster two decades ago than we are of Lancaster now. Reading the 2001 Senate minutes is like peeking into another world where, for example, the decision on whether to elect or appoint our Pro-Vice-Chancellors was decided on a show of hands, with the discussion and vote fully minuted (it was 24 to 22 in favour of appointment, in case you were wondering). If that meeting had taken place in 2019 then the minutes would have recorded the Senate’s support for some proposal or other, which the Vice-Chancellor would of course consider further.

Maybe the culture of secrecy helps more senators speak frankly, safe in the knowledge that their criticisms will never form part of the public record? Perhaps senators can be more effective ‘critical friends’ if their criticisms are heard behind closed doors? If you’re sympathetic to this argument then subtext would like to say four things to you: ‘U’, ‘A’, ‘9’ and ‘2’.

UNIVERSITY COURT

2018 saw the demise of the University Court, one of Lancaster’s oldest and most diverse decision-making bodies.

The University Court was an annual gathering bringing together a whole array of stakeholders. It made recommendations to the Senate and the Council of the university, was responsible for appointing the Pro-Chancellor, had delegates to various committees of the University, and had historically been used as an opportunity for locally based institutions and the broader community to raise concerns to the senior management. A ‘Court Review Group’ was set up by the University Council. It is not known how its members were appointed, and nobody from the University Court was invited to participate in the review. It was externally reviewed by a University of Exeter registrar who had been involved in the closure of that institution’s own Court, and the recommendations were approved by the Senate and Council, and presented as a fait accompli to the 2018 gathering of the Court, with no opportunity to vote on the proposals.

The reasons for abolishing Court are unclear. ‘Lack of diversity’ was presented as a reason, but the Court was more diverse than the Senate, University Council, and senior management team, so ignore that. It was also suggested that the Court consumed a lot of resources, but since the Court is being ‘replaced’ by a less accountable, less diverse ‘annual public meeting’ anyway, that can be ignored too.

What we can’t ignore is the fact that the Court of the University of Bath was instrumental in triggering a HEFCE investigation into Vice-Chancellors’ involvement in setting their own salary, and that only a few months prior our own remuneration committee was rejigged to remove the Vice-Chancellor. Just in time for the release of said HEFCE report.

What this means is that locally based institutions, alumni, dignitaries, clergymen, etc, now have no official say in the running of the university, and a tiny and unrepresentative body now has sole control over who to invite to its new ‘annual public meeting’.

It is the biggest, but by no means the only, exclusionary change to Lancaster’s decision-making this year, and you can read our coverage of this issue below:

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2017/10/12/court-in-the-act/

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2017/10/12/to-court-your-favour/

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2017/10/26/letters-2/

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2017/11/23/senate-report/

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2017/12/07/gravy-train-blues/

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2017/12/07/malice-aforecourt/

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2017/12/07/letters-5/

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/01/22/university-court-newsflash/

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/02/01/court-the-final/

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/03/01/court-fort/

POWER GRABS BY THE TOP TABLE

Along with completely obliterating the University Court, the top table has further gutted the responsibilities and the powers of the Senate, and given them to the University Council. The Senate consists of all department heads, all faculty deans, all college principals, four faculty lecturers, four faculty associate deans, two SU officers, four students, and a non-academic staff member, as well as the senior management team.

The body that most broadly represents the interests of the faculties, departments, colleges, and students’ union, now has no power to open, close, or prevent the opening or closure of faculties, departments, colleges, and the students’ union. Senate’s approval or disapproval will now have no sway over the decisions of a Council which:

– Got rid of the one post reserved for non-academic members of staff.
– Got rid of the one post reserved for a member of the local council.
– Got rid of University Court, and now has sole power over who sits on the nominations committee, the body responsible for appointing its members. Self-perpetuating oligarchy much?
– Extended the maximum term of office for lay members, who have no day-to-day involvement with the university and know none of the people affected by their decisions, from six years to nine years.
– Doesn’t upload its minutes for months at a time.
– Stripped the university press officer and LUSU Vice-President (Campaigns & Communications) of its right to observe proceedings.

