Issue 165 – ‘business as usual’

subtext | Truth: lies open to all

Issue 165 – ‘business as usual’

22 June 2017


Fortnightly during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments:

Back issues & subscription details:

In this issue: editorial, closure, cuts, power-full, powerless, TEF, LEO, fake rankings, senate, council, election, voters, candidates, poetry, shart, future-facing navel-gazing, letters



And so, we offer yet another year up to the gods of academia, and say ‘oh thank [applicable deity] for that’. Hasn’t it been an interesting one? It was a year that began with ‘restricted and commercial in confidence’, and has generally followed that mantra throughout. At times the best we at subtext could muster up was a bit of ‘we know something you don’t know’ vagueness. Indeed, it was only down to a stroke of good fortune (and the Manchester Evening News) that we were able to report, in February, on the ‘Gary Neville University’ (subtext 158). And they say regional news is dead.

Likewise, for several months we were aware that a large scale restructuring of the staff in the Students’ Union was in the offing – which has now taken place – resulting in a number of redundancies, many redeployments, and the vast majority of the Union’s services becoming the remit of the University (subtext 156), but for a variety of reasons were unable to comment. This poorly disguised cost-saving exercise was disguised under the apparent authority of ‘student opinion’ – this, in spite of the fact that the student body was never consulted on this restructure, that it was completely unreported by the student media, and undiscussed by any of the open decision-making forums that LUSU operates. And then again, developing on this theme, we came to the proposed centralisation of Departmental Officer roles (subtexts 162 & 163), which has been constrained due to the ‘Restricted’ designation of the review report.

Like many other conglomerations of hacks, the subtext collective likes to sometimes think we are the puppet-masters, and not the ones on the end of the string, but we are – like everyone – at the mercy of the information we know. And when that information is restricted, it is to history we find we must turn to fill in the blanks. Compare the Gary Neville University to the Liverpool-Lancaster merger of 2011, and the DO restructure to the Business Process Review of the same year. The very similar policies that were floated six years ago were utterly defeated due to the fact that they were broadly discussed across the whole University community, which opted to expose them for the moments of madness that they were and stand up to them. Those 2011 test runs were exercises in how not to bring an idea to fruition, and it would appear that transparency came to be regarded as a big no-no. And just to end the year, this issue brings with it yet more worrying proposals and actions against the principle of an open, discursive academic institution.

And so, once more unto the breach, dear readers – starting October. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks for writing in – do keep doing that. And look out for our new-look subtext (see below) next term.



Early last week staff in the Department of Leadership and Management were astonished to be told by LUMS Dean Professor Angus Laing that their department was to be closed and staff reassigned to the departments of Organisation, Work and Technology, and Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Innovation. Just as astonished were the unions representing the affected staff – UCU and Unite – who had not been informed about this major reorganisation despite the existence of agreed procedures and extensive consultation mechanisms designed to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

Perhaps the most astonished of all were senior staff in HR, who apparently were unaware that this was on the cards. This week a meeting described as ‘tense’ took place between HR and the union representatives. The union reps did not hide their fury at this breach of the ‘negotiated procedures’. HR went into their standard default mode for dealing with embarrassing management action, which is to deny that it had happened. Yes, Professor Laing had told his staff that their department was to be abolished, that they would be working in different departments, and that this would all be completed in a year, but this did not actually mean that by next year Leadership and Management would no longer exist and that staff would have to pursue their academic careers in other departments. So as it didn’t really happen, there was no breach of procedure. Surprisingly, this explanation didn’t go down well with the unions and the whole issue seems set to escalate.

Closing and merging departments is not new for Professor Laing. While Dean of Loughborough’s School of Business and Economics, he brought about the merger of Business, Economics and Information Sciences. In an interview with the School’s house magazine ‘Inspire’ in 2014, he set out his thoughts on the future of business schools. He criticised the traditional business school model as ‘more akin to that of the stand alone, individual academic departments such as chemistry, physics, psychology’, with the focus of the past 40 years being on ‘gaining academic respectability in those terms’. The new model business school would be about ‘informing and enhancing practice, but doing so in a way that is clear about the role of business and contributes to shaping the role of business in society, to informing standards of management practice and informing the contribution that business can make to society’. It would appear that old fashioned academic department structures had no place in achieving this vision.

