You Are Ordered to Return Whether You Want to or Not

Spare a thought for our returning second-, third- and fourth-year students; particularly those with rooms on campus this year. It seems that, whilst first-years were offered rooms on relatively flexible terms this year, including the option of studying remotely over Michaelmas Term and only beginning to pay rent after Christmas, returners are being held strictly to the conditions they signed back in December. The university’s stance is: You signed for the room, so you’ll pay for it from October, whether you’re occupying it or not. Students who decided to study away from campus, and hence declined to start paying rent, are reportedly now receiving formal letters demanding payment from college accommodation staff.

The University makes it clear in Our Promise to new students:

https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/our-promise/

that for those unable to join us on campus in September, a warm welcome will await you later in the year. Specifically, for all new students, accommodation contracts will only begin when students collect their keys, which means that if you need to move in later than expected, accommodation fees for the period before you arrive will be waived. What about returning students, though?

The official terms and conditions, at:

https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/accommodation/terms-and-conditions/

make a strict distinction between contracts accepted on or after 23 July, where deposits will be returned if the agreement is made remotely and not completed by the collection of the keys in the presence of the Lancaster University member of staff, and contracts accepted before 23 July, where no such exception applies. Hence our promise to returners seems to be pay up or else, despite the goods not exactly being supplied as originally promised.

The city councillors for the campus have pressed senior university officers on this point, most recently on 22 October:

https://www.facebook.com/LancsUniLabourCllrs/posts/1571437339725303

The councillors feel that no one should have to pay for accommodation they are not living in. As reasonable as that sounds, it appears that Lancaster University begs to differ.

Bailrigg Garden Village Update

Lancashire County Council has just opened an official consultation on remodelling Junction 33 of the M6 and creating a link road to enable drivers to by-pass Galgate on their way to and from campus and the proposed Bailrigg Garden Village. Simultaneously, they’re consulting on a Movement and Public Realm Strategy for Lancaster City Centre, asking what should be done about the one-way system. City residents have received a letter and a glossy Transforming Lancaster Travel newsletter (that promises to be but the first of many issues). The deadline for responses is 6 December 2020 and you can find the documents at:

https://www.lancashire.gov.uk/Transforming-Lancaster-Travel/

For the Galgate by-pass, there’s a short engineering options document and a very long environmental options document.

The engineers note that: The development of the South Lancaster Strategic Growth Area [i.e. building the Bailrigg Garden Village on Burrow Heights with 3,500 homes] will depend upon providing new infrastructure including the re-configuration of Junction 33 (J33) of the M6. According to the environmental options document, the scheme’s objectives are to improve Junction 33, create a link to the Bailrigg Garden Village and improve air quality in Galgate. The University is mentioned only in passing, in the environmental options document, which notes that: As the expansion of Lancaster University and Bailrigg Garden Village begin to take effect, the options for travel along the A6 highway corridor will become restricted as more demand is placed on the existing road network.

Residents are presented with six route options.

There are two Eastern Routes, linking J33 with Hazelrigg Lane to the south of campus, via routes to the east of the M6. There are a few challenges: Eastern 1 involves severing Stoney Lane in Galgate and Eastern 2 involves removing Hampson Farm near Galgate. There are two Central Routes, also linking J33 with Hazelrigg Lane, but this time heading parallel to the M6 and just to the west of it. Central 2 offers an additional link to Ashton Road but is otherwise the same as Central 1. Finally there are two Western Routes, both heading north west from J33 (Western 1) or a point slightly north of J33 (Western 2), crossing the Lancaster Canal on a new bridge and ending up in Burrow Heights.

All six routes involve continuing Hazelrigg Lane to the west at its junction with the A6, heading under the West Coast Main Line and joining Burrow Road, to give access between the A6 and the Bailrigg Garden Village. The cutting for the underbridge would be 2.4m below the level of the nearby Ou Beck and, consequently, the drainage of this area would need to be by pump. There is very little detail on the environmental impact of effectively turning the A6-Hazelrigg Lane junction into a giant crossroads. Residents of Leach House Lane, located just to the west of the existing junction, are unlikely to be happy.

The engineers strongly prefer Central 1 as it’s the cheapest route, it doesn’t involve crossing the Lancaster Canal and the drainage is superior.

The environmental report prefers Western 1 and Western 2 from a noise reduction point of view, but opts for Central 1 from a traffic flow reduction point of view: Central 1 is the only route option achieving a reduction of flow in the A6 through Galgate in both directions, in all peak periods and years modelled. The Central 2 option might actually increase traffic flow due to cars cutting across between the A6 and Ashton Road.

The simultaneous consultation on the Lancaster one-way system has a prettily designed options document offering eight future visions that are, roughly: do nothing; return the loop to two-way traffic; keep the loop but make one lane for buses and cycles only; two-way to the west, buses and cycles only to the east; two-way to the east, buses and cycles to the west; no through city centre traffic; no through city centre traffic during the day; and a £12 congestion charge. There is a distinct lack of costings for any of the options, but the congestion charge is appraised as the greenest choice.

Following the consultation, Lancashire County Council’s Cabinet will make its final decision on the options in February 2021. This doesn’t seem like a lot of time to analyse the responses, but of course, they may want to get their decision over with before the whole council is up for re-election in May.

Bus News

subtext‘s intrepid Stagecoach correspondent reports…

Worries about virus transmission on public transport to and from campus have been, justifiably, one of the main concerns expressed by staff and students alike. So, how safe are things on the ground?