Why was this done? The rationale was that it HAD to be done due to the Code of Practice that university governance bodies HAVE to observe. When it was pointed out to the top table that this was nonsense, the reason was changed to ‘the new Office for Students might want us to do it when it’s established.’ Better safe than sorry.

The University Council – which consists of the senior management team, two student representatives, five senators and NINE external lay members – now has zero constitutional restrictions on its behaviour. It doesn’t even have joint responsibility for appointing the Vice-Chancellor anymore – that privilege now belongs solely to the Council. And the saddest part about it? Senate committed this act of constitutional harakiri on ITSELF. YOUR LUSU President, YOUR Head of Department, YOUR Faculty Dean, YOUR College Principal, voted to stop adequately representing your interests. If anybody ends up for the chop, they’ll have no-one to blame but themselves.

What’s more, subtext does not have anybody on the Council willing to share information, as people have deemed their self-importance to be more valuable than transparency and the public interest. Even so, we managed to cover all of this this year, and you can read our coverage below.

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/02/15/ten-minutes-to-discuss-your-own-enabling-act/

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/03/01/senate-sketches/

http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/2018/04/26/bad-governance-update/

SENATE REPORT

It was a somewhat subdued Vice-Chancellor who opened Senate with his usual verbal report, and it is fair to say that he had much to be subdued about. There was the small matter of Lancaster’s rather large gender pay gap – one of the highest in the HE sector and not a league position he relished. He did not want to speculate on what might have caused this (though management policies and practices might be a good place to start). He was instead in the process of setting up a Task Force to look into this, with membership and terms of reference were being finalised. But we should not expect immediate results and it was likely to take ‘years of activity’ before the situation was resolved (so don’t hold your breath, laydeez).

He mentioned the recent pensions strikes (the most effective and best-supported that UCU had ever mounted, though of course he didn’t say this). He wanted to express his thanks for how the action was conducted to all involved, to Lancaster UCU, to heads of departments, and to the students. We all behaved magnificently, it would appear. As to the pensions issue itself, employers and union were now united in trying to ‘shift the goal posts’ (he wasn’t saying this the last time Senate met). On the plus side, he was happy to report a major improvement in the student retention rate, something he had previously identified as a major concern for the university. There was also to report a successful bid for an additional 60 medical student places, and a move from 9th to 8th place in The Times Complete University Guide.

There followed a discussion and approval of an Intellectual Property Strategy, content embargoed so we can’t report it. Then came a further look at proposed amendments to Charter and Statutes. As reported in subtext 174, Senate at its last meeting had relinquished its right of veto over Statute changes but had asked Council to look again at its proposals to ensure that Senate was at least consulted before changes were made relating to academic matters and student welfare. With the assistance of Professor Alisdair Gillespie of the Law School, a form of words was found that required Council to ‘give consideration’ to the views of Senate before making future changes. This, suggested Professor Gillespie, was the next best thing in the absence of a veto. The amendments were generally welcomed, though one senator pointed out that Council could still override the wishes of Senate if it was minded to do so. He believed that the result of all these changes gave too much power to Council and, with the abolition of Court, there was now no constitutional restraint on its actions. His, though, was very much a minority view and Senate voted overwhelmingly for the Statute changes.

Then came reports on University KPIs, and on revised arrangements for the conferral of PhDs (see below). Finally, approval was given to the new title of the Department of Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Innovation, and a recommendation for the appointment of two Professors Emeritus (names embargoed, but they know who they are).

BAD GOVERNANCE UPDATE

Next Wednesday’s Senate meeting will be, if the Chief Administrative Officer has her way, its final one as one of our two senior governing bodies, alongside the Council. Major proposals to amend our Charter, Statutes and Ordinances, originally proposed in February but deferred to May, following a refreshing lack of willingness by our senators to roll over when asked, are to be re-presented next week.

