issue 21

21 March 2007


'Truth: lies open to all'


Every fortnight

All editorial correspondence to: subtext-editors [at]

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CONTENTS: editorial, news in brief, the BBC comes to Bailrigg?, the human resources committee, fixed-term contracts at Lancaster, new court in Bowland North, historical curiosity corner, another urban myth, Wallups' world, letters.



At the last count, subtext had 769 subscribers and new subscriptions continue to arrive in a steady stream. Most subscribers are drawn from our primary target audience, University of Lancaster staff, but they are by no means restricted to this category. We have a small but growing contingent of politically aware student subscribers as well as a significant number of staff from universities all over the country, most of whom, but by no means all, have some prior connection with Lancaster.

This figure is an encouraging one. It suggests that a significant proportion of the University community broadly shares our concerns and/or take an active interest in university news and developments. It also says something positive about the sense of community at Lancaster, particularly as compared with that which exists elsewhere. It seems that in spite of everything, a special sense of community persists, as numerous readers who have worked both here and elsewhere testify.

In line with this, the editorial collective regards the subtext readership itself as an active community rather than a passive audience. It appears that many readers share this conception too, and we have recently received a request that we set up an on-line subtext discussion forum. In fact, we have considered this option in the past but, on balance, decided against. Useful though a discussion forum can be, its effectiveness depends on its users being dedicated and disciplined enough to check it on a regular basis. Our subscribers (and we) are busy people and we suspect that many of us would not be as assiduous as we should be. Better to have a regular fortnightly bulletin which comes direct into our e-mail in-boxes, which all (or most) of us read.

But our decision against a discussion forum should not in any way be interpreted as a move against discussion! We hope that those who would contribute to such a forum will not in any way be inhibited from sending in letters, articles, discussion pieces, jokes or confidential pieces of information. The continuation and success of subtext depends on the active participation of its readers – a message we cannot send too loudly.



Congratulations to the successful candidates in the recent LUSU sabbatical officer elections. The new President of LUSU (for 2007-08) is Tim Roca, a third year combined history and politics undergraduate. He is already well known in student circles, having been president of the Fylde College JCR, and he is currently the student representative on Council and also the Vice-Chair of the Lancaster University Labour Club.


Following on from previous reports, subtext has heard a rumour that the latest proposal is for a School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Whilst it seems the developments to date are 'insufficiently advanced' for it to be worthwhile Senate debating them, we wonder what the implications might be for biologists who feel they do not fit into this structure? Few believe the Dean of the Science and Technology Faculty to be supportive of this.


Apparently, some students who had expected to receive subject awards on coming to Lancaster have recently been informed they will not do so. On inquiring why, they were told by Student Services that it had been a mistake, they were not eligible and so were not getting the money. How this mistake occurred is not clear, nor is the reason why it took so long for them to be informed. What it does mean is that students who had budgeted for the award will now be facing the prospect of incurring larger debts as a consequence.


Readers will recall our report in subtext 20 on emerging dissatisfaction amongst Heads of Department with the style and format of their informal luncheon meetings with the Vice-Chancellor. subtext gathers that the V-C was unable to attend the last such meeting, and that the Deputy V-C, Bob McKinlay, chaired the meeting instead. In his own inimitable way, he apparently made a special effort to allow HoDs to ask questions and comment. Whether this was sufficient to placate HoDs is less certain.


A few issues back, subtext reported on the revival of the long-defunct 'John O'Gauntlet'. Now we report on the appearance of yet another unofficial student publication, 'Spineless'. In its inaugural issue it spells out its principles: 'All too often other publications choose not to criticise or to remain in the comfort zone of the "main stream", we intend to speak openly on issues and we will not shy away from controversy. In order to engage with our prospective readership, we realise we need to be edgy and to actually tell it as it happens. Furthermore we wish to provide a forum for all students who want to take advantage of the freedom of speech. The editorial team of Spineless will encourage free debate and open discussion as we believe that education is about more than just a piece of paper saying "2:1".' The first two issues were remarkably well-informed and well-written, which bodes well for the future. We wish 'Spineless' every success. For those puzzled by its somewhat enigmatic title, this too is explained in issue 1, back copies of which are available in all good college bars!



