8 March 2012
'Truth: lies open to all'
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CONTENTS: editorial, news in brief, obituary, new student media, new head of commercial services, what are universities for?, casino concert by the Brodsky Quartet, senate report, note on publicity for brass band contest.
Week eight of term, and the controversial issues highlighted in previous issues of subtext are currently in limbo. The timelines for decisions about both the Lancaster-Liverpool collaboration and the Business Process Review have been lengthened to allow for greater consultation; and on the latter topic, at least, the Students' Union has expressed views which coincide with our own, giving us additional reason to hope that the Review will be reviewed. The new V.C. continues to impress as a reasonable and open-minded leader for a period which was always likely to prove turbulent (as his predecessor persistently reminded us, without ever explaining why the prevailing climate should stampede us into the acceptance of proposals which defied common sense). The recent email to staff from Victoria Tyrrell announced that the Lancaster-Liverpool Joint Planning Group, which is looking into proposals for the two universities to collaborate more closely, has met for the first time, and discussion documents are now being posted online at http://www.lancs.ac.uk/current-staff/consultation/. At the Court meeting on 21st March, there should also be further opportunity for discussion about both Liverpool and the BPR. For the time being, subtext is happy to reflect that wrong-headed decisions have at least been put on hold. However, the delay inevitably provokes the expectation that more sensible counsels will prevail. While everything seems quiet in week eight, it is worth recalling that the people who have identified themselves with proposals which could well damage our university continue to occupy influential positions. This period of relative quiescence should thus not be taken as a signal to declare 'peace in our time'.
NEWS IN BRIEF
Higher Education Commission on Postgraduate Education
The Higher Education Commission has launched a review of Postgraduate Education in the UK. The HEC was set up to provide informed written reports with recommendations for policymakers. It is made up of representatives from Higher Education, the Business Community, and the three major political parties. The current review has five aims. Most notably, it will examine 'the implications for postgraduate education of the proposed changes to undergraduate funding and provision outlined in the recent Higher Education White Paper'. The review will also report on the role of postgraduate education in supporting the economy, access issues, the U.K.'s ability to attract international students, and what happens to students once they graduate. More about the review can be found at http://www.policyconnect.org.uk/hec/research/postgraduate-education.
Following the university's creation of new campuses overseas, news has reached us that it is becoming increasingly common for contracts for new academic staff to specify that they must be prepared to work abroad if required. We wonder about the implications of this. The university seeks to be an equal opportunities employer, but it's clearly much easier for healthy, single people to be prepared to work abroad than for those who have families, or are reliant on the NHS. Depending on the exact wording of contracts there is also a risk that sacking staff on the basis that they have violated their contract will be made easier. Even those who are prepared to work abroad will have limits to where they are prepared to go.
From 2012 universities will be obliged to make available Key Information Sets (KIS) that will give comparable sets of standardised information about undergraduate courses. These are designed to enable potential students to make better-informed decisions when selecting courses. The statistics will give information on student satisfaction, course information (e.g. means of assessment and contact hours), employment and salary data, accommodation costs, fees, and information about the student union. A rush to massage the figures is to be expected, and the details of how the data included in KIS are to be collected offer some opportunities. For example, students want more contact hours, but some unusual teaching methods can be included. The guidance on KIS allows that lectures, seminars and tutorials can all be 'virtual', which suggests that including a few podcasts in a course could be used to up the hours.
University twitter feed – we follow it so you don't have to
the university twitter feed consists of excitable messages noting that a rep
from the university will be at some university fair in Nigeria, or Moscow,
but one recent item caught our eye. On 27th February we were asked 'Did you
Max Jonathan Lazarus 1937 – 2012 (with thanks to Peter McClintock)
Max Lazarus' funeral took place on 29th February and was well attended by friends from the university, including a good turn-out of present and past members of the Physics Department. Peter McClintock said a few words about Max’s life, some of which we reprint here.