The changes clarify the relative powers of the Council and the Senate – and henceforth the Senate will very much be the junior partner. Here’s a summary:

– The Chancellor will no longer be the ‘Head of the University’, just a person who is able to confer degrees.

– The Court is abolished (see subtext 172). The proposed ‘Annual Public Meeting’ does not get any mention in our Statutes.

– The Council can establish and disestablish colleges, faculties and departments, without having to act on a recommendation of the Senate. It must take the Senate’s views into account, but it may overrule them.

– The Council no longer requires the concurrence of the Senate to amend the Statutes and Ordinances.

– The Senate no longer has a role in appointing the Vice-Chancellor. Previously the VC was appointed by the Council on the recommendation of a joint subcommittee of the Senate and the Council; now the decision will be made by the Council alone.

– The Council will no longer include representatives of the non-academic staff or Lancaster City Council.

Well at least we now know where we stand. Or sit. subtext readers concerned at this total power grab are advised to lobby their Head of Department accordingly.

As noted, the latest set of statute changes will remove the representatives of non-academic staff and Lancaster City Council from the University Council. This seems to have been accepted rather meekly by the parties concerned; in the case of Lancaster City Council, their last representative, Cllr Andrew Warriner, had a decidedly poor attendance record, so perhaps the city council felt it didn’t have much of a leg to stand on. But, formally, the positions remain until the Privy Council amends our statutes.

Anyone examining the current list of Council members on the Secretariat’s webpage wouldn’t know this, however, since it contains no mention of the soon-to-be-abolished positions at all! Jumping the gun? Or accepting the inevitable?

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JUST A LIDDLE LONGER

Actually, looking at the list of Council members, subtext noticed something interesting. The five-year term of office of our Pro-Chancellor (aka the Chair of Council), Lord Liddle, had been due to expire on 31 July 2018. Would he face any difficulties in securing a second five-year term of office (see subtext 165)? Well, now his term of office is listed as ending on 31 July 2020! What’s happened here? Has Lord Liddle struck a Granita-style deal with former security supremo Baroness Neville-Jones, our ambitious Deputy Pro-Chancellor, whose term of office is up on 31 July 2020? To be honest, we’ve no idea. Any Council members interested in serving as a mole for subtext should contact us at the usual address.

STRIKE UP YOUR LIFE

In the fortnight since the last edition of subtext, there has been a considerable amount of strike-related activity, both in Lancaster and at the national level.

THE LOCAL FLAVOUR

The campus picket lines have been busier than ever, with a head count of over 160 on Tuesday this week, along with music and dancing every day (Zumba being particularly popular) and even some protest poetry on Wednesday. The VC ‘visited’ on the 8th March, but received a markedly less positive reaction than the several HoDs who did their stint on the lines. A video of his visit, with added commentary by the local UCU branch, is available here: https://youtu.be/lfSTLmdnRVE

Compared to previous disputes, the staff on strike are spread across the whole range of departments in the University, with somewhat less representation from LUMS. Meanwhile, the teach out events, featuring everything from a personal history of the 84/85 miners’ strike to yoga, have also been well attended – see below.

Numerous colleagues involved in the strike have remarked what a sense of solidarity and community is emerging from being thrown together in these adverse circumstances, while the lack of day-to-day work schedules seems to have unleashed all kinds of creativity and willingness to engage in activities that we never normally have time for. Union members were particularly heartened by the strong support from students, some of whom have been coming to the picket lines and teach outs every day.

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STRUCK DOWN IN ANGER

At the national level, the past few weeks have seen a flurry of activity. Universities UK (UUK) initially refused to negotiate with UCU, then agreed to meet but not reopen the decision on the pensions proposal (raising questions about what exactly they were proposing to discuss). When one VC after another came out publicly in favour of open negotiations, UUK were eventually forced into a humiliating climbdown and agreed to talks without preconditions at ACAS.

