Monthly Archives: December 2017

subtext 170 – ‘A frontier without borders, a subtext without regulatory alignment’

Fortnightly during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments:

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In this issue: editorial, the vc’s pay, deliverology, plug, court, qa at ua, plenty of pvcs, signs, more signs, damp, lost and found, spirit of 84, end of term message, shart, mark thomas review, letters



UCU members have received ballot papers to vote on proposals for strike action to defend USS pensions. We have been here before (see, for example, subtext 82). What makes this one any different? Well, aside from the refrain of ‘won’t get fooled again’ which should be ringing in the ears of everyone as they cast their votes, this is the first strike ballot called by UCU since the Trade Union Act 2016 came into force. The ballot will not be valid unless 50% of the UCU membership participates.

Consider the likely consequences if the 50% threshold is not met. ‘If they can’t get half their membership to vote on an issue like their own pensions,’ the country’s VCs will think, ‘can they get half their membership to vote on anything at all?’ Probably not. Slightly perversely, this means that a vote for ‘No’ on a high turnout would do more for the future bargaining strength of our unions than an overwhelming vote for ‘Yes’ on a turnout of 49%.

So it is all about the turnout and subtext urges all its readers in the UCU to attend one the UCU’s pension information meetings and then cast their vote – we hope you’ll vote ‘Yes’, but would prefer that you voted ‘No’ rather than not voting at all.


The generous salaries paid to vice-chancellors have been very much in the news lately. Firstly at Bath, then Southampton, and now in Birmingham, staff, students and outside bodies have challenged what they see as the bloated pay packets of their VCs. Contrasts have been drawn with real-terms reductions in pay for the vast majority of staff, the proliferation of zero-hours contracts, and the cuts in services and provision for students. At a national level, Labour peer Lord Adonis has been busily stirring the pot, so we can look forward to even more instances of vice-chancellors’ pay being exposed to public scrutiny.

But what of our own small and unassuming institution? Every year subtext likes to carry a piece on the size of the vice-chancellor’s emolument and we must conclude that in terms of the sector as a whole, it is modest. It currently stands at £311K per annum, and although appearing rather large to most of us, it comes nowhere near that of his colleagues at Bath (£468K), Southampton (£433K), and Birmingham (£426K). Of course, you could add in the fact that he lives rent-free in a rather spacious and extensively renovated residence standing in its own grounds and with the use of a chauffeur-driven car, but let’s not nit-pick. Unless this year’s accounts show that he’s been given a whopping increase (and let’s not rule this out, what with being University of the Year and all that), he will still be comfortably mid-table in the vice-chancellorial pay league.

What does concern us, however, is the mechanism by which his pay is set. When Bath first hit the headlines, an inquiry into what was going on was undertaken by HEFCE. Its report and recommendations make interesting reading, especially in relation to the conduct of Bath’s Remuneration Committee. While noting that it met HEFCE’s basic requirements, the report went on to say that ‘there is scope for much improvement in the way it operates, particularly in terms of its transparency’. It was unhappy that the vice-chancellor whose pay was set by the Remuneration Committee was herself a member of that same committee (this was also an issue at Southampton and Birmingham). It was also critical of the record-keeping of the Committee, noting that ‘the minutes of Remuneration Committee meetings are insufficiently informative to enable Council members fully to exercise their right to challenge and to take responsibility for decisions that have been delegated to the Committee. Clearer explanations and/or justifications for the remuneration awarded to senior staff are needed.’

Lancaster, we would expect, would be different in the way it conducts these things. But it isn’t. The VC is a member of Lancaster’s Remuneration Committee, though he leaves the room when his own pay is discussed (so did the Bath VC, but that didn’t impress HEFCE). The minutes are not published and those given to the rest of Council are perfunctory, to say the least. As to membership, it is even more restricted than Bath’s, consisting of the Pro-Chancellor (in the chair), the Vice-Chancellor, and two lay members of Council. And that’s it. There is provision for two additional individuals from outside the University to be co-opted, but this option has not been used. It could have been argued that as the Pro-Chancellor (who is also Chair of Council) was appointed by Court, there is a certain degree of independence in the role, but alas, this is no longer the case. The Pro-Chancellor is now to be appointed by Council.

