Tag Archives: Issue 190

subtext 190 – ‘get subtext done’

Every so often during term time.
Letters, contributions, & comments: subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk
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Anyone walking up the Spine on Monday at around 6pm would have seen hundreds of students queueing to enter the Great Hall. A jobs fair? Yet another 6pm lecture? No. In a heartwarming display of activism, they were queueing to enter the Annual General Meeting of Lancaster University Students’ Union – an event that in recent years has seen just a few dozen diehards attending.
Let this put the lie to the notion that students are chronically apathetic. Nark them off enough and they will punish you for it. The spark for the nark this time was the proposed closure of a much-loved nightclub, and it is our hope that these students, having now experienced an intoxicating taste of activism, will develop their impulses in directions more socially rewarding than maintaining their access to 3-for-£5 VKs – perhaps the re-democratisation of their own Students’ Union, or this climate lark that everyone seems to be banging on about.
Speaking of democracy in action, as we go to press the news of the recent UCU ballot on industrial action over pay and pensions reaches the subtext warehouse. Lancaster is one of the 55 (for the pay dispute) and 43 (for pensions) institutions to both vote in favour of action and reach the 50% threshold. Expect more picket discos in the near future.

By the way, has anyone noticed that it’s now 1 November 2019 and we’re still in the European Union?


Contributed articles by Ronnie Rowlands
When we covered the Students’ Union officer elections for the 19/20 academic year, your subtext correspondents observed that the new crop of officers ought to make short work of becoming popular. LUSU had been awash with scandal (sometimes justifiable, sometimes not), including the cancellation of Grad Ball, the Snowsports white t-shirt social and the initial decision (rapidly reversed) to officially recognise a society for literal, self-avowed fascists. The combustible elements lit up into a conflagration when a visceral outpouring of rage followed the decision to strip student radio station, Bailrigg FM, of its FM license and reduce its funding. The officers-elect were quick to promise that they would reverse this decision if the then-current officers did not. The decision was reversed before they took office, and all that the new officers – George Nuttall, Grishma Bijukumar, Ben Evans, Lewis Marriott, Bee Morgan and Hannah Prydderch – had to do to elicit a huge voter turnout was to promise to Make LUSU Not Sh*t Again. President Nuttall was already being exalted by Lancaster’s unofficial social media ‘sh*tposting’ pages as the bringer of a shiny new dawn.
Then LUSU announced that its Trustee Board had voted to close and sell the Sugarhouse.
It didn’t take long for the Full Time Officers to distance themselves from the announcement. Some not particularly well-disguised leaks left the student body under no illusion as to who was responsible – the non-student Trustees, plus one ‘rebel’ Full Time Officer whose decisive vote swayed the decision. This Full Time Officer has subsequently found himself ‘un-personed’ by his fellow officers, reviled by a student body that is seeking to remove him from office and doorstepped in the LUSU building by the student media’s TV cameras.
The students weren’t going to let the Sugarhouse go without a fight. And why would they? The Sugarhouse has remained a staple of Lancaster’s dwindling nightlife and enjoys both good and bad financial years. Perhaps more importantly, the Sugarhouse is regarded as a ‘safe night out’ by students, and there should surely be a space for student-led venues to accommodate the cultural, racial, and sexual diversity among our student population.
The wise decision to call a general meeting was taken, and a ‘Save Our Sugarhouse’ motion was duly proposed… along with a pile of others, on issues ranging from affordable housing to climate change.
Yes, seizing the opportunity to bellow at the union officers in front of a huge audience, a group of Labour students set about foisting a comprehensive campaigning agenda on them. The executive couldn’t rely on the meeting becoming inquorate to jettison the motions – with proxy voting now allowed, hundreds of students were able to make their decision before the meeting, arguably making any debate pointless since the motions were already decided.
Nor could the executive hope to run down the clock or suggest that the motions should be considered in a different forum – procedural motion after procedural motion was passed, and the meeting was repeatedly extended, while motions were moved straight to a vote. Those who stayed it out, delighted that they could finally actually mandate their representatives to do something – anything! – duly voted for every single motion.
It will come as no surprise to learn that the motions to save Sugarhouse were passed. The five LUSU Officers who showed up took the opportunity to stress that they personally had voted AGAINST the closure and sale of the Sugarhouse, in a ‘People vs Parliament’ style move that deflected the anger onto the rest of the Trustee Board.
All in all, the student body finally got to vent some steam, and the groundswell of resentment that has built up over several years may have softened for a while. Whether this was the start of some real steps towards a re-democratised students’ union – which could have prevented some real catastrophes over the last couple of years – or that’s your lot for the next five years, it was heartening to see that the volcano of student anger and rebellion is still active.
subtext kept a watchful eye on the gutting of LUSU’s accountability structures in 2015. We predicted at the time that culling most of the officers and dissolving the Union Council – which met fortnightly and could be attended by any student (although policy could only be voted on by officers) – and replacing it with unaccountable ‘Student Juries’ would lead to the very vacuum of accountability and engagement that has led to some of LUSU’s more questionable recent decisions.
The Union Council was a great body. It met fortnightly and was comprised of all of the Full Time Officers, all of the College Presidents and Vice-Presidents, all of the Faculty Reps and all of the Part-Time Officers. The membership had the power to propose and vote on policy, but crucially, ALL students could attend and ask questions. At each meeting, the Full Time Officers were required to deliver information and take questions, meaning that they could not escape direct scrutiny in the public eye. The whole point of Union Council was for officers to consult with their respective ‘juniors’ (the Faculty Reps with their Academic Reps, the International Officers with international students and JCR reps, you get the picture…), and to propose and vote on policy with their views in mind. Sadly, the Council became infested with grandstanders who wanted to hold inward-looking discussions about tedious personal grudges and constitutional minutiae. This in turn became ammunition for an executive, who couldn’t be bothered to undergo scrutiny and face the public, to lobby for its abolition.