Max Lazarus was a vivid and colourful character, and it's both an honour and a challenge to be invited to say a few words about him. The reason it's a challenge is not that there is too little to say but, rather, that there is too much! So I must be selective.
Within Lancaster University, Max was undoubtedly the best-known member of the Physics Department. Bob Bliss, former Principal of Grizedale College and an historian – as far from Physics as you can imagine – wrote to me from St Louis, Missouri, last week – 'Max was a member of Grizedale College throughout my principalship and was a complete and absolutely delightful pain in the neck. He was also very kind and helpful to his tutorial students, always.'
This care and attention to the needs of students was actually one of Max's defining characteristics, and I will come back to that later. But who was Max, and how did he arrive in Lancaster? Max Jonathan Lazarus was born in St Helens – not so far from here – on 26th November 1937. His family seem to have been railway workers. Sandy Stewart (our Emeritus Professor of Philosophy), who was a fellow-student of Max at St Andrews, tells me that he thinks Max's father was Station Master of some fairly small railway station in the Midlands.
At all events, Max was the first member of his family to go to university. At St Andrews, he performed brilliantly. Many years later, on several occasions when I was in St Andrews on business, or meeting Jack Allen (Max's Professor) at conferences, Jack would ask affectionately after Max. He regarded Max as one of their best physics students, ever, at St Andrews.
What was Max like as a person at that time? Well, while the references from his original application to Lancaster are glowing with commendation, they also mention what they call his 'extreme zeal'. Sandy Stewart, who lived with Max in St Regulus Hall, remembers him vividly. He portrays a rather serious young man who simply could not countenance the idea of anybody studying a subject other than Physics – and who took no interest whatever in St Andrews' ancient (often eccentric) traditions.
graduating with First Class Honours from St Andrews in 1961, Max went on to
Cambridge to embark on a PhD. But during his first year he fell out with his
supervisor ('probably with the faults evenly divided' – Jack Allen). So he
then moved on to Engineering Science in Oxford, where he obtained a DPhil in
1965. It was in Oxford that Keith Wigmore and I first met Max, who was then
lodging with our supervisor Harry Rosenberg. Little did we guess, then, that
we would all end up in the same department at
Following a 2-year DSIR Research Fellowship in Oxford, Max was appointed Assistant Lecturer in Engineering Science at Exeter University in 1966, and was promoted to Lecturer the following year. He then moved to our Physics Department here in Lancaster, as Lecturer in Electronics, arriving just before me, on 1 July 1968.
Thereafter, apart from his sabbatical leave as Visiting Associate Professor at the University of California (at Davis) during 1974–75, Max worked in Lancaster. In a sense, Max did just the same as the rest of us during the years that followed, i.e. mainly research and teaching, but there were some special features.
Max's research in electronics was always on the borderline between physics and engineering. In fact, he was entered with Engineering in the 1996 Research Assessment Exercise. As a result, he spent a giddy 5 years as the only Grade 4 researcher in the Physics Department (the rest of us being merely Grade 3A) – but he did not let it go to his head...In 2005 Max was granted Life Senior Membership of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).
Max's teaching was illuminated by his boundless enthusiasm for physics, which made him an inspiring teacher, hugely appreciated by the students. I recall Max being described in the student newspaper as a 'genius', an accolade not awarded to any of his colleagues. Of course, with his restless energy and his flashing eyes, he looked entirely convincing in the role of mad genius! His biggest and most important teaching contribution was in the Second Year Teaching Lab, which is still full of experiments designed and meticulously documented by Max. He went on running that lab, even after his retirement, to the great benefit of all involved.
Max's generosity was also noteworthy. It was absolutely typical of him that, when offered the presentation of a gift or cash to celebrate his 25-year milestone – the completion of his quarter-century in the University – he declined, replying to the Director of Personnel Services: 'Please could the memento value be donated to a student hardship fund'.