Signs as you embark ask passengers to sit in a window seat, with an empty row in front and behind you, but are these rules being enforced? Not really, but only because the buses are so sparsely populated that the risk now seems quite small, with many who would normally travel by bus opting to walk, cycle or drive instead. Your correspondent has only seen one example of a bus full sign being displayed, on a number 100 as it whizzed past the Infirmary; every other time, there have been at most 10 people on each deck.

The don’t sit next to anyone advice is adhered to rigorously, whilst the make sure there’s an empty row in front and behind you advice is being interpreted more flexibly: complied with if the numbers (or convenience) allow it, but not if they don’t. Almost everyone is dutifully wearing a mask, although this is reportedly not the case on some of the city centre shuttle services. Usually there will be at least one window open, so pack a parka.

subtext‘s paradoxical conclusion: for as long as many are avoiding Stagecoach because they’re worried about the risk of travelling by bus, the numbers on the buses will remain so low that the risk is likely minimal. Alas, in true tragedy of the commons style, as soon as enough of us realise this, the numbers are likely to rise until the risk becomes something to really worry about.

Maybe we shouldn’t be printing this story.

Widden’s Review – Songs in the Great Hall

Contributed by Martin Widden

It is good to be able to report that some things are getting back to something like normal, or at any rate to New Normal: the University’s International Concert Series resumed on the evening of Thursday 8 October. The furniture in the Great Hall had been rearranged to provide the necessary distance between the social bubbles in the audience. One might have feared that this would destroy any atmosphere that might otherwise have been generated, but – all praise to the organisers – it had been done very thoughtfully: each little group had its designated space, consisting of one or more chairs at a small folding table with a tablecloth, on which had been placed a sheet bearing the names of the members of the little group, and beside it a small vase of flowers. If the group had pre-ordered drinks, they were waiting on the table too. The Hall looked almost festive.

The programme for the evening consisted of two song cycles by the composer Franz Schubert, both of them setting poems by Wilhelm Müller. Each is for a solo singer and pianist, and consists of a series of twenty or so songs on a single narrative theme. The first to be performed at the recital, die schöne Müllerin, tells the story of a young journeyman miller walking through a wood beside a stream, which leads him to a mill. He falls in love with the miller’s daughter, but his love is frustrated by the arrival of a glamorous hunter, who supplants him. It is not completely clear how the story ends, except that it doesn’t end well for the young man, who submits himself to the stream and presumably drowns. The young baritone Huw Montague-Randall told this story well, with excellent German diction.

The second cycle, Winterreise (winter journey), is again a tragic tale of a young man’s love for a girl, but it is not just about his failure to capture her love. As the narrator wanders through a winter landscape, he bids his farewell not only to his beloved who has forsaken him, but this time he appears to be leaving all human company. Appropriately, Schubert’s setting of these downbeat poems is set almost entirely in minor keys. This second song cycle was sung by another baritone, Roderick Williams, who acted it out in a quite moving way.

In his song cycles Schubert uses the piano very skilfully to illustrate the songs, for example to evoke the sound of the water in the stream in die schöne Müllerin. In fact, the piano part is perhaps of equal importance with the sung part. We were fortunate at the Great Hall recital to have Gary Matthewman at the piano, for he was able to reflect the mood of the songs in his playing very sensitively. The final song in Winterreise, der Leiermann, describes a hurdy-gurdy man who is standing just outside the village hoping to collect money on his little plate, but sadly the plate is empty. The piano reproduced the sad music of the hurdy-gurdy quite accurately.

This was a very satisfying start to the season of Great Hall concerts – let’s hope further concerts will be able to go ahead.

Letters

As we overturned the mailbag, the only thing that emerged was a solitary moth.

subtext 194 – ‘voluntary subtext reductions’

Increasingly less 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, BLM, open letter, appeal for editors, online teaching, rent strike, liddle, phones, nuttall, elections, pandemic, letters.

*****************************************************

EDITORIAL

Our new Vice-Chancellor was clearly trying to strike a Churchillian note when drafting his 10 June email to all staff. I am encouraged, he noted, by the resilience and dedication I have seen in Lancaster since my arrival, and with that spirit, we will face whatever may come as a united and collegial team. Very inspirational, for sure, but if it achieved anything it was to cement the fear that Lancaster University’s position is about as secure as the British Expeditionary Force in Dunkirk.

Whilst we’ve saved maybe £3–5m through furloughing, the announcement that the University Council is seeking to reduce spending by £66m over the coming financial year makes this belt-tightening seem relatively minor. This figure is based on the Council’s middle risk scenario, which supposes that around 20% of incoming EU and overseas students will not appear in October, leading to corresponding reductions in fee and accommodation income. Our cash flow is not great, with reportedly less than 2 months of cash in hand for paying salaries. Interest payments on £65m of private debt can’t be helping either.

The £66m in savings are to be split three ways: £22m saved by deferring our capital expenditure; £22m saved by making non-payroll budget savings; and £22m saved from payroll, hopefully to be achieved through voluntary options.

