Tag Archives: restructure

subtext 185 – ‘the same subtext, only louder’

Every so often during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments: subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk

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In this issue: editorial, rules on protests, UCU ballots again, not the Court report, steele, vintage satire, shart, restaurant review, letters.



There’s been a Senate meeting this week… but the days when Senate papers were pored over with interest are long gone. Openness and scrutiny have given way to agenda items that are ‘RESTRICTED’, ‘RESERVED’, ‘COMMERCIAL IN CONFIDENCE’, ‘STRICTLY IN CONFIDENCE’ or some combination of these. Senate members have (mostly) fallen under the spell of being the select few ‘in the know’ and happily play along with this cloak-and-dagger game, while journalists – the few permitted to attend, that is – are basically barred from reporting on any of the really interesting stuff. Senate reports now read more like ‘wicked whispers’-style gossip columns, where reporters try their best to drop hints about what might have been said or done, without actually naming anyone or anything.

All we know, for example, about November’s Senate debate on the ‘Senior Team Structure at Lancaster University (Strictly Confidential and Restricted)’ is that they concerned the ‘future structure of the senior leadership team afforded by the forthcoming departure of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor.’ Oh really… do tell us more! No. All we can report is that the Senate ‘agreed that it was fully supportive of the proposals’ and that one comment ‘concerning a proposed role-title was noted and would be considered further by the Vice-Chancellor as part of finalising the proposals for Council.’ Curiouser and curiouser… well, probably not, to be honest, but it’s much more exciting when you label it ‘STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL’, isn’t it?

Cognitive dissonance kicks in once you notice that all the old Senate minutes are still available online (to current staff and students) and we’re thus able to offer more scrutiny of Lancaster two decades ago than we are of Lancaster now. Reading the 2001 Senate minutes is like peeking into another world where, for example, the decision on whether to elect or appoint our Pro-Vice-Chancellors was decided on a show of hands, with the discussion and vote fully minuted (it was 24 to 22 in favour of appointment, in case you were wondering). If that meeting had taken place in 2019 then the minutes would have recorded the Senate’s support for some proposal or other, which the Vice-Chancellor would of course consider further.

Maybe the culture of secrecy helps more senators speak frankly, safe in the knowledge that their criticisms will never form part of the public record? Perhaps senators can be more effective ‘critical friends’ if their criticisms are heard behind closed doors? If you’re sympathetic to this argument then subtext would like to say four things to you: ‘U’, ‘A’, ‘9’ and ‘2’.


In case you missed it… the result of the Students’ Union’s referendum to change its full-time officer team (see subtext 182) has been announced, and it shows a decisive victory for the ‘don’t care!’ campaign. On a 6% turnout of 892 votes, the votes were: Yes 438 (49%), No 396 (44%) and Abstain 58 (7%). As the union notes, ‘students’ union rules on referendums state that a voter turnout of at least 10% is required in order for decisions to be upheld, and therefore the proposal did not pass’:


The referendum voting website was kept separate from the sites to vote for JCR executives, with different closing dates. Did the union executive miss a trick by not bundling the votes together? The County College had a turnout of almost 30% for its JCR elections, with Furness and Grizedale Colleges not too far behind, so it seems so – although given the large ‘No’ vote amongst the few who did turn out, it’s distinctly possible that the proposals would have been rejected anyway.

subtext was unenthusiastic about the proposals, particularly the idea of establishing a full-time Postgraduate Officer who would be elected by a majority undergraduate electorate, but this doesn’t seem to be the main issue that galvanised the lively ‘No’ campaign: ‘Do you want more support for Sugarhouse? Vote NO’ claimed its Facebook page. The proposed loss of the Vice-President Union Development – which is what the strapline was referring to – certainly did not go down well with JCR officers, who queued up to oppose the changes.

Will the proposals return next term? Even if they did, presumably any change would come too late to change the full-time officers for 2019-20, so it seems likely they’ll be rapidly booted into the very long grass.


Speaking of unions, the students’ union is planning a restructure:


The October meeting of its trustee board agreed a reduction in the number of full-time officers from six to five, keeping the President but replacing the proliferation of five Vice-Presidents (activities, campaigns & communications, education, welfare & community, and union development) with four new posts: activities officer, education officer (undergraduate), postgraduate officer, and welfare officer. There will be a referendum in Week 8, and campaign teams for and against are being formed this week.

So, aside from the cosmetic name changes, we’re losing campaigns & communications, and union development, in favour of a full-time postgraduate officer. Not many are likely to oppose the loss of the union development post (formerly the General Secretary, aka ‘the President’s sidekick’), but the loss of a full-time political role in charge of LUSU media is more significant, and as for the proposal that undergraduates should be allowed to both stand and vote for the full-time postgraduate officer – well, good luck justifying that to the PG Board!

Student media at Lancaster is now de-politicised, barring a few exceptions on SCAN’s team, so the loss of a full-time media sabbatical might just reflect reality. The days when SCAN could openly oppose the union’s political strategy are long gone. The activities officer gets to be SCAN’s editor-in-chief, but only as a small part of their brief.

How, though, did the proposal get through to allow undergraduates to vote (and so have the decisive vote) on the postgraduate (who doesn’t have to be a postgraduate) officer? We’re told that, ‘as the officer would be a senior/full-time officer of the students’ union and a trustee, legally any student will be eligible to vote for them. It wouldn’t be restricted to postgraduates.’ What’s more, ‘any full member of the students’ union would be eligible to stand for this role – even if they’re not actually a postgraduate student themselves.’

Our legal correspondent describes this as ‘bollocks’. Exhibit A – UCL Union, which has a sabbatical Postgraduate Students’ Officer, open only to, and chosen only by, postgraduate students. Admittedly, we wouldn’t be the only students’ union to let undergraduates choose its postgraduate officer – Warwick seems to do it, and of course whenever Warwick does anything, Lancaster soon follows.