And as for staffing this model, what was needed was ‘a certain cohort of staff who are practitioners working at the edge in their field who then come on a part-time basis and bring the practice into the classroom.’ Is introducing this well-heeled casualisation to be his next step at Lancaster? And are more departmental closures and mergers to come in LUMS?



For reasons that are, as yet, not entirely clear to subtext, the University did not reach its financial targets this year. Some have suggested to us that we are unable to cover the pension liability on our current figures, others reckon we haven’t hit our target of a 5% surplus (which would be a considerable drop, given that we usually draw one of between 6-8%), and those of a doom-mongering bent think that institutional growth and student numbers have reached a plateau.

Whatever the reason, D-Floor is not taking the drastic misfire lying down. subtext learns that a number of non-academic departments (including, as far as we know, SBS) have been ordered on a few day’s notice (two and a half working days is the current record) to identify immediately and put forward 2% worth of non-payroll financial cuts. While we can all be relieved that these drastic measures are not going to translate into job losses (at least not for staff on indefinite contracts), there are elements of short-sightedness and knock-on effects that are concerning.

Departments are being asked to budget more frugally for next year, which is one thing. But in a bold move, departments are reportedly being asked to return 2% of this year’s budget as well, and with the budgetary year ending on July 31st, an awful lot of departments may well find themselves cancelling projects at the last minute, or not even having 2% of their budget left to return. Rumours suggest that a few departmental financial bods are tearing up the furniture in search of a few tens of thousands of pounds.

If these cuts are to do with a stagnation of income for the 16/17 academic year, then we can only hope that it’s a blip. Given that the University prides itself on the amount of provision for student services, the last thing we need is for our ability to provide it to be gnawed away year on year. But for many subtext readers the biggest worry of all is how this will impact on the Vice Chancellor’s performance-related bonus next year.



We lost power at midday, the lights in the shops on the square flickering off; Costa closing, but Greggs, in true British style, staying resolutely open. A long queue quickly formed outside Spar to stock up for the apocalypse. As in the last power cut, the University Twitter account doled out useful advice to staff and students who probably could not access it. Students who had exams were advised to guess which room their exam was in and to turn up there. Staff were asked to stay at their desks despite the lack of power and ‘do what you can’ because it was apparently ‘business as usual’. While the city centre was plugged in again by about 3pm, the University was evidently the last venue on Electricity North West’s mind, so the University’s social media gurus kept up morale by suggesting going for a burger on the square and accessing wifi at the Security Lodge.

But we remembered last time, that not so distant memory of chaotic evacuations and students with children having to sleep on the Chaplaincy floor. So any staff who could, after briefly considering reading books while they were cut off from the world, instead wisely went home.



‘Power cuts that left more than 61,000 homes and businesses without power in the Lancaster area should act as a wake-up call,’ reported a Lancaster University press release in May 2016 – still available at Professor Roger Kemp, from Lancaster’s Department of Engineering, had led a Royal Academy of Engineering report into Lancaster’s experiences after Storm Desmond in December 2015, and his verdict was clear: ‘The events in Lancaster reminded us that we need contingency plans for the rare occasions when we have to live without electricity.’

The subtext collective’s experience of yesterday’s power cut made us think that those contingency plans must be some way off yet – on our campus at least. We can all giggle at the fact that none of the internal phones worked – something that wouldn’t have been an issue if we’d kept our so-last-century network of ‘real’ phones, rather than upgrading to our seem-to-do-basically-the-same-job Cisco Systems VOIP phones.

We can all wonder at how much extra effort it would really take for ISS to keep the campus wired network going, at least for, say, a 24 hour period. Is this really too difficult? Responses from readers in ISS would be welcome here.

But when safety starts to get compromised, that’s more serious. The subtext crew witnessed incidences of electrically-powered doors, which were also designated fire exits, that were shut and unable to open. Other electrically-powered doors, normally kept shut except when in use, were being wedged open by fire extinguishers to stop them from closing (if they’d closed then they’d become unopenable).

Could we contrive a mechanism whereby, whenever electrical power is cut to an electrically-controlled door, it just reverts to being, well, a door? One that you can just push to open? There would of course be security implications, but a building where anyone can get in is preferable to one where no-one can get out in an emergency.