These options formed the main topic of conversation at an anxious informal meeting of Lancaster UCU, held on 11 June with 54 members present. Senior management had reportedly agreed to take a 10% cut in their salaries for the 3 month period beginning on 1 August; less, proportionately, than the amount that striking staff have already lost this year. Those opting for a voluntary pay cut will, officially, take their full normal salary but donate a portion of it back to the University through Payroll Giving, so preserving their pension contributions. Why the arbitrary division of £66m into three equal parts? UCU members were unsure. A more formal meeting of Lancaster UCU on 18 June was so popular that some members were unable to get in, as numbers had reached the Zoom-imposed maximum of 100.

On 16 June all staff received another email, from the Vice-Chancellor and the Pro-Chancellor, offering some ideas: making a contribution of your salary, delaying the financial reward element of promotions, purchasing additional annual leave, temporarily reducing your working hours, career breaks, flexible furloughing etc. Everyone is invited to participate in a survey to opt-in to a range of voluntary options which will help reduce the overall pay bill in the short term. The Vice-Chancellor will give up 20% of his salary.

The FAQ for the survey tries to reassure everyone that, there will be no direct consequences as a result of this survey or impact to you if you decide not to participate — what about indirect consequences, then? — but adds, in a way that can’t help coming across as slightly menacing, that the more staff who are able to participate then the stronger the University’s response to this financial situation will be.

Are we overreacting? Undergraduate recruitment figures are very good (our total number of firm accepts for 2020–21 entry now exceeds the corresponding figure for 2019–20 entry, which makes this year one of our best ever) although postgraduate taught figures are not quite as rosy. An email from the Director of HR to line managers, sent on 16 June, notes that the measures are designed to help protect the cash flow of the University over the three month period from 1 August to 31 October because there is a need for immediate cash preservation. Are we finding it more difficult to obtain credit at the moment? How are Leipzig and UA92 looking these days? Letters and thoughts to the usual address, please.

SPECIAL FEATURE: Black Lives Matter

VIRTUE SIGNALLING MATTERS

Much like a number of ‘brands’, including fashion labels, supermarkets and tech companies, Lancaster University’s social media accounts took part in ‘Black Out Tuesday’ on 2 June. The following day, the University’s Instagram account featured a series of images featuring slogans beginning with ‘What now?’, followed by slogans like ‘Support’ and ‘Educate’ and a few details of what the University is supposedly doing to support its black community (https://www.instagram.com/p/CA-nUaWgvkO/).

Warm words are always nice, but do little to address the real and sometimes shocking inequalities that currently exist at the University. While we are reminded every March of the University’s continuing failure to effectively tackle its gender pay gap (subtexts passim), things have been very quiet around the statistics relating to ethnicity at Lancaster. According to the most recent HESA data available from 18/19 (see https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/staff/table-2), just over 10% of staff at Lancaster were BAME. Black colleagues made up just over 1% of the total. At senior levels, the figures look even worse: There were no black professors at Lancaster University in 18/19 according to the HESA data, and around 4% of professors overall were BAME. In the absence of Lancaster and other institutions publishing information about their ethnicity pay gaps alongside gender pay gaps, we are unfortunately left with a somewhat uncertain picture, but a 2019 report by the UCU (https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/10360/Black-academic-staff-face-double-whammy-in-promotion-and-pay-stakes) found that black academic staff are paid on average 14% less than white academic staff.

Returning to the University’s Instagram feed, one of the posts raised a few eyebrows in the subtext warehouse, not to mention among members of Lancaster University’s Race Equality Network (REN): ‘Unite. Staff and students can unite through the LU Race Equality Network to share, campaign and support one another.’ As the open letter sent to the VC by the REN (see below) states, the previous VC promised in 2016 as part of the EDI Strategic Vision 2020 that Lancaster would sign up to the Race Equality Charter (REC) by 2017 with an eye to accreditation by 2020. It appears that nothing at all has been done about this since then.

It may be tempting to consider this a problem not experienced in our leafy, progressive climes, but Lancaster is by no means immune to racial harassment and discrimination. Take 2018, which brought us the Snow Sports Society white t-shirt scandal and controversial suspension of the black BME Officer who went to the press with details (see subtext 183), instances of swastikas daubed on office doors (see subtext 166) and the charming emergence of a fascist student society that disrupted lectures both public (see subtext 173) and academic (see subtext 176).

The HE environment can be at best negligent, and at worst actively hostile, for black academics and students. Recently the hashtag #BlackInTheIvory has been used on Twitter and other platforms by black academics and students from around the world to highlight the many, many different forms of discrimination and abuse they have encountered at universities. And this is where we return to the University’s virtue signalling versus a lack of concrete action and commitment to real change: there is no point putting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on social media, if the University’s actions suggest that they don’t, when it counts.

***

OPEN LETTER TO THE VC

Dear Andy Schofield,

We hope you are well and settling into the new role at Lancaster. A turbulent time to start.

We are writing regarding your inclusivity statement of 12 June. From the Lancaster University Race Equality Network’s (https://www.luren.org.uk) perspective, it was certainly good to hear of the University’s abhorrence of racism from the top. It was equally important to hear an acknowledgement of the dearth of activity thus far in attempting to address race equality at Lancaster. In the current moment this lack of action appears ever more stark.

Your statement referred to admissions criteria and representation in the Lancaster community, both key, yet the shocking race pay and attainment gaps also require attention. What was notably absent from your statement was any reference to decolonising Lancaster curricula. Unfortunately you are not alone in your reluctance (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/11/only-fifth-of-uk-universities-have-said-they-will-decolonise-curriculum). Yet decolonising work, including both specifically addressing curricula and more systematically interrogating and modifying practices in relation to student/staff recruitment, engagement, retention and attainment, has long been considered central to addressing race equality at all levels of education. Such work is currently being carried out by staff and students at Lancaster without Senior Management support, financial or otherwise.

