issue 91

31 May 2012


'Truth: lies open to all'


Every fortnight during term-time.

All editorial correspondence to: subtext-editors [at] Please 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.

subtext does not publish material that is submitted anonymously, but is willing to consider without obligation requests for publication with the name withheld.

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

If you're viewing this using Outlook, the formatting might look better if you click on the message at the top saying 'Extra line breaks in this message were removed', and select 'Restore line breaks'.

CONTENTS: editorial, news in brief, international partnerships, BPR, college bars, FASS Dean, Council, Cesagen public lecture, market cheese stall, Russell Group, letters.



In recent times an us-and-them attitude appears to have developed on D floor of University House. This is neatly encapsulated by the common use there of the word 'departmentland' to refer to academic areas of the university. The University's management has been showing little faith in the capacity of academic staff to organise their and the University's affairs effectively. Consequences have included the appointment to the University of managers from the world of commerce, in some cases with disastrous results, and most recently the extraordinary omission of academic staff from the BPR Project Delivery Team on Admissions (see the article below). Trying to concentrate authority in a few hands from one functional area is demotivating for everyone else, and is a high-risk strategy because knowledge and experience are distributed in the University much more widely than that.  

In this context, the announcement on Monday that Andrew Neal, the University's Chief Operating Officer, is to leave this summer inevitably gives rise to speculation that he and the VC have fallen out over the BPR, with which Neal was so closely identified. We don't know if this is true, but it is certainly the case that Andrew Neal has been a senior figure during the period when the us-and-them attitude has developed.

Successful organisations are generally those in which there are clear common aims to which everyone's work is directed, and in which responsibilities are deeply delegated. The objects of the University are briefly set out in the Charter: 'to advance knowledge, wisdom and understanding by teaching and research and by the example and influence of its corporate life.' Perhaps it is time to reassert these admirable aims, and to restate that Lancaster University is a common enterprise among all its members, including all its staff and students. 

(The full statement of the Charter and Statutes is available at



Leading change in Bahrain

subtext was interested to learn (see Letters, below) that the Management School were co-hosts of an event in Bahrain on 21 May, on the topic of leadership development and change management ( But no, this was nothing to do with supporting Bahraini opposition activists in their attempt to bring the Arab Spring to Bahrain, or their demands for social and political equality for the Shia majority and an end to the repressive monarchy of King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa. The uprising in Bahrain, which started in February 2011, has prompted a brutal government crackdown, with at least 60 dead, around 3,000 arrested, and reports of beatings and torture.  There seems little signs of the protesters' demands being met - but at least Lancaster University is there to 'make a difference for employees and customers alike'.  Bahrain is of course notorious for its oil-fuelled crony capitalism (see subtext hopes that our attempts to help Bahraini organisations become 'more competitive and more customer-focused' works out better than the LSE's involvement with the Gaddafi regime in Libya. 



Bundled with the Times Higher of 17-23 May was a glossy magazine from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. In this, its first issue, the magazine sets out 'the science [they] are pursuing and the knowledge [they] are building across the world'. It demonstrates the breadth of work going on at Monash, from research on ancient rock paintings, and historical work on the archives of the Italian city of Prato, to conservation of threatened species such as the snow leopard by test-tube breeding. A surprising fact we gleaned is that, in its just over 50 years, Monash has become the largest university in Australia, with six Australian campuses and a strong international presence.

Part of this international presence is a new partnership with Warwick University here in the UK. Both Warwick and Monash see themselves as part of a global network, with their research 'addressing international problems that have proved too big for any single institution to tackle'. A joint Pro-Vice-Chancellor has been appointed to drive this partnership initiative, and 'there will be joint appointments, research programmes and on-line educational innovations'.

Perhaps Lancaster University is already thinking in these large terms - but if it isn't, subtext feels we should be aiming to do so. We spent some months discussing a possible partnership with a local university that is bigger than ourselves, although in some respects not as good: this would not have seemed to be an advance. Surely we should be looking to link with one or more universities at least as good as we are? In these days of instant electronic communication, we should be looking globally for our partners, not just down the road.



