23 January 2007
'Truth: lies open to all'
All editorial correspondence to: subtext-editors [at] lancaster.ac.uk.
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CONTENTS: introduction, news in brief, watching the detectives, Study Group International, Senate report, John O'Gauntlet, urban myths, Wallups' world, competition result, letters
Happy new year to all our readers! In this issue we run a piece about how, thirty years ago, the University responded to police interest in the activities of one of its members in a way which strikingly contrasts with recent events. We also report on Senate, welcome another independent publication to campus, and find out what the Vice-Chancellor of a completely different university has come up with for a project by which he might be remembered.
We are also pleasantly surprised that our request for 'campus myths' continues to provoke such an enthusiastic response (including anonymised photographs of someone carrying out the off-the-ground passage from one end of the spine to the other - what is it about urban legends and legendary japes that get some people so animated?). Finally, two of our letters prompt a correction in respect of an item we ran in the last issue. subtext of course always welcomes corrections and clarifications from our readers; for example, if anyone would like to answer the questions we ask in this issue about the arrangements between Study Group International and the University, we would be particularly delighted.
NEWS IN BRIEF
University Court holds its annual meeting on 27 January. For those readers who are less than familiar with the governance structures of the University, this body draws its membership widely from outside and within the University and has the power to discuss any matters relating to the University and to convey its opinion on such matters to University Council or the Senate. The apparent delay in circulating the agenda papers is rumoured to have been caused by the motion submitted by the Students Union. It embodies their concerns regarding the impact of variable tuition fees on students, the University and the region, and requests that Court establish a working party to investigate this. The suggestion seems perfectly sensible but does not seem to have found favour. Apparently, doubts were firstly expressed as to whether Court could establish such a working group, though Statute 17 indicates it can and one might have expected the University Secretary to know this. At bottom, of course, is the worry that a student motion might disrupt the attempts to stage-manage this public event. Recent meetings have proved lively affairs and demonstrated that Court is not simply prepared to endorse the views of senior officers. This independence of mind might again surface with the proposal from the University Secretary that Court should be invited to establish a small group to review its own effectiveness. It is a recommendation from the Corporate Governance Working Party and parallels that now considering the effectiveness of Senate (see next item). The simple answer from Court might be, 'if it ain't broke, don’t fix it, so thanks for raising it but no thanks'.
It seems that the working group examining the effectiveness of Senate has now met at least once and we are all being encouraged to offer any comments we might have on its strategic academic role, membership and how it functions. subtext encourages everyone to do so either by contacting Paul Graves, the Director of Governance and Planning, or by using the web based discussion board which has been set up for this purpose (http://domino.lancs.ac.uk/pub/SER.nsf/. It is understood that to date there have been few comments posted. If this remains the case then past experience suggests the need for streamlining Senate may come to dominate the recommendations (as it did for University Council). Judging by the way last Wednesday’s agenda (see the report below) was dominated by information items and matters for report it rather feels like Senate is already being groomed for streamlining.
At long last some news about Phase 4 of the residences project. Grizedale College, in particular, continue to make the best of a very unsatisfactory situation. Having seen undertakings given to them by the University revised at least once, the lack of progress and information has fuelled scepticism as to whether their new residences will be delivered for the start of the 2008 academic year, or indeed at all. The good news is that UPP should be issuing a letter of intent to the contractors, NorWest Holst, which will allow them to commence enabling works in the very near future. Financial closure is expected in March. The enabling works are in connection with residences for the County College (County West is to be demolished and rebuilt, County Main is to be refurbished). It will inevitably entail further disruption to life at the northern end of campus. Work on new build for Grizedale College is anticipated to begin in April this year for completion in May 2008 and occupation from September. Important issues regarding college social and office space for Grizedale remain to be resolved but here the discussions are with the University. Recent developments can only be seen as good news provided the timetable is realistic and adhered to. In the meantime the mound of rubble that was Grizedale College is to be entered in this year’s Turner Prize competition (though see also the competition result below).