One of the most important events in Max's life was also, for many of us, the least expected – his marriage on Saturday 27th March 2004 to Lyudmila Shakhnova, who quickly became 'Lucy'. Up until then, Max had lived a bachelor existence, probably rather lonely at times, and his home in Galgate certainly reflected that. But with the arrival of Lucy, all was utterly changed. She brought love, affection, friendship, kindness, order and stability into Max's life. Basic items, e.g. a washing machine, were purchased: first the house, and then the garden, were given Lucy's
'treatment'. Max's whole existence was transformed, and vastly for the better. Max and Lucy did many imaginative and interesting things together including translation projects and in music, with YouTube videos and songs. I believe that Max's last eight years were the happiest and most fulfilling period of his whole life.
NEW STUDENT MEDIA
A range of independent student media can now be found on campus. All have been started by students who are disgruntled by current LUSU practices and feel that SCAN provides an inadequate forum for discussion.
The emergence of a new student newspaper, The Whistleblower, was noted in subtext 85. The second issue came out in week 6. The newspaper seeks funding from advertisers. Pieces inside suggest that an alternative to SCAN is required because SCAN's funding from LUSU means that is unable to subject LUSU policies to fair criticism. Given this purpose, one might expect some discussion of important LUSU decisions inside. Somewhat disappointingly, in the current issue, the main criticism is that the page layout designs of SCAN are rather repetitive and bear a resemblance to those used by the Independent. Another concern is that LUSU has spent £800 on a cow statue to promote elections. With a somewhat tabloidy feel, a sizeable part of the paper reviews sports and social events in Lancaster, and offers sex tips for students.
Fritz is a glossier production, produced by students in the Management School. Copies are being distributed in the management school and can be found online at http://prelaunch.fritzmag.com/. Fritz aims to be published fortnightly during term time by 'Fritz Media Company'. Funding is presumably primarily from advertising, but intriguingly the magazine also asks readers to contribute funds directly, noting that £2000 will be needed every term. The magazine contains much pointed criticism of LUSU, arguing that the opinions of the student body are not being fairly represented. The remainder of the magazine focuses on the sorts of things that management school students are presumably interested in – reviews of biographies by successful business people, upcoming talks on how to use LinkedIn to full advantage etc. For the next issue, there is a call for contributions from 'enterprising students at the university' who are willing to talk about the 'their business and entrepreneurship'. And there are also plans to produce a 'governance checklist to measure how transparent student representation is done at the university at Lancaster University'.
Finally, Student Comment and Moos is a satirical publication produced by Lancaster University Students' Entertainment and Recreation Society. Issues for the first three weeks of term can be found at http://scam.lusers.co.uk. But given that nothing has been published in recent weeks this publication may already have run out of steam.
subtext can only applaud the emergence of new student-run publications, but whether so many new publications can be sustained will have to be seen.
NEW HEAD OF COMMERCIAL SERVICES
As noted in the recent LU-Text, Jo Hardman has been appointed to be the University's Head of Commercial Services, in the position left vacant by the departure of David Peeks a few months ago. A graduate of Lancaster University with a BA in English and MA in Marketing, Jo has worked for LUSU for many years, most recently as the Union's Commercial Manager.
His experience looking after LUSU's commercial operations - the Sugar House, the SU shops, the marketing operations - should stand him in good stead in his new role, which he will take up in May. His remit for the University will include conferences, catering, bars, the Pre-School Centre, Folio (graphics and printing) and commercial leases. Jo says that in his new role he will be keen to empower people and to foster variety and innovation.
This is not quite the first time that anyone has moved from a LUSU post to one in the University's management - Angie Park, who used to work for LUSU, is now Head of Health and Safety - but a number of recent appointments have come from the business sector, so this new appointment is quite a radical change. It seems an interesting and promising development.