Following a few quiet days last week, and then an announcement that negotiators would be working through the weekend, Monday evening saw the announcement of a so-called agreement between UCU and UUK. This represented an improvement of sorts on the original UUK proposal, but included a worse accrual rate (1/85th of salary for each year of service vs the current 1/75th), an increase in both employee and employer contributions, and a cap of 2.5% on the rate that pensions could increase annually with inflation, meaning that if prices rise by more than this amount, pensions would lose value in real terms.

The reaction from UCU members was… not good. Very quickly, UCU Twitterati took the proposal apart, and an open letter in opposition to the proposal had collected around 3000 signatures by midnight on Monday, while a further 4000 signed by 11am the following morning.

Above all else, members were incensed by the proposal that teaching that had not taken place as a result of strike action should be rearranged. Colleagues argued that this would effectively mean doing work they had already sacrificed pay for. And in any case, there was not nearly enough time to fit 14 days’ worth of teaching into the few remaining days of term.

Throughout Tuesday, members of the union’s Higher Education Committee were subject to a frenzy of social media and email lobbying, overwhelmingly urging rejection. A meeting of branch delegates from all over the country decided almost unanimously to reject what they felt represented a betrayal of the sacrifice that members had made by being on strike.

In the end, the reject camp prevailed, perhaps helped by the large demonstration outside UCU headquarters in London, whose chants could be heard by the delegates arguing inside. The UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, later explained that the negotiators had been tightly constrained by the ACAS process in what and how they were allowed to communicate.

So the strike continues today and tomorrow, with the fourteen further strike days set to hit assessment season, with exam marking and exam boards likely to be a particular target for local branches. This will undoubtedly have a bigger impact on students than just missing a few lectures, possibly even delaying graduations for final-years. Action short of a strike also continues: UCU members are ‘threatening’ to only do the work they are contracted to do, rather than contributing the massive amounts of unpaid overtime that normally keep universities going on a day-to-day basis.

UUK are blaming the dire situation on UCU for walking away from negotiations, while UCU’s line is that the employers could stop the strike at any point by making a fair offer. Students at Lancaster, for now, seem to be largely supportive of their local staff, though whether this solidarity will continue for a further 14 days of disruption remains to be seen.

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TAUGHTILLA

As reported in subtext 174, UCU have been running a series of ‘teach out’ events during the strike – a different way of engaging with staff and students and anyone else who is interested in what the industrial action is about, as well as a number of other somewhat related topics.

While teach outs resemble the form of the labour that staff have withdrawn from their employer, the sessions do not necessarily follow the expected conventions of university teaching. The inherent radicalism of such a venture comes from the enforced interdisciplinarity of the project: colleagues, students and members of the public may come from any academic background, or not be involved in academia at all. It is teaching for interest’s sake, not for ‘knowledge-transfer’, measuring, testing, or satisfying government ‘key information sets’.

Lancaster UCU, together with a host of other branches, organised an alternative education experience for every day of the strike action. Most of the sessions took place at the Gregson Community Centre and were largely well attended, with many packing the Gregson Centre’s modestly-sized hall to the rafters. The curriculum features a mixture of debates, interactive workshops, informal lectures featuring some outside speakers as well as Lancaster academics, film showings, a couple of musical gigs and away from the Gregson some ‘walk and talk’ happenings. In the final days of the current round of strike action, sessions with a more restorative agenda were planned i.e. yoga and craft making.

All the sessions were open to University staff, students, and other folk from the wider community. There was a strong student presence at some sessions and even some members of the public at some events. However, it was staff from the University that made up the bulk of the attendees.

Many of the sessions focussed on the question: ‘what kind of university do we want?’ Yes, pensions were discussed, but within a wider understanding of the changing nature of the sector. Attendees remarked that they felt particularly empowered by speaking with other members of the University who they would not normally meet at work. This prompted a lot of talk about the future and how the this strong feeling of solidarity could be maintained after the dispute.

Readers may have ideas on how this ‘new space’ that the striking community has built can be maintained, and what its purpose would be once work resumes. subtext would welcome contributions on this fascinating development at Lancaster, and would be happy to play a part in future conversations.

