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subtext 196 –
wholly government-approved free-speaking subtext
- Campus Update: Quieter, But Not That Quiet
- Struck Off
- Diary of a Rent Strike Organiser
- Inglorious Partnerships
- Freedom of Peach
- Taking Bailrigg Campus by Strategy
- Testing Testing Testing
- subtext Still Wants You
- Middle Management Mindfulness
subtext 195 –
- Tranquil Repose
- Demanding an Unsafe Teaching Environment
- subtext Still Wants You
- Roll of (Dis)Honour
- LUText Lost & Found
- subtext 196 –
- subtext 195 – ‘remain indoors!’, October 28, 2020
- subtext 194 – ‘voluntary subtext reductions’, June 19, 2020
- subtext 193 – ‘stay home and read subtext’, March 27, 2020
- subtext 192 – ‘strike while the subtext is hot’, February 19, 2020
- subtext 191 – ‘fresh from the fridge’, December 13, 2019
- subtext 190 – ‘get subtext done’, November 1, 2019
- subtext 189 – ‘ imaginative thinking subtext’, June 28, 2019
- subtext 188 – ‘eurobants subtext’, May 23, 2019
- subtext 187 – ‘yet another meaningful subtext’, April 2, 2019
- subtext 186 – ‘stumbling towards a no deal subtext’, March 1, 2019
- subtext 185 – ‘the same subtext, only louder’, February 1, 2019
- subtext 184 – ‘life’s an illusion love is a dream’, December 17, 2018
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Tag Archives: University Court
Twenty seven people, including students, staff, former staff and city councillors, gathered in the impressive surroundings of the Council Chamber at Lancaster Town Hall on Thursday 12 March for the unofficial 2020 session of the Lancaster University Court. Jack O’Dwyer-Henry, city councillor for the University & Scotforth Rural ward, took the chair and told those present that Lancaster University had contacted the City Council that day to complain about the Court meeting, emphasising that it was not officially sanctioned by the University. The meeting noted this and continued.
Having agreed subtext 172’s report as an accurate record of the final official Court in 2018, the Court proceeded to business.
Marion McClintock, Lancaster’s Honorary Archivist, gave a brief history of the Court. As the first governing body of the University, it set up the Council in 1964. With around 350 members, its main significance was to make Lancaster accountable to the local region. Motions passed by the Court were sent to the Council, who were required to take note of them. The minutes were all extant.
In the absence of the Vice-Chancellor or the Director of Finance, Sunil Banga of Lancaster UCU introduced a discussion on the University’s current priorities. Rather than investing in staff and students, the University was focusing on capital projects, many of these financed by loans. These were arguably putting Lancaster’s finances at risk, with interest payments of £5m per annum. Meanwhile, college funds were depleted, visa support was ‘negligible’ and the University had brought in vacancy controls for Professional Services staff.
The University was focused on increasing its adjusted net cash flow via more bums on seats (or sitting on the floor, or watching materials online). Measures of cash flow did not include the University’s mounting private debt, including debts to two US companies totalling £65m. The arrangements that set up UA92, and the deal with Navitas to establish a Leipzig campus, were largely hidden. These decisions were largely taken by the Finance & General Purposes Committee of the Council, but the minutes of this committee were not, in general, available to the public.
Andrew Williams noted that UPP, Lancaster’s provider of student accommodation, was the largest outsourcing project on campus, operating 4437 rooms. Standard & Poor’s recently downgraded Lancaster’s credit rating from AA- to A+ due to the University’s exposure to UPP’s risk.
We continued to expand our overseas partnerships, with BJTU in China, Sunway in Malaysia, the Ghana campus and, coming soon, our Leipzig campus. Their students would get Lancaster University degrees, but quality assurance was ‘questionable’ and in some cases there was a lack of respect for democratic rights. The trade union representative at our BJTU campus has been told he ‘can’t be called that’ and the local authorities won’t communicate with him.
How had democratic procedures changed? Twenty years ago, the Court elected a significant number of lay members of the Council, the University’s senior governing body. Following reforms, a Nominations Committee had been set up to select lay Council members but, importantly, the Court retained the right to elect a significant number of Nominations Committee members (see subtext 4). Following the abolition of the Court, these Nominations Committee members had been quietly forgotten, meaning that the majority of members of the body charged with selecting suitable members for the Council were members of the Council!
Joe Thornberry, former Principal of Bowland College, observed that when the proposal to abolish the Court was discussed by the Senate, the proposers’ key argument was that the Court was ‘unrepresentative of the community’ – ironic when the Court was far more representative as a body than either the Council or the Senate. The abolition of the Court was the final stage of a 12-year process. Might our incoming Vice-Chancellor, Andy Schofield from Birmingham, change things? The Court thought not – Birmingham has a pretty bad reputation and had abolished its Court at the same time as Lancaster’s.
Cllr O’Dwyer-Henry, reporting on the Students’ Union, felt that the current culture there was one of acquiescence to management. Two full-time officers had resigned so far this year and a petition of no confidence in the President had recently been opened. Four trustees of the union had resigned in the last year. The AGM had passed some good ideas but these had not been acted on.
Emily Heath gave a wide-ranging report on the Climate Emergency – there was an informal working group on campus. A petition to senior managers asked them to declare a climate emergency, appoint a senior manager to deal with the issue and manage the University’s land in the interests of sustainability. Simon Guy had been given responsibility and he came across as someone who wanted to listen. However, a ‘Big Conversation’ with staff had taken place on a strike day (students had not been allowed in) and the student version that week had been ‘more of a Q&A’. Our new Health Innovation Campus was not sustainable and based on fossil fuels.
A motion calling upon the Council to discuss bullying, commercialisation and the erosion of democratic governance at Lancaster, expressing no confidence in the senior leadership team, was proposed by Mr Banga and passed by a large majority, but not without opposition from Mrs McClintock, who felt that the proposal was ‘the sort of motion that management would expect’ – asking for a different approach to governance would, she thought, be more likely to get a response.
Finally, when should the Court meet again? The meeting agreed that, whenever a Lancaster Exchange was scheduled to happen, a Court meeting should happen, as an alternative forum for debate. It was suggested that the city councillors for campus should continue to convene these meetings, to give them legitimacy. The University community should build for the next time.
And so the unofficial Court ended, as members joined the queue for drinks in the Borough.
‘You’re here to witness an experiment!’ announced Pro-Chancellor Lord Liddle, as Lancaster’s first annual public meeting, The Lancaster Exchange, got underway in LICA at 10:30am on Saturday 30 March 2019. Would the new event justify the controversial decision to abolish its predecessor, the University Court (see subtext 172)? subtext went in with an open mind.
The main topic of conversation over coffee seemed to be the relative lack of publicity. An email had gone out to most, but not all, former members of the Court. LU Text had mentioned it on 8 March. A quarter-page advert had appeared in the Lancaster Guardian (just two days previously, though). There was a webpage with plenty of information, if you knew that it was there! Some of those present commented that they’d first heard about the event via subtext.