Finally, the HEFCE report makes clear the key role played by Bath University Court in bringing this matter to a head. The pay issue had repeatedly been raised by Court members and ignored. It was the attempt by Bath’s VC to thwart the will of Court that finally triggered the HEFCE inquiry. This shows the importance of having a body to which a university’s chief officer is at least partly accountable, as Professor Henig so strongly argues in his letter (below). This is the body that Lancaster’s Vice-Chancellor, having instigated the removal of Court’s power to appoint the Pro-Chancellor, now seeks to abolish entirely. Can we now look forward to the VC making rapid progress up the pay league? And might there soon be grounds for another HEFCE inquiry?


Should there be a future inquiry into vice-chancellors’ pay (see above) it is not likely to come from HEFCE in its current form. The new Office for Students, the regulatory body which will subsume the responsibilities of HEFCE and the Office for Fair Access from April 2018, will be in the driving seat. Sir Michael Barber, who is to be the inaugural chair of the body, has publicly pledged to ‘deal with’ vice-chancellorial salaries that are out of kilter with the performance of their respective universities, as well as how they stack up with the pay of other staff. But readers who are bouncing with glee at the hardline approach from what appears to be a straight talking fixer ought not to get too excited.

For those who don’t know him, Sir Michael Barber is famous for being the inaugural head of the Prime Minister’s ‘Delivery Unit’ during the second term of Tony Blair’s government. One of Blair’s most notorious legacies was the amping up to 11 of the market, metric, and money-driven means of running public services that exist to this day, and Sir Michael Barber was one of its key architects. After working for Blair, he joined global management consultants McKinsey and became chief architect of ‘Deliverology’, a pseudoscience with manipulated / gamed targets and managerialism at its core. Readers who think we’re being harsh on Sir Michael are invited to read his own account, from 2011, here:

Therefore, it isn’t difficult to predict that what is actually meant by ‘out of kilter’ can be many different things to many different people. In the same statement in which Sir Michael laid out his Tough Stance, he declared that ‘the best form of regulation is self-regulation’, adding that he didn’t intend to ‘interfere directly with university autonomy.’

Well, we’re sure he’s got everybody quaking in their boots. Although the idea of our VC having to justify his remuneration to someone whose past antics inspired The Thick of It (Sir Michael is said to be the main inspiration for Julius Nicholson, ‘Blue Skies’ adviser to the Prime Minister) does have a certain appeal.


We at subtext are proud to be the first to reject change at every opportunity. However, even we have to admit that a Facebook page was long overdue. One thing we’ve noticed over the years is that there is this perception of subtext being a ‘secret’ – available to a select few, not to be blabbed about within earshot, and inaccessible. This term we’ve had lots of letters, and the largest influx of subscribers in recent memory. Now that we have successfully rebranded as a cuddly, approachable, cracking bunch, we hope that this will encourage you not only to continue sending us letters and information, but also to join our team. Those of you who read right until the end will notice that we are now down to five editors – a fact that may or may not be reflected in the quality of the product this term. This stuff doesn’t write itself, so if anybody is keen to get on board and shadow us for a bit, then do get in touch. And like us here:


One of the reasons advanced for the need for another Court Effectiveness Review is the apparent lack of diversity in its membership. In her background paper to Senate (see subtext 169, and letter from Stanley Henig, below), Chief Administrative Officer Nicola Owen refers twice to this shortcoming, though acknowledging that the University does not actually hold any data to back this up. Admittedly, it is difficult to ascertain the ethnicity of members without conducting a full equality audit but at least it should be possible to have a stab at establishing the gender balance of Court.