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RADICAL OR MERELY YOUNGER? A REVIEW

It seems appropriate that on Monday 12 March, midway through Lancaster’s longest period of industrial action in decades, UCU’s teach out at the Gregson played host to an event that seemed to shout, ‘Call that radical? Ha!’ Marion McClintock, Honorary University Archivist and former Academic Registrar at Lancaster, and Alison Lloyd Williams of Global Link’s Documenting Dissent project were our guides as they took us through Lancaster’s radical past, both on and off campus.

According to Mrs McClintock, Lancaster University in its early days was characterised by very conservative Heads of Department, many of whom were ex-military, alongside younger, more radical staff, who pioneered Lancaster’s distinctive degree programmes: Religious Studies (not Theology), Independent Studies, Creative Writing, Environmental Studies, Peace Studies, Marketing, and Systems Engineering. Students were given the chance to ‘grapple with subjects they’d not studied before.’ Above all, Lancaster was shaped by its first Vice-Chancellor, Charles Carter, who actively encouraged this interdisciplinary approach. We were a university that ‘was taking a fresh look at society, was taking nothing for granted and was questioning norms.’

Publications of the time, like John O’Gauntlet and Carolynne, reflected this mood and encouraged debate on drugs, sex and gay rights, although some of their editorial choices, such as pin-up girls in Carolynne, seem archaic today.

Among the many disputes of the early years were ‘the mixed bedrooms argument of 1968’, the David Craig affair (see subtexts 8 and 9) and the 1975 rent strike which lasted over 12 months. Student involvement in these disputes was strong.

Lancaster’s college system played an important role in Lancaster’s free-thinking tradition; Sir Noel Hall, one of the university’s founders, was formerly Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford and had insisted that the colleges must form an integral part of Lancaster’s governance.

Why are things not like that any more? Lancaster’s rising research reputation in the 1980s meant that staff and students no longer had as much time to spend on innovative teaching or political discussion, and even Prof Carter was subject to the same pressures as everyone else.

Ms Lloyd Williams gave a history of the Documenting Dissent project, which was inspired by Lancaster Castle and its status as a symbol of state power and the location of Lancashire’s most important court. Many dissenters, including several chartists, had been tried there.

Lancaster is particularly significant in LGBT history, given the number of people prosecuted for homosexuality at the Castle, but more happily due to the significant presence during the 1970s of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) on campus, and the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) in town. Lancaster University pioneered women’s studies and radical feminism, while the very first CHE Conference took place in Morecambe.

More recently, the case of the George Fox Six, where six students and ex-students disrupted a conference in George Fox Lecture Theatre 1 and were promptly prosecuted for aggravated trespass, shows both that the dissenting tradition is still there … but that the university is no longer as tolerant as it was. The Documenting Dissent website includes an account of the affair, including an interview with Matthew Wilson, one of the six.

Contributions from the floor included comments from several people who have been encouraging the radical tradition at Lancaster for decades, including city councillor Andrew Kay, who remembered long campus debates on ‘this house will not give a platform for racist and fascist speakers’ and ‘this house is glad to be gay’, and former city councillor Tony Pinkney, who thought two years stood out in particular – 1886, when William Morris’s talk in the town led to the founding of the Socialist League, and 1999, when Lancaster elected its first ever group of Green Party councillors.

The Documenting Dissent project’s website is at: http://www.documentingdissent.org.uk/

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DEMOCRACY IS THRIVING … ELSEWHERE

There have been many Vice-Chancellorial U-turns on USS and risk recently, but the most notable ones have come from the VCs at Oxford and Cambridge, both on 7 March. Given that the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge were all treated as separate institutions in Universities UK’s September 2017 survey of attitudes to institutional risk, this is a major shift.

Why the change? Of course, we are happy to accept that both VCs will have reached their decisions sincerely. But Oxford’s VC, Prof Richardson, has probably been helped by the meeting of Oxford’s Congregation on 6 March, at which a resolution seeking to overturn Oxford’s existing stance on pensions was first blocked controversially, and then discussed outside, where it passed 442 to 2.

