15 May 2007
'Truth: lies open to all'
All editorial correspondence to: subtext-editors [at] lancaster.ac.uk
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CONTENTS: editorial, travellers, science park, council, powering down,
fobbing off, urban myths, past times, not in the news, letters.
What will Lancaster be like in ten years time? And how much influence does and should the University have on such questions? An issue that loomed large in the local elections on 3 May – allegedly losing former Council leader Ian Barker his seat - was Lancaster City Council's endorsement of plans by the property development company Centros Miller to develop the wedge of underused land between St Leonard's Gate, Moor Lane and Lancaster Canal. Stories of misleading public opinion polls, traffic projections and surveys of shopping behaviour have not helped Centros Miller's case – and neither have reports from Bury St. Edmonds, where Centros Miller are currently carrying out work on a similar development for the old Cattle Market site there.
But more significant in the debate over Lancaster's 'canal corridor' site has been the inconsistency between Centros Miller's retail-dominated proposal and the vision that many Lancaster residents have about how their city ought to develop: a 2003 public consultation carried out by a local group found that what Lancaster residents wanted for this area was a 'cultural quarter' with small, independent shops and some affordable housing (for a summary of the controversy see http://www.lancasterukonline.net/news/features/development/canal_corridor/index.html).
So Lancaster seems to be at a crossroads. Should it be trying to compete with nearby retail centres like Preston, pinning its hope on the promise that the arrival of a Debenhams store will attract extra shoppers to Lancaster (albeit when the chain is itself struggling) and thus more prosperity? Or should it be seeking a more imaginative and distinctive path, one which capitalises on and further nurtures its unique character and potential?
subtext readers might ask what such questions have to do with the University. We are after all a campus university. What attracts our undergraduates to the University is presumably not so much the character of the city as that of the campus. For some, the town seems to consist of little more than a Sainsbury's, a train station and a string of nightclubs. A similar restricted view of the town is no doubt present amongst staff at Lancaster – it is remarkable how few familiar faces are seen, for example, at the Lancaster Literature Festival.
However, this was not always the case. In the period between its inception in 1964 and the completion of the campus, of course, the University was largely based in the town, with the Grand Theatre for example serving as its main lecture theatre (see http://www.lancs.ac.uk/unihistory/). But even when the University moved to the campus, its presence was modest, almost apologetic, as if it existed with the permission of the town and surrounding villages: it was set back from the A6, almost invisible to the residents at Bailrigg and Galgate, and known to many only by the distant sight of Bowland Tower. Yet connections with the town were still strong, for example with the Department of Continuing Education being housed in the Storey Institute, and students being a common sight during rag week collecting money on Penny Street for local causes.
But times have changed. And the increasing visual impact of the University seems to signal a new attitude; with the development of InfoLab21 and the Southwest campus, the University seems to be breaking its former compact with its environs, visually declaring itself to be a force which can impose itself on its surroundings (or strike up business deals with the Council, as in the case of Bailrigg Science Park discussed below).
Could these two stories – that of a city whose leaders seem to be unable to come up with an alternative to the identikit strategy for the city on offer, and that of a University becoming increasingly isolated from the town – somehow be related? Are the fates of the two entities even now tied together, despite the declining links between the two? Lancaster has certainly not managed to capitalise on the presence of its growing student population in recent years in the way that other comparable towns and cities have, in terms of the power of student numbers to sustain and create interesting areas of shops, cafes and bars. Of course, St. Martin's College has made its own contribution to student presence in the town. But only in a few isolated places like Chancellor's Wharf and the Water Witch does one ever get even a glimpse of a 'student quarter' with character and cultural vibrancy; instead (exceptions like LULUMS apart), students' spending power and recreational and cultural energies seem largely to be being channelled into the night clubs on North Road, or even to the Carleton in Morecambe, where they have little if any directly positive impact on the wider town.
This is surely an issue for the University in terms of its ability to attract and retain staff: Lancaster cannot provide the amenities and diversity of the larger cities, but instead offers a quirky mix of tradition and cultural creativity compressed into a village-like scale. If the Centros Miller plan is realised, Lancaster's potential to further develop in this rather different direction may be seriously diminished, making it a less interesting place to live and work. But this should also raise wider questions for the University community. What do subtext readers think? What is the state of town-gown relations in Lancaster? Should we be taking more of an interest in how the trajectories being followed by the University and the city affect each other?