Turnout ended up at somewhere between 110 and 120, pretty much the same as the number who attended the final Court meeting. The composition was different, however. Very few members of management, or the University Council, had attended the last Court, but there had obviously been a three-line whip to get them to the Exchange – deans, associate deans, Pro-Vice-Chancellors and Council members were all milling around. This meant that there were rather fewer ‘ordinary’ people present, although it was reassuring to note the presence of several longstanding Court members, including Claire Hensman, Lord Judd, Ian Saunders and Jacqueline Whiteside. Only a handful of students were present, but holding the event after the end of term probably didn’t help.
In we went, and the layout was cabaret-style, with 13 round tables for us to choose from. This made proceedings more informal but also made it trickier to observe contributions from the floor. The first few items – a short welcome from the Chancellor, a ‘warm-up speech’ from Lord Liddle, the Vice-Chancellor’s report on the last year, and then a Q&A to the VC – would have been familiar to previous Court members. After that, though, we were promised a ‘panel discussion’ followed by four ’roundtable debates’, before the VC would wrap things up at the end.
Lord Liddle was optimistic. He’d always imagined that a University Court should include ‘a procession to music from Die Meistersinger,’ but ‘we’ve tried to move on from that.’ Prof Dame Sue Black, our Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Engagement, was going to ‘lead an exchange of ideas,’ but first it was time for ‘our wonderful Vice-Chancellor’ to give his report.
The VC’s presentation was well-paced and entertaining, with plenty of infographics. Those who have seen his report to departments this year will be familiar with many of the slides, which focused on the Augar Review of Higher Education, Brexit, UA92, Leipzig and the new developments on campus. Major investments in 2017/18 included the Physics refurbishment, Isolab, phase 2 of the Library redevelopment, the mock courtroom and the Big Screen. Isolab was mentioned in particular as a world-leading building that was made possible largely through philanthropic donations, and the VC noted the new ‘Donor Wall’ in the Library. Visitors were encouraged to look at the ‘tremendous’ new Spine. Coming up would be the Health Innovation Campus, the LUMS Space Programme, phase 3 of the Library redevelopment, the Accessible Campus initiative, the LICA refurbishment, the Sports Hall extension and our new 400-seat lecture theatre. The VC praised the university’s engagement with the local area, mentioning Sue Black twice and the Eden North project once.
The headline finances, displayed on a single slide, looked reassuring but the VC sounded his first note of caution, observing that we were needing to take out loans to finance our projects.
Questions followed on students’ mental health, student housing, international student recruitment and the importance of preserving open spaces on campus, but the one which animated Prof Smith the most was on the attitude of the press to higher education: ‘where do you start?’ Because of David Willetts’ decisions as a minister, universities were still relatively well-funded in England, and some elements were ‘somewhat resentful of that.’ Universities had been strongly remain-voting, and ‘we get labelled as bastions of the left wing… it’s just not true!’ If only!… thought some people in the audience.
The best one-liner came from a local resident who worked for Ludus Dance, who asked, ‘is Lancaster a university town? Or is Lancaster University just near a town?’
On, next, to the panel discussion, led by… Sue Black, who was going to explore ‘what is the role of a university in the 21st century?’ With her were Chancellor Alan Milburn, Yak Patel from the local CVS, Students’ Union President Rhiannon Llystyn Jones, and Alistair Eagles from Seatruck Ferries, ‘a ferry company that actually has ferries.’
The debate seemed hamstrung by a humdrum choice of subject, as the speakers spoke earnestly about communities, poverty, skills, jobs, opportunities and so forth. Ms Jones discussed students’ mental health – this was perhaps the last mention of students’ problems, as opposed to the problems students are perceived to cause, all day. Sue Black made the intriguing assertion that, ‘I think I have become the equivalent of Tinder for the University!’
Mr Eagles, the last and best speaker, boldly noted that he didn’t like ‘engagement’, preferring the word ‘integration’, and noted that he could have said all this in Coventry – ‘what can we do that’s so different?’ We had a world leading management school, but relatively few business startups – why? How many of our students did local work placements? Just as things were getting rather animated, however, we broke for a short coffee break.
We then split up into four groups for ’roundtable discussions’ on Healthy Communities, Digital & Innovation, Economic Development, and Heritage & Culture. In each group, there were rather more people present than would fit around the tables, so people expanded outwards to form a big circle, giving them something of an ‘encounter group’ feel. Feedback from the sessions seems to have been very good – the University seemed to have persuaded some significant local decision-makers to come along and listen. University Council members, in particular, seemed very interested in what people had to say.
The VC summed up by saying he was ‘going to slightly disagree with Alistair Eagles,’ who had asked: what makes us different? ‘I already think we are different,’ said the VC, citing the colleges, UA92 and Leipzig. Perhaps Sue Black’s title should now be changed to PVC for Engagement and Integration, he wondered, in the light of Mr Eagles’ comments?
Prof Smith felt that ‘the whole dynamic is very different from our old meeting and, I think, better.’ The Chancellor agreed that ‘it had been a really fascinating meeting.’ subtext’s verdict – it was more like a pilot episode than an experiment, but if management really publicises next year’s meeting, makes the topics for discussion a little less boilerplate, and involves the students a lot more, it could be really very good indeed.
And so the Lancaster Exchange closed in good humour at 1pm, as everyone joined the queue for a buffet lunch.
subtext 185 reported on the curious absence of any calling notice for the promised annual public meeting to replace the University Court. Surely at least a ‘date for your diary’ should have been announced? One hour and forty minutes later…
…former external members of the Court received their invitation to ‘The Lancaster Exchange’, our annual public meeting. What a coincidence!
Held in LICA, this will be ‘an interactive forum, designed to meet the widest range of needs and enable us to better engage with our communities and stakeholders.’ It should provide ‘an opportunity to share your ideas on the role of the university and how we can work together for the benefit of our communities.’
Sounds good, and subtext’s drones hope to be in attendance. There don’t seem to be any details on the university’s website yet, but we hope that many of our readers will make the journey to campus that day.
The date? Saturday 30 March. Scheduling your annual showcase less than twelve hours after Brexit is a courageous decision, we think – it’ll certainly give participants plenty to talk about.
Every year, subtext used to report on University Court – the closest thing Lancaster had to an AGM, with students, staff, graduates and local bigwigs in attendance. Sadly (see subtexts 172 and 176), our Court is no more, but in its place we were promised an annual public meeting, where anyone could come along, listen to senior officers and ask questions – as long as they didn’t refer to anything COMMERCIAL IN CONFIDENCE, of course. It would have no formal status, but that could allow new and innovative formats and timings.
So… when can we expect our first annual public meeting? It’s now been a year since the final Court and a ‘date for your diary’ could have been announced by now, surely? The last mention subtext can find in university minutes comes from UMAG in September, when the annual meeting was definitely ‘on’, but it’s not listed in the current timetable of meetings for 2018/19.
Will it ever happen? Any information will be gratefully received.
2018 saw the demise of the University Court, one of Lancaster’s oldest and most diverse decision-making bodies.