Ms Owen states that a measure of success for the University’s ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Vision’ is to achieve a ’50-50 ratio female/male’ composition in the membership of University Committees. So, let’s look at Court, the ‘University Committee’ that seems to be causing her so much concern. The Secretariat website handily provides a list of current members, each given their title of Ms, Mrs, Mr, Dr or Professor. A quick perusal of the staff list gives the gender of those with academic titles, so a reasonably accurate picture of Court’s gender balance can be established. This shows that out of the current total of 237 filled places on Court, 101 are held by women. The figure represents 43% of membership, certainly short of the 50% target, but not so far adrift as to cause so much concern as to deprive it of its governance functions (one would have thought).

Still, perhaps 43% compares badly with the ratio for other University Committees? Not so. If we look at Senate, we find that women make up 35% of its membership, so still a bit to go to catch up with the ‘unrepresentative’ Court. What about Council, the body that wants to take over the governance functions of Court? Surely it would want to be seen as the standard-bearer of gender equality, especially as it has more power to determine its own composition than any other committee? Alas, no. Only 31% are female. The only body that could make any serious impact there would be the Nominations Committee, several of whose members are appointed by … errr … the Court, which the VC is set on abolishing. Great.

But surely the VC’s senior management team, the body with the real power in the University to effect change, would be leading by example towards that 50-50 goal? Of course not. Of the 14 individuals who are most in charge of the fortunes of Lancaster University, a mere 4 are women. Just over 28%. Perhaps this might be a good time to commission a long overdue Senior Management Effectiveness Review. What about it, Ms Owen?


As we draw nearer to the Xmas break this is the time when stories emerge to guide us through the shambles in which we find ourselves. Of course, we always were in a state of confusion but the events of the last year have made the nature of what is around us much clearer. The beast has come out of the shadows and is showing its face. We have made a terrible mistake and as the flaming omnishambles of the UA92 project is revealed, the one option that nobody seems to want to discuss is the one that would cause the most embarrassment in the short term and the least pain in the long run: cancelling the whole thing and moving on. In this there are many parallels with Brexit, not least that the decision to go ahead came about through the same mixture of ignorance, complacency and wishful thinking.

As with Brexit, those charged with trying to make it work are facing an impossible task. If UA92 degrees are to be accepted as being on a par with Lancaster degrees (as promised on its website), they must meet the same quality assurance requirements. Anyone who has had to steer a new module proposal, much less a new degree scheme, through the QA process will know just how exacting it is. However, the UA92 degree model is the polar opposite of Lancaster’s. The core is ‘personal development’, not academic achievement, and the role of traditional study is to be a supporting mechanism in enabling that to happen. It would be like telling our own students that the Lancaster Award is more important in getting their degrees than, say, a well-argued dissertation. How will this be consistent with MARP? Unfortunately, our already overworked staff are now tasked with trying to square that particular circle. And they don’t have much time to do it. If the target date of September 2019 for UA92’s first intake is to be met, everything needs to be ready for UCAS approval and publication by March 2018, just under three months away!

Among many concerns about the UA92 model is the obsessive focus on ‘leadership’ and the bogus implicit assumptions that: a) ‘character’, not social structures and processes, is the primary determinant of individuals’ life chances; and b) roles other than that of ‘leaders’ are inferior, so that a successful/good life can only mean being in a position of dominance relative to others. A (the?) primary job of university is to produce well-informed citizens capable of critical thinking, including being able to see through this kind of nonsense. Unless we do this, we are failing. Those behind the UA92 project are confident that its degrees will be seen to be as good as Lancaster’s. The fear of a growing number of staff is that in time our own degrees will be seen to be only as good as UA92’s.


Yet another senior management post is currently being advertised, this time a Pro-Vice Chancellor for ‘Engagement’. Some time ago, we supplemented our PVC for quality and standards and our PVC for the student experience with a new PVC for education, to add to our dangerously understaffed top floor. It then seemed that the number of education-related head honchos threatened the status of those on the research side of the stairs, as this autumn another senior management post was advertised, at a to-be-negotiated, but one assumes eye-watering, salary, adding more top brass to the research pontiffocracy. Again, exactly what this person was expected to do was not clear. The REF was alluded to but no actual measurable duties were specified other than ‘answering to’ the existing PVC for Research and Enterprise.