Anyone who has ventured into the newly refurbished ground floor of University House cannot fail to have been struck by the fashionable 'retro' look which is much in evidence, though others have remarked that it is cold, clinical and uninviting. The various activities are distinguished by colour scheme: Colleges and Residences are yellow, Student Support is orange, Finance (cashiers) and Careers are red and the Registry is green. If nothing else it should help students and others find their way amongst the open plan design but we wonder if the respective choice of colours has deeper meaning. Suggestions welcome. Uniform white tables and desks complement the look, though it is said the latter will have to be drilled in order to accommodate unsightly computer and desk light leads. Apparently staff have been informed that personal items are banned from the walls so as not to clutter or detract from the pristine, efficient look. The new reception has already attracted comments of it being uninspiring and unwelcoming. The subtext style adviser informs us that the furnishings and décor are very reminiscent of the 1970s. No sign yet of lava lamps but who knows? It is said that both the architect and the Vice-Chancellor are very pleased with the outcome. The staff who are now working there have still to pronounce as to whether it will be fit for purpose, but presumably were consulted. The template for the design eluded us until last week. Whilst watching BBC Television Newsnight in the subtext warehouse we caught a shot of the BBC News Room in the background. The similarities are uncanny. Then we recalled that the Director of Estates joined us from the BBC and has previously evangelized to anyone who would listen about its use of open plan design concepts in new projects. Is there a connection?



subtext is considering offering a prize to anyone who can shed light on this mysterious and shadowy body. What does it do and how would we find out about it?

After a lengthy search we can reveal that its terms of reference are to be found on page 188 of the Staff Handbook for 2006-07 (an invaluable publication which it is rumoured may be discontinued after this year), and on the web site of the now inaccurately named Academic Registrar's office. The first term of reference is 'to be responsible for recommending human resources strategy to Council' (i.e. not telling Council). The second is 'to ratify key human resources policies approved by the Vice-Chancellor and in the following areas not delegated by Council to recommend policies to Council, viz. determination of the terms and conditions of all categories of employees; decisions on participation in national negotiations and other staffing matters, and approval of adoption of approved pension schemes'. The third is 'to approve policy in relation to remuneration of senior staff and to premature retirement and voluntary severance'. The fourth and last is 'to audit the proper implementation of human resource policies, including the audit of their impact'. All in all, rather wide ranging in scope, a fact made all the more worrying by its narrow membership and the apparent secrecy which surrounds its deliberations.

Its membership consists of four lay members of University Council, (one of whom is in the chair), two academic managers(!), and up to two co-opted lay individuals with relevant expertise (not necessarily from Council). The latter is a category not used, we understand. In attendance are the Vice-Chancellor, Director of Personnel Services, Director of Finance and Resources, and the University Secretary. Under procedure it states that the lay membership will constitute the Remuneration Committee for purposes of approving policy and criteria for the remuneration of the Vice-Chancellor. It also states that the Vice-Chancellor will advise the committee of any human resources policies he or she is intending to approve, and any such policy that is declared to be strategic by the committee or its chairperson shall not be implemented without the approval of the committee or the chairperson on its behalf. What all this amounts to is that there is considerable scope for this group and particularly its chair to impact upon the working lives of all at Lancaster, and to push us in directions we may not wish to go. It is rumoured that the Vice-Chancellor and his senior colleagues are often given a difficult time in ways not possible elsewhere.

So what does it actually do? Here one encounters problems. Formal minutes of their meetings are rare and may not exist. If they do they are difficult to locate. Go to the University's Governance web page and you will find mention of most of the key committees but not this one. Try Personnel Services' web pages and you will also draw a blank. Occasionally it has been known to report verbally on some of its deliberations to University Council. Not before time, questions are starting to be raised about the secretive way it seems to operate and whether this is acceptable in an organisation which claims to be people-centred, open and transparent in its dealings with and about staff. But then again ... Apparently this is one of the committees the Pro-Chancellor was keen to chair and to take responsibility for. We wonder why? Any answers and additional information welcome, please.