subtext readers may have noted the outcome of the recent postal ballot at Oxford University where the Vice-Chancellor’s proposals to streamline corporate governance were decisively rejected and have now been abandoned. Amongst other things, the proposals would have handed financial decision making to outside experts. Welcoming the result, one of the leading opponents of the proposals, Nicholas Bamforth, commented that “Oxford academics had voted against a package that seemed to bring about the type of short-term managerialism that has sadly come to dominate – and undermine - so many UK universities in the past 15 years. For more information see: http://education.guardian.co.uk/administration/comment/0,,1975956,00.html
Last month the Times Higher, the Guardian, the BBC and others ran items
on a new organisation in defence of academic autonomy, Academics for Academic
Freedom (AFAF - http://www.afaf.org.uk). AFAF is inviting academics to
sign up to a Statement of Academic Freedom:
We invite readers for their opinions on this initiative. Is this an urgently necessary attempt to correct the erosion of the spirit of free inquiry? Or could it have the effect of seeming to license unacceptable forms of expression on campus? Or both?
The Autonomous University of Lancaster (AUL), mentioned in previous issues of subtext, is continuing its activities this year with regular Thursday lectures, a series of films and discussions on climate change, and another series on love, gender and sexuality (see http://www.knowledgelab.org.uk/wiki/AUL/Main_Page).
WATCHING THE DETECTIVES
In the light of the George Fox Six debacle, subtext readers might be interested to read about how an earlier management regime at the University of Lancaster reacted when another member of the University came under the scrutiny of Special Branch police officers. In 1977 Steve Wright, now Reader in the School of Applied Global Ethics at Leeds Metropolitan University, was a PhD student studying under Paul Smoker in the Department of Politics. His PhD involved researching the US-controlled network of telecommunications surveillance often known as Echelon, with a view to exploring how it might be brought under democratic control. Suspecting that microwave antennae near Quernmore, especially those adjacent to Langthwaite House, were being used as part of this surveillance network, he took photographs of the antennae and sent them to Duncan Campbell (later to be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act in the famous ABC Trial of 1978), who was also researching telephone tapping at the time.
In a recent article* Steve relates the story:
'On the night of 5 April 1977 ... loud knocks on the door heralded the arrival of 6 Special Branch officers who make it clear that they wanted co-operation otherwise they will use 'blatant search techniques'. This implied that not only would they turn the place over but that the search would become very obvious to the neighbours. ... I calmly suggested that what they were doing infringed academic freedom and was unprecedented.
'In fact my then neighbours were so alarmed by the presence of six burly strangers strolling around our house they called the local police! The officer knocked on our door and was given short shrift by Detective Chief Inspector Moffat of Scotland Yard, who told him, 'It's official, so piss off'. I queried what it was that I was alleged to have done and the Kafkaesque atmosphere was heightened by the response that it is an official secret and I cannot be told. In the meantime, my diaries and entire research correspondence were removed. ...
'I was taken by car to Lancaster University. It was the Easter holiday period and the special branch officers expected that 'a bit of arm twisting' would give them easy access to my office in an otherwise empty campus. But the politics department was crawling with academics who were demanding proper procedures be followed. After some delay, I thanked the officers for their lift to campus and announced that I had work to do and proceeded to exit the car. This forced their hand and I was arrested under the official secrets legislation and taken to meet with Professor Phillip Reynolds the Pro-Vice Chancellor, together with various university and college officials who had assembled: Dr Roxbee Cox, Fylde Principal, and Mr. Forster, Academic Registrar.