If as you say you are committed to listening and learning, we hope you will take some time to listen to students from Lancaster University’s Why Is My Curriculum White? campaign, speaking at Decolonise UoK – Stories of Unbelonging (https://youtu.be/irkeT2aalIE), an event run by the University of Kent in March this year. These are our students’ lived experiences. They need to be heard.

We note also your commitment to seeing the University sign up to the Race Equality Charter, ‘and all that this entails’ by which, we presume, you refer to applying for Bronze Accreditation within 3 years of becoming a member. Having been promised this before in the EDI Strategic Vision 2020 (https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/edi/strategic-vision-2020/) you will forgive us if we do not wait with bated breath. LUREN understands that a feasibility study is currently ongoing to identify whether the University can fulfil its commitment to race equality without becoming a member. LUREN is clear that REC membership and accreditation by 2025 is vital if Lancaster is to fulfil its commitments to race equality, and concrete move in the right direction would be the establishment of a Self-Assessment Team and the appointment of a dedicated member of staff with relevant experience.

Race, as a protected characteristic, has long been ignored at Lancaster University, and our attempts to engage Senior Management in the experiences of staff and students from diverse ethnic backgrounds has fallen on deaf ears. But the public consciousness is shifting: Black Lives Matter. Prioritising the education, experience and wellbeing of staff and students is long overdue, but right now institutions, particularly HE institutions, are coming under the microscope. Empty words of commitment are considered simply insufficient (https://twitter.com/divanificent/status/1267746578615480323?s=20). What is required right now is action. We have attached the report by Sofia Akel (https://tinyurl.com/yc6zbocd) from 2018 outlining the situation at Lancaster specifically alongside recommendations. The REC, too, comes with an inbuilt set of requirements and recommendations. As David Lammy so eloquently put it on Radio 4 yesterday (https://tinyurl.com/ya3xtchp), instead of another review commission (or in Lancaster’s case a feasibility study) – implement them.

We wrote to Maria [Piacentini] regarding the suitability of a donation by the University to the Black Cultural Archives (https://blackculturalarchives.org), but have not heard anything further. This would be a good first step in demonstrating the University’s ‘commitment’ to race equality to your staff and students.

We are hopeful that your leadership represents a fresh start to race equality work at Lancaster University. We are tired, and angry, and disappointed. But we are also hopeful. We have every confidence that you will fulfil your responsibility to initiate action, given the broader mainstream narratives of racism in the UK right now. Lancaster has a dubious history of slave trading (https://tinyurl.com/y83n7wqt) but our past does not have to reflect our future. The University has the potential to become a leading light in HEI race equality. We hope that you will see fit to make it happen.

We look forward to hearing from you.

The LU Race Equality Network

If any subtext readers would like to be added to the LUREN mailing list, please contact m.barty-taylor@lancs.ac.uk

subtext Wants You

Having recently produced an heir, one of the subtext collective will soon be taking some much-deserved parental leave. We wish them the very best with their little sub-editor, but this does leave us with very few (named) editors during a time of high drama in both the HE world and beyond.

We consider subtext, along with fresh-faced contemporaries like subtext and historical antecedents like subtext, to be maintaining a historic but important link to a rosier, more irreverent time in academia; a time when the relationship between academics and management was more ‘critical friendship’ and less ‘commercial in confidence’.

At its peak in May 2006 our little band of troublemakers numbered ten and we find that snark, like misery, loves company. We are asking for more of you lovely readers, contributors, letter-writers and detractors to join us!

You will:

  • have as keen an eye for institutional malfeasance and dodgy double-dealing as you do for correct punctuation and tpyos;
  • be interested in holding the University management, Students’ Union and institutions of power in general to account, despite their best efforts to avoid it; and
  • have a sense of humour.

Hours flexible. Pay nil. Politics negotiable.

subtext is a Diamond Open Access publication and you can choose whether you wish to be credited or anonymous. Though our primary audience is Lancaster University staff, our readership of tens/hundreds/thousands/millions includes alumni, emeriti, students and locals and we welcome applications from all of these groups.

If you’re interested, or would just like to know more, drop us an email at subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk and we’ll be in touch.

Asynchronicity

Understand blended learning yet? Where are you on the big ‘Teams vs Panopto’ debate? And how many times have you used the phrase ‘asynchronous learning event’ in the last two months? subtext‘s correspondent has tried to navigate the maze of buzzwords, so you don’t have to.

While the May 2020 paper Academic Delivery in 2020/21 and Beyond, produced by the ‘Bronze Assessment & Teaching Team’, offers the vision of a University switching, maybe several times in one term, between ‘multiple operating modes’, the June 2020 document Minimum Expectations for Teaching Events 20/21, signed off by Prof Maria Piacentini, makes it clear that, as far as our planners are concerned, we should focus on an all-online academic year.

According to the May paper, there will be three modes: ‘normal operating conditions’ (unlikely, in the first term at least); ‘social distancing imposed’ (which would mean the end of face-to-face lectures, but hopefully keep seminars and tutorials going); and ‘face-to-face teaching suspended’. Assuming that some face-to-face teaching is possible, the highest priority will be given to science labs, with lectures getting lowest priority. Despite the stated need to keep ‘a distinctive Lancaster offering’, staff are being asked to consider how they could ‘streamline their current and future offerings’, noting that ‘opportunities for reducing the number of programmes or modules and sharing of modules across programmes should be actively sought out’.