As Cinderella rushed home from the ball, so too did HE wonks rush to the Times Higher Education website last night (, for today is Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) Results 2017 Day, and what a jolly one it is. Lancaster has been ranked as ‘gold’ – and while no one is still quite sure what this means, we know it’s better than ‘silver’ or ‘bronze’. So yay: sound the trumpets and change the masthead on the University website to a sort of off-yellow mess that looks like an ad for a seniors’ caravanning holiday. (Seriously, everyone go look before it’s gone.)

Out of 134 institutions ranked by the TEF, just under a third ranked gold. But again, we’re sure it’s still good. And yes, maybe we should spare a thought for colleagues in the 25 institutions who ranked bronze, who will reasonably be questioning why their actual teaching does not fly with the framework’s arbitrary criteria that seems more concerned with employability than actual teaching. But again, we’re sure it’s still good.

We are of course all delighted about the gold-plated futures our graduates can anticipate-ohnowaitlook…



Before there was TEF there was LEO. Last week saw the release of the first set of longitudinal education outcomes (LEO) data, the ‘experimental’ statistics on graduates’ earnings. Data geeks can pore over the hard number by downloading the tables from the Department for Education’s website (, but for the time being we thought we would cast our eye over some of the key information for Lancaster.

Of course figures by themselves do not reveal much, so to put them into some context we’ve opted to compare Lancaster’s salaries with those of rivals old and new: York and Warwick (though we learn today that these are both mere ‘silver’ institutions, and so hardly worthy of our notice). There are also a few additional statistical caveats – outliers in the data can have a big impact and without the actual raw data we’ve no way of knowing to what extent this has happened; and the number of graduates may not be comparable across institutions to allow for a truly accurate comparison. It’s almost like someone else should have thought of that first.

For Lancaster Law students the LEO makes for fairly grim reading. Earnings in the lower quartile (Q1) reach just £12,700, with a median salary of £15,500 and upper quartile (Q3) salary of £19,800, compared to £24,300 at York and a comparatively eye watering £31,100 at Warwick. It is perhaps not surprising that Lancaster has the highest per cent of students from POLAR3 band one (10.3%) of Law departments across the three institutions: the link between social class and expected pay is well established, and felt particularly in areas such as Law. Warwick’s Law department, with its higher salaries, has just 3.5% of students from the poorest band.

Economics does not fare much better either: the majority of Lancaster’s students earn between £17,900 (Q1) to £26,200 (Q3), compared to York’s £20,100-£31,800, while Warwick sits pretty on £23,300-£34,900.

Away from the ‘big earner’ degrees, Historical and Philosophical Studies (though quite what these two classic degrees have done to lose their own individual identity is never fully explained) at Lancaster again does well in having 8.5% of its students from POLAR3 band one, while Warwick is just 3.1% and York 5.4%. Lancaster’s students are more likely to start on a higher salary in Q1 – £13,200 compared to York’s £12,700 and Warwick’s measly £11,200 – but our salaries are more concentrated, finishing at just £20,300 in Q3, compared to the luxurious excesses of £22k for York and £25k for Warwick. It is interesting to note that these numbers mean at least 75% of Lancaster’s Historical and Philosophical Studies students will not currently be paying back any student loans, as their salaries fall under the £21k repayment band.

This may be small comfort though when considering that this means they – along with our Law and Economics students – are also earning less than the national median of £26,300. More evidence that going to university, even one as good as our hallowed institution, is not enough to undo decades of social stratification.



Readers will no doubt be aware that the University of Reading has been taken to task by the Advertising Standards Agency for its claim to be in the top 1% of world universities. As the claim could not be substantiated by objective evidence it has now been dropped by Reading. However, the ASA’s intervention has set off alarm bells in marketing departments across the sector who have hastily reworded their website front pages to bring them closer to the realms of plausibility.

Lancaster, of course, has never (well, hardly ever) stooped to such reprehensible marketing methods. Our institutional claims, modest as they are, have been limited to our standing in the North West (the Best) and the UK (currently the Ninth Best). However, the same cannot always be said of individual departments, some of whom have been wont to promote their subject-standing to an international scale. Following the publicity given to the Reading experience, University House has asked departments to refrain from using descriptors such as ‘Global Top 100’ or ‘Top 1%’ in their advertising. However, it would still be okay to say that ‘we are one of the top universities in the world’.