'The atmosphere was tense. Special Branch demanded access to my room and I pointed out that principles of academic freedom were involved. After all I had only ever used open sources, had simply followed the university motto ['Truth lies open to all'] and no one had explained the nature of any charges laid against me. Detective Chief Inspector Moffat replied that 'this was an issue of national security' and told me that they had a warrant. Professor Reynolds demanded that they go through the proper channels, to which Moffat replied that he had six men present and would start breaking down doors in the department if access was denied. People began sweating – it was an unforgettable moment. I broke it by emphasizing that I had nothing to hide and suggested that they could search to their hearts' content. The atmosphere was thankfully lightened a bit later with the arrival of my supervisor, Dr Paul Smoker, who amidst the hubbub in the corridors managed to give me a burst of the Beatles hit, 'Listen, Do You Want To Know A Secret – Do you Promise Not to Tell?' Perfect: but I was later held in Lancaster Police Station for several hours, refused a solicitor and when finally released was told, 'sometimes you fellows are too clever for your own good.'
When asked recently about these events Steve added: 'on reflection, what was important about that experience was that the University staff helped me carry on at an extremely difficult time'. Steve's work was eventually taken up by the European Union, with him helping to set up its Echelon Committee as well as doing investigative work for the Human Rights & Democratisation Unit. That's Third Mission, surely, even if not as we usually know it - and it's to the University's credit that they protected it from interference.
* Wright, Steve (2005) 'The Echelon Trail: An Illegal Vision', Surveillance & Society 3(2/3): 198-215 (available at http://www.surveillance-and-society.org/Articles3(2)/echelon.pdf)
In the last issue we published an article (http://www.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/archive/issue016.htm#sgi) raising concerns about the commercial agreement between the University of Lancaster and Study Group International (SGI), which allows the latter to run a new International Study Centre (ISC) on campus, to provide overseas students with English language teaching with a view to them entering the University as undergraduates. We also published a statement from members of the Department of Linguistics and English Language (LAEL), who have been running similar courses themselves for over thirty years, but had not been approached to provide the service themselves. We discussed reports of unhappiness at other Universities who have entered into similar agreements with SGI, and wondered whether this was a worrying example of creeping privatisation on campus.
In this issue we want to ask a few more questions about this development:
* THE ISC WEBSITE. How and why was the decision made to hand over rights to our electronic letterhead to an external company, and under what conditions? As we noted in subtext 16, the website (http://www.studygroup.com/isc/lancaster/isc.aspx) is on an Study Group International server, and thus presumably controlled by SGI, but closely follows the new university web template. In following the links from the University home page, the unsuspecting applicant will move apparently seamlessly from the University website to pages on the SGI website. Worries about this seem confirmed by the fact that the website 'strongly recommends' that applicants from UK and EU countries, who are not eligible to study at the study centre, instead 'consider joining an A Level programme at Bellerbys College' (http://www.studygroup.com/isc/lancaster/apply_fees.aspx). By allowing this to appear on pages with the University's web-letterhead, the University of Lancaster seems to be recommending a particular private school as the best place for UK students to do their A-levels, ahead of every FE institution in the whole of the UK and Europe – and, as one might expect, one that is owned by SGI.
* ACADEMIC RIGOUR. What controls are in place to ensure that the 33-week 'International Foundation Year' (IFY) offered by the study centre is an adequate substitute for A-levels for University entry? Does any external body endorse these courses? If not, why was this deemed unnecessary? Are we opening a back-door route to University entry for candidates below our normal entry standards? What might the effects of this be on teaching, and on the educational experience of other students?
* THE AGE OF ISC STUDENTS. The 'entry conditions' state that the minimum age for entry to the study centre is 17 years. Has the University really thought through the legal and social implications of having a group of people who may quite possibly be legally children, resident on campus throughout the undergraduate social year? Is anyone going to be in loco parentis? Will they have academic tutors assigned to them? Will they belong to the colleges and participate in college functions? Tutoring within the colleges is a voluntary activity, will CRB checks now be needed for such students? Has LUSU been consulted about this - will these children even be eligible to join LUSU as non-adult non-members of the university? It is understood that the view of the Colleges and Residences Office is that the SGI students should simply be spread throughout the colleges in order to help them integrate with other students. However, some colleges are not happy with the lack of consultation and proper consideration of the implications of having a large number of such students on campus.
