30th October 2008
'Truth: lies open to all'
Every fortnight during term.
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CONTENTS: editorial; news in brief; the Vice-Chancellor's legacy; age equality; staff and students; the new LICA building; politics using cows; letters.
The distinguished philosopher Onora O'Neill is to be admitted to an honorary degree at the university's forthcoming degree congregation in December. We congratulate Baroness O'Neill on this honour and look forward to welcoming her to Lancaster. She has had much of value to say not only in academic philosophy, but also in her contributions to public affairs. In 2002, for instance, she delivered the Reith Lecture on the theme of 'trust' in which she argued, among other things, that there has been a fundamental breakdown in trust at all levels in our society. Indeed, she sees this as lying behind the distortions wrought on us by our contemporary audit culture, in which checking and surveillance have become all-pervasive. Nobody is any longer trusted to get on with their jobs and fulfil their roles in good faith. When a lack of trust becomes systemic in this fashion, then the corrosive effects become inevitable. Society becomes awash with cynicism and apathy.
The historic role of universities has been to stand a little apart from society and to cast its critical eye, in an informed and intelligent way, over what it sees. In this sense, Onora O'Neill's lecture may be seen as standing in the line of this long tradition. But those who have gained control of university management, both at Lancaster and elsewhere, seem oblivious to this historic calling and, in their actions, dive uncritically and with gusto into the pool of prevailing norms.
In Lancaster in recent times, this lack of trust on the part of management has been evidenced time and again, as subtext has never tired of pointing out. We saw in the last issue that academics are no longer to be trusted to elect appointment committees for Pro-Vice-Chancellors and Deans, just as we are no longer to be trusted to elect our own Chancellor. According to the Vice-Chancellor at the last Senate meeting, we are no longer to be trusted to engage in elections without rigging and deceit. So too when corporate governance reforms were pushed through, it was clear that academics were no longer to be trusted to be in a majority on Council, the university's governing body.
What is all the more remarkable about all of this, however, is that the lack of trust is expected to operate in only one direction. For we, in turn, are expected to trust management without question. We must thus trust them to make the best appointments to senior officer posts on the basis of their own understanding of our best interests. When Statutes were transformed into Ordinances, thus removing a fundamental constitutional protection, we were expected to trust managers not to abuse the extra flexibility this gives them. When, at the last Senate meeting, the University Secretary admits that she is thinking 'off the hoof' on fundamental reforms, we are expected to trust her and others to put through the reforms in the way they think best.
So what we have is a remarkable situation in which, at every turn, management reveals that it does not trust the scholarly community. On the other hand, the scholarly community is expected to trust its management without question. Apart from the unjustified asymmetry at work here, we should also object to the way in which world-class scholars are being treated in a way that belittles them. The only hope now lies in the question of whether academics have the will and determination to recover control of their institutions and profession for themselves. Voting against the proposals on the appointment of senior officers at the last Senate meeting would not have accomplished that formidable feat in itself. But it would have been a start.
NEWS IN BRIEF
Review of the central administration
Tuesday of this week saw two meetings in the Anglican Chaplaincy, addressed by the Vice-Chancellor VC) and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC), at which the main recommendations of the review group examining the structure and functioning of what is now to be termed Central Services were outlined. The group, chaired by the DVC and reporting directly to the VC, has been working over the summer. The presentation deliberately was high level, however, it is clear that in the power politics within senior management the obvious winner is Andrew Neal. In response to a question as to whether the new post of Chief Operating Officer, (responsible for seven out of the eight proposed functional areas/services), would be advertised externally, the VC made it clear that it would be an internal appointment, to be taken by the current Director of Finance and Resources. He also made plain that the reorganisation is within his gift, which means it will happen. The serious loser, no matter how it is dressed up, is the University Secretary, Fiona Aiken. She is now to be responsible for a separate governance and legal function. One suspects her CV has already been revised and is in circulation elsewhere. subtext also understands that the Director of Research and Enterprise Services has lost his seat at the senior management (UMAG) table and that planning is again to be separated out and will return to the VC's Office. It was said that whilst much work remains to be done some of the changes can (will) be implemented quickly and the intention is to have everything in place by August 2009. subtext intends a more considered analysis of the proposals in due course.
subtext were very sorry to hear that the University Librarian, Jacqueline Whiteside, has had to take a period of sick leave. We wish Jacqueline well and hope that the worst of her health afflictions will soon be overcome. We also extend our best wishes to David Summers, who has been appointed Acting Librarian in her place.