The VC's email of 20 April states clearly that the Business Process Review is to 'cease in its current format', apart from Finance and Procurement and some areas of student administration. The sighs of relief from departments across the campus were audible - but if the champagne was broken out to celebrate, this was premature. 

It appears the findings from the BPR project are being used to carry forward some of the goals of the project, although not holistically across all functions as had been originally intended: the plan is to look first at three separate functional areas of the University's administration. 

A review of admissions (UG, PGT and PGR) is already in progress: meetings with stakeholders (i.e. admissions tutors) took place last week and are continuing this, with the last meeting due on Friday 1 June. It seems inexplicable that the delivery team for the admissions project, eight strong, has six members from the University administration, and two managers from the faculties, but no academics at all. At present, any admissions case where the decision is not obvious and clear-cut has to be referred to academic staff in the department concerned: it makes no sense that there is not even one member of academic staff on this group. The report of the admissions group is to be made to UMAG at its meeting on 18 June, so the timescale is very short, and at present it appears that academic departments will have no channel for input to the group.

The paperwork for the admissions group sets out, in its Appendix 1, the 'case for change'. The chief plank of this case is that funding is shifting from government grants to student tuition fees: one can't argue with this.  However, the response advocated is to make the admissions process more mechanistic and reduce the level of personal contact between academic staff and candidates. It is not evident that this will be any kind of improvement on the admissions system we have currently in place, which in some departments involves interviews of many or even all candidates.

Further project groups are likely to be set up, to look at student administration and marketing. Again, it seems likely these groups will need to justify their roles by recommending changes: a no-change recommendation is unlikely to be acceptable. Departments that feel that major changes could damage their effectiveness in these areas had better marshal their arguments quickly. 



In subtext 87 we welcomed the appointment of Jo Hardman as Head of Commercial Services with responsibility for – among much else – the college bars. On the bars, in his short time in office Jo has shown a welcome energy and willingness to communicate with the licensees, and there has been a spate of product promotions, special offers and the like. The overall outlook remains gloomy, however: a meeting of licensees, principals and JCR presidents on 9 May was given figures that unarguably showed a decline in bar profits over the past ten years. Some bars have continued to do reasonably healthy business while others have decidedly not. Reasons for this variation and possible solutions were explored - not for the first time but perhaps with more enthusiasm than of late. Location, design and amenities or lack of them were thought to explain differences in performance, but the problems are not going to be fixed quickly, if at all.  Supermarkets deliver alcoholic drinks to students on campus at prices the bars cannot begin to match, and the University's success in providing attractive accommodation allows them to be consumed in companionable comfort.

More cheeringly, Lancaster alumnus and former staff member James Guppy visited the campus last week with his wife as guests of Grizedale Principal Hugh Pollock. James Guppy is an artist who has lived in Sydney for almost 30 years, but he left a legacy of art works on campus, including the murals – sometimes dubbed 'iconic' – in County bar. James was pleased and surprised to see that the murals had survived. He had not been sure that the technique he used would allow the paintwork to last (a problem shared with Leonardo da Vinci), but it has, possibly, James thought, even improving in the process of ageing. The decision – not uncontested – to preserve the murals at the time of the bar's refurbishment seems to have been vindicated.  

(One subtext editor remembers the creation of the mural in what is now County, but was then Cartmel, Bar. To prepare the wall for this, he and his wife washed off all the beer and nicotine (remember nicotine?) one Sunday morning, then painted the wall with two coats of white emulsion. They must have done a reasonable job - the murals are still there 35 years later....)



On 11 May the University announced that Professor Nancy Wright, currently Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Queensland, would become the next Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in September. On LU News, the Vice-Chancellor welcomed the appointment, suggesting that the ability to 'attract someone with such talent and experience from an institution of the University of Queensland’s standing ... speaks volumes for the profile of Lancaster University and the Faculty'. SCAN was similarly enthusiastic in its coverage of the news, but subtext decided to keep its counsel while it made further inquiries. 