The University Court was an annual gathering bringing together a whole array of stakeholders. It made recommendations to the Senate and the Council of the university, was responsible for appointing the Pro-Chancellor, had delegates to various committees of the University, and had historically been used as an opportunity for locally based institutions and the broader community to raise concerns to the senior management. A ‘Court Review Group’ was set up by the University Council. It is not known how its members were appointed, and nobody from the University Court was invited to participate in the review. It was externally reviewed by a University of Exeter registrar who had been involved in the closure of that institution’s own Court, and the recommendations were approved by the Senate and Council, and presented as a fait accompli to the 2018 gathering of the Court, with no opportunity to vote on the proposals.
The reasons for abolishing Court are unclear. ‘Lack of diversity’ was presented as a reason, but the Court was more diverse than the Senate, University Council, and senior management team, so ignore that. It was also suggested that the Court consumed a lot of resources, but since the Court is being ‘replaced’ by a less accountable, less diverse ‘annual public meeting’ anyway, that can be ignored too.
What we can’t ignore is the fact that the Court of the University of Bath was instrumental in triggering a HEFCE investigation into Vice-Chancellors’ involvement in setting their own salary, and that only a few months prior our own remuneration committee was rejigged to remove the Vice-Chancellor. Just in time for the release of said HEFCE report.
What this means is that locally based institutions, alumni, dignitaries, clergymen, etc, now have no official say in the running of the university, and a tiny and unrepresentative body now has sole control over who to invite to its new ‘annual public meeting’.
It is the biggest, but by no means the only, exclusionary change to Lancaster’s decision-making this year, and you can read our coverage of this issue below:
It all started so well for the Students’ Union. In subtext 169 we reported on their campaign against an unnecessary rent increase of up to £249. To make their displeasure known, LUSU set up a stall and put £249 worth of pasta on display. A little gimmicky, we thought, but enough to get the usual ‘our costs are going up and we have the best halls ever anyway’ line trotted out by the university. And so, we sat back, and then… nothing. There was no further campaigning action, no publicity releases about negotiations, and no attempt to actually mobilise students into a General Meeting, or a protest, or anything.
And then the SU was complicit in the abolition of University Court (detailed above under UNIVERSITY COURT), the decision making body with the largest student delegation, the only one to which any student representative could propose motions and policy, and at which students had fought and won against the university.
But the University Court was due to be abolished anyway, and perhaps it wasn’t the best hill for the SU to die on if it wanted to pick more important fights. As the industrial action took hold of the entire higher education sector, and the student body increasingly swayed towards the side of the staff, subtext eagerly awaited the SU’s statement of intent, and its plan of action, before issue 173 went to print. The plan, it transpired, was to ’empower [student] opinion with impartial information.’ Yes. After making clear that it wasn’t best pleased that the action was going ahead, the SU decided that it wasn’t even going to OPPOSE it. Instead, it put out some tepid ‘on the one hand this and on the other hand that’ infographics. Thankfully, hundreds of students spontaneously organised, many of whom were heard shrieking with derision at any mention of the SU, joined by striking UCU members.
Even JCR officers weren’t safe. A series of posters denouncing the Vice-Chancellor’s salary and lack of funding for the counselling service quickly disappeared from campus, and LUSU’s higher-ups were reported to have advised the JCR officers responsible to take a different tack, apparently pledging to help ‘broaden’ the campaign and attract wider attention. As we predicted in subtext 177, such a campaign never came to fruition – LUSU simply quashed the activism.
LUSU might have made better decisions, be it on Grad Ball (which this year was cancelled for the first time since the 1970s), opposing strike action, or allowing fascism on campus to be funded, if it were more accountable to students, and hadn’t gutted almost all of its accountability structures in 2015 (as we recalled in issue 174). Could LUSU’s ‘scrutiny panel’ have curbed this behaviour? No. In subtext 174, we noted that the ‘scrutiny panel’ hadn’t met at any point during the nine months that the sitting sabbatical team had held office, and was denounced by a former appointee for producing toothless reports that ‘nobody reads.’ Perhaps a General Meeting of the student body could have passed policy? Not a chance – LUSU’s General Meeting failed to reach quoracy, because they failed to seize the enthusiasm around the rent increase in the first term, or the industrial action in the second term to drive attendance. In lieu of a quorate General Meeting, LUSU instead held an ‘online general meeting’, which is completely unconstitutional and has zero powers to authorise LUSU to do anything.
There must have been SOMETHING keeping LUSU’s political wing busy, because one now-former officer appeared on Bailrigg FM back in May boasting to a Labour Party representative that by-election turnout was healthy because LUSU had bothered to do a bit of promotional work, even though it ‘isn’t their job’ (it is).
subtext keeps a close eye on all of the university’s most influential wings, and the SU is one of them. You can read all of our reporting on the SU’s activities throughout 2017-18, which is far more detailed than our VERY brief recap, below.
STOP PRESS – ALL IS FORGIVEN, LUSU!
That was then. This is now. subtext is pleased to report that the new team of LUSU full-time officers seem to have got off to a blistering start, by calling a student demonstration against the proposed introduction of 6pm to 7pm lectures, during this Saturday’s Undergraduate Open Day. The details:
Don’t miss your Week 1 subtext for our full report on the ‘extended teaching day’ proposals, including why you shouldn’t dramatically increase your undergraduate numbers without also dramatically increasing your lecture theatres, and why this problem isn’t going to go away any time soon.
Fortnightly during term time.
Letters, contributions, & comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
Back issues & subscription details: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/about/
Gaps, holes, deficits, cuts, absences. Call them what you will, it would be hard to deny that the academic year has been littered with them, providing the subtext drones with more than enough metaphorical material to stretch to breaking point and enough space to fly the traditional end of year round-up through on a bus.
The biggest gap generator has been the ongoing building work on campus, particularly on the Spine. There have been holes in the ground where the Spine has been dug up, communication gaps where the pink and purple diversion signs have failed to keep up with the actual situation ‘on the ground’, and most worryingly there has been a huge gap in provision for disabled users of the spine, with accessible routes around the pinball game that traversing campus has become having all but disappeared. Add to this the gaps of buildings that failed to appear (squints at the Management School) and the gap we didn’t know we had (cocks an eyebrow at Alexandra Square’s Big Screen), and it’s a wonder we didn’t all get a collective sprained ankle.
There have been financial gaps as well. Students who may have specific learning disabilities have seen a cut of 50% in the funding available from the University to be assessed for them – a massive blow to the life chances of those that need one but can’t afford it. Nationally, the most disruptive gap of the year was the deficit in the UCU pension fund – and understanding thereof – that saw an unprecedented turnout in support of strike action, and UCU members picketing for two weeks in freezing conditions. Whilst the picket lines saw a huge amount of support from students and non-striking staff there was another gap: no clear or coherent response from the VC. The University as a whole continued to fail to cover itself in glory when the Gender Pay Gap report was published in April, revealing LU to be third from the bottom in the country (University of the Year, though!) with a mean pay gap of 27.7% as opposed to the national average of… cough… 17.8%.