Look at the situation LUSU is in now. Can anybody name the last time that the ‘Student Jury’ sat? Do people remember when LUSU introduced a ‘scrutiny panel’, which involved Full Time Officers appointing people to write reports about them that were then buried on the LUSU website? A fortnightly public meeting with the minutes released in a timely way was an ample means of keeping the paranoid headbangers at bay. If anybody said that LUSU was unaccountable, officers could just say ‘we’ve got LUSU Council. Why don’t you show up?’ With no LUSU Council, a Student Jury and a scrutiny panel that never meets, and an Executive committee that doesn’t release its minutes, LUSU’s pressure valves of old are gone. If LUSU wants to return to transparency in any lasting way, it would do wise to reinstate the structures that were so needlessly abolished in 2016.


Everything was supposed to be sorted. UK students accepted to Lancaster through Clearing had not been allocated on-campus accommodation this year, but they needn’t worry – plenty of ‘Lancaster University Approved Off-Campus Accommodation for First Year Students’ would be available, all of it ‘Lancaster University Homes APPROVED’. The glossy leaflet set out three recommended choices: 1 to 3 Cable Street (built and in use, run by The Student Housing Company); St Leonard’s House (refurb of an existing building, run by Homes for Students); and Caton Court, between Back Caton Road and Bulk Road (a new build, run by Aparto). The first two options were occupied without a hitch, but Caton Court? Ah.
According to the leaflet handed out to applicants attending Clearing open days, Caton Court would offer a mix of 10-bed townhouses and flats with en suite rooms, starting from £120 and rising to £150 per week. The artist’s impressions looked attractive and there’d be on-site support, a gym, a sky lounge and a cinema space. Everyone was confident it would be completed on time.
Of course, it wasn’t. Come the start of term, we understand that those destined for the top two floors were required to stay in hotels for Welcome Week before finally being able to occupy their rooms, and the block as a whole resembled a building site. Flyers were handed out on the Spine, noting ‘power cuts’, ‘laundry not open’, ‘frequent false fire alarms’, ‘unmarked fire escapes’, ‘leaking windows’, ‘broken tables’, ‘broken kettles’ and ‘microwaves in place of ovens’. All this, the (anonymous) flyer noted, was ‘proudly advertised by Lancaster University Students’ Union’.
The city councillors for the University were quickly on the case, detailing residents’ complaints in excruciating detail through a press release, complete with pictures of holes in ceilings, traffic cones blocking access to non-functioning lifts, and a fire curtain with ‘a hole cut through it to enable residents to escape if it is lowered again’:
The ‘Living’ office on campus, whose sign had been advertising that it worked in partnership with Aparto, has now covered up the Aparto logo with a sheet of red plastic. Caton Court was one of many subjects discussed at this week’s Students’ Union AGM, with one of the successful motions noting that LUSU Living ‘had a lucrative agreement (until its suspension on 17 October) to advertise Caton Court, an Aparto property, which has had serious concerns around its fitness for habitation. Aparto is a trading name for Hines, a US property giant.’
It would be very easy indeed to load the blame onto Aparto and their contractors the Eric Wright Group, but in their defence – delays happen, and these are often unforeseen. The staff working for Aparto (locally, at least) are working hard to solve their students’ problems. Any new build is going to resemble a building site for weeks, or even months, after it initially opens, and there will always be ‘snagging’ issues. Things now seem to be settling down.