Why the hesitation, you may ask? Well, first one should note that Professor Wright's tenure at Queensland has been rather brief: she only started there in January 2011, and so must have applied for the post in Lancaster after not much more than a year in post. We wondered why someone, so soon after taking up a senior position at one well-known institution, had felt the need to leave for another one. We assumed that this is probably not because Lancaster is paying stratospheric salaries. More plausibly, perhaps, had recent turbulent events at Queensland quite reasonably led her to consider looking for a job elsewhere? (See

However, anyone googling Professor Wright's name (as was done by many at Lancaster after the announcement, but presumably not during the appointment process) would also have discovered - on the very first page of Google hits - that her stewardship of the Faculty of Arts at Queensland has not been universally judged a great success. To be fair, her room for manoeuvre was constrained by the University's policy of clawing back a hefty proportion of the Faculty's income for central purposes. But her response of cutting arts and humanities courses - allegedly, without meaningful consultation - not only resulted in disgruntled staff starting a (slightly 'ad feminam') poster campaign depicting her as the 'Grim Reaper'. It also prompted Australia's National Tertiary Education Union to campaign formally against the proposed cuts, deeming them to be putting at risk important areas of study and teaching. Academics at Queensland have produced lists of courses that they say have been cancelled as a result of Professor Wright's plans and have attacked her for turning Queensland into a 'Philistine' university (see:

Professor Wright then went on extended personal leave on 8 May. It was only a few days later, on 14 May, that Queensland learnt about her appointment at Lancaster - not from Professor Wright herself, but from the announcement on Lancaster's own website! The Acting V-C at Queensland sent staff an email informing them of this news, and announcing that the Acting Dean (who had been put in place when Professor Wright went on extended leave) would continue in that post. The Acting V-C's message implies that she did not know that Professor Wright had applied for the position at Lancaster or had been here for interview, and according to our sources no one else at Queensland knew about it either. In such circumstances, one rather wonders who the referees named in her Lancaster application could have been.

Our inquiries suggest that Professor Wright's time at her former institution, the University of Western Sydney (UWS), was not without friction either. She was appointed at UWS in 2006, first as Head of the School of Humanities and Languages, and later as Deputy Dean of the College of Arts. According to staff at UWS, in her two years as Head of School she quickly established a reputation for top-down decisions and not communicating with staff, in particular by restructuring the School's whole BA programme without consultation, and much to their unease. As Deputy Dean, apparently, she even installed a swipe-card entry system to her office area so that faculty members could only enter if buzzed in. We understand that after her departure UWS reversed her degree restructuring - a move which staff there say now makes the programme work well again - and has taken steps to deal with the staff traumas that, it is claimed, resulted from her period as Head of School. 

We are sure that Professor Wright must also have many good qualities; she certainly seems to have impressed the Lancaster appointments panel. So in time perhaps we will judge that this appointment does indeed represent a coup for Lancaster, the capturing of a dynamic academic leader from another leading institution. However, if reports from Down Under are to believed, Professor Wright seems to have developed a worrying career pattern – one that involves not communicating with others; imposing top-down, major restructurings that prompt protests and upheaval; and not staying on at institutions for a sufficient length of time to see changes through or to enable anyone to see whether they have had longer-term positive effects. We must all hope she uses the Lancaster post as an opportunity to cultivate a new style of leadership, one which will indeed enable her, as she says in the LU News announcement, to 'work with the Faculty to build upon its already prestigious standing and reputation'.



The May 18th Meeting of Council opened with a presentation from the University Secretary, Fiona Aiken, describing the changing HE regulatory framework. This covered the changes that have been made to HE since the Browne Report. Changes in university funding, student fees, student funding and student number controls were covered. Also covered was the introduction of Key Information Sets (KIS) and the increase in student expectations and complaints. The role of HEFCE in all of this is still unclear but it is obvious that this will be a complex and heavily regulated environment.