There have been notable gaps in democracy, honesty and decency. Maybe it started when Lancaster University Students’ Union refused to take a stance in regard to supporting the UCU strike, and it definitely didn’t end with their ‘creative’ approach to the online AGM ballot. Maybe it started when the University Court was abolished, removing one of the last democratically elected bodies in the institution (and one that oversaw the appointment of various posts). In fact, subtext notes – with some glee – that you can read all about the machinations of Lancaster University’s ‘Strategic Planning & Governance’ division at gap.lancs.ac.uk. Maybe it started when the VC led us to believe that Lancaster was the first port of call for UA92 (it wasn’t) and shrouded the entire business in a cloak of secrecy. Maybe it started with swastikas on Sociology department doors appearing overnight followed by the attempted setting up of a new student society concerned with white supremacy and other alt-right (i.e. fascist) ideas. This is a gap that is going to take more than a bit of polyfilla and a trowel to sort out.
And we’ve been feeling a bit gappy ourselves – retirement and illness have left us short of an editor or two in the subtext warehouse, so we welcome all those readers with a critical eye, a writerly bent and a typing speed of 80wpm to drop us a line at email@example.com to get involved. And so, once more unto the breach, dear readers – starting October. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks for writing in – do keep doing that. Failing that, hit us with your ‘like’ stick on our Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/lusubtext
In the fortnight since the last edition of subtext, there has been a considerable amount of strike-related activity, both in Lancaster and at the national level.
THE LOCAL FLAVOUR
The campus picket lines have been busier than ever, with a head count of over 160 on Tuesday this week, along with music and dancing every day (Zumba being particularly popular) and even some protest poetry on Wednesday. The VC ‘visited’ on the 8th March, but received a markedly less positive reaction than the several HoDs who did their stint on the lines. A video of his visit, with added commentary by the local UCU branch, is available here: https://youtu.be/lfSTLmdnRVE
Compared to previous disputes, the staff on strike are spread across the whole range of departments in the University, with somewhat less representation from LUMS. Meanwhile, the teach out events, featuring everything from a personal history of the 84/85 miners’ strike to yoga, have also been well attended – see below.
Numerous colleagues involved in the strike have remarked what a sense of solidarity and community is emerging from being thrown together in these adverse circumstances, while the lack of day-to-day work schedules seems to have unleashed all kinds of creativity and willingness to engage in activities that we never normally have time for. Union members were particularly heartened by the strong support from students, some of whom have been coming to the picket lines and teach outs every day.
STRUCK DOWN IN ANGER
At the national level, the past few weeks have seen a flurry of activity. Universities UK (UUK) initially refused to negotiate with UCU, then agreed to meet but not reopen the decision on the pensions proposal (raising questions about what exactly they were proposing to discuss). When one VC after another came out publicly in favour of open negotiations, UUK were eventually forced into a humiliating climbdown and agreed to talks without preconditions at ACAS.
Following a few quiet days last week, and then an announcement that negotiators would be working through the weekend, Monday evening saw the announcement of a so-called agreement between UCU and UUK. This represented an improvement of sorts on the original UUK proposal, but included a worse accrual rate (1/85th of salary for each year of service vs the current 1/75th), an increase in both employee and employer contributions, and a cap of 2.5% on the rate that pensions could increase annually with inflation, meaning that if prices rise by more than this amount, pensions would lose value in real terms.
The reaction from UCU members was… not good. Very quickly, UCU Twitterati took the proposal apart, and an open letter in opposition to the proposal had collected around 3000 signatures by midnight on Monday, while a further 4000 signed by 11am the following morning.
Above all else, members were incensed by the proposal that teaching that had not taken place as a result of strike action should be rearranged. Colleagues argued that this would effectively mean doing work they had already sacrificed pay for. And in any case, there was not nearly enough time to fit 14 days’ worth of teaching into the few remaining days of term.
Throughout Tuesday, members of the union’s Higher Education Committee were subject to a frenzy of social media and email lobbying, overwhelmingly urging rejection. A meeting of branch delegates from all over the country decided almost unanimously to reject what they felt represented a betrayal of the sacrifice that members had made by being on strike.
In the end, the reject camp prevailed, perhaps helped by the large demonstration outside UCU headquarters in London, whose chants could be heard by the delegates arguing inside. The UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, later explained that the negotiators had been tightly constrained by the ACAS process in what and how they were allowed to communicate.
So the strike continues today and tomorrow, with the fourteen further strike days set to hit assessment season, with exam marking and exam boards likely to be a particular target for local branches. This will undoubtedly have a bigger impact on students than just missing a few lectures, possibly even delaying graduations for final-years. Action short of a strike also continues: UCU members are ‘threatening’ to only do the work they are contracted to do, rather than contributing the massive amounts of unpaid overtime that normally keep universities going on a day-to-day basis.
UUK are blaming the dire situation on UCU for walking away from negotiations, while UCU’s line is that the employers could stop the strike at any point by making a fair offer. Students at Lancaster, for now, seem to be largely supportive of their local staff, though whether this solidarity will continue for a further 14 days of disruption remains to be seen.
As reported in subtext 174, UCU have been running a series of ‘teach out’ events during the strike – a different way of engaging with staff and students and anyone else who is interested in what the industrial action is about, as well as a number of other somewhat related topics.
While teach outs resemble the form of the labour that staff have withdrawn from their employer, the sessions do not necessarily follow the expected conventions of university teaching. The inherent radicalism of such a venture comes from the enforced interdisciplinarity of the project: colleagues, students and members of the public may come from any academic background, or not be involved in academia at all. It is teaching for interest’s sake, not for ‘knowledge-transfer’, measuring, testing, or satisfying government ‘key information sets’.
Lancaster UCU, together with a host of other branches, organised an alternative education experience for every day of the strike action. Most of the sessions took place at the Gregson Community Centre and were largely well attended, with many packing the Gregson Centre’s modestly-sized hall to the rafters. The curriculum features a mixture of debates, interactive workshops, informal lectures featuring some outside speakers as well as Lancaster academics, film showings, a couple of musical gigs and away from the Gregson some ‘walk and talk’ happenings. In the final days of the current round of strike action, sessions with a more restorative agenda were planned i.e. yoga and craft making.
All the sessions were open to University staff, students, and other folk from the wider community. There was a strong student presence at some sessions and even some members of the public at some events. However, it was staff from the University that made up the bulk of the attendees.
Many of the sessions focussed on the question: ‘what kind of university do we want?’ Yes, pensions were discussed, but within a wider understanding of the changing nature of the sector. Attendees remarked that they felt particularly empowered by speaking with other members of the University who they would not normally meet at work. This prompted a lot of talk about the future and how the this strong feeling of solidarity could be maintained after the dispute.
Readers may have ideas on how this ‘new space’ that the striking community has built can be maintained, and what its purpose would be once work resumes. subtext would welcome contributions on this fascinating development at Lancaster, and would be happy to play a part in future conversations.