If subtext were advising a disgruntled Caton Court resident, we might suggest they direct their annoyance instead at the University which promised them luxury accommodation in Caton Court, without mentioning anywhere on its publicity that at the time of printing, Caton Court didn’t actually exist.


After all the hype, UA92 is now open and teaching inside a refurbished Kellogg’s cereal factory in Stretford, where we hope the students are all having a ‘grrreat!’ time.
The staff-student ratio is certainly looking impressive – almost Oxbridge-like – although this seems to owe more to the under-recruitment of students rather than the generous recruitment of staff. The subtext drones have picked up the number ’64’ on several occasions, which seems borne out by stories in the press such as ‘Ex-Manchester Utd stars’ university shunned by students after only recruiting 64 — despite promising 650 places’ in the S*n on 27 September. Due to such low numbers, very few teaching staff have been directly employed by UA92 – ‘maybe 8 or 9’, we hear.
During August and September, UA92 was aggressively marketing itself to students who found themselves in Clearing. How tricky was it to get in via that route? Prospective students needed the equivalent of three ‘D’s at A Level to get on to one of UA92’s degree schemes, whilst if they didn’t quite have those grades, they could still enrol for a 1-year Certificate of HE (with the possibility to switch onto the degree scheme later) with the equivalent of three ‘E’s.
Despite these worrying figures, it *is* possible to start a UA92 degree in November or January, so we may yet see the student numbers creep up. The links with Trafford College seem to be yielding a decent trickle of applicants, and UA92’s publicity – which if we’re honest is starting to grow on us – is emphasising how students can combine study at UA92 with work and caring responsibilities. And, hey, what’s not to like about being on a degree scheme with (very) small class sizes and a (very) spacious refurbished building?

Anecdotes from any current UA92 students or staff on ‘how it’s all going’ would be much appreciated.


How much would you charge for an official portrait? As part of Mark E. Smith’s leaving celebrations the University commissioned, as is standard practice, an official portrait of our former leader. The painting by Nathalie Beauvillain Scott can be viewed on the staff intranet, alongside a link to a ‘goodbye’ interview by Lancaster’s Honorary Archivist Marion McClintock, at:
Scott has regularly been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the BP Portrait Awards:
One of subtext’s readers was intrigued, and submitted an FOI request – ‘Please can you disclose how much the portrait of Prof Mark Smith, published on the 19th of September, cost the University?’ The University’s response: ‘The total cost of the portrait including the framing was £12,910.’
Is this excessive? According to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ website, fees for a portrait can be ‘substantial’, rising to £100,000, but equally ‘their starting point can be less than £2,000.’

In these times of austerity and Professional Services recruitment freezes, subtext readers may wonder whether next time, given the world-class talents of our Fine Art students, we might considering enlisting their services instead. Or maybe one of our readers would be interested? If you’d like to have a go at painting an enduring image of MES, we’ll happily publish it on our Facebook page for free.


Our former Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s tenure as Principal of Dundee University continues to go from strength to strength. The following appeared in The Herald on 30 October 2019:
According to a Dundee spokesperson, ‘Professor Atherton, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, was suspended from office on September 13, pending an investigation which remains to be completed. That process includes an investigation carried out by someone external to the University.’ There will be no further comment from Dundee until the investigation is over.
According to The Courier on 31 October 2019, this could relate to unpaid rent:

The Courier understands that, ‘Professor Atherton, 53, had been staying at University House on Perth Road but had refused to pay the full amount of rent due on the property.’