And now it is the turn of ‘Engagement’. Remembering that each department already has at least one person responsible for teaching / research / etc who answers to their faculty Associate Dean, who in turn answers to a Dean, who in turn answers to at least one PVC, we felt it was time to look more closely at what these rather expensive new colleagues will do for their daily crust.

Simon Hoggart used to say that if the opposite of a politician’s statement (e.g. ‘we support hard working families’) was ridiculous then the original statement wasn’t worth making. Kenwright has suggested that if it is not clear how the holder of a management post’s success or failure could be judged after a given interval from the job description, then the post isn’t worth having. So, let’s look at the PVC for engagement’s ‘specific duties’, shall we?

– University Planning and Resource Group
– Internal groups as advised by the Vice-Chancellor
– Business and Community Engagement Group (Chair)
– Various promotions and professorial pay committees
– ‘We are Lancaster’ (Lead)
– Dukes Partnership
– Lead on the Public Arts Strategy
– Santander Advisory Group (Chair)
– Appropriate approvals as delegated by Senate or the Vice-Chancellor

Well that’s perfectly clear then!

Those of us unfortunate enough to have to assess module descriptions are told to use Bloom’s Taxonomy of measurable verbs to ensure our learning outcomes can be tested (e.g. ‘able to explain phlogiston theory’, not ‘understands phlogiston theory’). If our leaders cannot come up with more convincing descriptions of what their new chums will do, other than add critical mass to the air of collective self-importance with which they stride across campus between meetings clutching folders and frowning earnestly, then one wonders whether the money might be better spent on subscriptions to journals, books for the library, bottles of deuterated solvents or anything else which would actually enhance research, learning or the university in general.


Coming off the night shift at the subtext warehouse our drones were intrigued by the new sign at the entrance to Bowland North. Not the blaring adverts for Subway and Blackwell’s, but the cool, chunky, brushed steel lettering proclaiming something called ‘law school’. The fact that it was all in lowercase suggested that the infamous Capital Letter Thieves were again at large. Readers will recall how in recent times the Learning Zone and the Ruskin Centre suffered from their depredations, with letters disappearing overnight to sometimes comic effect. Were they up to their old tricks again?
As we tucked into our post-shift sweet tea and dripping sandwiches, we pondered on the identity of the missing letter. Could the sign be indicating the ‘Flaw school’, an extension of PPR containing a new Department of Refutations, dedicated to exposing the faulty reasoning behind current university policies (UA92 springs to mind)? Perhaps it’s the ‘Claw school’, suggesting a concentration of the university’s mushrooming enterprise units, slavering to compete in the cut-and-thrust world of marketised HE. Maybe a fearfully symmetrical twin is planned for next-door Bowland Main, the ‘Tooth school’.

Another suggestion was the rather esoteric ‘Glaw school’, which had the more unlettered members of the collective tapping into their search engines to find a meaning. ‘Glaw’, according to the Urban Dictionary, is ‘a word with no meaning, used as a response to a question to annoy someone’. Clearly, any modern university worth its salt needs this function but as it was already admirably fulfilled by the Human Resources Division, it was deemed to be superfluous.

After much discussion, a consensus was eventually reached. A search of the subtext archives revealed that the place we now know as Bowland North was originally called ‘Lonsdale’, famous for the sybaritic lives of its inhabitants and known to all as ‘The Party College’. According to legend, the gods got so angered by their debauchery that one night they scooped up all the inhabitants and deposited them in the remotest region of Hades known as Alexandra Park, where they remain to this day. And it is in their memory that, employing the Glasgow street slang for cannabis (and other things), the space shall henceforth be known as… the ‘Blaw school’.


And another thing about that lowercase Law School sign… Lancaster seems to have long had an unwritten rule (see what we did there?) that buildings should not have department names engraved on them, not least because there seems to be a tip in the ‘Modern VC’s Playbook for Keeping Departments in Line” that departments should be regularly moved when buildings are refurbished, or merged with others, or just closed, to stop them from getting too comfortable. However, with new buildings springing up all the time, and Engineering getting its very own shiny lowercase letters a few years ago, it’s possible the Law School had a bit of sign envy. Or perhaps it’s a North Campus/South Campus thing? With the huge sign outside the FASS building now a thing of the past, it’s possible someone felt the sign balance needed to be shifted again.