The Times Higher recently reported on the issue of fixed-term contracts for research-only staff ('Changes to Work Law Begin to Bite', 9 March). According to the report:

'Lancaster University is ranked as the tenth-worst institution with 97.1 per cent of [research-only] staff on fixed-term contracts in 2004-05. But it said the number dropped to 90 per cent of staff in 2005-06. "As a general principle, all posts should now be on an indefinite basis unless there is an objective justification why they need to be fixed term," a spokesperson said.'

To say the least, Lancaster's placement in the bottom ten is worrying. While there is an effort to spin this into a positive (in the form of dropping percentages), even 90 per cent remains a serious concern. The idea of an objective justification for all posts that are fixed-term is one that needs some explaining. What is this justification, who decided on it, and how is it implemented? For example, all too often, it seems that researchers already working at the university are treated as new employees when they begin a new contract, with no thought given to permanent contracts. Is this now going to change and, if so, what is being done to correct the dismal performance on fixed-term contracts? With the Times Higher's table as a performance indicator (a term that might be more appealing to Lancaster), hopefully there can be improvements for Lancaster's research staff.



subtext should like to congratulate those responsible for the re-design of the court in the recently refurbished Bowland North (formerly the front court of the old Lonsdale College). The editors have heard many favourable comments on the recently laid lawn, shrubs and plants, which are seen as a significant improvement on the unrelenting paving stones which had graced the court hitherto.



Modern members of the University, who are used to the wearing of academic gowns only at the twice-yearly degree Congregations, may be surprised to hear that the wearing of gowns was once a daily occurrence at the University of Lancaster. Furthermore, it was not only lecturers and professors who attended lectures gown-clad, but undergraduates as well. Special undergraduate gowns were designed in the university colours of light Quaker grey with a Lancaster red yoke. For those curious as to what Lancaster undergraduates in gowns looked like, they may be seen wearing them in the video clip of the installation of the Chancellor in 1964, which may be found at: There is also a photograph of a university lecture in progress opposite p. 191 of Marion McClintock's 'Quest for Innovation'. Here, Professor Tom Lawrenson lectures in what is presumably his Manchester PhD undress gown, while the undergraduates take notes wearing their own distinctive gowns. Students were also required to wear their gowns on other specified occasions, including, for instance, appearances before the Standing Academic Committee. It appears, however, that the practice was never popular among the student population, many of whom had come here deliberately to escape what they regarded as the outmoded practices of Oxbridge. The issue came up at several Senate meetings, and in March 1965 the minutes record that 'Reference was made to an apparent falling off of the observance by undergraduates that they must wear gowns at all lectures. It was agreed after discussion that, so long as this regulation remained, members of the academic staff should take all necessary steps to enforce it.' Finally, however, Senate approved an SRC (Student Representative Council, the precursor to LUSU) proposal that the wearing of gowns be ended. This was passed in May 1967, and so the daily wearing of gowns at Lancaster lasted for fewer than three years. In the ensuing years, academics gradually followed the students' example.

Once again, much of this information was gleaned from Marion McClintock's 'Quest for Innovation'.

If it proves to be of sufficient interest, the 'Historical Curiosity Corner' may well become a regular column. If any readers have anything to contribute to such a column, the editors would, as ever, be delighted to hear from them.



One very hot day in 1977 when the Lancaster University Tea Society were drinking tea in the Square, someone said, 'Cor, I bet it's hot enough to fry an egg on the paving stones today.' The next thing anyone knew there were two dozen eggs scattered about various places in the Square. The experiment having failed, someone else said, 'I bet you could fry an egg on a car bonnet though', so they all went out the back of University House and tried frying an egg on a Mercedes, and it worked beautifully. At that moment, a Security man came running up shouting, 'What are you young scamps doing to the Vice-Chancellor's car?', at which point the culprits quickly disappeared.