On Sunday night a group of travellers on their way up to the Appleby Horse Fair arrived at the University and set up temporary camp on the rugby fields (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/lancashire/6657781.stm). Just before Tuesday lunchtime, Fiona Aiken, University Secretary, sent an email to all members of the University informing them of the travellers' presence and the 'legal process to have them removed', and advising members not to approach the travellers and to contact security if they encountered any difficulties.
The tone of the email raised a few eyebrows around the University; it seemed to stray dangerously close to endorsing the widespread stigmatisation of the travelling community. And it was certainly the case that by Tuesday night some of the students using the networking website Facebook to discuss the issue got a bit carried away. One group on Facebook, later removed by the administrators, was called 'Crusade against the gypsies'. Another, 'Gypsies invade campus - only this could happen at Lancaster University!' [sic], quickly accrued over 2000 members. A series of postings to this group on Tuesday evening seemed to endorse a forcible eviction by the student body, including such gems as 'Fucking dirty pikeys kill the lot of them!!!', and 'I saw there's a fair few gas canisters next to their caravans, + petrol in cars... A well placed fire arrow and we'd have a rather spectacular explosion ...'. One student quickly assembled a photomontage of helicopters dropping bombs on burning caravans; in the foreground two burnt horse corpses were shown surmounted by a placard reading 'Gypos Out!'.
Many students in the Facebook group posted condemnations of the racist postings, and argued for the importance of respecting the rights of travellers. But some of them were alarmed that this dynamic might escalate from what might at best be viewed as highly offensive alcohol-fuelled banter to something more sinister; some emailed Ms Aiken urging her to communicate in a more measured way about the need to not behave in a racist or violent way to the travellers. Some students discussed on Facebook attempting to hold night-time football matches on the rugby pitches in an attempt to make the travellers technically guilty of aggravated trespass; others seemed to want to use this to provoke the travellers into violence. One concerned member of staff met with the travellers to warn them of possible provocations.
On Wednesday evening a slightly more measured email from the University
Secretary was indeed circulated. Ms Aiken announced that the travellers
said they would leave on Friday, and that University members should allow
the legal processes to take place and not take action themselves. It reminded
readers 'that the University is committed to creating an environment for
all that is free from harassment and discrimination. Every member of the
University has a responsibility in this regard, and is expected to behave
It was in September of last year that we first heard that the University had entered into a joint venture with Lancaster City Council and the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) to develop a 'science park' on the fields adjacent to the A6 between the north end of campus and Bailrigg Lane. The announcement said that the aim was to create a science park that 'will become an internationally significant centre of excellence for knowledge and technology transfer, innovation, and commercialisation of intellectual property and know how' (see http://domino.lancs.ac.uk/info/LUNews.nsf/I/E1E3043EE745BF95802571D4003A0E89).
While there are many members of the University that are committed to the idea that the University should have more interaction with wider society - what's called 'third mission' work – many were taken slightly by surprise by the announcement. What is a science park? Who decided we need one? Is it right for our University, and for Lancaster? What might the downsides be?
First, let's focus on the possible environmental implications. The planning application for Bailrigg Science Park is currently being considered by Lancaster City Council's Planning Committee, along with various objections submitted by individuals and organisations. And one common theme to the objections has been the environmental impact of the proposed development. It is certainly striking that in a recent survey of 25 possible investment sites in the Northwest carried out by the consultants White Young Green, Bailrigg Science Park came 23rd out of 25 on a ranking in terms of sustainability and environmental criteria, with a score of only 40%.
A key strategic concern raised by objectors has been the way that the siting of the development will constitute a major erosion of the green belt that separates the University from the town. Not only will the proposed development take away 10 hectares of agricultural land, and threaten nine mature trees (including a horse chestnut, an oak and a lime with Tree Preservation Orders placed on them), but it is likely to increase the development value of adjacent fields, and the likelihood of them being classed as in-fill and thus more vulnerable to being developed in the future. Combining this development with the existing Southwest campus, we are faced with the prospect of urban sprawl stretching all the way down to Galgate.
Some critics have raised the worry that concreting over such a large area will greatly increase water run-off, at the risk of flooding the rugby and football pitches, and even at some times the A6. Others are sceptical about the expressed commitment to the use of 'low carbon / environmentally sound build construction technology and techniques', especially given recent developments on campus, which have been regulation-compliant but not exactly cutting edge. The Design Statement makes no mention of generating or using renewable energy on the site, and does not exactly inspire confidence that the development will showcase cutting-edge eco-design.