There’s only one problem: as regular visitors to Bowland North know, the building is home not only to Lancaster’s legal scholars. It also accommodates the Departments of Languages and Cultures, and Sociology, as well as the occasional band of itinerant Linguistics PhD students who seem to have been banished from County South. And that’s just the top three floors. The ground floor houses two lecture theatres, 27 seminar rooms (some of which even have windows, see subtexts passim) and two computer labs, all of which are used as teaching space by pretty much every department in the University, by conference delegates and by a number of summer schools. Why the Law School should be the only department that gets a huge sign on the side of the building is as yet not quite clear, but if readers know of any ‘cash-for-signs’ shenanigans, please do write in (for the benefit of any lawyers reading this, we are joking!). All the signs point to more signs in future.


An awful lot of people have complained about the monolithic campus map outside University House – you know, the one with enough space to accommodate legible text but instead has a key in 8 point type and a big black empty void, in very much the Scandinavian style. We should probably be grateful for what we have, since the maps have started to become discoloured with what would appear to be damp, causing an outbreak of grey patches that are starting to cover the already miniscule text. At least, we think that’s what it is. But it doesn’t look intentional:


The final issue of term sees the welcome return of LU Text Lost and Found, subtext’s repository of Lancaster related news stories that somehow didn’t find their way into LU Text’s ‘Lancaster in the Media’ roundup.

Alan Milburn, our esteemed Chancellor, made headlines last week when he resigned as Chair of the government’s Social Mobility Commission in protest at No. 10’s failure to tackle inequality. Some might view this as a bit of vainglorious ostentation from a man who was up for renewal in his post and didn’t fancy his chances, others might view it is a principled refusal to continue reaching out to a government that failed to listen. Regardless of his motives, our Chancellor has made waves, and put inequality on the agenda:

And finally, you won’t believe what the Daily Express had to say about THIS fair and wise university Pro-Chancellor! Yes, our very own Lord Liddle found an interview he gave on Sky News being quoted by the Daily Express. According to the paper, he made the SHOCK claim that ‘Britain should have ANOTHER Brexit vote.’ His exact words, for the record, were ‘I’m not saying there SHOULD be a second referendum but I think that the idea that we voted finally in June 2016 and there is no possibility of ever changing that – I don’t actually think that’s democratic.’


As promised in our last issue, here is an account of a local support project that grew out of the miners’ strike of 1984/85. The project was born (as all good ideas are) out of conversations in the bar at the Gregson Institute. Why not do something practical locally to help the miners, something that would get wide support? Out of this came the idea for a summer camp for miners’ kids. A strange collection of folk became involved: University lecturers, teachers, students, left-wing politicos, and dedicated barflies. Somehow a semi-formal structure and a conscious strategy emerged. The kids would come from Blyth in Northumberland, from where miners were picketing Glasson Dock trying to prevent strike-breaking coal imports. There would be 75 of them (fifteen a week for five weeks in late July and August and we’d need at least £2000 to feed and entertain them. We would take them to Silverdale, where someone knew of a good cheap campsite at Gibraltar Farm. They would get lots of healthy outdoor activities, with the odd evening at Morecambe funfair if funds permitted, and we would supply a good balanced diet to make up for months of paltry rations because of the strike.

There was no shortage of organisers and adult volunteers. Money was more of a problem. We started strongly with large donations from the Students Union at St. Martin’s College and several University JCRs, and built on this base with begging letters to local political parties, the Co-op, trade unions and churches, as well as a very lucrative circular to every member of academic staff at the University. We had an overwhelming response, apart from the Duke of Westminster (the richest man in Britain), who informed us that he did not give to charity. Busking by Paramount Islanders and a concert by the local group Sound Investment raised almost £300. The University Community Action Group helped us contact volunteers and the District Education Office arranged the loan of cagoules, boots, rucksacks and cooking equipment. The University hiking club lent us four large and quite invaluable tents.