From: Roger K. Jones, Assistant Director of Consultancy and Profiteering Services, Lune Valley Enterprise University (LuVE-U)
To: Nigel Wallups, Vice-Chancellor, LuVE-U
Re: Boost Revenue with Internal Charges

In the Office of Consultancy and Profiteering Services, we have been working on ways to boost revenue for the University with a range of new internal charges. So we've come up with several possibilities for your consideration, some of which may also double as external charges for outside agencies and corporate enterprises.

Consulting services. Anyone wishing special training in entrepreneurship, management, or marketing could make use of our specialised services in these areas. We could provide not only in-person consulting services, but also canned sayings that managers can play over and over again like, 'Show me the money' and 'You're either with us or against us'. When people learn to repeat these and other sayings, they will start to feel like profit-making machines.

Use of meeting rooms. These would be free to anyone engaging in knowledge transfer to corporations. However, anyone wishing to use our meeting rooms for anything else would face charges. They could contact our knowledge transfer office for more information on the hourly and daily rates.

Fee transfers between departments. We are proposing new guidelines and additional forms for all transfers of money between departments. These will include a paperwork reduction form (to be filled out in triplicate) and a 32-page document to be filled out on proof of maximising efficiency for every fund transfer. In processing this information, we would charge for our role in expediting the flow of funds between departments.

All of these charges would mean that we, at LuVE-U, will be one of the top universities in the Lune Valley, based on the number one criterion for quality: income generation. The result will be a more efficient university with improved performance indicators and maximum potential for growth.

I hope that you will agree that more internal charges are a way forward for the University.



Two versions of subtext 20?

Dear subtext,

What's the difference?


Johnny Unger, Linguistics

[Readers should rest assured that the errors in the first version were not substantive or exciting, but it was simply that some incorrect formatting had been allowed to slip through the editorial net. Apologies for the error, and for disappointing those who thought something more exciting than a slip of the mouse had been behind the recall - eds.]



Dear subtext,

Even though I have left the university, I continue to read subtext because it fulfils a valuable role not just in the context of Lancaster but of the wider academic community. Thanks - keep it up!

But I want to raise some concerns about your discussion of bullying (subtext 20). In my view, not only do we need to have a serious discussion of what is meant by 'bullying' but we also need to recognise that it need not just be a top-down phenomenon. Universities operate in a context and within a system in which all workers - whether Vice-Chancellor, administrator, new lecturer or senior professor - have a duty and responsibility to perform their work as best they can, for the benefit of all in the university community and beyond. Sometimes this requires asking someone to do a task - or, where necessary, insisting that s/he does it. Sometimes the person so asked may complain, that they are being 'bullied'- but are they? Does asking someone to carry out their tasks - or insisting that they do so - and fulfil their responsibilities (which might include research and publication to contribute to the RAE, teaching, doing necessary administrative tasks cooperatively, in a timely manner and to the best of their ability) and being forceful about so doing if they have thus far failed to do their jobs, really constitute bullying? We must be careful not to conflate the legitimate act of asking people to do their jobs, with bullying.

I am not, I stress, saying that bullying does not occur or that everyone should just meekly follow orders from above. I'm very much aware that serious problems of bullying, fear and morale loss have been precipitated by the brash managerialism that dominates our universities these days. Such things have to be opposed - and where senior managers use fear and intimidation to harass staff, then they should be called to account. But equally debate is needed on what the relationship is between perceptions of bullying and the carrying out of work responsibilities. It must also be recognised that if I don't do my job properly, I am increasing the pressure on those above and on my colleagues; that is itself a form of harassment. And if, when told to do my job properly I then complain that I am being bullied, am I not also engaging in a form of bullying?

If there is to be a debate on this subject, as subtext suggests, then it needs to consider that bullying is not a one-way, top-down process that only those nasty people in senior management engage in. The process can be just as pernicious the other way around.