Lancaster’s new intellectual property (IP) policy has been unveiled, effective from 1 August 2019:
Well done to Research & Enterprise Services, who have put in a lot of work to create a policy and webpage that looks very helpful for staff. Some students may not be so happy, though.
As a reminder, here’s a rough primer on IP law: when an employee creates something in the course of their employment, the thing is the intellectual property of their employer (benevolent employers may, of course, seek to share the benefits). When a student creates something in the course of their studies, the thing is the intellectual property of the student (and they decide whether to share the benefits). Attempts in the 90s to require Lancaster students to sign their IP rights over at registration led to loud and vocal protests – and a climbdown by management.
Our new policy agrees that students own what they create, but some of the ‘circumstances where the University will require the student to assign their IP’ should be raising eyebrows. In particular, we now require research students to sign over their IP rights if they have ‘received significant financial support from the University (for example stipend or fee waiver) to undertake the research.’ For the avoidance of doubt, ‘this does not include any hardship or widening participation financial support.’ Readers may wonder whether this would stand up in court, unless the University is now claiming that university-funded research students should be classed as staff – in which case surely they should be granted employment protection and pension rights?
Similarly, any student who ‘builds upon existing IP generated by University staff’ or ‘participates in a research project funded by the University’ is required to sign over their IP. This might be acceptable practice for a principal investigator taking on new research associates, but research students are not the same as postdocs.

Lancaster already has a questionable reputation for making some of its funded research students carry out teaching – for no pay and no recognition of employment rights – as a condition of funding. Will be also be known as the place where funded research students are required to sign their intellectual property rights over – again, for no pay and no recognition of employment rights? subtext hopes very much that the PG Board was consulted about this.


Sad news reaches subtext from a retired member of staff. The University has decided to delete his email account, along with the email accounts of many other retired and honorary staff, with effect from the beginning of November. A curtly-worded email from ISS informs those about to lose their accounts that, no, you can’t export your emails, and no, you can’t have your emails forwarded to another address.
subtext has reported on the rather curmudgeonly way Lancaster treats its former staff, particularly when they want to retain access to email or the library, before (see subtext 128). What has prompted the latest cull? Reportedly it’s partly to do with the way Microsoft prices its services. Since the shift to Office365 and other subscription-based services, it’s possible for Microsoft to know exactly how many users are making use of its services, and bill the University accordingly.
What’s more – it’s no longer possible to ‘just have an email account’ at Lancaster these days. Every account carries a cost, because as part of the package you’ll get ‘Apps Anywhere’, the handy package which enables Lancaster account holders to access hundreds of apps, well, anywhere. So to all the extra Office365 licences required for emeritus staff with email you can add dozens of licences for software they probably never use, but they could if they wanted.

One silver lining – we’re assured that it is still possible for retired and honorary staff to retain library access, even without an email account, and it is still possible to access online journals (although you will need to come into the library to view them). So we do still value our former staff – as long as they don’t incur any licence costs.