On a very sunny Sunday afternoon the first fifteen kids arrived. The campsite was at a particularly beautiful and secluded area only a few hundred yards from the beach. We kept rules to a minimum, making the safety of the kids the paramount reason for having a rule. They took part in activities they had never experienced before – rock climbing, abseiling, canoeing, sailing, pot-holing – and it is to the credit of the volunteers who supervised them that there was not a single accident in the five weeks of the camp. Every day saw a different experience for the kids. One of the most popular was the swimming and water games session held every morning at Carnforth Pool. The pool staff volunteered to come in an hour early so that we could have the pool to ourselves. We found this positive, helpful attitude was widespread. Marineland in Morecambe gave free tickets every week for the dolphin show, Morecambe funfair and Spaceskate in Lancaster gave big reductions for the kids, youth workers at Scotch Quarry organised games, the Georgian Club provided crisps and lemonade whenever the kids visited Lancaster, and when we needed refuge in wet weather and freezer space for food, the sisters at St. John of God Hospice were glad to oblige. The Heysham Dockers donated their tuck shop and members of Morecambe Labour Party provided high tea every week. And there were people who would turn up at the camp with homemade cakes, biscuits and jams, boxes of books and games, sweets and crisps. On one occasion, a group of anglers arrived at the camp with baskets overflowing with freshly-caught flounders. It was fish supper that night.

Each group of children was accompanied by women from the Blyth Womens’ Support Group who perhaps did most to ensure that the kids had a good time (and behaved themselves!). The camp also became a venue for rest and recuperation from picketing duty for miners, some of whom had had a hard time of it at the hands of the police. They too contributed greatly to the success of the camp, and to the political education of the volunteers.

Every week finished with a two-day stay at an old miners’ cottage at Kentmere, in the Lake District, where outdoor pursuits specialists ensured the kids had a busy but enjoyable time. We were very lucky in having exceptionally good weather for most of that summer, so that outdoor activities could be enjoyed to the full. There were the usual problems arising from clashes of temperament and differences of opinion with both adults and kids, but these were rare and were resolved through discussion and compromise. The general atmosphere was relaxed and good humoured. New friends were made and strong bonds of mutual respect and affection were formed between adults and kids alike. Looking back on the experience, it is remarkable, given the backdrop to the strike and the unrelenting hostility of the media, just how generous people were. It gave us all a glimpse of what could be possible.


And so, we join the rest of you in winding down and shutting up shop for the term. Given how busy we’ve been over the last 9 weeks, we are almost afraid to avert our gaze, so rapid is the rate at which Things have been happening this term. Last year, subtext was struck by a theme of ‘secrecy’ – the bulk of our reportage was on the lack of transparency from top table, and how little we were able to report. Thus far this year, the intensely guarded plans that we revealed have started to come into effect, and we have been struck by a common theme at the heart of all of them – austerity. The party political point du jour has long been the idea of those at the bottom bearing the brunt of the cuts in the name of tightening the belt, while those at the top get fat and wealthy enough to buy a bigger one. We’ve been seeing fairly blatant austere hypocrisy this year. Money has been taken from: non-academic departments (subtext 165), disabled students, the students’ union’s block grant, and on-campus students (subtext 169). We at subtext would be willing to at least entertain the idea that this has been necessary, if we weren’t looking at cuts out of one eye and an utterly insane Manchester commercial venture, a vast architectural refurbishment, a seemingly superfluous new management appointment, and the potential for countless professorial salaries for external HoD appointments (see subtext 168) out of the other. None of these ventures are for the benefit of staff or students, making the funding cuts harder to stomach. We’ve said, time and time again, that the university seems not to realise / care where the bulk of their funding comes from, or upon whose success its success depends – if management wants to avoid a powder keg, then it’s high time they started to.

But, until next time, the subtext collective would like to wish you all a participative Christmas, and a skills-based new year.