* AUTOMATIC ENTRY. Has the University granted Study Group International the power to admit students directly onto our undergraduate degrees? The wording at http://www.studygroup.com/isc/lancaster/isc.aspx seems to imply that the process will be as follows: (1) student arrives for IFY (admission determined by SGI, with no departmental oversight as far as we know); (2) student automatically gets conditional offer (required grade presumably set by SGI); (3) student either gets the grade they need or does not (determined by SGI's assessments procedure); (4) if they get the grade they automatically get on the degree scheme.
As we said in the introduction to this issue, we invite answers, correction or clarifications from anyone who might be in the position to provide them. We have been informed that glowing reports of the arrangements with Lancaster have featured prominently in SGI’s sales pitches to other universities. It would be good to be convinced that the arrangements have been well thought through and will indeed benefit the University as much as we have been assured. We understand that the previous articles in subtext 16 prompted the Deputy Vice-Chancellor to (belatedly) meet with the department about their concerns and to offer a partial apology for the lack of consultation. He is, however, well known to believe that this is a good arrangement and everything would be all right. We do not know the basis for his optimism.
SENATE REPORT – WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY
A very thin agenda this time around, with only one discussion item tabled. There were, however, eight information items, where the Vice-Chancellor gave reports on matters of significance. Several of these items related to national developments which may have a significant impact on the university.
The first related to the proposal included in the last Queen's Speech that Further Education (FE) colleges should have the option of applying for foundation-degree awarding powers. A bill to that effect has now started to make its way through the House of Lords. This was apparently initiated with little or no consultation with HE or FE institutions, and there are significant reservations being expressed by both. This could have a significant impact on the University because of the validation arrangements that exist with several FE colleges. The move creates all sorts of practical difficulties for both types of institution, and these were outlined by the University Secretary. Derek Seward reported that the colleges validated by Lancaster value the link and would be reluctant to have these arrangements changed, although he suspects that they are likely to come under significant pressure from above to apply for these powers.
The second related to developments on the replacement of the RAE with a research metrics system. This looks set to move forward at a rapid pace for the science subjects, with the transition occurring very soon after the completion of the current RAE. This means that the funding implications of the current RAE may only be in operation for a year for the science subjects. Explorations are currently underway for the extent to which a metrics system would be able to operate for the humanities and social science subjects. For these subjects, the financial implications of the next RAE are likely to be much longer lasting (perhaps seven or eight years). It is expected that a metrics based system will be introduced for these subjects as well, although not to the same extent as for the science subjects. David Archard stressed the importance of a continuing peer review quality assessment element for humanities and social science based subjects. The V-C said that this was likely to continue in some form, although this would be at the level of the current main panels as opposed to the sub-panels, and obviously wouldn’t be as extensive as in the current system.
The third such item was the report on HEFCE's decision to ring fence £60 million of total QR (quality related) funding in 2007-08 for expenditure on business and industry related research, and this represents a significant shift in funding policy. While £60 million remains a relatively small portion of the total of £6.7 billion of QR funding, this is nonetheless a move away from an allocation of research resources on the quality-related criteria to one based on business and industry relevance. It may well be that this is but the first step of a wider shift in research funding policy, which could well have a significant impact on university research activity.
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor also reported on the first stages of a possible collaborative partnership with an HE institution in Kolkata, India. This would be along the lines of the Malaysian Sunway College partnership which was approved last year. Further information will be given as negotiations progress.
The only discussion item (of which there was no discussion!) related to a review of undergraduate admissions processes in the University. This review explored the possibility of centralising admissions procedures either at the Faculty or University level, but concluded that little was to be gained and some things to be lost in doing so. For the most part, the current arrangements will continue unchanged. The exceptions are that the Admissions Office will in future take decisions on overseas applicants (with difficult or borderline cases being referred to departments) and Faculties will have an enhanced role in overseeing the admissions procedures and in ensuring that good practice is shared across departments.