RADICAL OR MERELY YOUNGER? A REVIEW
It seems appropriate that on Monday 12 March, midway through Lancaster’s longest period of industrial action in decades, UCU’s teach out at the Gregson played host to an event that seemed to shout, ‘Call that radical? Ha!’ Marion McClintock, Honorary University Archivist and former Academic Registrar at Lancaster, and Alison Lloyd Williams of Global Link’s Documenting Dissent project were our guides as they took us through Lancaster’s radical past, both on and off campus.
According to Mrs McClintock, Lancaster University in its early days was characterised by very conservative Heads of Department, many of whom were ex-military, alongside younger, more radical staff, who pioneered Lancaster’s distinctive degree programmes: Religious Studies (not Theology), Independent Studies, Creative Writing, Environmental Studies, Peace Studies, Marketing, and Systems Engineering. Students were given the chance to ‘grapple with subjects they’d not studied before.’ Above all, Lancaster was shaped by its first Vice-Chancellor, Charles Carter, who actively encouraged this interdisciplinary approach. We were a university that ‘was taking a fresh look at society, was taking nothing for granted and was questioning norms.’
Publications of the time, like John O’Gauntlet and Carolynne, reflected this mood and encouraged debate on drugs, sex and gay rights, although some of their editorial choices, such as pin-up girls in Carolynne, seem archaic today.
Among the many disputes of the early years were ‘the mixed bedrooms argument of 1968’, the David Craig affair (see subtexts 8 and 9) and the 1975 rent strike which lasted over 12 months. Student involvement in these disputes was strong.
Lancaster’s college system played an important role in Lancaster’s free-thinking tradition; Sir Noel Hall, one of the university’s founders, was formerly Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford and had insisted that the colleges must form an integral part of Lancaster’s governance.
Why are things not like that any more? Lancaster’s rising research reputation in the 1980s meant that staff and students no longer had as much time to spend on innovative teaching or political discussion, and even Prof Carter was subject to the same pressures as everyone else.
Ms Lloyd Williams gave a history of the Documenting Dissent project, which was inspired by Lancaster Castle and its status as a symbol of state power and the location of Lancashire’s most important court. Many dissenters, including several chartists, had been tried there.
Lancaster is particularly significant in LGBT history, given the number of people prosecuted for homosexuality at the Castle, but more happily due to the significant presence during the 1970s of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) on campus, and the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) in town. Lancaster University pioneered women’s studies and radical feminism, while the very first CHE Conference took place in Morecambe.
More recently, the case of the George Fox Six, where six students and ex-students disrupted a conference in George Fox Lecture Theatre 1 and were promptly prosecuted for aggravated trespass, shows both that the dissenting tradition is still there … but that the university is no longer as tolerant as it was. The Documenting Dissent website includes an account of the affair, including an interview with Matthew Wilson, one of the six.
Contributions from the floor included comments from several people who have been encouraging the radical tradition at Lancaster for decades, including city councillor Andrew Kay, who remembered long campus debates on ‘this house will not give a platform for racist and fascist speakers’ and ‘this house is glad to be gay’, and former city councillor Tony Pinkney, who thought two years stood out in particular – 1886, when William Morris’s talk in the town led to the founding of the Socialist League, and 1999, when Lancaster elected its first ever group of Green Party councillors.
The Documenting Dissent project’s website is at: http://www.documentingdissent.org.uk/
DEMOCRACY IS THRIVING … ELSEWHERE
There have been many Vice-Chancellorial U-turns on USS and risk recently, but the most notable ones have come from the VCs at Oxford and Cambridge, both on 7 March. Given that the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge were all treated as separate institutions in Universities UK’s September 2017 survey of attitudes to institutional risk, this is a major shift.
Why the change? Of course, we are happy to accept that both VCs will have reached their decisions sincerely. But Oxford’s VC, Prof Richardson, has probably been helped by the meeting of Oxford’s Congregation on 6 March, at which a resolution seeking to overturn Oxford’s existing stance on pensions was first blocked controversially, and then discussed outside, where it passed 442 to 2.
Likewise, Cambridge’s VC, Prof Toope, doubtless had his mind sharpened by the impending ballot of Cambridge’s Regent House, on a motion submitted by 501 members, which seeks to amend Cambridge’s official view on USS.
For readers not familiar with how Oxford and Cambridge work, the Oxford Congregation and Cambridge Regent House are the supreme governing bodies of those institutions, made up of all academic staff. They can, and occasionally do, overrule the University Council.
True democracy in action! But wait. Surely these forms of governance must violate the Committee of University Chairs’ Higher Education Code of Governance, the document which our Chief Administrative Officer in particular is very fond of (see subtext 174 and other subtexts passim)?
Well … yes. But they seem to be doing OK, all things considered.
Now that our Court has met for the final time, and our Senate has willingly handed its power to amend statutes over to our Council, perhaps we should start advocating something similar here? After all, our VC’s usual answer when challenged about centralising power is ‘the Warwick clincher’ – they do it at Warwick so it must therefore be a good thing – so perhaps we should start playing ‘the Oxford gambit’ in response.
subtext has extensively covered the recent abolition of University Court (subtexts passim), but has yet to give much thought to the ‘annual public meeting’ that top table seeks to replace it with. Thankfully, student newspaper SCAN has unearthed some interesting information on management’s plans for the future.
According to a University statement, the new public meeting ‘will provide an opportunity to widen the diversity of groups we have not traditionally reached through court membership.’ As we reported in subtext 169, the membership of the Court was the most diverse of any top-level governance body in the University. The Court could have easily represented new groups by voting to expand its own membership, but heigh ho. The new public meeting will allow ‘attendees to engage more immediately in the development of the University.’ So there you have it – apparently the public meeting will take place more often than the annual meeting of the Court, and stripping it of its decision-making and appointing powers will somehow provide greater opportunities to help ‘develop’ the university.
So, what will the membership be? As helpfully explained to SCAN: ‘The first event will target […] around 200, and […] invite a broader range of stakeholders, including student groups, the general public, regional businesses, voluntary and community organisations, as well as current external members of the Court.’ Erm… Okay. So the first meeting of the Annual Public Meeting will have a smaller membership than the Court, and the first order of business will be to invite stakeholder groups previously already represented by the Court to the following year’s meeting. Okay? Okay.
Unloved by the people organising it, but defended by the people attending it, the final meeting of Lancaster University’s Court on Saturday 27 January 2018 in George Fox Lecture Theatre 1 ended up being very long, occasionally lively, and rather enjoyable.
By subtext’s count, 116 members turned up, with 53 sending apologies. The student numbers had increased from 2017, while the numbers travelling from outside the region seemed to be slightly down – why make the effort when you don’t feel wanted?
As is fitting for any good meeting of Court, there was a rambunctious, intense, and highly explosive political demonstration outside the building – well, four UCU activists politely handing out leaflets about their pensions, and chatting with Court members about the current dispute. There had earlier been disagreement with the organisers over where UCU should stand – just inside the foyer of George Fox, or outside in the rain? The dispute was resolved, not entirely amicably, when the Director of Governance and Strategic Planning called on six members of security staff to stand around near the front of the foyer. When questioned, they reassured the activists that they had definitely not been called to escort them outside! So that’s all right then. A great way to defuse tensions in advance of a major industrial dispute.