Ian Reader, University of Manchester


Comment on subtext 20's 'Editorial'

Dear subtext,

After reading subtext 20, I felt that I had to comment on the news that those right at the top are beginning to notice that something is wrong. Regarding the article on the purpose of the University, why need it wait for lords to say that there is a problem with the University's direction, welcome though their words are? If an organisation exists where the core purposes of that organisation are not clear to _all_ its members, and thus deviations from them are also not clear, is that not pretty much the definition of poor leadership?

Are not the clear purposes of a university to carry out teaching and research at the highest level? Given this; say, for example, that individuals were, for the sake of self-advancement using internal resources intended to support the core purposes of teaching and research to prop up external projects that had nothing to do with the core academic purposes. Say that these projects were only able to bring in money with recourse to extensive and sustained internal support. This would clearly have the effect of running down the University. What mechanisms exist for ordinary staff to report these individuals, and thereby have their activities stopped? Should we have reported these individuals directly to the lords, rather than wasting our time talking to University management, and if so, how?

All sorts of aberrant activities like these have been going on for years, but only now it appears that the lords are expressing unease. It must therefore be the case that the University hierarchy is not very good at passing up numerous serious concerns from a wide range of sources to these lords.

Lancaster University has a six star management school. I wonder how many stars they'd get if those awarding the stars included the standard of the University's own management in their calculations?

Michael Cowie, CELT


Junk Mail

Dear subtext,

Numerous subscribers have reported that their issues of subtext are being diverted to their 'junk boxes'. Another such complaint appeared in the last issue.

Let me explain what happens with spam (junk) mail at Lancaster.

When a message comes in from the Internet, it passes through an ISS-run 'mail hub' system that receives all the incoming stuff (although Computing do run their own, parallel systems). It's scanned here for viruses and assessed for spamminess - and if the spammy score exceeds a preset level (currently 4.5) we add the words '*ISS Detected Spam*' to the start of the message subject.

The message then gets sent on its way, and ends up typically in an Exchange mailbox, where you can read it with Outlook.

Now, in this process, all that ISS systems do is set the spam score and change the subject line. We do absolutely nothing that controls which folder in your Exchange mailbox the message goes to.

However, Outlook itself has some ideas on the subject, and it's this that most people don't realise.

Built in to Outlook is a 'junk mail filter', which is a set of spam-detection rules and actions that Microsoft have defined. They don't tell anyone what the detection rules are, or how it works, and there are only three things an Outlook user can do to control it.

You can

(a) Set it to 'highly sensitive', 'middling sensitive', 'not very sensitive' or 'keep your hands off my e-mail'.
(b) Set it either to move what it thinks of as spam to the 'Junk Mail' folder, or to delete it completely (really, really not recommended)
(c) Tell it to treat any e-mail from specified addresses as quite normal proper mail that you really want to read.

What will be happening with subtext is that for whatever reason, the Outlook junk mail filter thinks it's spam. Judicious application of (a), (b) or (c) above will let you control this; there's no way to tell exactly what it is about the text that's made it think this.

The other possibility to remember is that you, the Outlook user, can also set 'Inbox rules' to process mail yourself. Many people like to have a rule that moves messages with '*ISS Detected Spam*' in the subject to 'Junk Mail' - or maybe you go in for your own junk mail detection, and bin any message that talks about Viagra, Nigerians with lots of excess cash, or the proceedings of Senate.

So basically, anything that puts a message into a folder other than your Inbox isn't an ISS system, and it's something that you've done yourself, or have to be responsible for controlling. The ISS Staff Help desk (extension 10987) will be very happy to show you how to control Inbox rules, or to tame the Outlook junk mail filter - give them a call and your subtext will be there in your Inbox waiting for you.

Alan Phillips, Mail Team Leader, ISS


The editorial collective of subtext currently consists (in alphabetical order) of: Lenny Baer, George Green, Gavin Hyman, Bronislaw Szerszynski and Alan Whitaker.