Given that departments will have been advertising the courses they expect to teach for over a year now and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) takes a tough line when the ‘goods are not as presented in the brochure’, it seems unlikely that many courses could be ‘streamlined’ away, even if this was desired. A short summary of the CMA’s 2015 guidance to universities is available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-providers-short-guide-to-consumer-protection-law

The CMA stresses that, ‘before, or at the latest when, offering a place to a student, you must tell them of any changes since they applied and give pre-contract information which includes course information and costs, information on complaints handling, and any cancellation rights.’ Most of our applicants were offered a place well before COVID-19 hit and the CMA is unlikely to accept ‘but hey, virus!’ as a reason why a key course can no longer be taught.

The June document moves from generalities to a highly specific — teaching staff might say too specific — set of rules. We must develop ‘asynchronous lecture events’, made available ‘no later than the start of the planned lecture’, and even earlier where possible. Live-streaming of lectures is specifically discouraged; the ‘gold standard’ is apparently to split up a lecture into 4 x 15-minute recorded segments. If possible these should be recorded from home; recording from lecture theatres should be avoided where possible. Don’t think we can ignore the timetable, though, as we must also build in ‘synchronous discussion sessions’ at timetabled hours.

As several commentators have already noted, this plan would prohibit lectures being taught, live and online, with recordings made available immediately afterwards; a method which would be the preferred choice of some. Instead, we’re asked to adopt a method which doubles staff lecturing time (once to prepare an ‘asynchronous lecture event’ and once to hold the corresponding ‘synchronous discussion event’). A further issue is that ‘synchronous discussion events’ are supposed to be recorded for students who don’t turn up. Experience suggests it is hard enough to motivate students to speak in seminars even in precedented times; will they be willing to speak if recorded, and what do we do about discussions around sensitive topics?

Speaking of students turning up, apparently ‘any synchronous aspects will likely result in clashes therefore must be recorded.’ Why lecture clashes are likely is not explained. If we can schedule a full programme to (mostly) avoid clashes when we’re all attending in person, why would things get any worse when we’re all connecting via Teams?

Could it be that Lancaster is having problems putting a timetable together with so many staff on furlough? subtext readers have noted that on 5 June, a request went out to those who have offered to volunteer to support needy people on campus asking for help ‘supporting the timetabling process at the University.’ Apparently, ‘the Timetabling team have requested some support in liaising with faculties and departments to identify and understand their needs and feed these back into the Timetabling team for them to process.’ Sounds far more rewarding than delivering food parcels!

If face-to-face teaching is permitted for smaller groups, then ‘seminars’ must be prioritised for face-to-face provision, but no such priority is given to ‘workshops’ in the sciences or the arts. The distinction between a seminar and a workshop isn’t specified, and at this point a trunked mammal walks into the discussion – given we had difficulty scheduling all our seminars into limited numbers of flat rooms when it was okay to squash 25 into a room designed to fit 15, how on earth could we achieve this if restricted by social distancing to 6 or fewer per room? And, given that halving the numbers in each seminar would mean doubling the number of seminar teaching hours, who is going to be teaching these sessions?

For the arts, the prescribed solution is to get students doing their practicals at home: ‘departments may seek to enable the use of domestic internal and external spaces by individual students in which case appropriate consideration must be given to H&S and EDI issues.’ The idea of clusters of Theatre Studies students all practising out on County Square does have a certain beauty to it, although probably less so when faced with Lancaster’s usual winter weather.

Neither of the documents discuss the likely number of students who will actually be living on campus, because of course no one knows, but we’re reassured that we’ll still be offering ‘a college-based campus learning environment’. We can only hope that most of our students turn up in person, given that if they don’t, our much-publicised cash flow problems may go from being serious to critical. Fingers crossed.

Cancel the Rent

A contributed report from your socially distanced subtext correspondent

Student members of ACORN, the tenants and community union, put up a banner saying cancel the rent above the University underpass, and cancel the rent and housing is health posters onto white boards across campus on Monday 25 May, as part of the current student rent strike on campus. In order to comply with lockdown regulations, the exercise involved a very small number of activists who live in campus accommodation and it lasted only c. 40 minutes. Physical distancing was adhered to at all times.

Students involved in the exercise said that there are currently c. 200 students still on rent strike over unfair rent claims made by the University. Many students are stuck on campus due to the lockdown; this affects international students in particular. The University had not yet shown its willingness to negotiate with the students, who made their demands several weeks ago. The students stuck on campus still have to pay the full rent despite many services not being provided, and those who, due to the lockdown rules, had to leave belongings in their abandoned rooms still have to pay 25%.

The students involved in the banner action said that they now struggle with the supply of basic essentials on campus, especially a scarcity of fresh fruit and vegetables. They have had to rely on the heavily overpriced campus Spar and campus central markets, which they say have only a very limited supply of everyday essentials. Fruit and vegetables currently sold in the shops on campus are limited and often near their expiry date. They are also overpriced, compared to the prices for the same items in grocery shops in town. The students also lamented that due to the COVID-19 lockdown, cleaning doesn’t take place in their halls, yet they are still asked to pay for it.