FROM: Alan Pushers, Head of Technological Innovations and Solutions
TO: Mike M. Shart, VC, Lune Valley Enterprise University (LuVE-U).
SUBJECT: The next stage

Dear Mike,

Following the seamless introduction of the Student Location University Geomonitoring Systems, I am pleased to say that moving forward we can move forward on the plan discussed at the Special Projects Committee to cascade this system to staff. As you know, we have little idea what staff are up to most of the time, where they spend their time, how productive they are being, even what value they are adding to LuVE-U. All this will now change with the data we will get from Productive Activity Time Surveillance System.

Before rolling it out, we did a quick test run of the system last week on a random staff member. Here are the results:

RESULTS FOR: Hewlett Venkklinne – Director of Public Disapproval Modification.
Total time spent – Location
4.5 hours – Local BMW second hand dealer
3.9 hours – Trafford Centre
1.4 hours – At his desk
7.2 hours – Senior Leadership Lounge
1.1 hours – Trapped in wheelchair accessible toilet when door wouldn’t open and no one responded to the alarm
4.9 hours – Googled: ‘Tips and Hairstyles for Balding Men.’
1.3 hours – Toni and Guys
0.5 hours – Googled: ‘How to take a screenshot on a Mac.’
7.5 hours – Browsing: Vogue Magazine models
1.6 hours – Google Images: Students in graduation robe
3.3 hours – Browsing:
4.5 hours – Browsing



FROM: Mike M. Shart, VC, Lune Valley Enterprise University (LuVE-U)
TO: Hewlett Venkklinne – Director of Public Disapproval Modification.


Photoshopping supermodels onto the prospectus and marketing materials are we? Don’t deny it, I know you are.

Genius strategy – you’re worth every penny.


PS. Do you think I should keep using Viviscal?


Mark Thomas was back at the Dukes on Wednesday 29th November. After last year’s poignant, moving and very funny theatre show ‘The Red Shed’ (see subtext 156) he returned to the Dukes with more traditional stand-up fare. This time it’s just him, a microphone, a few scraps of paper and some betting odds. We are here, Thomas tells us, to work together as a group. Our job is to vote (with our cheers) for the best prediction of the future proffered by our fellow audience members pre-show.

After Brexit and Trump (and UA92), who really knows what’s going to happen next? None of us, of course. Recent events have been so unexpected we cannot be any less accurate than the experts. Don’t look to Mark Thomas, either – he’s not offering any answers here, instead he is channeling our collective cluelessness into two hours of cathartic entertainment in which we laugh, not just at the world, but at our own divergent understandings of it.

The audience were canvassed in the bar with slips of paper which invited them to guess one thing that might happen in the future, be it outlandish or predictable, and Thomas spends most of the time simply reading through them and discussing the subjects they bring up, occasionally referring to contributions from past shows. The idea is that he and the audience single out their favourite prediction by a vaguely democratic ‘biggest cheer” process. At the end of the show donations are thrown in a bucket by the door, which we are told will be placed on the winner, and if it wins, the cash will be given to a worthwhile cause.

So it’s a simple enough idea to get a bit of banter going, ad-libbed as well as scripted, although there’s plenty that Thomas would have known to expect. ‘Trump will be assassinated/impeached’, ‘there will be a UK general election within the next year’ and (big cheer for this) ‘Jeremy Corbyn will be Prime Minister’ are all hurried through. As ever at a Mark Thomas gig, the left-leaning converted are being preached to, even though Thomas himself seems keen to engage in discussion with all comers.

Compared to the heart-stopping suspension and heart-breaking tenderness of ‘The Red Shed’, this show might seem a little slight. But he’s still Mark Thomas, which means we’re treated to the best kind of hilarious political rantings, underscored by stories about his upbringing and, in particular, his father, whose rare mix of religious devotion and fiery temperament is another telling influence on the comic. Throughout these tales Thomas proves to be an energetic and compelling raconteur, weaving narratives which take the audience along with him, offering insights into the unorthodox upbringing of a man who retains a smouldering anger at injustice.