It may be indicative of our strengthening partnership with Study Group that they have been given use of two seminar rooms in the newly refurbished County Main building. On the other hand, it may well be because the space, originally intended for retail use, could not be let. It does, however, seem to somewhat fly in the face of the oft-used argument from the Director of Estate Management, echoed by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and others, that 'there are no private spaces on campus'. This was certainly the argument deployed against the retention of senior common rooms within the colleges and apparently forced through in a shameful and very bad tempered meeting of the (unaccountable) Space Management Group over the summer. Of course, it may well be that Study Group are being charged handsomely for the privilege of helping the university out over its miscalculations as to the need for and amount of commercial letting space on campus. Whose bright idea was it to provide such additional space?
Richardson Institute Annual Peace Lecture
Monday 20 October saw Tony Benn delivering the annual lecture to a packed Faraday Lecture Theatre. Why it could not have been scheduled for the larger George Fox LT 1 is something of a mystery, all the more so given the Quaker connections and the topic: 'Peace or War: the Choice for Humanity'. The audience was noticeably mixed, came from inside and outside the university, and enjoyed a typically stimulating review of the conflicts of the 20th century and the themes and issues which underpin them. All this sprinkled with a remarkable collection of anecdotes, including one about meeting a then Labour M.P. at the age of three, a certain Oswald Moseley. For the future of war and peace, he commented on the importance of international organizations, such as the United Nations. Interestingly, his emphasis on the importance of electoral principles within a constitutional framework in such organizations has a much wider resonance and, indeed, might well be applied to recent discussions of our own internal governance (see the last issue). If it is then surely we would be found lacking. For some 45 minutes the questions came in thick and fast, and though he sometimes missed the point he was never short of a response, including to the student who asked for his opinion on the University having shares in British Aerospace.
The VICE-CHANCELLOR'S LEGACY
The first of November will see the 55th birthday of the Vice-Chancellor, which for those of you interested in astrology means he falls within the zodiac sign of Scorpio. He has been here for some six years, formally joining us in October 2002. Since then much has happened to the institution. It is now widely acknowledged that he is actively seeking pastures new (see subtext 27 and 41). When he first arrived, few believed that he would want to stay at Lancaster for more than four or five years before larger opportunities would pull him away. In this sense, we would be an important and necessary stepping stone to something better. One of the key tasks he was encouraged to take on was to raise the external profile of the University. As we have seen, networking is one of his strengths and he clearly enjoys it, while of course it raises his own profile along with that of the University. If his diary could speak what tales it might tell! Meetings with Government ministers, business leaders and others are referred to in the Vice-Chancellor's reports to Council, Senate and his senior colleagues. In fact, there are times when one wonders who is running the University, but let's not go there for the moment. Alongside this, there has been the steady growth of his presence and reputation within the Higher Education sector, or at least those rarefied parts of it populated by vice-chancellors and principals. He is now a board member of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and chairs the HEFCE Research Strategic Advisory Committee. He is also a board member of Universities UK (UUK) and chairs the UUK International and European Advisory Committee. All in all, it is a very respectable record for six years of endeavour. Has our profile been raised? The answer would probably be a qualified yes.
subtext feels the moment is rapidly approaching for an evaluation of his time with us, for an examination of the good, the bad and the ugly. A valedictory assessment is in preparation, to be published at the appropriate time, but we think it important, unlike our senior management, to actively seek to involve our readers in our deliberations. Hence we are asking readers (and others) to let us know what they regard as our Vice-Chancellor's major achievement during his tenure at Lancaster, and also his greatest failure. It might be the launch of major academic initiatives, such as the new School of Health and Medicine or LICA, or the completion of capital building and refurbishment projects. The Staff Survey may be regarded as a much needed and bold venture, even if the outcomes are increasingly difficult to identify. For some, single issues might figure strongly, such as the hosting of the 40th Anniversary celebrations at Leighton Hall to which all staff were invited. It was acknowledged by those present as an excellent occasion, complete with food, drink and fireworks. In contrast, the George Fox Six affair and its aftermath created much concern and anger some of which helped stimulate this publication. Internal governance is an aspect about which subtext has had much to say since its launch, though some may feel the more aggressive, top down approach to managing the University adopted by the VC was long overdue. Others might despair at the micro-management which is often in evidence and the lack of effective communication. There might be a vision for Lancaster but how much it is shared is open to doubt. Over the last few years collegiality has come under pressure, as has the opportunity and willingness of staff to hold to account our senior managers. There is no shortage of examples so do write and let us know.