The students reported that it feels strange and somewhat eerie to live on an almost deserted campus.

The Liddle of Nowhere

Vale, Lord Liddle. LU Text reported on 12 June that, after seven years in post, our Pro-Chancellor will not be seeking reappointment when his term of office ends later this year (he’s due to step down on 31 July) and the University is now searching for ‘an exceptional individual’ to succeed him. Any subtext readers interested in applying can visit the pages of Odgers Berndtson, ‘one of the world’s pre-eminent executive search consultancies’, and read the glossy 16-page candidate brief, dated 20 April 2020:

https://www.odgersberndtson.com/en-gb/opportunities#AssignDetail.aspx?guid=76756

Back in April 2018, when Lord Liddle was reaching the end of his first five-year term of office, subtext 176 noted that his term of office had surprisingly been renewed for just two years, rather than the customary five. ‘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?’ we wondered. Well, it would seem not, as Baroness Neville-Jones will chair the Pro-Chancellor Search Committee.

Alongside a long list of all the campus capital projects that now aren’t going to happen, the candidate brief gives an insight into what ‘success’ means, as far as our Council members are concerned. The pitch from Baroness Neville-Jones announces that ‘success has included being the first UK university with a campus in West Africa, in Ghana; being at the forefront of rising to the challenges of EU exit through establishing a new campus in Leipzig, Germany, and developing the ground-breaking UA92 partnership in our own region.’ Who wouldn’t want to be the Chair of the Board that approved those decisions?

The brief trumpets our ‘financial strength’, and in particular that on 31 July 2019, we were ‘rated as AA- by Standard and Poor’s’, but fails to mention that this rating was downgraded from AA- to A+ on 20 September 2019. S&P noted on 16 January 2020 that, following this downgrade, ‘the UK has the majority of “A” category rated public universities [i.e. not as strong as the “AA” category] outside the US’:

https://www.spglobal.com/ratings/en/research/articles/200116-global-not-for-profit-higher-education-2020-outlook-despite-some-silver-linings-the-sector-continues-to-str-11292013

And what’s this we read about the term of office for the successful candidate? ‘The Pro-Chancellor may hold the office for up to two terms of three years with the approval of the Council. It also requires approval by the Office for Students.’ This would explain why Lord Liddle isn’t standing again. But, hang on, according to the version of the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances currently up on the University website, last updated on 30 March 2020, Ordinance 10.2 states that the Pro-Chancellor’s term of office ‘shall be for up to five years, renewable for one further period of up to five years.’ Is this version of Ordinance 10.2 out of date? Or are we advertising a term of office that conflicts with our own ordinances? Answers on the back of a postcard, please.

Communication Breakdown

News reaches subtext that when we finally return to campus, we are likely to find our desk phones removed. A news item has very quietly appeared on the LU Answers website:

https://answers.lancaster.ac.uk/display/ISS/Make+and+receive+calls

‘Over summer’, we’re told, ‘the University is modernising the way colleagues make and receive calls. This is due to significant changes in our working practices that have come about as a result of COVID-19 with staff working from home for the foreseeable future, alongside a decrease in the use of desk phones by many colleagues prior to this situation. These changes also help support the university’s finances by reducing the cost of phone systems.’ This process will start before the end of June.

Reportedly the university’s current contract with Cisco, the providers of our desk phones, is coming to an end, and ISS has decided not to renew it. Heads of Department have been informed — rather than consulted — about this. In future, internal calls will be made using Microsoft Teams, while for external calls we will need to use ‘Jabber’, whatever that is. Your desk phone will be removed and your external phone extension number will disappear, unless you can come up with a reason to keep either of these; ‘I want to phone someone’ is unlikely to succeed as a gambit.

But what if, heaven forbid, an external organisation might actually want to pick up the phone and call me? Fear not, because ’emergency and departmental phones will be unaffected.’ Why not just replace the entire network with a single BT payphone in each porters’ lodge, and have done with it?

Nuttall Officers

Contributed article by Ronnie Rowlands

Back in those heady, wistful days of February 2020, subtext reported that the students’ union (LUSU) had passed a drastic restructure of its executive officer team without adequate consultation.

LUSU’s reorganisation continues apace, with the sacking of President George Nuttall and the resignation of Vice-President (Welfare & Community) Grishma Bijukumar in April. This follows the departure of Vice-President (Union Development) Hannah Prydderch and Vice-President (Activities) Ben Evans, who both resigned earlier in the academic year, citing a ‘toxic workplace culture’ as the primary reason.

LUSU sabbatical officers skedaddling before their time is a rare, but not unheard of, thing. Throughout its history, LUSU has seen a handful of officer-elects failing their exams and therefore being ineligible to take office. Then there was the guy who won, then immediately resigned in horror upon learning who the other winners were. One officer elect was arrested for assault and barred from taking up office, his insistence that he could adequately execute his duties from a jail cell not quite cutting it with the powers that be.

But LUSU has never found itself down four officers. Just what the bloody hell went wrong?

Throughout his election campaign in 2019, George Nuttall was exalted by the snarky student social media as the saviour of the student voice, which had been sorely lacking since LUSU jettisoned most of its accountability structures in 2015 (subtexts passim). He had a history of activism (well, of giving off the impression that he did…) and, having served on the JCR Executive of the County College, was an obvious choice.

