issue 28

2 November 2007


'Truth: lies open to all'


Every fortnight.

All editorial correspondence to: subtext-editors [at]

Please download and print or delete as soon as possible after receipt. Back issues and subscription details can be found at The editors welcome letters, comments, suggestions, and opinions from readers. subtext reserves the right to edit submissions.

For tips to prevent subtext from getting swept up into your 'junk email folder', see


CONTENTS: editorial, news in brief, Vice-Chancellor not going to Sydney, how to transform a university, departments faculties and who knows what, the discomfiture of protest, a perspective on bullying at Lancaster, little argument with myself, Wallups's world, letter



Readers will no doubt be aware of an area in Hyde Park known as Speakers' Corner. In this area, people can express their ideas, no matter how unpopular, and debate them openly. Lancaster also needs its own Free Speech Corner, or at the very least a Free Speech Rock that can be spray-painted or used as a canvas by anyone.

However, there are always concerns that people may say things on the rock, or in the space, that present uncomfortable issues. There are certainly competing freedoms. For example, there is the old adage that a person has freedom of speech but cannot yell 'fire' without cause in a crowded theatre. There are also debates about offensive speech, and legal concerns about libel or slander. Furthermore, these issues raise important questions about the wider society in which we live, beyond our immediate university setting. One of our discussion pieces below raises the whole question of the competing claims of free speech and discomfiture in the modern world. This is an area in which there are no easy answers.

Unfortunately, raising concerns about offensive speech can, at times, be a way of silencing others. This is a difficult subject but one that needs a public airing. In any rebellion, no matter how minor, people will raise difficult subjects in challenging others' positions. Sometimes, there can be indignation (whether mock or genuine) that has its roots not in the speech itself, but in political overtones. But political overtones should not lead people to make decisions about 'permissible' speech. This applies whether we are discussing university business (e.g., the George Fox 6 debacle and its aftermath) or internally within departments.

Do we have the freedom of speech at Lancaster to challenge the way that the University is being run? Hopefully the answer is yes, and this newsletter can be evidence that such challenges can find a voice. But we also need to expand these voices even further into Lancaster's public spaces as well. That there might someday be a free speech rock, or a corner, is a beginning. The longer hope is that politics does not ever interfere with freedom of speech at Lancaster.



New Sports Centre

This was mentioned in the Vice-Chancellor's message to staff in early October as a major new project, which it is hoped will commence after the Roses Weekend in May 2008. As an investment in student facilities on campus this is, of course, to be welcomed. The current projected cost wasn't indicated, however. The anticipated cost of the current plans is some £19-20 million. Like Topsy, this development it seems has 'just grow'd'. It is said that the most recent addition to the specification, an Olympic-size swimming pool, was very much at the insistence of the V-C and added some £4-5 million to the cost. Whether this project, as conceived, will obtain planning permission is open to question but eyebrows are rightly being raised at the sums involved. When does Senate have an opportunity to comment on the capital spending programme?


University retail outlets

The University continues to spend money on consultants. This time the retail outlets owned and operated by the University are the focus of attention. As ever, the brief given to the consultants will be crucial in determining the outcomes, but little is known of this. However, it is understood that their remit now includes the College Bars. Given the continuing sensitivities around this feature of campus life, college officers are expected to monitor developments closely. Hopefully, they will also have an opportunity to make an input before recommendations are made.


Professorial pay

November is expected to see the first recommendations from the Professorial Review Panel. They will be eagerly awaited, not so much for the financial reward (though potentially not insignificant), rather to find out who has been allocated to band 3 (distinguished professor) and band 2 (senior professor). Some disappointment is inevitable, all the more so given that 77 colleagues submitted a case, (approximately 44% of the professorial group), but it was only expected that at any one time 15% of professors would be in band 2 and only 5% in band 3. Comments are already being made about how the process operated within faculties and how systematic the collection and use of evidence has been. One would assume that the names of successful candidates will be published, as happens with other promotion exercises. If so, reactions and comments are likely to prove lively.


The Colleges

Diaries permitting, the Vice-Chancellor it seems has been persuaded to attend a colleges 'away day' in December. It should make for an interesting encounter. Within the colleges the view is widely held that many members of senior management are ignorant of the colleges' role and contribution. If nothing else the occasion will provide an opportunity for the V-C to listen to their views and, more importantly, to comment upon what he expects of the colleges at Lancaster, and what institutional support they can expect in the future.