'WHAT ARE UNIVERSITIES FOR?'
of the Guardian of Saturday 25th February may have seen an article by Stefan
Collini entitled 'Learning for its Own Sake'. Collini is professor of
Intellectual History and English Literature at
In elegant prose, Collini sets out what he believes a modern university is, and, at rather greater length, what it is not. He mounts a spirited defence of the university as a space for learning for learning's sake, suggesting that, apart from the other functions they have accreted over time, at their essence they are 'perhaps the single most important institutional medium...for conserving, understanding, extending and handing on to subsequent generations the intellectual, scientific, and artistic heritage of mankind'. He quotes an interesting American comparison of the forces influencing higher education 50 years ago with the pressures on higher education now. At several points he notes that the arrangements that worked well enough when about 6% of the age cohort went to university are under strain when 45% are doing so. None of us is likely to disagree with much of this.
But when he turns to the Browne Report, his powers of analysis seem to evaporate. He makes it abundantly clear that he doesn't like the Report, and particularly abhors its preoccupation with 'the market', but his arguments seem too much like special pleading to be convincing. To quote an example from his Guardian article: 'our higher education system is to be turned upside down even though at no point....has there been any evidence-based analysis of how universities are alleged to be failing in their tasks at present.'
There is an unfounded assertion here. Universities were not 'alleged to be failing in their tasks'; the question the Browne Review was asked to address was how best to provide funding for undergraduate and postgraduate students now that student numbers are approaching 50% of the age cohort, a problem to which Collini had himself drawn attention in the book and again in the Guardian article. Probably many of us would be on the same side as Collini in any debate about this, but his writing is a rather tiresome litany of complaints, with no clear proposals for any alternative means of providing financial support for students.
The book has been widely reviewed, not entirely favourably. Peter Conrad, in the Observer, is clearly exasperated by Collini's academic contortions, and sad that he doesn't mention 'the joy of discussing novels and poems with those he teaches', at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/feb/19/what-universities-for-collini-review; Howard Newby, V-C of Liverpool University, writing in The Independent, is more charitable: Part One of Collini's book consists of 'a measured, though critical, analysis of recent trends in higher education in England' (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/what-are-universities-for-by-stefan-collini-7422765.html). Following this, one might expect (Newby says) if not a manifesto, then at least an agenda; but what we get is reprints of old articles. In last Saturday's Guardian, dated 3 March, Keith Flett writes that while Stefan Collini makes good points about the enduring value of universities, he harks back to an undefined golden age of academia - http://publicuniversity.org.uk/2012/01/06/purpose-of-education-an-extensive-public-debate/#comment-40324.
Flett suggests that the imperative now is to defend the principles of a liberal education against the demands of a neo-liberal politics. Unfortunately, Collini has not succeeded in doing this.
CASINO CONCERT BY THE BRODSKY QUARTET
There were no programme notes to be had for the Great Hall concert by the Brodsky String Quartet on 23 February, for a very good reason: no one, not even the musicians of the Quartet, knew in advance what they were going to play. The programme was selected, before the very eyes of the audience and the players, by a kind of giant roulette wheel, spun each time by a member of the audience. This was not a totally random process: the works were in groups, ten suitable to be played as the first item on the programme, ten as the second item, and so on, with forty works in all to choose from.
The first piece to come up was the Chaconne by Henry Purcell, a magnificent piece of string writing that confirms Purcell's standing as one of England’s greatest composers - many would say the greatest of all. The next item to be selected was the second quartet of Erich Korngold. Born in Brno in 1897, which at that time was called Brünn and was in Austria, Korngold was a musical child prodigy who could have rivalled Mozart or Mendelssohn had he been born as a contemporary of one of those earlier composers. The second string quartet, composed in 1933, was already in the romantic style which characterised Korngold's later music. Soon after this, he turned to writing music for films, travelling to the USA in 1938 to write the score for the Warner Brothers film Robin Hood, which is still considered one of the greatest film scores ever written. Having thus fortunately avoided the Anschluss, he stayed on in the USA, where he continued to write film music of high quality which he intended to be able to stand alone in the concert hall.
After the interval, the Brodsky Quartet offered ten new works, one of which - Quartetto Doloroso, written by the Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud - had been completed only two days earlier. Given this opportunity to be present at what was no doubt a world première public performance, the audience requested this item by acclaim. A romantic and rhapsodic work, it featured the viola strongly. The final work in the concert, this time chosen by the wheel, was Dvorak's magnificent Opus 96 Quartet, written during his visit to the USA and nicknamed 'The American'.