Having barely got its legs under the table, the Nuttall Ministry was immediately beset by the decision of LUSU’s Trustee Board to close the Sugarhouse, swayed to a majority by the vote of one sabbatical officer. A series of tactical (but not particularly subtle) leaks led to the very public outing and larruping of Vice-President (Activities) Ben Evans, who resigned shortly thereafter citing a toxic bullying culture within the officer team.

But still, the Sugarhouse was saved, and the Nuttall Ministry rode the wave of good PR as a substitute for doing much else. In February 2020, Nuttall was re-elected in an unopposed contest. Moments after his re-election, Vice-President (Union Development) Hannah Prydderch resigned.

Her resignation did not follow a surreptitious smear campaign. She left suddenly, citing bullying among the executive officer team as the reason, its concurrence with Nuttall’s re-election open to one very stark interpretation.

LUSU, which was spinning its tyres in the mud and failing to implement any of the policies that were passed at its general meeting in November, limped along.

*

On May 1, LUSU released the following statement:

‘George Nuttall was dismissed from office today following an independent investigation into complaints received by the Union […] Following a hearing, it was decided that […] Mr Nuttall should be dismissed from his post with immediate effect.’

At no point in LUSU’s history has a President been dismissed, either by the Trustee Board, or following a vote of no confidence. An army of sycophants, many of whom are friends with Nuttall on Facebook, immediately took to social media to decry LUSU’s senior management for turfing out ‘the most popular President in institutional memory’.

‘This is what happens when you try to stand up to Uni management – you’re destroyed’ thundered one unhappy student. The verdict of the Facebook Friends of Democracy was that a Good Man had been ousted for ruffling too many feathers.

This just doesn’t ring true.

Your author is proud to have served as a Vice-President of LUSU in 2014-15, and to have been a notoriously obstructive arsepain during his entire time at Lancaster.

Yes, it is true that the journeymen at LUSU’s top table would prefer a supine officer team and a quiet life. Nevertheless, my team and I: picketed open days; plastered campus with photoshopped posters of the Vice-Chancellor; occupied University House; and routinely showed up university management in front of its stakeholders. Yet we were never sacked.

Hell! My President, Laura Clayson, was the most notorious megaphone militant leftie of her era. She went on to be tried for terror-related charges in the Stansted 15 case, and you’re seriously telling me that this guy was subjected to a calculated whitewash for putting his name to a few terse open letters to D-Floor?

Give me a break.

* 

Irrespective of the choreographed outcry, LUSU is an employer, bound by employment law. If a thorough investigation into a complaint is undertaken and that complaint is substantiated, then any organisation worth its salt will follow its HR policy. It seldom ends well for organisations which choose to cover up complaints and protect their figureheads.

There were demands for the nature of the complaints to be made public, but anybody with the brains of a centipede knows that such a move would compromise the anonymity of complainants. Given the way in which the choreographed sycophants have already publicly shamed LUSU officers and Trustee Board members this year, it is easy to see why LUSU might want to protect the complainants.

Some of the choreographed sycophants suggested that Nuttall should have been subjected to a motion of no confidence, to afford the students an opportunity to democratically remove their President.

I harbour some support for this idea. What a pity, then, that a motion of no confidence in George Nuttall, lodged by a student via the LUSU website in March, was summarily withdrawn due to unspecified ‘legal reasons’! Oddly, the Facebook Friends of Democracy had little to say about this.

Then there’s the suggestion that Nuttall is ‘the most popular President in institutional memory’. I would be interested to know what metric was used to make that claim. Whilst it is true that Nuttall was re-elected to the Presidency with ‘70% of the vote’, this isn’t particularly difficult when you’re the only candidate running. Even then, 70% is low for an uncontested election! For most people on campus, the ‘institutional memory’ only stretches back for about three years.

Nuttall does not fare nearly as well in your author’s ‘institutional memory’, which stretches back a decade. In the context of ten years, and using the same metric, Nuttall’s popularity is historically low. There have been three other uncontested sabbatical elections in the last decade – one victor was returned with 83% of the vote, one with 79%, and one with 82%. Furthermore, Nuttall’s re-election campaign attracted 552 votes to Re-Open Nominations, the highest vote share for RON in any sabbatical contest for at least ten years.

Had I the time or inclination, I’d go back further, but this isn’t about sticking the boot into someone while they’re down. It’s about believing people who have been victimised.

I was utterly horrified to see the scorn, deflection, and denial from an organised army of sycophants on social media, their blind rabidity dwarfing the sparse voices of concern for the victims of bullying. The University of Lancaster has been beset by a culture of bullying this year, and it is disheartening to see that culture running so rampantly through LUSU; ostensibly the ‘Good Guys’; its victims dismissed by a court of public opinion that should know better.

Last year, I didn’t envy Nuttall the mess he had to clear up. This year, I do not envy our President-elect the task of lifting LUSU out of the ditch that Nuttall has left it in.

Da Don’t Run RON

So, you may be asking, who won the by-election for Students’ Union President 2020–21 triggered by Mr Nuttall’s removal? The results were announced on 13 June and, um, it’s complicated! We know, thanks to the results page that 1443 valid votes were cast (only a 9% turnout), together with 5 spoilt ballots:

https://lancastersu.co.uk/articles/election-results-announced-8a4d

After that, it all gets a bit murky, courtesy of RON (Re-Open Nominations) and its controversial last-minute disqualification.

