issue 93

28 June 2012


'Truth: lies open to all'


Every fortnight during term-time.

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CONTENTS: editorial, news in brief, FASS fiasco, plagiarism, redundancy procedures, dogs on campus, advertisements, television, Apple versus Microsoft, academic nicknames, scan poaching, letters



It is fashionable nowadays to write about management in military terms. An array of books called things like 'The Art of War for the Management Warrior' use Sun Tzu's The Art of War and any number of other military thinkers as a springboard for understanding management. This isn't really surprising, as managers like to think of themselves in swashbuckling terms ('captains of industry', 'corporate raiders' etc) and, in fairness, both armies and companies attempt to mobilise large groups of people to achieve specified ends.

Subscribers who prefer a less gung-ho treatment may enjoy Norman Dixon's book The Psychology of Military Incompetence (Cape, 1984). Dixon identifies a number of psychological states and influences which he suggests are major contributors to military incompetence, and he produces a list of military disasters across the ages in which the leaders have clearly displayed these conditions.  One of the most characteristic flaws is an unwillingness to listen to advice or information which is unwelcome, news which does not fit the ideas which you already hold. ('Indians?  What Indians?') This can also be seen in politics - both Thatcher and Blair's last couple of years in office were characterised by blunders that might have been avoided if they had listened to others.  When a successful Roman general was awarded a Triumph, a slave stood behind him, whispering through the adulation 'Remember you are mortal'. Medieval courts had jesters, who were permitted to mock the king without committing lèse-majesté because they were supposedly mad and so not responsible. 

As it is in war and politics, so it is in Higher Education. Every Vice Chancellor needs someone close by who will tell them unpleasant truths. The overwhelming impression given by the latter part of our last Vice-Chancellor's tenure was that either no-one was telling him the bad news, or that they were doing so and he was ignoring it.  Confirming this impression, D floor in University House was redesigned to become physically - and therefore psychologically - a bunker, and unsurprisingly generated the mentality that goes with that. New appointments seemed sometimes to be chosen more for their conformity than for their talents.  Granted, it takes moral courage and stamina and a strong ego to appoint people who will challenge you. Our new Vice Chancellor has thus far shown a commendable willingness to kick parts of his predecessor's legacy into the long grass.  However, as the recent UCU newsletter so aptly noted, it is easier to admit to your predecessor's mistakes than to your own.  There will always be mistakes, of course.  Our concern here is to ask how those mistakes that are avoidable may be foreseen and guarded against. That takes a willingness to listen, especially to those who may have knowledge but not influence, and to go beyond those who merely support one's own views. Professor Smith has thus far encouraged us to hope; now we look to see what structures are in place to aid him in his quest. To use the much-misunderstood Quaker expression, who will now speak truth to power?



Looking our best?

We do not wish to tax our readers' patience with endless rehearsal of just how bad the underpass building work makes the University look, but really, it does. Here we are again, a few weeks off graduation, the University's flagship day, and again, proud parents and families arriving will come up the hill and the first thing they will see is the 'road closed' signs that have been here so long that most of us no longer notice them. It will not be long before there will be students graduating from Lancaster who have never actually passed through the underpass.  And meanwhile the shops in the Square are going broke, the lift (which must have been erected in a misplaced fit of optimism) remains unused as a standing reminder and reproach, and perhaps most significantly, people are laughing at us. There is a rumour amongst Lancaster taxi-drivers that the University is going to cut its losses and just brick the underpass up.  No doubt there are sound engineering-type reasons for the delay, but to an ignorant lay person they become harder and harder to take seriously.



On Monday 18 June the tangled story around the appointment of a new Dean for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences took yet another twist when all members of FASS received a message from our Vice-Chancellor.  The VC wanted to inform them that 'Professor Nancy Wright, for personal reasons, has decided that she is unable to take up her position as Dean of Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)'.  He said that he had asked the incumbent Dean, Tony McEnery, to remain as Dean for another five years, and requested Heads of Department to consult on this proposal.