AGE EQUALITY: FURTHER INFORMATION
Readers may recall that issue 41 mentioned Lancaster's Age Equality Policy and Procedure in the light of recent events at Manchester University involving the 'forcing' into retirement of two of its distinguished professors: Terry Eagleton and Sheila Rowbotham. The former has now joined Lancaster, of course. However, the incident as reported in the national press provoked subtext into reflecting upon how many requests to work beyond normal retirement age had been made at Lancaster and what the University's response had been. Information has now been received and we are able to report that over the period October 2006 to September 2008 thirty three staff (all categories) reached normal retirement age and thirteen of these requested to stay on beyond the age of 65. In the event 12 were extended (10 support and 2 academic or related staff). Only one member of academic-related staff was refused. In all some 21 staff (out of the 33) retired over the period, of which 13 were categorised as support and 8 academic and related. Details of individuals are, of course, not being revealed, but questions still remain as to the operation of the procedure, particularly as regards appeals and, indeed, the consistency of treatment of individuals. From one perspective, the university would appear to be approaching such requests in a flexible and supportive manner, given the numbers who have been extended. Whether this will continue in the increasingly constrained financial climate, and following the publication of the forthcoming RAE outcomes in December, remains to be seen.
STAFF AND STUDENTS: CONSENSUAL RELATIONS
The tradition of romantic involvement between teachers and the taught has a long pedigree. Indeed, many have commented that the unique setting of the university or college and the roles people play within them make them particularly fertile ground for the development of romantic relationships. The intelligent, erudite and renowned scholar can (sometimes, at any rate) appear attractive to the student, while the youth, vibrancy, looks and enthusiasm of the student can (again, occasionally) appeal to the teacher. Many have made much of the passionate intensity of the teaching relationship leading naturally in some cases to romantic involvement. Of course, such involvements are also open to abuse, especially where the lecturer is in a position of direct influence on the assessment of the student's work.
The phenomenon of staff-student romantic relations was initially entirely homosexual. This was inevitably so given that, for many years, Oxbridge colleges were exclusively male domains. Attitudes were remarkably progressive in comparison to the laws and conventions of the surrounding culture. While many such relationships were fleeting and experimental, some became permanent. In the late 1940s, the chaplain of an Oxford college formed a relationship with a first-year male undergraduate. (The story goes that it all started when the young student was homesick, and went to consult the Chaplain.) Fifty years later, they were still together and were parted only by death. When the obituary of the chaplain (who later became a renowned Professor of Theology) appeared in the national press last year, it predictably made no mention whatever of his life-long partner.
In the very different environment of the new campus universities of the 1960s, such relationships (now mostly heterosexual) proliferated. The democratic spirit of the times which ushered in less formal relationships between staff and students, the general spirit of liberation, and the fact that the new teaching staff were often little older than the students themselves all contributed to burgeoning staff-student romances. This was certainly true of Lancaster in the 1960s and 1970s. Stories still abound such as that of the Professor who arrived at his study one morning to be confronted with the sight of one of his junior lecturers emerging bleary eyed from his own study accompanied by one of his female students, both somewhat scantily clad. Why they had not spent the night somewhere more comfortable than the office remains a mystery. But again, many of these relationships have turned out to be life-long. It was recently said that if staff-student relations had been prohibited at Lancaster from the outset, the marriages of half the academics would not now exist.
This is all in marked contrast, of course, to the situation in the United States. Much of this is bound up with what, in practice if not in theory, is often an older age of majority. With students legally prohibited from indulging in alcohol in many states, and with staff-student relations strictly prohibited, the atmosphere there is often much closer to that of a school than that of a university. Where such illicit relations do exist, the outcome can be devastating if discovered. Jonathan Franzen's recent novel 'The Corrections' (2001) features a character whose promising academic career is permanently ended when a student with whom he had an affair makes this public; the young scholar is denied tenure as a result. The atmosphere of secrecy, intrigue and danger is well evoked by the novel. It is clear that the possibilities for manipulation and blackmail are rife, and one cannot but feel thankful that this has been avoided over here.