JOHN O'GAUNTLET REVIVED
A new alternative publication has recently made its appearance on campus. In the second half of the Michaelmas term, frequenters of the college bars noticed the regular appearance within their confines of issues of a newsletter entitled 'John O'Gauntlet'. Three issues have so far appeared, each consisting of two A4 sheets. Clearly intended as an alternative source of information on university affairs, the content appears to be more student-orientated than that of subtext (the last issue carried a full page devoted to the debate over whether LUSU should continue to have a Women's Officer sabbatical post).
Interestingly, the editors have resurrected the title of a long defunct student newspaper, the 'John O'Gauntlet', and the masthead nostalgically reproduces the original. Doubtless, this is not without significance. The original 'John O'Gauntlet' (along with 'Carolynne', the other major student newspaper) came into being in 1964, within a term of the first students coming up. Like 'Carolynne', it was distinguished from SCAN in that it was not affiliated to the Student Representative Council (the precursor to the current LUSU). The 'John O'Gauntlet' was known as the most radical of the three student periodicals and had a definite left-wing slant. One can only assume that the revived 'John O'Gauntlet' sees itself as perpetuating that political tradition.
The new journal is edited anonymously and claims to include both students and academics in its editorial board. In the most recent issue, it congratulated subtext on its first birthday, and we should like to return the compliment by wishing the 'JOG' every success. We will watch its future development with interest.
URBAN MYTHS AGAIN
Our item in subtext 15 about campus-related urban myths continues to prompt contributions from readers. Below we have some embellishment on the 'campus tunnel' story, and also some new stories. Keep them coming!
It is my understanding that in the very early seventies some 'enterprising' students discovered that there was an entrance to the south tunnel inside the bookshop, and those enterprising students made some unscheduled 'withdrawals' or, as it was sometimes known then, 'liberations' of the stock. Myth had it back then that there was also an entrance to the tunnel inside one of the banks, but I put that down to wishful thinking. I recall my informant telling me that the bookshop ruse had been discovered and any re-occurrence of the scam prevented.
Dave Bleasdale (ISS)
* In the 60s (or 70s) during rag week, when rag week was an excuse for such hi-jinks, students painted a zebra crossing across the M6.
* Also during rag week, the University of Lancaster signs were replaced or covered up to read 'University of Wooloomooloo'.
* The ton-up challenge: to ride a motorbike down the underpass at 100mph. This was a challenge set by the motorbike club. Spotters would be posted at the roundabouts and in the underpass. Once all was clear the rider would hurtle round the roundabout, picking up speed, then charge down into the underpass. Speed bumps? They're a modern invention, which I suspect have brought this sport to a halt. After screaming through the underpass and glancing at the speedo to confirm the achievement of the 100mph, brakes would be applied and the motorbike would take the other roundabout at about 40mph.
* That if college rooms had been skimmed with a coat of plaster over the brickwork it would have made the rooms too narrow for regulations. This seems to be a fairly common myth in universities, and was also applied to my undergraduate days at RHBNC, except instead of brickwork it was bare breeze-blocks. All these residences seem to have been demolished now, so we'll never know... But then that's how we like these myths - unprovable!
Barry Rowlingson (Mathematics Department)
From: Nigel Wallups, Vice-Chancellor, Lune Valley Enterprise University (LUVE-U)
I have been thinking for some time about LUVE-U's need for a flagship project that will help us project ourselves internationally as a centre of excellence in higher education. As VC of LUVE-U I have never been one just to jump on bandwagons or follow the latest trends (as our consultants have noted, usually at LUVE-U we are lucky if we catch up with the trend before last!). A university of the ilk of LUVE-U deserves a flagship that highlights its distinctiveness and that sets it out from the field as a brand leader and innovator not at the cutting edge but beyond it in the blue skies of academe. And so, today, I am launching, as my own personal initiative that will live on long after I have left LUVE-U, an institute that is a world first, that sets us apart from the pack, and points the way forward: as of today LUVE-U is to be home to the world's very first Institute for Very Advanced Studies (IVAS)!
Of course we already have an Institute for Advanced Studies, but then so too do dozens of other institutions in the sector. And LUVE-U deserves more than an Institute that sounds no different from all the others already in existence. And anyway, as I often say, everyone at LUVE-U does advanced studies.