As we reported in subtext 91, Professor Wright, whose earlier career as an academic focused on property rights in the early modern period, has since then had a highly controversial career in university management in Australia - from 2006 at the University of Western Sydney, and then from 2011 at the University of Queensland.  According to staff at these universities, her practice of carrying out major restructurings of budgets, teaching programmes and research cultures without consultation, and generally not bothering herself with the annoying task of talking to academic colleagues about how her faculty really works, alienated faculty members, rendering her ineffective as a manager, and effectively led to her being squeezed out from both institutions.  At the University of Western Sydney she became known as 'The Stig', after the helmeted character on Top Gear, because no one ever saw her face.  At the University of Queensland, with a more self-confident academic culture closer to that of Lancaster, she was dubbed 'The Grim Reaper', and prompted coordinated protests by staff unhappy at her axing of courses, and complaints by a group of professors.

Professor Smith's email to FASS staff was highly diplomatic to say the least.  It had none of the barely suppressed anger that characterised the message sent to Queensland staff by their own Vice-Chancellor, Deborah Terry, on 17 May, when she discovered, soon after Professor Wright had been placed on 'extended personal leave', that she had quietly obtained a post at Lancaster while the controversy about her behaviour as Dean of the Faculty of Arts had been reaching a crescendo.  Is that the sound of a generous severance package being hastily renegotiated, we wonder?

subtext does not know exactly how Professor Wright was persuaded not to take up her new post at Lancaster, or whether this involved the kind of expensive industrial lawyers that are rumoured to have been hired by Queensland.  Perhaps Queensland, after a period of being rather tight-lipped with Lancaster about events there, decided to cooperate and share its information?  Either way, this is a good outcome for Lancaster, as Professor Wright was looking like a highly problematic appointment - unlikely to have the ability to carry the rest of the Faculty with her, but also, because of the controversy around her appointment, unlikely to be able effectively to represent the interests of FASS at University level.

So it looks like Lancaster has dodged a bullet this time.  But questions need to be asked about how we were so careless as to stand up in front of the bullet in the first place.  A careful scrutiny of Professor Wright's CV, a minute's Googling, and some quick inquiries to Aussie chums would have been enough to dispel any illusions about her suitability for the crucial and sensitive role of FASS Dean. FASS colleagues are left wondering which is the more worrying explanation - that key appointments at Lancaster are now being made with only the most cursory of background checks, or that Professor Wright's record of dubious decision-making was well known to the selection panel, and heartily approved of until the damning details were publicised at Lancaster. The best way for Professor Smith to allay any further suspicions arising from this episode would perhaps be to divulge more details of his vision for FASS's future, which he shared with Professor McEnery before asking the latter to serve as Dean for an additional term.



Subscribers will recall that in subtext 92 we commented upon the recent Daily Mail article about Lancaster's apparently disproportionate number of students disciplined for plagiarism and the like. We now read that the Office of the Independent Adjudicator has concluded that 'Some universities are letting students down by failing to warn them about plagiarism and its consequences until it is too late.' (For the full report, see  We would not suggest that this conclusion could not possibly be true, but we suspect that academic readers of subtext will greet it with a heavy sigh.  Is there a member of staff at Lancaster who has not spent what seems an inordinate proportion of their precious lives making sure via lectures, tutorials, hand-outs, links and a myriad of other methods that students cannot be unaware of what constitutes plagiarism?  Is this not a circular argument - that students who feel that they have not been warned sufficiently will, by definition, be the ones who have ignored the tsunami of advice and warnings that has washed over every other living soul?



Further to our editorial on developments at Salford (see subtext 91), we have been hearing of ominous moves at other institutions, where management is taking steps to by-pass established procedures regarding academic redundancies. At UCL and Glasgow senior management are following very similar tactics which suggest an element of cross-institutional collaboration. As we said in subtext 91, this is an instance where we really are 'all in this together', and colleagues are urged to contact subtext if they hear of similar developments elsewhere. See