The Vice-Chancellor had plenty of news to report. The abandonment of discussions with Liverpool was an item discussed later. Our league table positions (which had been an area of unease on D-Floor) held steady with Lancaster coming in at 9th in the Times and 7th in the Guardian. The Athena Swan Bronze Award has been renewed for the University as a whole. (This award recognises and celebrates good employment practices for women working in STEM subjects.) There are a number of individual departments currently hoping to gain the Silver Award.

The VC also reported on the cancelling of the Business Process Review.  Stating that given the scale and complexity of the changes proposed a further examination was deemed necessary and a small steering group will look at this.

The LUSU President was delighted to report that Lancaster had convincingly defeated York in the recent War of the Roses. It had been a wonderful competition carried out in the best possible spirit. Changes to the postgraduate representation LUSU are been examined. LUSU's TV station, LA1 TV, gained a highly commended award at the recent Student Television Awards.

There then followed a debate about the demise of Lancaster-Liverpool federation. When asked why have discussions had broken down, the Pro-Chancellor gave two reasons. Firstly, Liverpool didn't think that the Lancaster Senate was committed to a merger at this point in time – a reasonably accurate view. The second reason was that Lancaster didn't think that Liverpool were prepared to resource the process of fully examining all advantages, benefits and risks. This second reason came as a surprise to everyone in the meeting who had been involved in these negotiations!

The Deputy Vice Chancellor brought the meeting up to date with development in Ghana. It is still early in the process and there is plenty of work still to do on due diligence and agreement on a business plan. We are also looking at broad collaborations with a research institute in Brazil.

The Chief Operating Officer gave Council a brief overview of current and proposed capital expenditure. Highlights were the continuation of refurbishment of the underpass (highlights!), refurbishment of Furness College and construction of the wind turbine. Architects are being scoped for the new Engineering project and facilities for the new Chemistry department.

The meeting concluded with the approval of the appointments of three new College Principals.



On 24 May the Cesagen Public Lecture was given at Lancaster Town Hall by Professor Sir John Sulston. For those not in the know, Cesagen is a collaboration between Cardiff and Lancaster Universities, conducting research into economic and social factors shaping the conduct and application of genomic science. It is funded chiefly by the ESRC. A Nobel prize-winner for his work on the genetics of the nematode worm, Sulston nonetheless gave an approachable lecture to his very mixed audience. In the first half of the lecture he spoke about the huge advances made in the science of genomics since the work of Watson and Crick in the 1950s, and the difficulties of funding this work without allowing genomic sequences to be patented, which can block further work both on the genome in question and often on others too. (A popular article on Sulston's early work, which led to his Nobel prize, can be seen at

The second half of the talk was devoted to the question of whether the human race can live sustainably. Sulston pointed out that we in the west have managed to maintain our material standard of living by exporting our carbon dioxide emissions, chiefly to China and India. He suggested that, if climate disaster is to be avoided, the most urgent tasks are to

* lift the poorest billion of global population out of poverty

* reduce consumption in the developed economies

* continue the downward trend of population growth by meeting the substantial demand (from women) for voluntary contraception

* provide high-quality primary and secondary education, for girls and boys equally.

He appeared optimistic that all of these aims can be achieved. We may all do our bit, but getting many billions of people to do these things is certainly a very tall order. Until they do, the future looks bleak.

(The discussion of sustainability in the second half of Sir John Sulston’s lecture is set out more fully in a Royal Society report prepared under his chairmanship, available at



If you're planning a summer picnic, a good meal can be put together from a fresh loaf or two of interesting bread from Windy Hill Bakery in King Street, Lancaster (see subtext 89), together with a selection of cheeses from Burgess's stall on the upper floor of Lancaster Market. Once you have your bread from Windy Hill, just cross at the pedestrian crossing and go up the steps to the Market, and Burgess's is on the left just inside the door. 