Another serious overriding concern is the potential impact of the science park on traffic. Despite its proximity to the campus, the site is relatively inaccessible by public transport, and, given the commuting distances of the likely workforce to be employed there, this will translate into a massive increase in car journeys. Transport Assessment modelling suggests that there would be substantially more traffic on the A6, with up to 39% more traffic through Scotforth during the morning rush hour.
But it is the potential of massive early morning tailbacks stretching down through Galgate to Junction 33, and possibly affecting traffic flow on the motorway, that has really made the Highways Agency nervous about the development. Without approval by the Agency, the development cannot go ahead, whatever Lancashire Planning Committee rule in the next few weeks. And this may have to wait until other traffic-related planning decisions such as the Heysham-M6 link road and the canal corridor development are resolved.
Of course, it may be the case that the benefits of having a science park, such as increased economic prosperity for the area, and increased income and prestige for the University, should outweigh such concerns. In the next issue, we want to explore the likely benefits. What might a 'science park' mean in the Lancaster context? Can it attract the right kind of industry? Is a science park the right kind of development to capitalise on the University's particular strengths? How can we learn from experience elsewhere? Are there alternative and less risky ways to deliver its suggested benefits?
UNIVERSITY COUNCIL, 27 APRIL
The two main items of business at this meeting of Council were a presentation by Mandy Chetwynd, PVC for Colleges and the Student Experience, on the results of the online survey of students conducted in February, and a presentation of the new 'Masterplan' for the University estate.
The student survey covered second year undergraduates and all postgraduates. Response rates were 50% from undergraduates and 30% from postgraduates. In the context of generally high levels of satisfaction with their experience from all groups, postgraduates tended to be less satisfied than undergraduates, international students less satisfied than EU students, and EU students less satisfied than UK students. Students tended to be relatively dissatisfied (but only relatively) with the sports facilities and the availability of spaces for quiet study and informal groupwork. LUMS students were far more likely to say that they used groupworking space than students from the other faculties. With this qualification, there were high levels of satisfaction from all groups with the college system and facilities, and strong support for the principle that each college should have its own bar. Students were more likely to use departmentally based sources of career advice than to seek out the Careers Service, but it was hoped that this would change now that the Careers Service (CEEC) had become more visible. The Vice-Chancellor remarked that surveys like this were useful in making evidence-based decisions, and that other universities were following Lancaster's example in conducting such broad-based surveys.
The presentation on the Estates Masterplan was introduced by Mark Swindlehurst and given by representatives of John McAslan and Partners, who have produced masterplans for other universities. The Council was invited to approve the 'direction of travel' indicated by the plan, and did so. The main features of the plan (to be turned into a delivery plan and, if approved, implemented over the next 5-7 years) were a redesigned main entrance to give more prominence to the Chaplaincy Centre, improved east-west lines of communication (i.e. across the spine), and more blurring of the boundary between green and urban space. Relatively little demolition was proposed, and new building would be mainly within the perimeter road (apart from the Science Park envisaged as being built to the north). In the longer term the idea of expansion across the M6 to the Hazelrigg site could be considered. This, according to the Head of Planning for the City Council, who was present, was the aspect of the proposals most likely to seem problematic to the City, since it would go beyond the boundaries of the existing built-up area.
In his report, the Vice-Chancellor said that he had asked the University Secretary to review procedures for responding to emergencies on campus, in the light of the massacre at Virginia Tech. As one outcome of the review of Council's effectiveness, it was proposed that appointing committees for Chairs should no longer include a lay member of Council as a matter of routine. It was also proposed that senior managers (such as PVCs and Faculty Deans) should become Council appointments rather than appointments in the gift of the Vice-Chancellor, and that Council members should be in the majority on their appointing committees. These proposals will be put to Senate for approval.
Of course, it isn't that simple. Sadly ISS feel that it is not possible to do anything about the PCs themselves at this time, as they require constant virus updates etc. (This doesn't mean that you should never switch off your machine – the updates kick in when you switch on, which is a bit of a pain but maybe a worthwhile sacrifice.) However ISS are keen to emphasise that they are looking into smart technology which would sense when machines were not in use and would 'power down' parts of the network. 'GreenLancaster' - a campaigns umbrella initiated between LUSU and Estates - encourages a 'monitor off' policy, with stickers being put on all PC monitors.
Switch off your monitors at least, and watch this space.
THE SPECTRE OF THE FOBS
Rather like the first swallow of summer, certain ideas pop up regularly on the University radar. Everyone rubbishes them, at which point they fade away until the next time. Eventually the idea becomes so familiar that no-one can be bothered to argue against it, and then one day it is part of the scenery and those who knew all along that the idea was foolish find themselves having to implement it.