Everyone who uses Lancaster’s IT systems will have been briefed many times on the much-publicised phishing attack this summer that led to applicants’ data being stolen – for example, see:
For most local users, the changes to IT access since then have been a relatively minor inconvenience, though they’ve caused substantial increases in workload for staff who do still have access to relevant systems and data – basically we can’t all be as functional as we used to be, because we can’t stay secure that way. But for some student societies the problems are more significant – an anonymous correspondent submits the following (content redacted to remove all the swear words):
The uni decided, over the summer, that it’s too much of a data breach hazard for societies to have IT accounts. They decided this… because staff got phished. Clearly, staff getting phished and a data breach happening that way means society IT accounts are a problem. So what do they do? Do they make a sensible choice and enforce regular password changes for society accounts? Enforce more data protection training? Remind societies to be secure?
No, they just decide to nuke society accounts. Nuke ’em entirely. Do they communicate this effectively? No they don’t.
ISS were meant to get all this sorted before term started. Naturally, it wasn’t sorted in time, but for some reason they decided to not allow room bookings to be released to societies. LUSU front desk staff had to rescue societies by doing bookings for them. Any socs who wanted to have their meeting places on their freshers’ week advertising had only from the Monday of freshers’ week to go to LUSU and book rooms.
Otherwise many many societies would have been handing out flyers that said ‘WE’RE THINGY SOC, WE LIKE THE THING… FIND US… SOMEWHERE. WE GUESS.’
On top of this, the nuking of society accounts means that now, the only way to get any room bookings done is via the personal student accounts of any exec who’ve been verified as exec members. They now seemingly have to validate ALL student exec members EVERY YEAR… which will totally happen on time. And then de-validate them whenever execs change hands. Oh, that’ll be great, won’t it?
On top of that, there’s zero policy in place for non-student exec. At all. Not one bit of thought about us. We are a thing. I’m doing an important activity-coordinating role and now I can’t access room bookings or the society’s email inbox at all – not even room bookings viewing access, so I can’t go ‘Hey, President, please book exactly these rooms at exactly these times’, unless I physically use one of them for access. Similarly, I can’t send emails as the society.
Also, society web pages can be hosted on uni servers. Those are tied to the society account. Or were. We were told that ISS wouldn’t pull society accounts until they had a solution to this, and every time we ask anyone about it, they say ‘Oh, the unioncloud page?’ and we say ‘No, the society web page hosted on uni servers, this one’ and show them, and they say ‘Oh I dunno lol’.
This has happened, our correspondent suggests, because someone’s used ‘a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.’

subtext sympathises with our correspondent but also sympathises with ISS, who found themselves all over the press this summer and facing external investigations left, right and centre. We trust that an amicable solution can be found.


Was it a deliberate joke or an unfortunate error that led Lancaster’s facilities homepage to proudly announce: ‘University invests in £11 million four-story extension to the Library’? A pun-spotting reader comments that, while it’s good to see that the library is to increase its book collection, just four more stories seems a little on the low side for an investment of £11 million.


On Friday 20 September Alexandra Square witnessed that nicest of experiences, an officially-sanctioned protest, as upwards of 300 staff and students congregated at 12 noon to show their support for the ‘climate strikes’ being organised by school pupils that day.
Credit is due to Lancaster’s management for allowing its employees to walk out for half an hour, although subtext suspects that whoever wrote the staff guidance failed to appreciate that the greatest demos are the most spontaneous ones. According to the intranet story, ‘Staff to take part in Global Climate Strike,’ dated 13 September 2019, those wanting to take part needed to:
– let your line manager know that you intend to take part between the agreed times;
– consider the impact of this time on your work; and
– discuss the impact of this stoppage with your line manager.
Any plans for group protests or demonstrations were to be dealt with in line with the Code of Conduct on Protests (see subtext 185).

Still, we should celebrate the occasion. Recyclable placards proclaimed that ‘the seas are rising and so are we’ and ‘democracy divided by greed equals environmental destruction’, rousing speeches were made by Emily Heath and Millie Prosser and, as a final flourish, participants got together to form a living, circular map of the world. Your correspondent is not sure whether the end result actually looked like a globe, but the intention was clear regardless. More of this sort of thing, please! Well – obviously we’d prefer it if the world wasn’t threatened with obliteration and no one needed to protest at all, but you get our drift.