This concluded an exciting and unusual concert, with decidedly innovative programming. With the players on a low platform on the Great Hall floor and the audience seated around them, it had brought the audience and the musicians together in a much more intimate way than on most concert evenings. Inevitably, with 40 works available to form the programme, the players of the quartet were not as thoroughly rehearsed as for a more conventional concert. They visibly had to concentrate rather harder because of this, and the performances were not entirely without blemish, but this only added to what was already an interesting evening. Paul Cassidy, the viola player and chief spokesman for the Quartet, said at the end that they had 'had a real fun evening' - and so had the audience.
This concert was dedicated to the memory of Philip Reynolds, vice-chancellor from 1980-85 and a keen supporter of the University's Concert Series. It was good to see Philip’s wife Mollie in the front row, together with members of his family (who took their turn at spinning the wheel), as well as Bob McKinlay, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, and Fiona Aiken, University Secretary.
The new Vice-Chancellor's first Senate meeting on 22 February was unusually well attended and lasted an unusually long time – not far short of three hours.
Professor Smith began with some reflections on Lancaster and the wider higher education scene. First, he praised the university's response to the killing of Anuj Bidve. He then observed that from his initial observations of Lancaster he had found little that was unexpected, which was good. He had identified some activities that might be described as bold or even adventurous, such as the overseas partnerships, the link with International Study Group, and the revival of Chemistry and the expansion of Engineering. He thought the last two developments were risky but right.
He then turned briefly to the wider policy environment, in which little was predictable: the promised Higher Education Bill based on last year's White Paper seemed to have been shelved; regulatory changes requiring legislation had been postponed, including the opening out of the sector to private companies; and funding for taught postgraduates had been retained, against the betting. On local matters, Lancaster's applications were healthy: among traditional universities in England, we were third in the league table for applications, behind only (he revealed in response to a question) Reading and Anglia Ruskin. The reasons for this ranking were opaque. He singled out for mention three recent big research grants, all involving collaboration with other universities, Liverpool among them. The V-C's style in all this was low-key, informal, tactful, and at times humorous.
Senate then turned to the main agenda. On the proposed Guangwai partnership, Professor McKinlay reported that there was nothing to report – a situation he described as slightly but not seriously disconcerting. The operation of the Senate Effectiveness Review was described as reported in subtext 86. The quality of Marketing and Maths and Stats had been periodically reviewed and found to be satisfactory. The first real discussion came in response to a question from Bill Cooke about the university's duty of care towards staff misrepresented on the world wide web. Fiona Aiken said how difficult this was to regulate: rules that could be applied internally could not be applied to the internet, the boundary between work and home had been eroded, and there could be a tension between minimising reputational harm to the institution and to the individual. The best thing could be to ignore misrepresentation on the internet. In discussion it was suggested that we might want a code of practice that would discourage unkindness (which, it occurs to subtext, would seriously cramp the style of some academics); it was also suggested that the university could not sensibly be thought to have a duty of care over this, since it would be impossible to exercise it. Legal advice seemed to be that there was no such duty, and the Thought Police were mentioned in passing. Bill Cooke thought there could be a moral if not a legal duty, and that the issues were different for non-academic staff, who are not in the business of being unkind to each other in public.
