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?
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.
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!
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)
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’
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!