Likewise, Cambridge’s VC, Prof Toope, doubtless had his mind sharpened by the impending ballot of Cambridge’s Regent House, on a motion submitted by 501 members, which seeks to amend Cambridge’s official view on USS.

For readers not familiar with how Oxford and Cambridge work, the Oxford Congregation and Cambridge Regent House are the supreme governing bodies of those institutions, made up of all academic staff. They can, and occasionally do, overrule the University Council.

True democracy in action! But wait. Surely these forms of governance must violate the Committee of University Chairs’ Higher Education Code of Governance, the document which our Chief Administrative Officer in particular is very fond of (see subtext 174 and other subtexts passim)?

Well … yes. But they seem to be doing OK, all things considered.

Now that our Court has met for the final time, and our Senate has willingly handed its power to amend statutes over to our Council, perhaps we should start advocating something similar here? After all, our VC’s usual answer when challenged about centralising power is ‘the Warwick clincher’ – they do it at Warwick so it must therefore be a good thing – so perhaps we should start playing ‘the Oxford gambit’ in response.

SENATE SKETCHES

PLUNDERING THE PENSION

The VC opened his report with some good news. Applications are up, including a 9% increase from EU countries, while the sector average is down. Research grant income continues to be strong. Work has at last started on the new £41M Health Innovation Campus. Now for the not-so-good news. The level of university fees was now being questioned by the government (yes, that same government that increased them to over £9K in the first place). This was not good for universities, and while students might raise the odd cheer, the VC was scathing, especially about Lord Adonis’ suggestion that fees be pegged at £6K.

The big issue was the pensions dispute. The VC gave a succinct account of the recent history of USS pensions, showing how the various changes over the last few years had steadily reduced their value. There was a dispute about the size of the scheme’s current ‘deficit’ but he had thought that an agreement was close until the intervention of the Pensions Regulator. This, he believed, was political. The Regulator had been publicly lacerated over its laxity in the BHS and Capita pensions scandals and needed to show that it was on the case with USS. (Of course, an alternative interpretation might be that, as with Carillion, the Regulator was only too willing to support the employers’ interest). So this was how we got to where we are now.

At this point Senators might be forgiven if they thought that the VC was about to announce that he would be joining the picket lines himself the next day. Alas, this was not to be the case. When asked if he would be supporting LUSU’s and other Vice-Chancellors’ calls for an immediate return to national negotiations, he said emphatically that he would not. He denied the report in that day’s Times that he had joined ten other VCs in calling for a resumption of negotiations. The two sides were too far apart – he used the word ‘chasm’ – and as such there would be nothing to negotiate about. Besides, Lancaster could not afford the UCU demand for a 2% increase in the employer contribution to the pension fund. It would cut into our annual surplus, and everyone knows that our surplus is for Spine embellishments, football universities, and golf courses, not for frittering away on staff. Was there any chance of students’ getting any compensation for lost contact time, as is their right as consumers? Hardly! What about the strikers’ pay deductions? Would the money the university saved be donated to the student hardship funds, as had happened with previous strikes? Yes, of course, but only after certain university expenses had been covered. And what were these? Why, the cost of providing pensions advice to staff who would have to grapple with the complexities of a new defined contributions scheme. You can’t say that our VC doesn’t think ahead.

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ALL POWER TO THE COUNCIL!