Purists will no doubt argue that this is no easier to substantiate than the ‘top 1%’ claim. Stating that you are ‘top’ in anything is little more than groundless bragging unless you can provide the irrefutable statistical evidence (which we can’t). However, subtext would like to offer a way forward. Recalling our marketing director’s suggestion a few years ago that the University should be appealing to more up-market students (see subtext 126) we would suggest this slogan for our brand: ‘Lancaster – one of the better universities in the world’.



Early reports from yesterday’s Senate meeting, held in the middle of the power cut, are not encouraging. Senate was asked to approve a change to the University’s ordinances, which would remove the power to appoint the University’s Pro-Chancellor from the University Court, and pass this to the University Council. The Pro-Chancellor is the Chair of Council, so this might (or might not) be a wise move. But you’d expect the Court, or at least the members of Court, to be consulted, right?

Wrong. Instead, the Chief Administrative Officer’s paper cites the approval of the ‘Court Effectiveness Review Group’ – which is not a group we know that much about, since Court members haven’t been told anything of this group’s formation, let alone who is sitting on it.

It might make sense for the University Council to directly elect who the Chair of their meetings will be, but then again, the Pro-Chancellor has numerous duties outside that body, and by the same logic you could posit that Senate should elect their chair as well. (Point of interest – the Chair of Senate is the Vice Chancellor.)

Can they get away with this? Yep. subtext understands that none of our Heads of Department opposed the proposal, which now moves on to the Council. Honourable mention must go to LUSU’s reps who, we are pleased to report, opposed the proposal and spoke against it.

Why the rush to make this change? We don’t know, but we report for your information that the current Pro-Chancellor, Lord Liddle, is up for re-appointment at next January’s Court meeting. If this proposal goes through, however, then the decision on reappointment will be made by the Council alone. Was it something Lord Liddle said?

In other Senate news post the election the VC thought that linking fees to inflation may be reviewed, and more generally that there may be room for universities to shape debate around fees. A wry smile gave the game away around the TEF result. Some other good news was that the University will support signing up to Race Equality Charter. There was a frisson of excitement around the revelation that our strategic review targets are in fact financial targets wrapped up in fine words. Probably not news to subtext readers but it did make Andrew Atherton sound a little like Theresa May: we cannot do anything unless our fiscal strategy is adhered to. The new regulations on student discipline were discussed, £50 fines for non-attendance at meetings being a stand out item for your correspondent. The question that was not answered was where will the fines go? Quite a bit of time was spent discussing Academic Research and Education Leave (aka ACREL) which generated some heat about what was a good acronym. In the end it was decided to call it a sabbatical because everyone knows what that means.



While we’re on the subject of the impending obsoleteness of University Court, cuts, and in general the growing opaqueness of our community, it has also come to our attention that University Council – the most important decision making body in the University – may be having its membership upheaved.

It’s hard to get a detailed picture of what the proposal is – we could wait until the minutes of Council go up, but the University webpage that houses the minutes of Council has not been updated since May 2016… Yes, not a single set of minutes for our most authoritative committee has been made accessible this academic year. Maybe all those restricted items (most of which we now know referred to the Gary Neville University) were too intriguing for the rest of the University to ponder over.

But still, at least we have the two trusty observers on Council – the University Press Officer and the LUSU Vice President (Campaigns & Communications); two non-voting, non-contributing guests of the body, present to provide transparency and identify reporting opportunities in among the lengthy discussions… Oh. Scratch that – they’re set to be uninvited henceforth.

The potential loss of any lay members of the Council is superficially concerning, in the sense that we might not be able to boast about the Paternoster Square high fliers and the members of the landed gentry that we involve in our decision making. But we hope the review will not also cast its eyes on student representation. While the quality of student council reps has varied over the years, it is always nice to know that someone external to the ‘harmonious working relations’ between the Students’ Union and the University is around, and may have the capacity to put the interests of their constituents over their self-interest.