Following on from our report in the last issue of subtext, it is now clear that our own Vice-Chancellor will not be moving to Sydney. Although he was reported as being a front runner in the Australian press, an announcement has now been made that the Sydney Vice-Chancellorship has been filled by Michael Spence, currently a Fellow of St Catharine's College, Oxford, and Head of the Social Sciences Division at the University of Oxford. He is also an alumnus of Sydney.

So it seems that Professor Wellings will be staying with us for the time being, although an alternative move in the near future does now seem likely. Indeed, some observers have been suggesting that, with Manchester's recent difficulties and uncertainties surrounding the tenure of their current V-C, our V-C's next move may be to somewhere considerably closer to home. Although this is just speculation, this is no doubt something of which there will be a great deal in the coming months. We shall all have to watch this space, and subtext will be watching it with particular attention.



In previous issues, we have often raised concerns that the University of Lancaster may have strayed from the core principles of a university - even while such principles have been ill-defined anyway and open to interpretation and debate. There has been a major change recently - some would say radical change - in the underlying raison d'être of this university to be more business-centred.

That there has been a redefinition of this university's function - or of British universities more generally - is no surprise. Indeed, within each discipline, there are generational changes in which scholars talk about the 'new' maths, economics, history, geography, or whatever the discipline or subdiscipline, as a way of distinguishing it from the 'old' status quo. And so we also have a 'new' university conceptualisation. The key principles behind such transformations have been described before, and here we draw on ideas mentioned by Peter Taylor, originally framed by Harry Johnson. Some of the same principles behind the disciplinary transformations that they described could also apply to this university, as a way of thinking about Lancaster's recent transition in function.

The first principle of disciplinary transformation is that any new change includes an attack on the old orthodoxy. (Even if this attack takes place behind the scenes, or through political wrangling, it is still part of the transformation.) In other words, to transform a discipline (or a university, for that matter), its core ideas must be seriously challenged. Thus, for example, the idea of university as a place for learning for learning's sake, irrespective of financial imperatives, has been brought into question as untenable and impractical, in light of external pressures and market forces.

This leads to the second principle of disciplinary (or university) transformation: the structures of the old guard need to be rattled and disturbed, but not so much that the foundation falls apart, only enough that the old guard might flee the building (if not physically, at least metaphorically). To be successful with this second principle, the university structures need to be retained as much as possible even while being radically transformed (e.g., creating new structures out of the old, such as the gradual laying down of Geography, Environmental Sciences and Biology in favour of a new Lancaster Environment Centre that includes staff from all three). The foundation of the university is being shaken, but without tearing it down.

The third principle of the transformation is the need for difficulty in understanding. This makes it harder for others to master the language or approaches well enough to present a challenge. For example, the difficulty of managerial speak and its logic can be a way of excluding people from the university hierarchy. Similarly, foundational principles in project management, knowledge transfer, and entrepreneurship also entail a degree of difficulty that might be foreign to those more accustomed to thinking about academia in terms such as research, teaching, and service. In other words, the mastering of a new difficulty is a form of preserving control over a discipline, or university, at the same time that it has now become a necessary part of current thinking.

Finally, the fourth principle is that any new transformation must have a new methodology that replaces the status quo. While this may apply more easily to disciplines than universities, it still holds that the very methods on which the university measures success have been radically transformed through a business mindset (e.g., goals, targets, numerical indicators).

Of course, these changes have occurred as part of larger trends in British education, which can also reflect broader changes internationally with universities adopting business-centred philosophies. At the same time, the fact that so many changes have taken place at Lancaster within such a short time period is indeed a remarkable 'achievement'. Yet, if the above four principles are any indication, this transformation will not and cannot last. Like other transformations before it, there will be challenges to the existing order, and once again we will be debating the 'new' function of a university, and of this university in particular.

So what will be the new purpose of this university, and when will the transformation take place? This debate should start now, within and across departments if it has not begun already, especially if the current V-C has his sights on new pastures. But what will be debated, and how it will be framed, depends on the willingness of people to speak out and be heard, even if what they are saying is deemed unpopular or unwelcome. We have to be open to shaking up the structure - but not to shake it up so much that its foundation falls apart, only enough to bring about change.