The big agenda item for the day was a raft of constitutional changes for Senate to approve. The Chief Administrative Officer opened by stating that the proposed changes followed from the recent Council Effectiveness Review and the abolition of Court, and it was largely a tidying up operation. She would not go through these in detail as she presumed that everyone had read the papers. It soon became clear that most Senators had not read the papers. Some had, though, and the claim enshrined in the proposals that Council was ‘the supreme governing body and final decision-maker’ was challenged. According to the CAO, this was required by the Code of Practice that all university governing bodies had to observe. Not so, said some Senators, with one reading aloud what the Code actually stated. To which the CAO responded with an irrefutable alternative fact – that this is what the new Office for Students might in the future require us to do. Senate seemed happy to accept this line of reasoning. One Senator seemed particularly troubled by the proposal to give Council the sole authority to make and amend Statutes and Ordinances, ‘Henry the Eighth powers’, as he called them. Against this the VC deployed his ultimate debating weapon – the Warwick Clincher. His old employer had done this, therefore so should Lancaster. Senate duly voted in favour. However, there was by now enough disquiet about the future position of Senate in terms of academic governance that the rest of the proposed changes were withdrawn for further working. But the VC had achieved what he wanted – Council now had the sole right to make, change and remove Statutes. Lancaster can now look forward to having a much smaller Senate – just like they have at Warwick, where they don’t have colleges.

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BEST OF THE REST

The Dean of LUMS presented the formal proposal to close the Department of Leadership and Management, and split its activities between the departments of Organisation, Work and Technology, and Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Innovation. It would seem that the process to bring this about was a model of best practice, with a ‘consultative approach’ throughout ‘the project’, ‘clear communication given to staff’, and ‘consistent’ involvement with the unions. For what really happened, see subtext 169.

A proposal from the PVC (Education) for the establishment of an ‘Institute for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching’ (InELT) was warmly received, its safe passage ensured by the promise that it wasn’t going to cost any money. However, it was felt that the acronym was insufficiently cumbersome for a Lancaster University institute so it was agreed that ‘curriculum’ should be inserted somewhere in its title. Perhaps it could be called something like ‘CELT’. Now that name rings a bell…

Finally, a paper from PPR and the Deputy VC for the establishment of an ‘Interdisciplinary Research Centre focused on China’. Now this one would cost money, so the paper was a testing of the waters rather than a definite proposal. Senate rather liked the idea, and agreed that the sponsors should go ahead with putting together a more detailed proposal.

TEN MINUTES TO DISCUSS YOUR OWN ENABLING ACT

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

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

subtext 169 – ‘Their tongues are silver forks. There’s a lack of wisdom, you can hear it on their breath’

Fortnightly during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments: subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk

In this issue: editorial, disability cuts, subscriptions, hods, senate report, short stuff, rent pasta, stretford surveys, dept merge, UA92 bodies, VC twitter, shart, zionism review, letters

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EDITORIAL

In today’s issue, we report once again on the proposed gutting of University Court. The body, which is Lancaster’s largest and most diverse stakeholder gathering, has already been pushed close to being merely a ceremonial gathering, but D Floor’s clear ambition is now to abolish it entirely and replace it with a PR event. Not that subtext expects top table to meet much resistance – there was little opposition to the idea of abolition at Senate last week, and now, we assume, we just wait for the University Council to drop the axe.

What are the implications of this? Well, it means in no uncertain terms that our alumni, dignitaries, and other external stakeholders will now receive no say whatsoever in any part of the University’s operations. The Court – our last truly democratic governing body, which elects large numbers of its members and is responsible for approving our Chancellor and, until recently, Pro-Chancellor – will cease to exist, depriving stakeholders from whom we rarely hear of the chance to offer unique perspectives and propose policies that the Senate and University Council are mandated to, at the very least, discuss. Attending the University Court, especially for alumni and external stakeholders, is a labour – members travel from miles around to be in attendance, and they do so because there is a sense of duty to the University as well as the opportunity to be involved in Lancaster’s decision-making. Is anybody going to swell with a sense of social responsibility at the thought of traveling 245 miles to listen to a drab presentation from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor on financial performance and hear Roger Liddle shouting ‘long may the University prosper’ before retiring to the lobby for some ‘light refreshments’?