One such idea seems to be the notion that every student could be made to carry a 'fob' - a sort of electronic tagging device, which would carry basic personal identification details. Some departments have embraced them enthusiastically, whereas others are utterly against them and are digging in for a long campaign. The benefit, one assumes, would be that students would swipe the fob against a widget outside every lecture theatre or seminar room, thereby confirming their presence (or at least the presence of a friend willing to 'swipe in' for them). As is the nature of such things, other uses would be found for such things once they became reality. Many of the arguments that apply to national ID cards apply to the student fob - not least the question of what information would be attached to it, who would decide this, where would it be held and what would be done with it. We have no doubt that most staff - academic and administrative - will be able to foresee consequences of such a move which would mean increased bother and kerfuffle for themselves with no clear benefit at the end of it. Let us be frank. Students who do not wish to attend an event will find ways to avoid it. One might think that the time and effort would be better spent in making the event more attractive, than in pursuing non-attenders.
But, when coupled with the recent trialling of an on-line course evaluation system, the spectre of the fobs perhaps raises a deeper question. Can we see here a tendency for the administrative imperative towards increased efficiency to get in the way of the professional pedagogical relationship between lecturers and students? Can we envisage a future where the academic staff have little need or opportunity to get to know their students as individuals at all?
Some of us will remember that a few years ago Lancaster was voted as the University with the most attractive students in a national online student poll. The story goes that some computer students devised a clever piece of software which voted every second through several days and nights, thus ensuring that Lancaster won by an improbable margin. We have this story on reasonable authority, although, as we do not have actual names, it comes under the heading of happening to 'a friend of a friend'... If anyone would like to confirm this, under seal of the subtext confessional, please feel free to do so. We serve the cause of truth, not of exposure.
* A room in County totally emptied of furniture and assembled according to the same plan on the flat roof immediately above the room. (This happened more than once, and is reliably vouched for.)
* A student in Fylde sleeping very deeply after a late night, who was carried gently out of his room along with all the furniture, which was set out around him on the grass as he slept on. (There are photos of this one.)
* A room in County emptied while the occupant was away for a weekend, and laid with turf sods cut from the far side of County field. (A bit far-fetched this one, but our source swears he was part of the turf-cutting, so we'll believe him.)
* A room entirely papered with newspaper, and every object in it carefully individually wrapped, including each paper-clip and drawing pin. It took several people most of a weekend. (True. The wrappers claimed that it was worth the effort.)
Any more of these?
NOT IN THE NEWS
As far as we can determine Professor Cary Cooper seems not to have made a media comment yet about the state of mind of heiress Paris Hilton as she approaches her jail sentence for driving whilst banned. Come on Cary, don't let us down, we all need to know - what is she thinking?
The person waving first makes brief eye contact with the person being waved at, and then glances away to look unhappily into the middle distance. He/she then brings both forearms down sharply to the 45 degree angle position with the palms outstretched, and forearms well apart to indicate the entire local environment. The facial expression at this point should be one of complete incredulity. One of the palms is then brought upwards quickly to glance off the forehead and the expression changes to one of resigned disbelief.
Reuben Edwards (Infolab21)
Dear Fellow Carbon Emitters,
Having failed to get any reply to my earlier request for advice on trustworthy and effective carbon offsetting companies, I looked into the matter a little myself. Predictably, it's a highly complex matter. The carbon-offset business is largely unregulated - a veritable 'wild west', as some commentators call it. There is no internationally agreed - let alone sound - 'seal of approval' system yet, and no doubt even if we had one, there would be many loopholes. Evaluating projects is a highly complex business. Most providers give little accessible information to buyers on what they are actually funding. There are not only questions regarding whether they really do reduce carbon emissions, but also whether the projects need funding by carbon offset payments in order to go ahead, or whether they would they be undertaken anyway (the 'additionality' criterion). Particular projects may also be problematic on other counts - for example, from a social justice standpoint. Anyway, I have three expert reviews of offsetting schemes, which I can send to anyone if they email me.
Two of these reviews do a WHICH style comparison of offset schemes, so if you just want a list of OK companies/institutions, then these reports cite the following:
Climate friendly (http://www.climatefriendly.com)
The CarbonNeutral Company (http://www.carbonneutral.com/)
Climate Care (http://www.climatecare.org)
Sustainable Travel International (http://www.sustainabletravelinternational.org)
Of course, it's better not to generate carbon emissions in the first place, but ...
Andrew Sayer, Sociology