Naturally, given tight budgets, resources are scarce and we do not want to create unrest by diverting much needed funds from essential university activities such as senior management development, new lifts and office refurbishments on the executive floor of LUVE-U House, and so this new innovation will require some belt-tightening in non-essential areas of our work. However, I am certain staff will not bicker over such trivia but will accept such things in the spirit of the greater good of the institution and as part of our new restructuring programme. Further details will follow once the Restructuring Strategy Plan (Phase 3) has been drawn up but for now let us all bask in our world-leading prominence as the first and only university on the planet with an IVAS!
In the last subtext, reflecting on the fact that the official name for the duck pond is Lake Carter, we asked subtext readers to suggest a campus feature which might be named after the current Vice-Chancellor to preserve his name for posterity. The clear winner is Johnny Unger of Linguistics and English Language:
'I'd like to propose that, to honour the present VC, we name the heap of rubble that used to be Grizedale after him. I think 'Mount Wellings' would be an appropriate name for this new focal point in the campus landscape, particularly since the difficulty in agreeing a contract for the next phase of campus development means it might become a permanent feature!'
As a reward for his winning entry, Johnny will receive the complete recordings of University House Motivational Speeches. It is rumoured that, when played backward, you can hear the phrase, 'income generation, income generation, income generation' as a soothing mantra.
The Metamorphosis installation (the butterfly) was the initiative of one of the PhD students in the Computing dept, and the screen related to wider research projects in this department (getting screens and sensors working in a shitty underpass is a genuine challenge). Metamorphosis was a major achievement for a student (or for anyone - no one would close a road for my research!). The launch party was great too.
Research in computing often involves producing short lived, clunky systems. I don't think anyone should be made to feel bad about this, not least students.
John Rooksby (Computing)
Concerning the underpass interactive screens. You asked for people to write in if they had ever gleaned any information from the screens. This is not really an appropriate request. It is not appropriate because, as I understand it, the underpass screen project is NOT concerned with disseminating 'information'. It is an interactive media project designed to display interactive media projects. Although I only ever glanced at in while passing in a car, I think the butterflies were supposed to disappear while there was movement in the underpass. Even if this worked it doesn't sound very interesting, but it is possible to imagine that some sort of interactive display that might brighten up that dark and curiously damp place where users of public transport are obliged to wait. There is a related, but separate screen project, that IS concerned with the dissemination of information. There are two plasma screens, one in the Library and one in Barker House Farm, which display information from ISS, the Library and Cartmel College as appropriate. In addition there are other screens around campus e.g. in LUVU, the Management School and Engineering, about which I know as much (or as little) as anyone else. The underpass screen project is an art and technology experiment which seems to be in hibernation. It is easy to poke fun at Art and technology especially when they appear to fail, but both disciplines are very powerful and if we 'scoff' too soon, we could find ourselves having to eat our words.
Dave Bleasdale (ISS)
[subtext writes: Many thanks for these corrections - it was clearly unfair of us to judge the underpass screen so harshly.]
Just to report that this issue of subtext turned up in my Junkbox. To ward off any paranoia, I should add that some messages to staff from University House also come to my Junkbox, along with most issues of a weekly French Studies e-newsletter.
David Nott (European Languages and Cultures)
It's with interest I see the high profile given to Study Group on Lancaster University homepage, and as a former EFL teacher who knew the high reputation of some of the academics in the Linguistics department I was surprised - especially once one follows up who Study Group are and sees the dread words 'Embassy CES'.
This thread may be of interest - it is certainly representative of my fiancé’s appalling employment terms and shocking management at one of their summer schools:
I can only hope they are a little more professional when working here, as the modus operandi has always seemed to be bucks not educational standards.
Steve Wright (IHR)
The editorial collective of subtext currently consists (in alphabetical
order) of: Lenny Baer, George Green, Gavin Hyman, Bronislaw Szerszynski,
and Alan Whitaker.