It is also worth noting that the newly elected student delegate to the Council is Lucy Atkinson, a current student at the University who happens to be a Labour City Councillor. Older readers may remember the last time a student city councillor, Paul Aitchison (Labour), sat on the body. He was there in his capacity as a City Council representative (see subtext 76), and it was his nomination, much to the chagrin of the then University Secretary, that led to a policy that would allow her to vet City Council nominations. Whatever her intentions, it all looked just a little like she didn’t want too many students on the body.

So to recap, that’s: no minutes, no reporters, and potentially less outside scrutiny. The idea of transparency in the University’s decision-making is to become a yet more distant reality.



subtext has been looking at the Lancaster student turnout figures for the general election.

If you’re a glass-half-full sort of person, you should celebrate that just over 46% of eligible campus residents went to the polls – probably the highest campus turnout since 1997 – despite a series of several ‘mistakes’ from university managers that led to political societies’ posters being ripped down without notice. Turnout amongst students resident in Lancaster itself was higher still. It’s likely that, as in other university constituencies across the UK, the student vote really did make a difference here.

If you’re a glass-half-empty sort of person, you should be terribly disappointed that only 46% of our eligible campus residents went to the polls, and that the two campus polling stations had the two lowest percentage turnouts in the Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency (48% at the Chaplaincy Centre and 42% at Barker House Farm). Only two other polling stations in Lancaster and Fleetwood had turnouts of less than 50%, both in the west of Fleetwood, covering areas with high indices of social deprivation. This was our students’ first chance to participate in democracy, in a seat that really mattered – and more than half (of those living on campus, anyway) passed at the chance.

Did the good weather and lighter evenings help? Well, the way things are looking, we’ll be doing it all over again in October, so we’ll be able to find out.



subtext has commented several times on the obstacles put in place to prevent Lancaster University campus residents registering to vote – we have also complained about the numbers who do not bother to join the register. Your correspondent recently stumbled across a rather interesting ‘take’ on this issue. Your correspondent happened to catch the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Any Answers’ on Saturday, June 10. The broadcast was a Post-Election Special extended edition on Mrs May, the Coalition Government, the DUP and the youth vote. In the last few minutes of the show Ms. Anand received a call from John Mulholland. It turns out he is the father of Greg Mulholland the defeated Liberal Democrat candidate in the Leeds North West constituency. Greg was the sitting MP and lost by more than 4,000 votes. John Mulholland pointed out the number of students in his son’s constituency and also the number of students in Julian Brazier’s constituency of Canterbury. Rosie Duffield won that seat for Labour with a 9.3% swing. Apparently John Mulholland ‘knew’ that the permanent residents of Canterbury did not want a Labour MP and called for the law to be changed so that students must vote in their home town!



How many folk who entered the polling station with every intention of voting for Cat Smith were temporarily flummoxed by her non-appearance on the ballot paper? It took your correspondent a nano-second to spot Catherine Jane Smith and join the dots together. Watching the results in the early hours, there seemed to be a lot of returning officers who were having to offer an explanation regarding candidate’s names. Locally known as or commonly known as or formerly known as or alternatively known as. According to the electoral commission if you commonly use a different name from your actual name, you can ask for your commonly used name(s) to be used instead of your actual name. However, you cannot use your first name as a commonly used name so that only your first name and surname appear on a ballot paper, thus excluding your middle name. The legislation makes it clear that a commonly used name is one which is different from any other forename or surname. This means that a forename in its original format cannot be used as a commonly used name. If you wish to use a commonly used forename and/or surname then these must be different from your full name as it appears on the nomination form. Hope that is clear!



business as usual
disorder in the house
powered by the internet of things
by executive order
subtext means subtext
hard subtext
harter Untertext
red and grey subtext
12 point subtext
stronger and bolder subtext
running through the wheat field, with a big stick, chasing a beggar
i am a referee not a coach
half-baked and uncosted
the goalkeeper’s fear of the penalty
assume[s] the risk of emptiness



From: Mike M. Shart, VC, Lune Valley Enterprise University (LuVE-U)
Cc: Hewlett Venklinne, Director of Press Recognition Invigilation
Subject: Openness

Dear Editors

I would like to congratulate you on another fantastic year of your e-newsletter. Hewlett tells me that ‘Undertone’ is a very popular source of information about what’s going on within the University, and I always look forward to his fortnightly briefings on what you have written. I particularly enjoy the hilarious exploits of the fictitious ‘Mark E. Smith’, and particular kudos for spotting that my name is in fact an anagram of a famous pop star – I haven’t heard his work, but Hewlett insists that the comparison is a flattering and ironic one.