Inevitably, however, the free and easy attitudes of British universities in the 1960s and 1970s later came under scrutiny, and there was felt to be the need for some sort of 'regulation' of such relationships. Provided that this was done with a light touch, this was probably no bad thing, given that there could be genuine conflicts of interest, and questions about the fully consensual nature of the relation, if the staff member in question was directly involved in teaching and assessing the student in question. At Lancaster, this gave rise to a code of practice that was framed in 1994. Several draft versions of this code appeared, some embodying a heavier touch than others. The one that was eventually adopted was relatively enlightened and permissive, while putting procedures in place which, if followed, would overcome the problems of conflicts of interest. Commenting on this new code in 'Inkytext', Gordon Inkster generally approved, saying: 'Those of us married to ex-students ought to declare an interest here. Happily we seem to have intuitively applied the code that has now appeared, which might suggest there is at least something sensible about it. It's certainly a lot less hairy than the earliest proposals.'
So the story of staff-student consensual relations at Lancaster would seem to be one that has a happy ending. Or so we thought. But on checking the code of practice recently, subtext discovered that it had changed, apparently amended by Val Walshe, Director of Personnel, in 2004. The general code and procedures to be followed remain the same, but the tone of the wording is now more negative and discouraging. The outline of the procedure is now preceded by a series of warnings about the risks and difficulties of such relations, as though academics are not to be 'trusted' to be aware of and assess these risks for themselves. None of the subtext editorial can recollect this revision being discussed and it seems to have slipped through unnoticed. One may well wonder whether this really matters given that the substance of the procedure remains the same. But there is clearly a move away from a permissive to a more regulatory approach, in line with other aspects of university life more generally. So we should all be vigilant to ensure that the code is not moved still further in this direction, thus leading us more and more to the undesirable situation that holds in the US. There is certainly no need for this undue interference arising yet again from a lack of trust. We only need to look around us at so many happy academic marriages to see that staff-student relations can, in some cases at least, give rise to unmitigated good. But what do readers think? Please let us know.
NORTHERN EXPOSURE: THE NEW LICA BUILDING AND THE SHAPE OF THE NORTH CAMPUS
Staff were invited to a presentation on Monday 27 October of the Stage C 'concept design' for the proposed new building for the Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts (LICA). The building will be sited on the West end of what used to be County Field at the north end of campus, just north of the Great Hall complex. Its construction between Summer 2009 and Summer 2010 will constitute phase one of LICA's building and refurbishment programme, phase two being the refurbishment of the Great Hall complex, and phase three the refurbishment of the constituent departments, that were merged to form LICA: Theatre Studies, Music and Art.
Rachel Cooper, Director of LICA, explained that the initial brief for the architects was for 'an iconic shed with movable everything'. However, the main architect for the project, James Jones, explained how the design had moved towards an attractive, modern but low-profile, two-storey building more appropriate for the overlooked site next to established woodland. He also explained the logic behind the internal design of the building, which had to accommodate the need for flexible space with the constraints imposed by the need for equipment and sound insulation for performance events and installations.
Jones and Cooper made clear that the idea of the new building was not for it to be mere office space, and certainly not to replace the space currently used by the LICA departments. Neither was it to replace or duplicate the spaces or functions represented by the public arts side of LICA - the Peter Scott Gallery, the International Concerts Series and the Nuffield Theatre. The upper floor of the building is designed to accommodate LICA's director's central administration and postgraduates, in a mixture of open-plan and 'cellular' space. On the ground floor, the new building will house the new 'Imagination Lab', and offer a range of spaces that will be bookable by members of LICA and the wider university: seminar rooms, some insulated 'acoustic' spaces, and four large, double-height, event and studio spaces, easily accessed from the main lobby. One of these will be a 'black box' installation space; the other three are 200 m2 rooms, separated by removable walls, along the east side of the building.
After the presentation, much of the discussion focussed on some of the detail of the interior design of the building and how it will be able to fulfil its various functions. For example, the lack of a café or box office facilities was noted by some, as potentially being a problem when events or performances are held there; this, it appeared, was a decision taken at the University level. Some points of detail remain, then, which may become consequential when the building is up and running. However, notwithstanding the questions that have been raised by some about whether this should be a priority spend for the University at this time, the overall impression was of a well-designed building that will be a welcome addition to the campus, not least because of the focus on creating additional space for experimental interdisciplinary collaboration.
But discussion also touched on the siting of the entrance of the new building, and the effect of this on the shape of the north campus. The plan is for the building to have a single entrance, on the long West face of the building, opening out onto the path that currently leads from the Art building and the front of the Great Hall, past the woodland and towards the northern perimeter road and Bailrigg. (There will also be a new lake along this side of the building, thus preserving the boggy memory of County Field.) The rationale for a single entrance is largely based on security considerations, but the siting of it on the West side of the building is in order to help create 'LICA public space', running from the Art building north past the Great Hall and Design and up along the new building. This, it is argued, will help cohere LICA, and make it easier for visitors from off-campus to find their way to events.