The organisational structure of the University at Lancaster is in flux, and has been so for some time. For many years, there were five faculties, each with its own Dean and infrastructure. Then these were reduced to three, for reasons that were opaque to most. Now, there looks set to be four, with the almost-but-not-quite faculty that is the School of Health and Medicine.

Such flux is not restricted to the faculty level. It used to be the case that within faculties, departments were the core and fundamental academic units. But now these too seem to be hanging in the balance. The departments of Art, Music and Theatre Studies were submerged into the larger LICA (Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts). Now Geography, Environmental Science and part of Biological Sciences are likewise disappearing, to be subsumed into the wider LEC (Lancaster Environment Centre). Is this, we may ask, the beginning of a trend? Have academic departments had their day? Are they now relics of a bygone age, soon to be doomed to extinction, giving way to trendy and hyper-modern Institutes or Centres? (It should also be noted that no one seems to be quite sure of the difference between these last two and why one might be preferable to the other.)

These changes would perhaps be more palatable than they are if they were justified by some coherent and intellectually credible rationale. But what is most striking about these changes is that they have been effected by a combination of subterfuge, drift and obfuscation. Take the proposal for the reduction of faculties from five to three. When some quaintly sensible Senators asked why three faculties were intrinsically preferable to five, no one could quite say. Our esteemed 'managers' bore expressions that were curiously reminiscent of those worn by undergraduates who have failed to do the required reading for their seminar. Something similar happened when it was proposed to turn all our Ordinances into Statutes. Vague noises were made about the preferences of the Privy Council Office, but there were no intellectual justifications that would have withstood scrutiny in an undergraduate essay. And similar concerns surround the LEC proposals: its most vociferous supporters seemed to have difficulty explaining exactly what would be created, even when asked the simple question, 'what is this new LEC being proposed?' Now we learn, belatedly, that a merger of departments is fundamental to its existence.

The strange outcome of all this is that the contemporary Lancaster academic is forced to inhabit a world of double-talk so extreme that it is a wonder that they have not succumbed to an extreme psychological disorder. To our students, we might repeat the mantra: 'a good essay is one that argues a case on the basis of evidence'. But when we receive faculty papers or enter the Senate chamber, all that we teach and believe has to be put into temporary suspension. We are reminded of a phrase coined by the philosopher Kierkegaard (although using it in a different sense to his): the 'suspension of the ethical'.



In 1967, Dick Crossman, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons in Harold Wilson's Labour government, went to speak to the Oxford University Democratic Socialist Club. Before going, he had been warned that the university's old Labour Club, heavily populated by anarchists and Marxists, was intent on staging a demonstration, primarily against the government's foreign policy towards Rhodesia and Vietnam.

The ensuing scenes turned out to be markedly unpleasant. Crossman reported in his diary that 'it was a horrible atmosphere because the people who were entertaining me were nervous and scared.' He clearly deplored the nature of the protest and feared that 'the student Left is behaving in the way which we used to say the fascists behaved in the 1930s.' In spite of this, however, what is significant about this distant episode is that Crossman refused to cancel the meeting, refused a police escort from the railway station to the city centre and, after the meeting was over, refused a ride in a police car to Balliol College, the venue of his next appointment. Indeed, this last episode turned into something of a farce, with the police protesting that to walk to Balliol would not be safe, and with Crossman trying to make desperate attempts to escape them, until he eventually told them that he 'was going whatever they thought.'

In taking this line, Crossman was expressing his belief that being nervous or scared is sometimes something that has to be endured in the interests of democracy and freedom of speech. Clearly, he thought the protesters were going too far, but he wasn't going to have them silenced or arrested or give himself any special protection.

It has to be said the line that demarcates the limit of what is acceptable political protest is notoriously difficult to draw, and can never be done in any absolute and final way. But it has undoubtedly moved some considerable distance since the days of Crossman. In contemporary culture, the protection of people's personal space seems to have taken precedence above all else. The right to protest and freedom of speech are themselves now 'tolerated' only in so far as they do not disturb or hinder an individual's peace of mind. To provoke the kind of nervousness endured by Crossman would now almost certainly be deemed unacceptable. It seems that our skins have become markedly thinner.