The ‘pitfalls’ of having a University Court, as outlined by the Chief Administrative Officer, are vanishingly small. At this stage in the Vice-Chancellor’s tenure, it is easy to draw patterns between meetings that have put his nose out of joint or embarrassed him and proposals to make those meetings suddenly disappear. Make no mistake – the abolition of University Court would be an act of petty isolation, and a means of senior management keeping a tighter grip on just who gets to be involved in decision making. The role of Bath University’s own Court in bringing their overpaid VC to book admirably demonstrates the value of having such an independent minded body with the ability to intervene. Maybe this is why so many Vice-Chancellors are so keen to get rid of them.

SENATE REPORT

The November session started with a written question to the VC asking if there were any plans to build lecture theatres capable of accommodating larger groups of students. The lack of such space was causing major problems for the larger teaching departments. Replying on behalf of the VC, Deputy VC Andrew Atherton said that indeed there was a plan for just such a facility, for up to 500 students. However, this was only a partial solution to the problem. As student numbers increased in line with the University’s strategic plan, other approaches would need to be adopted to deal with larger cohorts. These could include more flexible timetabling and extending the teaching day to enable more double-teaching. All this, of course, would have to happen without any detriment to the ‘student experience’. Nothing, though, was said about the detriment to the staff experience, a point made by a number of Senators during the ensuing discussion.

On next to the Vice-Chancellor’s report on current issues. There were plenty of positives – the record student intake this year (in contrast to much of the HE sector), becoming University of the Year and moving up to 6th place in the Times league table, the first LU Ghana graduation and the positive impact we’d made in that country. There was also a mention of the launch of UA92 (which he clearly believed was a positive development) and the current consultation on the plans in Manchester. The VC stated that he had been pleasantly surprised by the generally positive reception from local people and that any opposition was more to do with ‘Manchester politics’ than the merits of the plans. (Oh really? See letter from a local resident below – eds).

On the gloomier side, the VC had just received a consultation copy of the draft new regulatory framework for HE. The proposals, he reported, are overly heavy-handed and appear to put into regulation what the government had been unable to achieve in Parliament just before the last general election. Then there was the matter of what he termed ‘the pensions squabble’. The USS Board was seeking to change the pension from a defined-benefit scheme to what was essentially a savings scheme. This was being resisted by UCU and as a result the university was likely to be facing industrial action beginning next February. ‘But we are not the enemy’, protested the VC, who happens to be the current chair of UCEA, the employers’ group which has not opposed these changes. Lancaster staff facing major reductions in their pension benefits, while having to make increased contributions, may beg to differ.

Senate then went on to discuss the Court Effectiveness Review. This was to be an opportunity for Senate to make any final comments to the Review Group before it made its final recommendations. One of the LUSU Senate reps made a strong plea for Court to retain its role in university governance, and for its single annual meeting to be given more support and prominence by the university. He took issue with the Chief Administrative Officer’s briefing document which stated that there was a lack of diversity in the Court membership but did not offer any evidence to support this claim. He pointed out that Court was far more diverse and representative than the membership of University Council or the senior management team. He also questioned whether Court required ‘a considerable amount of resource’ to support its function, as was claimed in the document. The Chief Administrative Officer responded by restating what she had already said in her briefing paper. There were some further contributions in favour of the current Court arrangements but the discussion was effectively ended when the VC declared that his preference was to remove all governance responsibilities from Court and to retain its annual meeting as only ‘a stakeholder event’. So that, we must presume, is that.

There then followed a report on the institutional Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for 2016/17. The VC indicated that overall, we were doing well against targets, though he was concerned that Lancaster is not doing as well as it should in retaining its students. Mental ill-health was identified as a major factor but for too many students there is no information on why they drop out. They simply leave without telling anyone why. Finally, there was that bit of the agenda covering written reports not presumed to warrant discussion. Thankfully, one eagle-eyed senator spotted a hugely important issue that was about to be nodded through without discussion- a reference to the Review of Part 1 which appeared to suggest that proposed changes would now be implemented after consultation with departments. Senate, of course, has yet to discuss and approve these changes. It was agreed that the report would be amended to make this clear. Just goes to show that careful reading of Senate papers is always worthwhile.