Senate then turned to 'possible strategic options for Lancaster' – i.e. mainly the Liverpool Question. The V-C said he would allow 45 minutes for this discussion, but in the event it lasted slightly longer. Introducing the topic, he reported that the view of Council was 'Get on with it and let us know what you think', and that there were no apparent legal impediments to the retention of separate institutional identities while also achieving the desired outcome of increased 'research power'. Senior figures wondered if Liverpool was the right partner: were we being ambitious enough? Might some overseas universities be better partners? The timetable looked tight – to which the V-C replied that he had resisted pressure to go with an even tighter one. From his experience at Warwick, he thought that if we were to spurn Liverpool we might not find an alternative. For many Senators, the key issue remained the relative quality of the two universities: it was difficult to see how a merged institution would not be lower in the league tables than Lancaster is now. The V-C said that Liverpool might look different in 2015 than in 2012, but that there would need to be exit points along the road to closer union. But it was said that the Manchester-UMIST experience suggested that after a certain point pressure – not least from ministers - to continue towards full merger would become irresistible. We should think first where we wanted to be in five years, and then consider how a link with Liverpool would help us get there. Senior management in Liverpool apparently think – as reported in subtext 86 – that only 'a fully integrated collaboration' will enable an increase in research power. The V-C said that work was going on to test the truth of this claim. A member asked if prospective students might apply in the hope of benefiting from Lancaster's reputation while intending to study and live in Liverpool, where the night-life is believed to be livelier; the V-C agreed that this was a risk, and mentioned another – that in trying to have an open discussion we ran the risk that others, including ministers, would notice what's going on, and possibly try to stop it. Finally, a member asked if we should treat the Liverpool Question as an unhelpful distraction that the V-C had unfortunately inherited, and concentrate on other avenues of progress. The V-C seemed not unsympathetic to this, remarking that our strategic objectives at present lacked detail: the ambition to be a top 100 university was 'hugely stretching', and we had a long way to go.
Fiona Aiken then proposed a change to our Statutes – specifically, to amend Statute 9 so that the Lancaster City Council member of the university's Council would have to be approved by the Nominations Committee, like all the other lay members. This was presented as an anomaly in need of correction in the interests of tidiness, but the proposal was eloquently opposed by Joe Thornberry. Well informed about the Statutes and the history of town-gown affairs, he argued that the amendment would entail an unjustified interference in the business of a public body with which we ought to want to maintain good relations. What if the Nominations Committee rejected the City Council's nominee (which, another member pointed out, it might well do, because it takes its duties seriously)? The motion to amend the Statute was put to the vote and defeated 33-24.
There was still some important business in front of Senate. Trevor McMillan spoke of our preparations for the REF. The mock REF had been well managed and had proved constructive. All academic staff should meet their heads of department to discuss what it meant for them. This sparked some detailed and pertinent questioning: how much could staff be told? (Professor McMillan thought they had a right to full disclosure.) Were very small units of assessment viable? Could we afford to leave out any 4* output (even if its author's other outputs were non-existent or unimpressive)?
The last matter that was discussed at any length, though with some sense of exhaustion, was the Business Process Review. Andrew Neal said that following 'full and frank' discussions we had now entered a ‘pause for thought’ (another similarity with the government's NHS reforms, whose relevance to the BPR was suggested in subtext 86). The V-C said that while any university should be engaged in almost permanent review of its administrative processes it was clear that the sheer scale of change envisaged in the BPR was causing concern. A member said that heads of department were being kept in the dark and that as a result their authority could be undermined, since they did not know what they could reasonably be expected to know. The V-C said that some decisions arising from the BPR could be taken managerially, but that anything affecting academic structures would be brought back to Senate. Fears were expressed that crucial decisions had already been made and that some of them would mean more administrative work for academics. The V-C said, 'You don't design a system only for its efficiency, you design it for efficiency plus quality' – a wise opinion, and one which subtext hopes will prove to be more than a reassuring piece of management-speak.
NOTE ON PUBLICITY FOR BRASS BAND CONTEST
subtext 86 included a report on the National University Brass Band Contest (contributed by David Denver, for which much thanks). The piece noted that the publicity for the event was minimal. We have since heard the publicity officer responsible for this event contacted local newspapers with information about the competition, but that they decided not to publish it. The Lancaster Guardian had intended to come to the event, but got held up at another event they were covering in Morecambe.
The editorial collective of subtext currently consists (in alphabetical order) of: Rachel Cooper (PPR), Mark Garnett, George Green, David Smith, Bronislaw Szerszynski and Martin Widden.