Voting for RON is, as the name suggests, a vote to void the current election and start again. The system is the alternative vote (preference voting) and RON behaves like any other candidate, so it’s possible to rank your ballot 1st preference Candidate 1, 2nd preference RON, and 3rd preference Candidate 2, for example. Usually, RON is last on first preferences, so is eliminated first. But not this year…

…because a variety of ‘RON campaigns’, both official and unofficial, were actively campaigning. It’s difficult to know how well they did because, seemingly only once polls had closed, the Returning Officer declared that RON had been disqualified due to ‘multiple breaches of the rules outside the spirit of a fair and open election’. The count proceeded anyway, having excluded all preferences for RON, and Oliver Robinson, currently a city councillor for the campus, was declared President-elect after 6 stages of votes. Congratulations to Oliver. Probably.

Would RON have won? The count sheet (showing the figures once RON had been excluded) is available, and shows that 181 of the 1,443 valid first preference votes were classed as ‘non-transferrable’ (sic) at the first stage of the count. You do not usually get non-transferable papers at stage 1, because if a paper is just cast blank, it counts as spoilt, so subtext’s elections guru suspects that these were the people who cast their first preference for RON, and indicated no second preference. But any votes that showed a first preference for RON and a second preference for another candidate (which is not uncommon) would, presumably, have just been added to that candidate’s pile.

The final result, at stage 6, showed that Oliver Robinson beat Joe Fundrey by 503 votes to 472, with 468 non-transferable papers – these being the 181 from stage 1 plus a further 287 papers which didn’t mention Robinson or Fundrey at all. If a significant number of these 287 papers did mention RON somewhere, then it’s quite possible that the final result would have been different.

Will the Returning Officer release the ‘what if…’ figures? And how can you disqualify a non-candidate, designed to give students a choice, because of the actions of its supporters? We await further details with interest.

PANDEMIC REVIEW: COVID-19

Deadly dull and goes on far too long. 2/5

Letters

Dear subtext,
subtext 193 published a piece of widely-believed, but inaccurate, Lancastrian electoral trivia – that the 8 December 2016 University and Scotforth Rural by-election had the lowest turnout of any British election, at 7.12%. I understand the current record-holder to actually be the former Melrose ward, Liverpool City Council, in which at a 11 December 1997 by-election, only 6.3% of eligible voters cast a ballot. Where the 2016 by-election may well be a record-holder, however, is in returning a candidate with just 98 votes, as I doubt any other candidate has ever been elected with fewer votes.
Yours,
Cllr Jack O’Dwyer-Henry

subtext 193 – ‘stay home and read subtext’

Every so often during term time (and sometimes slightly later).
Letters, contributions, & comments: subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk
Back issues & subscription details: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/about/
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EDITORIAL
That UCU strike seems a long time ago now, doesn’t it?
As Lancaster’s staff and students adjust to a new working life involving ‘daily exercise’, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and all manner of ‘virtual learning platforms’, subtext reflects on two weeks we should have probably all seen coming, but which most of us didn’t.
For those on campus during Week 20, the atmosphere was strangely peaceful; hardly anyone around, bars and shops gradually choosing to close, and nothing but the almost-daily updates from ‘Lancaster Internal Communications’ to remind us that things were, in the wider world, definitely not getting any better.
Incidentally, subtext would be interested to know why the Vice-Chancellor has chosen to colour the ‘Lancaster University’ header at the top of his COVID-19 updates in Management School Teal, rather than the usual Lancashire Red. Is he trying to create an artificial divide between his usual chummy ‘we’re all in this together’ persona and his new, necessarily terrifying ‘vacate your offices by Monday’ persona? Every time we see that flash of green at the top of an email, we know the news is bad. The consequences could be severe – subtext has visions of groups of staff in years to come experiencing flashbacks and panic attacks every time they pass LUMS and catch sight of that oppressive shade of green.
The UCU disputes on pensions, pay and conditions continue, of course, with not a lot changed after 14 days of further strike action – except the election of a new UCU National Executive Committee that will be far more to General Secretary Jo Grady’s liking than the outgoing one. Relations locally between unions and management remain strained. Unlike several universities, including Birkbeck, King’s College London and St Andrews, which have indefinitely deferred all strike deductions in the light of the coronavirus crisis, Lancaster seems unusually keen to punish its staff as rapidly as possible, with many staff due to see a full 14 days’ worth of pay deducted from their March salary payments. Most Heads of Department seem to have been happy, under orders from HR, to ask staff to declare their strike days as soon as possible. Could the University be jittery about its financial position? This week’s announcement of a freeze on all external recruitment (see our article in this issue) suggests that they may be.
As we go to press, news has reached the subtext warehouse that the University now wants all staff to report their COVID-19 status. In an email to staff, Director of HR Paul Boustead claims that they ‘require this information to enable the University to meet its reporting requirements and respond to requests from [the] Office for Students, government and emergency services.’ While it is clear the University has a role to play in flattening the curve, and in some respects has been ahead of the government in this regard, asking all staff to disclose specific details about their health seems like a clear case of institutional overreach. Readers can of course make their own decision about whether to comply with this request, or reply to Paul Boustead with a frank indication of their views.
There will no doubt be a lot to think about in the coming months. As we prepare for a term, or perhaps longer, of remote working, subtext hopes to be there to cover the serious stories and, hopefully, provide a bit of light relief. Stories, reviews and letters are more welcome than ever – send them to the usual email address.