Politically, the outcome of such a shift is a feeling of paralysis. If protest is only allowed in so far as it doesn't really disturb anyone, then political protest itself becomes impotent and the status quo becomes embalmed. Political change and creating the conditions for such change is always disturbing, difficult and sometimes unpleasant. If we as a society are unwilling to countenance unpleasantness in any form and for any reason, we should not regard it as coincidental that our current political arena has become little more than a play of shadows.



Previous issues of subtext have commented on bullying at work (see issues 20 and 21). The second Staff Survey (2005) reported that 10% of staff had experienced bullying behaviour over the past year, and it was agreed to establish a working group to examine this. Over two years on, this has yet to be done. This is disappointing, to say the least. Bullying behaviour has not disappeared at Lancaster, as the many responses to the UCU message revealed, and so we return to what remains an unacceptable feature of organisational life. It is also timely in that the 7th of November sees the launch by the TUC of a national 'Say No To Bullying' campaign, which will include a new website:

The following is taken from a response to the invitation from Rory Daly in the UCU News to send in experiences relating to bullying. It has been slightly edited to anonymise it, in order to stimulate debate on the general issue, rather than suggest or imply any reference to individual cases.

'My perspective may be a little different from others the UCU may receive, in that I have had experience of a quite a few years as a Head of Department, both at another university and at Lancaster, at various times.

'My view is that the Head of Department is now the main point of friction between a university hierarchy which generates pressures to achieve performance targets and generate revenue with a minimum of resources, and hard-working and indeed over-worked staff. From the viewpoint of the staff, the head is in a position of authority, and often has to convey sometimes unpleasant news or decisions on matters of vital interest to them, ranging from career prospects to study leave requests and teaching or admin assignments. Unsurprisingly, staff sometimes resent these, and on some occasions see them in personal terms. While the head may have had an input into such decisions, which sometimes is decisive, they are rarely taken alone, and almost always taken as far as possible in the interests of the collectivity, and following due procedures. Despite this, some staff on some occasions consider that they have been in some sense victims of a personal animosity. This is unavoidable, no matter how much the head may try to act fairly and objectively. I can think of perhaps a half-dozen or so incidents in my years as head when a colleague has clearly thought that I had treated them unfairly, on matters ranging from the allocation of conference travel money to support for promotion. In a few of these cases I believe they may have considered that I acted in an overbearing manner. Conversely, there have been a number of instances when I have felt myself to have been the target of unreasonable behaviour, which has sometimes been quite hurtful.

'I doubt that my experience is exceptional, in any workplace let alone academia, which is full of competitive and highly motivated individuals. My point obviously is that I hope that the UCU will try to deal with this issue of bullying in a sensitive way, that is mindful of the structural context in which we are working. I'm sure that the pressures of academic life today do sometimes lead to unreasonable and unacceptable behaviour, which may amount to bullying. On the other hand, it isn't easy for an academic who is usually thrust into a difficult administrative position such as Head of Department to develop the range of skills it ideally requires, ranging from personal therapist to financial wizard. It's entirely right that the UCU as a trade union should generally support junior staff, who are usually in a weaker position, against those in authority. At the same time, I hope that individual cases are handled with an awareness that there are usually several sides to every story.'

* Eds: see our clarification about this article in the next issue.



In previous issues, subtext has explored the issue of staff-student interaction in the context of Lancaster's place in the wider community. As one small offshoot, we have visited different student venues, including the Sugarhouse and the Carleton. From this, we have reflected on the ways that staff might learn more about student perspectives on Lancaster as a community. And so, now, we have been invited to LAWM (Little Argument with Myself,, which brings music on different nights to the Yorkshire House.

By comparison with the Sugarhouse and the Carleton, this is a considerably smaller venue, as an upstairs room in a pub. And, to be honest, the not-for-profit LAWM has considerably more depth to it than can be found at either of the student venues that we have discussed previously. And this is no student venue. On a Monday night, there were about 30 people in the audience and three scheduled acts (14 musicians in total), so the musician to general audience ratio (MGAR) was one that added to the appeal. It is possible that there were some undergraduates in the audience but not anything like the 'mass' marketing or appeal of the Sugarhouse or Carleton. Instead, the audience seemed much more eclectic, including people from the University, the wider community, and of course the musicians themselves.