One of the characteristics of a large institution like a University is the number of things that everyone knows are or aren't permitted, when in fact there is no provision in the University Rules either way. Part of the reason for this is the (for want of a better word) federal structure of the university; Colleges are largely free to make their own internal regulations within the wider guidance provided by the Rules. An example of something that everyone knows to be true is that 'people aren't allowed to have dogs on campus'.  In fact, the only University regulation touching on this that we know of is a single sign near the rugby pitches saying that dogs may not be exercised there, for reasons that anyone who plays a sport which involves having your face ground into the dirt by a 16-stone opponent will see the sense of. Many subscribers will already know someone who brings a dog onto campus. They (the dogs, not the people) will generally be small, charming and well-behaved, like for example the two small white dogs owned by people in County College.  We are not aware that any dog on campus has caused a problem recently, or that anyone has objected to any dog presently being brought to campus.  However, if there were hundreds of dogs being brought here daily then people certainly would object, for a variety of reasons, regardless of how well-behaved the dogs were. It's one of those issues that no-one feels the need to talk about, because at present there are so few of them and they are so small that they aren't seen as a problem.  One day someone is going to bring in a rumbustious Irish Wolfhound, and then things will get interesting.



There is an advertisement on the side of some local buses for Lancaster and Morecambe College which suggests that, as well as learning in a lecture theatre, students might wish to get out and get some experience in 'the real world'. Back in the 1970's students used to go around saying (often but not always ironically) that university was 'such an artificial environment'. We haven't heard this expression for a while, certainly not since Blair upped the numbers going to university from about 15% to about 40%. Artificial, maybe, but no longer uncommon. Do people really still talk about life outside the University as being 'the real world'?



Subscribers who watch the series 'Lewis' starring Kevin Whately on television may have enjoyed the extended discussion about the origins of Lancaster University that took place last week, where the plot rested upon rather specialised knowledge of the non-existence of the University campus prior to 1964. ('In 1964, all that was there was the Waring and Gillow warehouse.') Pattern-seekers may also have noted that one of the same series' fictitious Oxford Colleges is called 'Lonsdale' College. Any subscriber with time on their hands wishing to check the educational antecedents of the writers of the show is welcome to get back to us with their findings.



Subscribers walking north towards County College may have noticed a small shop to the right of the main steps called 'The Workshop'. It opened this year without fanfare and with no indication as to its purpose. Looking in, one might suppose it has something to do with mobile phones.  In fact, we understand that it is there to offer technical support to those of us who have chosen not to use the clumsy, ugly, non-intuitive and virus-ridden machines supplied by Bill Gates' company and favoured by the University, and who have instead chosen to use the admittedly more expensive but better in almost every imaginable way machines supplied by the late Steve Jobs' company.  (And yes, we know that while Gates was busy trying to cure malaria in Africa, Jobs was paying his Chinese workers so little that they preferred to jump off windowsills than work for him. We're all conflicted). Anyhow.  Up to now, anyone who has tried to get IT support for their Mac from the University's people will have run headlong into a policy cul-de-sac - the University doesn't support Macs, period. Now it seems to have relented, and the Workshop is we gather, your place to go.



An entertaining by-product of the shenanigans over the FASS Dean has been a reminder of the often amusing nicknames that staff bestow on each other. 'The Grim Reaper' is more descriptive than anything, but 'The Stig' ('because we never saw her face') is great. We are reminded of a Head of Department at Lancaster a few years ago who was referred to by colleagues as 'The Wailing Wall', partly because of his tone of continuous droning complaint, partly because most of the time the only person listening to him was himself.  Another was known as 'The Fat Controller', which was very inaccurate as he was never really in control of anything. Yet another was called 'The Captain', which was apparently a reference to the Walt Whitman poem, specifically the line that goes 'My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will'.  A colleague from another university in the Midlands assures us that his HoD is known amongst his colleagues as 'Foggy', as he's wet and dull.  The admin staff in a department in a London College call their Dean 'JFDI', as any query elicits the unvarying response 'Just F****** Do It'.  A Dean in the same institution was known as 'Genghis', not, apparently, because she was nasty, but because of her unabashed enthusiasm for both horses and empire-building.  And an HoD in Scotland refers in private to one of his colleagues as 'Heseltine' in memory of the number of times he has stabbed his leader in the back.

All good clean fun. Any other contributions welcome.


And Now, The End of Life As We Know It.



A contributed article by Ronnie Rowlands, SCAN Assistant-Editor Elect

Cambridge University's branch of the subtext subscriber list will undoubtedly be aware of 'The Tab', a tabloid student newspaper set up in 2009 as part of a new initiative to bring Cambridge its 'only true independent newspaper' - perhaps an odd thing to say, given that 'Varsity', one of the country's oldest student newspapers, runs entirely without CUSU funding and is editorially independent. Other even odder claims have followed.