Into the meeting at 10am, and an opening address from the Chancellor, on his 60th birthday. ‘Welcome to the university of the year!’ began Mr Milburn, in what seemed like a mostly improvised speech. He was particularly proud of his recent trip to Accra, where he had conferred degrees on the first cohort of LU Ghana graduates.
Onwards to the Court Effectiveness Review, and leading the case for abolition were the independent reviewer, David Allen, and lay member of Council, Robin Johnson. Mr Allen, a friendly soul, was upbeat about his proposal to dissolve Court, noting that 65 Court members had commented on his consultation paper and he’d carried out over 20 interviews last summer. ‘Universities are private corporations,’ he noted, ‘but they are accountable to the public.’ Court should be disestablished in favour of an annual public meeting. Mr Johnson addressed Court as if it were a much-loved employee who, with much regret, Mr Johnson was now going to make redundant. Court was analogue. The world was now digital. It was nothing personal. And the recent appointment of a PVC for Engagement, Dame Sue Black, showed that Lancaster cared about its stakeholders.
A spirited discussion followed, albeit one where no-one was allowed to vote. Opposing the changes, and the procedures that led to them, were Cat Smith MP, Lord Judd, former Chair of Court Stanley Henig, alumnus Richard Morrice, city councillors Lucy Atkinson (Labour) and Charles Edwards (Conservative), and Management Accountants representative Richard Kenworthy. The only person in the audience cheerleading for the proposals was alumnus Don Porter, while LUSU President Josh Woolf and city council leader Eileen Blamire stayed diplomatically uncommitted. The strongest speech against came from former Chair of Court Gordon Johnson. ‘History and tradition play an important role in the life of this institution,’ he noted, adding that he’d not responded to Mr Allen’s consultation because ‘the direction of travel had been set some time before.’ And that, it seems, is that.
The Pro-Chancellor, Lord Liddle, was next. Today’s discussion would be reported to Council, although Council had already approved the first reading of the proposals to abolish Court, when it met yesterday. The Pro-Chancellor seemed receptive to suggestions for how to make the annual public meeting work, however, and in particular he ‘wouldn’t like a meeting to which the local MP couldn’t attend,’ suggesting that next year’s replacement will remain a Saturday event. Tributes were paid to former Council members John Hadfield and James Carr, who died during 2017, and departing Director of Facilities Mark Swindlehurst, who was sat at the back.
‘I want myself and my fellow officers to be remembered as real changemakers,’ announced Josh Woolf. The LUSU President’s report was certainly entertaining and will be remembered for its montage of outdated brands, including Marathon and Opal Fruits wrappers, over which he suggested that however well-loved Court was, maybe we needed to move on. No retro sweets for Sarah Randall-Paley, however. The days when the Director of Finance would battle with the LUSU President for the most extravagant presentation at Court are long gone, perhaps reflecting the increasingly secure nature of Lancaster’s finances. The biggest bombshell in this year’s financial report was the announcement of a preferred new measure of financial health, the Adjusted Net Operating Cashflow (ANOC).
The Vice-Chancellor rolled up to the rostrum shortly after 12: ‘Good afternoon, everyone!’ There was clearly concern about the timing of Court’s successor, and it needs a name ‘that reflects the nature of what we’re trying to achieve.’ He paid tribute to Mr Hadfield and Mr Carr, and thanked Mr Swindlehurst, while wondering why he was still here: ‘the job’s gone, mate!’
The VC focused on the new regulatory landscape, following the approval of the Higher Education and Research Act. It was very complicated, he didn’t yet know what it would mean, and neither did the new Secretary of State or the new Minister for Higher Education. Our big challenge would be ‘retention’, where we perform poorly against our competitors, but on the plus side we have a Gold rating in the TEF.
subtext readers will want to know that, yes, the VC mentioned UA92, ‘in case I was asked a question on it.’ Top table are still in the final stages of seeing whether it hangs together. Is the VC aware that all of UA92’s publicity says that Lancaster has fully committed to it?
Pensions were the ‘big elephant in the room’ – significant and ongoing industrial action was likely. Would the proposed changes affect the recruitment of academic staff? ‘Only time will tell,’ he said. It might affect international recruitment, but probably not from the UK. What can the VC do to resolve the dispute? Not much. ‘Our level of deficit pales into insignificance compared to the big beasts. Those people don’t want that on their balance sheets.’ Last autumn, the VC had been relatively hopeful, but then the pensions regulator sent a letter to trustees which almost closed all options. ‘It will be a very disruptive term,’ he concluded, and ‘students will be in the middle.’
The final words at the final Court went to the Chancellor, just after 1pm. He thanked members for ‘sharing my birthday with me’ and praised the quality of debate, suggesting that other chambers could learn from us.
And so the Court ended for good, as members joined the queue for soup served in coffee mugs. Did someone forget to order any bowls?
Regular readers of subtext will know that issues outside the regular fortnightly cycle are released very rarely, and only on issues that the collective deems to be urgent.
As predicted by subtext, the University Court is to be abolished (subtexts 166, 169, 170, 171).
Its final meeting, where members will discuss, but not vote on, the terms of abolition, will take place on Saturday 27 January.
The Court’s external reviewer, David Allen, had asked for the Court to be consulted before any final decision were taken. In his report to the Council, Mr Allen felt that it would be ‘important, if change is contemplated, to devise a careful communication strategy so that Court in January is not simply confronted with a fait accompli,’ and emphasised that ‘it is for Council, not Court, to decide what should happen but it would be courteous to listen to Court’s views, expressed at its next meeting in January 2018, prior to making any changes to University legislation.’
It would seem that the Council carefully noted Mr Allen’s points, decided to be discourteous, approved the Court’s abolition at its November meeting, and agreed to present a fait accompli to the Court’s January meeting, ‘to ensure that members are aware of the rationale for the decision’. Gee, thanks. This decision was taken in secret – minutes are still not available and Mr Allen’s report, which has now been tabled for discussion by the Court, is still marked as ‘Confidential to the University’. The Court is to be replaced with an Annual Public Meeting, although it seems unlikely that this will have any formal status in Lancaster’s governance structures.
Another possible change could end up being even more significant. Mr Allen proposes that the Nominations Committee, which oversees the appointment of Council members and is regarded by many as the only safeguard we have against cronyism within that body, should be entirely gutted.
At the moment the Nominations Committee contains 4 ex-officio members, 2 members appointed by the Council, 2 members appointed by the Court, and 2 members appointed by the Senate. Mr Allen recommends that this be replaced with 100% of the members appointed by the Council. A self-perpetuating oligarchy with members accountable to no-one, perhaps? At present, due to the secrecy of the Council’s deliberations, subtext doesn’t know if the Council endorsed Mr Allen’s recommendation. But we aren’t optimistic.
In its current form, the Nominations Committee was established in 2006, when the Court lost its right to directly appoint members of the Council. Court members were explicitly assured that their influence would continue to be felt via the Nominations Committee. Clearly, if you’re going to abolish the Court, then you’ll need to change the Nominations Committee. We didn’t expect a coup d’état though!