However, apart from thereby making Theatre Studies something of an outlier in the geography of LICA, this decision will also mean that the new building will have its 'back' to the courtyard, or 'Piazza' as we have been encouraged to call it, that is currently bounded on three sides by County West, County Main and the Round House. It is hoped that the three large, linked event spaces will have large doors along that wall, thus allowing events to spill out into the sloping grassed space that will form part of the of the Piazza. But most of the time the building will present a blank, if rather pretty, wall, with no entrance. Some academics at the presentation whose departments have recently been moved to County Main seemed to feel that the decision to face the building so clearly towards the West, and thus away from them, suggested that Estates are failing to ensure that the development of campus will be done in a way that makes County Main and the Piazza more rather than less integrated into the wider campus. As one academic put it, working in County Main currently feels 'rather like living in Siberia'.
Many of those present agreed with Jones that the north spine does get rather indistinct when it gets to the Great Hall Complex, but some felt uncomfortable with the idea of more firmly directing spine traffic to the left, into and along the new 'LICA public space', rather than to the right, towards Theatre Studies, County Main and the Piazza. It became clear that the University is thinking of the Piazza as a predominantly student space, presumably due to its proximity to the County West residences and the retail outlet space now sited on the ground floor of County Main. However, the latter has so far failed to attract retail businesses, not least because of the high rents being charged for the space. But wider planning decisions about that part of campus might not help create the flow of movement on which such businesses would depend.
HOW TO UNDERSTAND POLITICS USING COWS
[Eds: This piece was recently sent to a member of the subtext collective. Versions of it have been around for some time but it still retains a capacity to amuse.]
SOCIALISM: You have 2 cows; you give one to your neighbour.
AN AMERICAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow has dropped dead.
A FRENCH CORPORATION: You have two cows. You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.
A JAPANESE CORPORATION: You have two cows. You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called 'cowkimon' and market it worldwide.
A GERMAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.
AN ITALIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows, but you don't know where
they are. You decide to have lunch.
A SWISS CORPORATION: You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you.
You charge the owners for storing them.
AN INDIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You worship them.
WELSH CORPORATION: You have two cows. The one on the left looks very
A BRITISH CORPORATION: You have two cows. The Government says you have to buy a licence to milk them, but first you have to do a risk assessment, which only the government Quango is allowed to carry out.
They charge you 5 times the cost of doing it. They find that the three legged stool is a risk under health and safety legislation. You have to buy the EC approved 5 legged stool that is designed to support a milk maid of up to 250 kilos. However, the stool exceeds EC weight lifting limits for workers by 4 kilos, which just happens to be the weight of the fifth leg. To shift the stool from one cow to the other you therefore need a special (EC approved) trolley. The new stool and trolley are so expensive that you have to mortgage one of the cows to pay for them and pay for the mandatory training course you must take to get your licence to milk the cows. You sell your milk to the supermarket chain that pays you next to nothing for it, and then they sell it.
I don't know if you are aware but some of your deliveries are being directed straight to the Deleted Items folder. When I couldn't find my copy of the latest issue I was advised by a trusted friend to comb through the 'deleted' file and there it was, nestling between Shemale Surprise and Extreme Bukkake. I have now read through issue 42 several times and I still can't find the item that might have caused its banishment to such unsavoury company. Am I missing something? Was there a supplement that has fallen out and is still lying in the bottom of the delivery boy's bag, as sometimes happens with my Saturday Guardian? Or is the hand of the Castle at work here........?
[Eds: The old problem recurs, or perhaps a variation on the old problem, given that it used to be the 'junk' box to which issues were directed rather than the 'deleted' box, as now appears to be happening. Our readers were kindly given advice by our resident experts on how to 'dejunk' (see link at the top of this issue). Perhaps they could come to our aid again by advising us how to 'dedelete'?]
We've given up (new) plastic for 3 months, and wondered if your readers might be interested in hearing about it. We've been doing things like making our own yoghurt, ordering milk from the milkman, and even tried brushing our teeth with ash and a stick!
We're hoping to persuade others to give up plastic to coincide with Lent (when lots of people give up things like chocolate) - either to just give up plastic bags and excess packaging or to take it a bit further, as they like.
Ele Lamb and Rose Lerner,
The editorial collective of subtext currently consists (in alphabetical order) of: Sarah Beresford, George Green, Gavin Hyman, Bronislaw Szerszynski and Alan Whitaker.