Since January this year two of its founders, Jack Rivlin and George Marangos-Gilks, have expanded The Tab into a franchise of independent (sic) online student newspapers, with branches in the University of East Anglia, University College London, Durham University and The University of Exeter. All of these form 'The Drop' network - a series of identical tabloid-style websites

In an email sent round to every member of SCAN's editorial team, Rivlin and Marangos-Gilks announced their intention to bring themselves to Lancaster University. The email offered promises of contacts, networking, mentoring, enormous exposure and a 'authentic professional newspaper experience'.

Before even beginning to take issue with the ethical issues behind making a business out of student newspapers, it is important to note that this is an all too familiar technique, where writers are offered various forms of 'experience' as a substitute for actual payment - internships, in effect. The Drop makes a profit, but then any business that doesn't pay its workers shouldn't find that too difficult.  As Harlan Ellison once so-correctly raged, 'the only value in you using my work is if you cross my palm with silver.' The Drop purports to be a professional online newspaper, but takes advantage of the romance surrounding journalism to get people to work for it for nothing. Getting experience is one thing, being cynically exploited is quite another.

The Drop Network email promises SCAN editors a million readers - 'a weekly readership higher than the circulation of the Guardian'. That would be impressive, if it were true. Let's see. The Drop want to roll out 20 more websites by this time next year, and the 'best content' will be shared across the whole site.  The Guardian has, on average, 26,047,637 web hits a week (figures spotted by Edwin Burrows, the evil genius behind The Whistleblower, in the most recent ABCs). So a weekly readership of 1 million is not higher than the circulation of The Guardian. Presumably they mean the Guardian's weekly print run, which clocks up at 1,554,214. Still higher than a million though. They are referring, of course, to its daily print circulation of 217,190.

So, The Drop's 20 websites will get more online hits in a week than The Guardian's one print newspaper will sell in a day. I'm impressed. Are you?

In the same email, they boast about their national exposure. This national exposure would be next to features such as 'Who Is The Fittest Lecturer?' and pictures of the backsides of Cambridge students, and with front cover stories that the Daily Mail found out for them. The Cambridge branch did publish a satirical article telling readers that Nick Griffin had been stripped of his degree, which The Sun ran as a legitimate story, resulting in congratulations from Private Eye. They have also received ringing endorsements from former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie (in The Times) and from self-confessed celebrity stalker and Lord Leveson's whipping boy Paul McMullan (in The Oxford Student). You shall know them by the company they keep.

But casting aside issues of integrity, The Drop could do to Lancaster's news publications what supermarkets do to local businesses - strangle them. If people are taken in by its welcome grin, then SCAN, The Whistleblower, Lancaster to Euston and whatever other publications may crop up in the future are at serious risk of being drowned out by an endeavour that threatens to make student journalism increasingly homogenous and tabloid.



Dear subtext,

It was disappointing to see the usage 'the data has' in the Senate report in issue 92.  In electoral analysis circles, treating 'data' as a singular noun is regarded as close to a hanging offence and anyone doing so (rightly) elicits stern disapproval from the leading figures in the field.

Prof. David Denver, Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion


Dear subtext,

In your last issue, Magnus George asked if there were 'a sensible reason for the distance between the medical centre and the pharmacy in Bailrigg House'. I can't comment on the rationale (or lack thereof) for this but I'd like to remind readers that if you take the mid-point between the medical centre and the pharmacy you'd find yourself in the environs of the Natural Healthcare Centre (based in the Chaplaincy Centre).  Here you could avail yourself of Acupuncture, Aromatherapy, Alexander Technique, Herbal Medicine, Massage, Reflexology and Shiatsu.  All discounted for staff and students.  For further details pick up a leaflet in the Chaplaincy Centre or visit

Paula Foster (formerly of Department of Continuing Education and currently of the Natural Healthcare Centre)


This stuff doesn't write itself, and, despite occasional evidence to the contrary, nor is it the collected leavings of many monkeys trying to type Hamlet.  If anyone would like to discuss (without obligation) joining the collective for next year, do drop us a line.


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

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