Dear subtext,
On the backfilling of Professional Services roles…
Despite knowing the given, valid, reasons why the University felt the need to authorise any backfilling of PS roles and consequently save money, it still seems a bit odd. Effectively, we undertook a PS Review that was supposedly never about cutting staff, but lo and behold, after the outcomes are forgotten, we start losing PS roles.
There was an outcome from the Professional Services Review which highlighted a lack of career progression for PS staff. Shortly afterwards we get the halt on backfilling of professional services roles.
Any roles which were rejected for backfilling are likely to be roles which are lost forever. If the backfill is refused and we manage to limp along with fewer staff, why would they ever be replaced down the line?
The initial communication about the backfill situation specified that this process was for PS staff only. After the initial backlash it was then said that of course it would be affecting academics too, but this would be handled in the departments rather than centrally. So the situation is impacting everyone, they just omitted to mention it in the initial communication. Though, seemingly, the departments do seem to have managed to put through some academic promotions whilst rumours were circling, not much earlier, of them struggling to backfill some of the PS staff maternity cover.
PS staff have always known, due to the nature of their roles, that the University valued them less, but recent communications over the backfill of PS roles made it a little more explicit. This is a strange situation relating only to working in academia. We all know that the University is a good place to work, particularly in the absence of much other local employment, but the effect on morale of ranking the importance of staff based on whether they are an academic or a PS member, regardless of grade, is damaging.
If academic staff decide to go on strike again due to USS pension issues, it might not be well-received by colleagues on grades 1-6. Anyone who needed to cross the picket line during the previous strike ended up late for work as traffic slowed. For some this will have meant a shortened lunch break in order to make up their hours. As much as many would like to support colleagues and empathise with their disappointment at their eroded contracts, staff with a Local Government Pension commented that it was galling to be told that a 19% contribution was an insult – LGPS gives a contribution of around 14% (which is actually very generous compared to industry standards). Anyone on a grade 6 or above was able to work from home and avoid the unpleasant crossing of picket lines, but this is not an option for those on grades 1-5.
Name supplied
Dear subtext,
In regards to the proposal for collective nouns for senior managers, Wiktionary already has a nice glossary of collective nouns. The one for managers is ‘an asylum of managers’.
Dear subtext,
Is it possible to apply a little humour to effect change regarding the wording of the automatic notice on emails originating outside the University?
‘This email originated from outside of the University. Do not click links or open attachments unless you recognise the sender and know the content is safe.’
‘Outside of’ is bad enough, but ‘from outside of’ is excruciating!
Thank you, guardians of my sanity.
Name supplied
Dear subtext,
The Students’ Union’s just held its first quorate General Meeting since 2014. That meeting was headlined by a motion that I had authored, in relation to a campaign that I had spearheaded. Similarly for the last quorate General Meeting before that, in 2013. Subsequent LUSU officers have long bemoaned their inability to do this, making the usual lame excuses of ‘outmoded structures’ and ‘changing habits’ when no-one showed up, but the formula has always been tried and true, so let me share five simple tips for student tubthumpers of the future who want to get people out of their beds and into the Great Hall.
1. You won’t get 300 students into a room to listen to your officer reports and vote on your affiliations. A General Meeting needs a single issue to draw people. In 2014, it was fee and rent increases. In 2013, it was the closure of the music degree and the threat of further cuts. In 2012, it was the threatened redundancy of departmental administrators. Sell the consequences of inaction, and they will come.
2. A General Meeting also needs to be tightly controlled by the executive, and should be a campaigning tool disguised as a democratic exercise. The purpose is to announce what it is that you’re furious about, and tell the students that you can’t do anything about it unless they turn up and vote. Thus, your officers have the mandate to act, and the democratic vote to use as ammunition against university management.
3. A General Meeting should not last more than 30 minutes. It is a burst of excitement that draws quoracy in the first place, and that excitement should not be sapped away by grandstanders getting up to quote bye laws and propose procedural motion after procedural motion. The Chair should make sure that everything is constitutionally sound in order to avoid a chapter / verse yawnfest. Leave that to your backroom, minuted meetings – not your big rally.
4. Keep speakers and speeches to a minimum. Chances are, everyone there has already made up their minds, and just wants to vote for their officers to go forth and fight.
5. Officers, take ownership of the agenda! You want a General Meeting to be your chance to tell the students that you need their support to go forth and fight their cause. So get up, speak, tell them you are raring to go and thank them for taking the time out of their day. Monday’s General Meeting lacked that great oratory from the executive, and swiftly degenerated into a two hour b*ll*cking session as officers grovelled like restaurant managers apologising for the disgruntled waiter. It’s all well and good letting the students vent at you, but it’s far better to inspire their trust and support!
Ronnie Rowlands
Dear subtext,
It was my pleasure to participate in perhaps the greatest exercise of democracy the Students’ Union and the University have seen for many, many years. I must pay particular tribute to a handful of students who went above and beyond in the weeks building up to the meeting and during the meeting itself, in particular Cllr Jack O’Dwyer-Henry and Cllr Oliver Robinson, as well as Atree Ghosh who was behind the Save Our Sugarhouse campaign. Many others played very important roles and they know who they are. There were stumbles along the way, but in the face of blatant obstructionist behaviour by senior SU staff members, a fantastic outcome was achieved for all.
Andrew Williams

Acting General Secretary, Lancaster University Labour Club, and latent SCAN News Editor