Can members and friends of the University do anything about this? Well, if we don’t at least try, then the answer will surely be ‘no’!
The 2018 meeting of the University Court will take place on Saturday 27 January in George Fox Lecture Theatre 1. Many observers will be pleasantly surprised that the Court is meeting at all, given the ‘effectiveness review’ which took place in late 2017 (see subtext 166). The report and recommendations of that review will form the centrepiece of next weekend’s meeting and, we are pleased to report, members are promised more than just the derisory ‘light refreshments’ that were offered to members in 2017. There will be soup and sandwiches.
What do we know of the review’s findings? Absolutely nothing, although we know the VC’s preference was to remove all governance responsibilities from the Court and replace it with an annual ‘stakeholder event’ (see subtext 169), so the direction of travel has been fairly clear. Nominations have not been sought for the scheduled annual elections to the Court because, apparently, this would be ‘inappropriate’ in advance of the discussion on the review. Court papers should be distributed this Friday.
subtext encourages all Court members who value the idea of a university with at least some community accountability to show up on the 27th. Sadly, as in 2017, the meeting will start at 10am, rather than its more traditional 10:30am, making attendance something of a challenge for members coming from afar. Hopefully the extra time will be used constructively to discuss how to rejuvenate the Court, rather than bury it – but readers are advised not to get their hopes up.
One of the reasons advanced for the need for another Court Effectiveness Review is the apparent lack of diversity in its membership. In her background paper to Senate (see subtext 169, and letter from Stanley Henig, below), Chief Administrative Officer Nicola Owen refers twice to this shortcoming, though acknowledging that the University does not actually hold any data to back this up. Admittedly, it is difficult to ascertain the ethnicity of members without conducting a full equality audit but at least it should be possible to have a stab at establishing the gender balance of Court.
Ms Owen states that a measure of success for the University’s ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Vision’ is to achieve a ’50-50 ratio female/male’ composition in the membership of University Committees. So, let’s look at Court, the ‘University Committee’ that seems to be causing her so much concern. The Secretariat website handily provides a list of current members, each given their title of Ms, Mrs, Mr, Dr or Professor. A quick perusal of the staff list gives the gender of those with academic titles, so a reasonably accurate picture of Court’s gender balance can be established. This shows that out of the current total of 237 filled places on Court, 101 are held by women. The figure represents 43% of membership, certainly short of the 50% target, but not so far adrift as to cause so much concern as to deprive it of its governance functions (one would have thought).
Still, perhaps 43% compares badly with the ratio for other University Committees? Not so. If we look at Senate, we find that women make up 35% of its membership, so still a bit to go to catch up with the ‘unrepresentative’ Court. What about Council, the body that wants to take over the governance functions of Court? Surely it would want to be seen as the standard-bearer of gender equality, especially as it has more power to determine its own composition than any other committee? Alas, no. Only 31% are female. The only body that could make any serious impact there would be the Nominations Committee, several of whose members are appointed by … errr … the Court, which the VC is set on abolishing. Great.
But surely the VC’s senior management team, the body with the real power in the University to effect change, would be leading by example towards that 50-50 goal? Of course not. Of the 14 individuals who are most in charge of the fortunes of Lancaster University, a mere 4 are women. Just over 28%. Perhaps this might be a good time to commission a long overdue Senior Management Effectiveness Review. What about it, Ms Owen?
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!
subtext 169 – ‘Their tongues are silver forks. There’s a lack of wisdom, you can hear it on their breath’
Fortnightly during term time.
Letters, contributions, & comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
In today’s issue, we report once again on the proposed gutting of University Court. The body, which is Lancaster’s largest and most diverse stakeholder gathering, has already been pushed close to being merely a ceremonial gathering, but D Floor’s clear ambition is now to abolish it entirely and replace it with a PR event. Not that subtext expects top table to meet much resistance – there was little opposition to the idea of abolition at Senate last week, and now, we assume, we just wait for the University Council to drop the axe.
What are the implications of this? Well, it means in no uncertain terms that our alumni, dignitaries, and other external stakeholders will now receive no say whatsoever in any part of the University’s operations. The Court – our last truly democratic governing body, which elects large numbers of its members and is responsible for approving our Chancellor and, until recently, Pro-Chancellor – will cease to exist, depriving stakeholders from whom we rarely hear of the chance to offer unique perspectives and propose policies that the Senate and University Council are mandated to, at the very least, discuss. Attending the University Court, especially for alumni and external stakeholders, is a labour – members travel from miles around to be in attendance, and they do so because there is a sense of duty to the University as well as the opportunity to be involved in Lancaster’s decision-making. Is anybody going to swell with a sense of social responsibility at the thought of traveling 245 miles to listen to a drab presentation from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor on financial performance and hear Roger Liddle shouting ‘long may the University prosper’ before retiring to the lobby for some ‘light refreshments’?
The ‘pitfalls’ of having a University Court, as outlined by the Chief Administrative Officer, are vanishingly small. At this stage in the Vice-Chancellor’s tenure, it is easy to draw patterns between meetings that have put his nose out of joint or embarrassed him and proposals to make those meetings suddenly disappear. Make no mistake – the abolition of University Court would be an act of petty isolation, and a means of senior management keeping a tighter grip on just who gets to be involved in decision making. The role of Bath University’s own Court in bringing their overpaid VC to book admirably demonstrates the value of having such an independent minded body with the ability to intervene. Maybe this is why so many Vice-Chancellors are so keen to get rid of them.
The November session started with a written question to the VC asking if there were any plans to build lecture theatres capable of accommodating larger groups of students. The lack of such space was causing major problems for the larger teaching departments. Replying on behalf of the VC, Deputy VC Andrew Atherton said that indeed there was a plan for just such a facility, for up to 500 students. However, this was only a partial solution to the problem. As student numbers increased in line with the University’s strategic plan, other approaches would need to be adopted to deal with larger cohorts. These could include more flexible timetabling and extending the teaching day to enable more double-teaching. All this, of course, would have to happen without any detriment to the ‘student experience’. Nothing, though, was said about the detriment to the staff experience, a point made by a number of Senators during the ensuing discussion.
On next to the Vice-Chancellor’s report on current issues. There were plenty of positives – the record student intake this year (in contrast to much of the HE sector), becoming University of the Year and moving up to 6th place in the Times league table, the first LU Ghana graduation and the positive impact we’d made in that country. There was also a mention of the launch of UA92 (which he clearly believed was a positive development) and the current consultation on the plans in Manchester. The VC stated that he had been pleasantly surprised by the generally positive reception from local people and that any opposition was more to do with ‘Manchester politics’ than the merits of the plans. (Oh really? See letter from a local resident below – eds).