I noted that you complained, in your latest issue, of a lack of transparency within the University. I was absolutely shocked at the idea that you would think I am committed to anything other than absolute openness and a collegial sense of sharing across our community. But, in the spirit of being attentive to criticism, especially from alternative sources, I am reaching out to you.

From now on, I intend to explicitly recognise individuals who are open, keen to promote the public interest over their self interest, and who demonstrate bravery in circumventing my very very clear instructions on what should and should not be discussed outside of a meeting. The trouble is, I haven’t the faintest idea who they are, and as such I am unable to contact them to let them know of my approval.

In order to help me in my quest to recognise openness in the University, please could you send over a list of all the people who have proactively engaged in information exchanges with you over the past year?

I look forward to hearing from you,



If Marshall McLuhan was right to say that ‘the medium is the message’, what does that make subtext? A newsletter sent using Majordomo, a mailing list manager created in 1992, itself based on email technology first developed in the 1960s. And then there’s the font, Courier New, first designed around 1955. Anyone would be forgiven for thinking the subtext collective is slightly… backward-looking. But as another cutting-edge scholar said in one of his recent publications (Heraclitus, we believe, somewhere around 500 BCE), ‘everything changes and nothing stands still’. Majordomo is creaking along and on the road to becoming obsolete, and it is getting harder for us to update our archive site (which we could not do at all without the help of a good friend and former collective member). We take some solace from another McLuhan quote: ‘Obsolescence never meant the end of anything, it’s just the beginning’.

With this in mind, readers should expect some changes to how subtext is formatted and delivered in the coming academic year. We will endeavour to keep firing a fortnightly dose of truth, realism, satire, occasional cynicism and sometimes even humour into subscribers’ inboxes for as long as the aforementioned technological constraints allow. Over the next year, however, we will be setting up a new and improved subtext drone delivery service, which will hover over our readers wherever they go and shout veiled critiques of the University management at them. Or we might set up a WordPress site. And do some stuff with social media. And start sending out stories as we write them, rather than waiting til the end of the fortnight. Ask us again sometime in October. Or even better, tell us how you would like subtext to look in this bold new age of those darned whizbang computer things. Right, we’re off to crank up our subtext jalopy and catch a newsreel at the picturehouse.



Dear subtext,

As you are no doubt aware, we have had electronic monitoring of attendance for taught postgraduates for many years and are legally required by the Home Office to report persistently absent students (over any two-week period in term time). Colleagues might be interested in my own experience of this system.

Some years ago, one of the overseas students on a programme that I was responsible for vanished from classes in the New Year soon after the January exams. Numerous emails were sent to the student by the Programme Manager, a registered letter was sent to the student’s off-campus address and we asked for the student in every class with the cohort – all to no avail. Extremely aware of the Home Office’s draconian punishments for the University (and possibly individual members of staff) in these circumstances, the student’s continued absence was reported to the University.

The University Registry responded that, since the electronic attendance register indicated that the student was present at classes every week, there was therefore no problem. When the student did not turn up to the exams in April, again this was no problem. It was only at the June Board that the student was deemed to have withdrawn after having had no contact with the programme for 5 months. So far as the Registry was concerned, the student was still attending and the genuine concerns of the Programme staff about the student’s welfare were continually ignored as a consequence.

What we have is a system that permits plausible deniability on the part of the institution, regardless of a student’s welfare, as a means to circumvent the checks imposed upon us by the Home Office, whether reasonable or not. Further, if and when students fail their degrees in spite of ‘appearing’ to attend classes, the students can be blamed rather than the monitoring system.

Name and address supplied


The editorial collective of subtext currently consists of (in alphabetical order): James Groves, Lizzie Houghton, Zoe Lambert, Ian Paylor, Ronnie Rowlands, Joe Thornberry, and Johnny Unger.

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