The publicity for the night read that 'you are encouraged to dress in a deathly manner' for a Halloween bash. That, along with a large skull on the advert, could have been for something out of Scandinavian head-banging screamfests by grim people wearing monster suits. And so it was an excellent surprise, and great relief, to have the evening opened by Ruby in the Dust, a talented band of five women - none in monster suits - playing music that is hard to classify, part cabaret, part folk. Even more impressive than the music was the way it transformed the space so that this could be anywhere, not just Lancaster, adding layers to this small city that might not otherwise be apparent. You would hardly know Halloween was approaching, except for a few in the audience wearing masks.

The common thread throughout the night was the quality of musicianship. Last Harbour, from Manchester, combined musicianship with an air of anguished seriousness. O'Death, the act from New York highlighted on the advert, took the energy levels to new heights. Once again, the music was difficult to classify - and that is to its strength, O'Death combining elements of bluegrass with rock and deathly screaming. It did seem odd that three of the five men in the band took their shirts off for the set, especially considering how out of shape they looked. There seemed to be no inhibitions on stage, and the raucousness was both evident in the music and in their performance - somehow without crashing into one another.

The roster of bands on LAWM nights is roughly split between local, regional, and international bands, and this night was no exception. You will not see the same crowd at LAWM nights as you would at the Sugarhouse or Carleton. You might by chance run into some of your students but probably only if they have eclectic interests in music. And the music may not be to everyone's taste, but this also varies from act to act. With the skilfulness of the musicians, and the range of musical styles on offer, it is definitely worth checking out.



From: Nigel Wallups, Vice-Chancellor of Lune Valley Enterprise University (LuVE-U)

To: Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University

Re: Inaugural Address

Dear Professor Faust,

I am writing to express my deep disappointment with your inaugural address at Harvard University. In your speech, you stated, 'A university is not about results in the next quarter.' I respectfully disagree. I hope you see that a university IS about results - financial results. Universities need to be in sound economic shape in order to function well. And universities need to function well (by that I mean make a profit) in order to be in sound economic shape.

Now I recognise that we are facing different issues in different countries. When you spoke of results, you may have meant students' grades. Your remarks reflected opposition to trends in American education, and the pressures faced by its universities to turn education primarily into training for careers. When you paraphrased W.E.B. DuBois, 'Education is not to make men carpenters so much as to make carpenters men,' I couldn't disagree more. Education is not about either one at all. Education is about meeting market imperatives - not for the students (our customers), but for us as the managers. One day, hopefully, your corporation will come around to this realisation, too.

You also mention lofty ideals about universities with 'learning that moulds a lifetime.' The only lifetime we are moulding is our own (and by 'our own' I mean 'mine'). As CEO of a private corporation, you might see the financial imperatives more clearly, but you might also be under different constraints.

Please, Professor Faust, do try to be more careful in talking about universities and what they are for. And should you ever decide that you do not want to remain in the Harvard Corporation's management anymore, I would be happy to relocate to take over from you as its CEO.

Yours sincerely,




Study Group at Bailrigg House

Dear subtext,

It came as no surprise to me to see your references to LUISC (Lancaster University International Study Centre) in the latest edition of subtext, as I have been reading your reservations about this operation since long before I applied for the position of Head of Centre at Bailrigg.

I would however like to address your comment: 'The real pressure of course will come when the matter of progression or not onto University degree schemes is at issue. The concerns of Admissions Tutors about academic quality and English language skills have yet to be allayed.'

Unsurprisingly, we at Study Group are as concerned as your readers about this issue, and you/they might like to know that there is in place a thorough system of Academic Quality Assurance, our procedures for assessment being broadly similar to Lancaster University's. Without this it is doubtful that Lancaster University would have agreed to our cooperative venture.

Admissions tutors who do have doubts of any kind are invited to approach either the 'link tutors' in their own schools (these 'link' to LUISC, are fully briefed on our assessment and progression procedures and are involved in all stages of these) or to contact me at Bailrigg House, so that we can do our best to allay their concerns.

Martin Eayrs


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