On the gloomier side, the VC had just received a consultation copy of the draft new regulatory framework for HE. The proposals, he reported, are overly heavy-handed and appear to put into regulation what the government had been unable to achieve in Parliament just before the last general election. Then there was the matter of what he termed ‘the pensions squabble’. The USS Board was seeking to change the pension from a defined-benefit scheme to what was essentially a savings scheme. This was being resisted by UCU and as a result the university was likely to be facing industrial action beginning next February. ‘But we are not the enemy’, protested the VC, who happens to be the current chair of UCEA, the employers’ group which has not opposed these changes. Lancaster staff facing major reductions in their pension benefits, while having to make increased contributions, may beg to differ.
Senate then went on to discuss the Court Effectiveness Review. This was to be an opportunity for Senate to make any final comments to the Review Group before it made its final recommendations. One of the LUSU Senate reps made a strong plea for Court to retain its role in university governance, and for its single annual meeting to be given more support and prominence by the university. He took issue with the Chief Administrative Officer’s briefing document which stated that there was a lack of diversity in the Court membership but did not offer any evidence to support this claim. He pointed out that Court was far more diverse and representative than the membership of University Council or the senior management team. He also questioned whether Court required ‘a considerable amount of resource’ to support its function, as was claimed in the document. The Chief Administrative Officer responded by restating what she had already said in her briefing paper. There were some further contributions in favour of the current Court arrangements but the discussion was effectively ended when the VC declared that his preference was to remove all governance responsibilities from Court and to retain its annual meeting as only ‘a stakeholder event’. So that, we must presume, is that.
There then followed a report on the institutional Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for 2016/17. The VC indicated that overall, we were doing well against targets, though he was concerned that Lancaster is not doing as well as it should in retaining its students. Mental ill-health was identified as a major factor but for too many students there is no information on why they drop out. They simply leave without telling anyone why. Finally, there was that bit of the agenda covering written reports not presumed to warrant discussion. Thankfully, one eagle-eyed senator spotted a hugely important issue that was about to be nodded through without discussion- a reference to the Review of Part 1 which appeared to suggest that proposed changes would now be implemented after consultation with departments. Senate, of course, has yet to discuss and approve these changes. It was agreed that the report would be amended to make this clear. Just goes to show that careful reading of Senate papers is always worthwhile.
Perhaps subtext can afford to be generous in its lineages, and permit of two Inkytext successors? Vickytext’s first issue followed within days and by agreement on the heels of the final output from Inkytext in May 2000, as Gordon admitted he no longer had the stamina to continue. It was the first time that an official communication had been sent out electronically, the format was freeflowing, the choice of initial subject matter directly followed on from Inkytext (including reports of Senate and Council, and buildings and finance), there was a single named editor, and letters and responses were strongly encouraged. subtext followed in 2005; a younger sibling, produced by a collective in term time only, and initially focussed on a particular topic that was troubling at the time before broadening out into the admirably wide range it now presents. Neither followed the somewhat quixotic Inkytext practice of frequent Parisian restaurant reviews.
Gordon’s achievement was remarkable; over 600 separate items in six years, all expertly researched and with a wit and style all his own. When the Inkytext electronic archive was created after his premature death, however, the complexities of his output, when a single issue might contain Parts I, II and III, with subsections a, b and c, on occasion sent out on the same day, meant that some material was missed. Fortunately a hard copy had been made of the items as they first appeared, and that is still extant and available for reference.
What is of special interest is how those two siblings developed, what familial resemblances they still have and how they have diverged.
So, welcome to subtext for its 18th consecutive year, eagerly awaited and carefully read. Keep that warehouse well furnished.
I was devastated to learn of John Hadfield’s passing whilst reading your most recent issue and wanted to echo what Ronnie Rowlands wrote about him.
I too was an Officer of the Students’ Union from 2014-15 and can attest to the fact that John truly believed students were at the heart of everything. He was the only University Council member we could count on for allyship – even finding the occupation that took place in 2014 rather amusing. He was of the mindset that decisions that benefited students benefited the university also, and highlighted increasing concerns about the direction of Lancaster and Higher Education in general throughout our interactions. His actions and words consistently reflected that, often speaking up for students and supporting challenges student representatives put forward.
John will always have a special place in my heart and Lancaster shines a little less brightly without his endearing presence and mischievous nature.
Your reference to the possible ‘standing down’ of the University Court reminded me of two almost forgotten moments in the history of the Court and of the University.
In the winter of 1972 the campus was still experiencing the aftershocks from the previous two terms’ assaults on academic freedom, aka the Craig Affair, in which Vice Chancellor Carter had forsaken his liberal roots and supported a determined effort to suppress and evict a group of radicals from the English Department. Faced with considerable criticism of his newly made authoritarian turn, both within and without the University, Carter had turned to Blackburn Council’s political leader Councillor Tom Taylor (1929-2016) to review the events of 1971/2. Taylor was on route to becoming an establishment figure, enshrined in his ennoblement five years later. His report, imaginatively called the Taylor Report, failed to address any of the issues raised by the Craig Affair and should appear on the syllabus of Politics 101 as a classic example of a ‘snow job’.
Carter clearly imagined that publishing the report would bring matters to a close, and indeed he was largely right in this calculation although resentment simmered on. As we approached Christmas that year it was apparent that the Court might be the last chance to raise a protest, and so the students’ union (then called the Student Representative Council) and a group of academics, eschewing the Association of University Teachers in favour of membership of the left leaning Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs (ASTMS, long ago merged into the Manufacturing Science and Finance Union), produced an alternative review report and attempted to introduce it on the floor of the Court. To our great surprise this inevitably doomed move solicited considerable support from Court members from outside of the University, their unexpected support undoubtedly acting to some degree as a brake on Carter’s efforts to stifle criticism. When our motion was ruled out of order, I explained to the Court that this left the students with no option to walk out of the meeting, a move that gave us a half hour start on the sumptuous food and drink then provided for Court members (or perhaps it only appeared sumptuous to impoverished undergraduates). We made a good hole in the half hour or so that this afforded, but more seriously were greatly heartened by the support from other Court members who joined us later.
Roll forward some four years and Carter was shifting the University from liberal beacon towards business partner, much to the disquiet of many of his senior staff (echoes of today?). By that time I was a ‘community representative’ on the Court and a series of ‘deep throats’ made their way to my door in Preston to express concern about the future direction of the University. Carter would have been astonished if he had known the identity of some of these sources. Their insights allowed us to raise a resolution at the Court querying the direction of the University. The motion was doomed to fail, Courts will always have an inbuilt majority for the Vice Chancellor, but the existence of the Court did at least allow alternative voices to be heard. Sadly on this occasion we were at least allowed to be heard fully and so there was no repeat opportunity to hit the reception first!
subtext’s welcome arrival always reminds me what a vital place a University can, and indeed should, be. The existence of a Court is an essential component in which big issues can be discussed away from tightly managed and narrowly defined agendas. Its suppression, or ‘standing down’ … call it what you will, can only be a bad thing for free debate.
Chair of the Student Representative Council 1972-1974
Note from the editors: We would like to thank the anonymous author of a letter about the University’s staff travel service. We do not publish anonymous letters, but are happy to consider requests to withhold the author’s name. If this correspondent would like to contact us again, we would be happy to consider publishing the letter in the next issue.