This Lancaster audience voted for the bet that ‘EU immigrants would ‘club together’ and buy the Daily Mail’. And people as they left the theatre dutifully threw their pound coins into the bucket – Mark did not tell us what odds we would get on this particular bet!


An Open Letter to readers of subtext

The announcement at the annual meeting in January 2017 of a review of the effectiveness of the Court – a body often likened to the annual shareholder meeting in a private company – seemed at the time relatively inconsequential. Six months elapsed before a circular was sent to Court members listing the make-up of the new Court effectiveness committee, with a questionnaire on the perceived role and importance etc of the Court and information that there would be an external assessor. Like others I took a good deal of time and trouble over completion of the questionnaire and I also requested a meeting with the assessor. Meanwhile, rumours were circulating that the University had already decided in effect to abolish the Court.

I felt my meeting with the external assessor went well and like others I have been waiting for feedback from the review committee. Now just two months before the anticipated date for the 2018 Court meeting, we read in subtext about discussions in the University Senate. Evidently the review process is well under way although there have been no public reports as to progress. However, it increasingly seems that for once the rumour mill may be accurate.

The view has been expressed that the Court’s membership may not be sufficiently diverse. It is perhaps worth exploring the whole of the University’s institutional structure in terms of its diversity. I cannot comment directly on the membership of the Senate but I was a member of the Council for a good many years until 2011, by which time that body was certainly not significantly characterized by diversity in its own membership. Indeed, when the Court lost its traditional power to elect some Council members, it seemed inevitable that the latter body would be less diverse. Overall, the University’s governance structure has certainly become increasingly removed from any direct and structured involvement with the outside world. In this context, accountability is perhaps even more important than diversity. The University is certainly in no way accountable in a structured sense to the collective judgement of those who work within it.

Abolition of the Court as a formal body would remove the last vestige of any kind of structured accountability to any locally based institutions. In this sense, abolition would complete what from many perspectives has been an ongoing process. Henceforth, accountability would only be to market forces and national government. Is this a rational choice?

I would like to end by asking what attention is paid by Lancaster University to the wider world which in a real sense determines the parameters within which it operates. The implications of Brexit for the UK’s University sector cannot be other than deeply damaging. If indeed there is a much-needed review of the student loan system, then this too could have significant adverse repercussions for university budgets. In this uncertain world, is it really the moment to send a message to local and regional stakeholders, alumni and others, that the University no longer requires their formal structural involvement? At the very least, is there not an overwhelming case for the regular annual meeting of the existing Court to take place in January 2018 and for its agenda to give priority to debating and determining these issues?

Stanley Henig

A founding member of the University’s Department of Politics 1964-6; elected Member of University Council 2001-11; and elected Deputy Pro-Chancellor 2006-11, in which capacity I chaired the previous Court Review.


Dear subtext,

In response to Cheryl Simmill-Binning’s query (letters, subtext 169): weather forecasters never sit down because of where they have to talk out of.

Keep up the good work!

John Foster


Dear subtext,

I always ‘enjoy’ reading up on developments at Lancaster Uni! And would love to continue my subscription!

It is not just a way of staying in touch with a university’s politics at which still several of key colleagues of mine work, but also subtext is a source for envisaging what may come to to other universities on earth,
in countries that lag behind in neoliberalising higher education.


Ingmar Lippert (IEPPP/CSEC student 2005-7, now IT University of Copenhagen)


Dear subtext,

An update on the university’s response to Heaton-Harris’ letter – the university have told me (after much prompting), via twitter, that they have sent him a copy of the prospectus. There was no mention of the previous response of ‘treating as an F.O.I request’


Sarah Beresford


Dear subtext,

College Council minutes appeared in my inbox last week, and one of the items reported was that ‘the churches’ are withdrawing the funding for the two full-time Anglican and Methodist chaplains, with the possibility that the two posts will be lost during the coming year.

Given that this is a service provided to the University in addition to its own provision for student and staff wellbeing, I wondered if the subtext collective can shed any further light on this situation?

Keep up the good work!

Many thanks,

James Mawdesley