They have a good range of British and continental cheeses, and regularly experiment by adding new ones to their range. Their turnover is high, so the cheeses are never stale, and they are always ready to cut a sliver for customers to try: this writer's current favourites are the Parlick sheep's milk cheese, the French Comté, and the Dolphinholme goat's milk cheese.  There is a good range of blue cheeses, and of course of Lancashires and Cheddars too. To complete your picnic, they also sell tomatoes, olives and other essentials.

Now that compensation for the Market traders has been agreed with the Council, Burgess's are looking to move out to a nearby shop, where their successful cheese business should continue. This is not expected to happen for a few months, but in any case those of us who are addicted to Burgess's cheese will still be supplied.

PS: in the last issue of subtext, we wrote 'it looks as though the Council are hoping they can avoid having to compensate the traders by getting them to leave voluntarily, rather than trying to trade in an empty Hall'. It is now clear that the Council was at that time working to organise this compensation to the traders, and it is now agreed. We didn't wish to suggest the Council was hoping to avoid making these payments, which clearly it wasn't.



The Russell Group was formed in 1994 and named after the London hotel where at that time a few VCs used to meet before meetings of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (now Universities UK), which were held just along the road in Tavistock Square. Hotel Russell (isn't the inverted name a bit pretentious?) opened in 1900. The building could only be a product of the late Victorian or Edwardian era. The exterior is so covered in ornament as to be reminiscent of an Indian palace. The architect of the building, Charles Fitzroy Doll, was an enthusiastic user of terracotta. In his design for Hotel Russell he let rip so exuberantly that the windows and door openings of the very restrained houses nearby in Russell Square had to be decorated with terracotta dressings to compete: this was the origin of the phrase 'dolled up'.

The largest shareholder in Frederick Hotels, the company that built and owned Hotel Russell, was Sir John Maple, head of the furnishing firm of that name. His position caused consternation among other furnishing companies, including Waring and Gillow, who saw it as potential restraint of trade. Their concern was justified - Maples did indeed supply most of the furnishings; they also did the internal decoration.

It may be appropriate that the Russell Group was born in this building, since the (unstated) aim of the Group is to secure advantage for itself and its members. If Lancaster University were to be invited to join, would we want to accept, like the recent recruits to the group, Durham, Exeter, Queen Mary and York? The natural tendency is to join. It would be comforting to think our VC was regularly sitting down at the table with the VCs of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Imperial etc. 

However, it is not obvious that Lancaster would gain much advantage by joining. We have little in common with most of the Russell Group members: indeed, many of them have little in common with each other, except that they are mostly much bigger than Lancaster. It seems doubtful they would pay any more heed to our views if we were members than they do now when we are not. Perhaps the best course for Lancaster is a quiet disdain for the whole group business.



Dear subtext,

I'm sure you've been inundated with this - but it's nice to see Lancaster University is 'leading change' in Bahrain.

All the best,

Tony Friend


Dear subtext,

I'd like to second subtext's appropriately generous comments on Marion and her book. One of the gentler, funnier, truer things one could say about the author is that it took some people (mea culpa, for sure) a stupidly long time to appreciate her contributions to keeping things running, at more or less the right speed and in more or less the right direction. When all is said and done, what more could one sane person ask of another sane person?

The 'measured' perspective Marion takes in the book may explain the slowness in appreciating her work at the University. But by the same token it can no longer excuse it.

Well done, indeed!!!

Bob Bliss, University of Missouri-St. Louis


Dear subtext,

Just in case you missed it, Laura from LA1:TV interviewed Mike Sheppard regarding the underpass:

Dave Ingles


The editorial collective of subtext currently consists (in alphabetical order) of: Mark Garnett, George Green, David Smith, Bronislaw Szerszynski and Martin Widden.

Home | Archive | Subscribe | Editors | Contact