subtext | Truth: lies open to all

Issue 159 - "I am a referee, not a coach"



Fortnightly during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments:

Back issues & subscription details:

In this issue: editorial, rankings, palm oil, paperless submissions, PwC, overheard in LUSU central, letter from america, we are lancasters, hospital, wrapping the swoosh, gin, 1984, no letters



Readers may be familiar with a new phenomenon at the beginning of seminars and tutorials - the sight of students all peering at their mobile phones, holding them up as if they're desperate to send a text message in an area of poor reception, and exclaiming "has it worked?"

Introducing the university's new "attendance check-in" service. The idea is that, via the Bluetooth service on their mobile phone, iLancaster will seamlessly track our students, wherever they are, and monitor whether they are located where their timetable says they should be located. The seminar tutor will no longer need to take a register, as it'll all happen seamlessly and silently.

There are currently hiccups. It seems that Bluetooth reception isn't perfect at every point on campus, and that the iLancaster system hasn't always been recording things accurately. Who'da thunk it?!

For the time being, most departments are still backing everything up with a traditional paper register. Presumably these glitches will be ironed out eventually and everything will "just work", but worries over points of principle are harder to resolve.

For a start, let's remember why we started taking registers in the first place - whilst the Registry continues to assure everyone that it's done for the benefit of all students, in order to "provide an early alert where students may be experiencing academic difficulties or wellbeing issues", we all know that we actually do it because we have to monitor the attendance of overseas students, and report them to the Home Office if they miss too many sessions. It would look a bit racist to only check up on some of our students, so we took the decision to check up on everyone. Are we all happy to - in effect - be acting as agents of the state here? If we want to continue to accept overseas students then we don't have a choice. Perhaps the new online system, which works passively "in the background" rather than actively - no need for YOU to report your student to the immigration people, because the note's already been sent electronically! - will assuage the liberal consciences of our staff.

Are we happy that our students are being continuously tracked, with the university gathering a full log of their locations over time? And what happens to all the data, anyway? The Student Based Services website is rather coy about this. For compulsory sessions, iLancaster will gather check-in data which "is transferred into the student record system", while for non-compulsory sessions, in rooms with "attendance beacons" fitted, iLancaster will gather check-in data which "will not be transferred into the student record system" - the implication being that a full set of data, for both compulsory and non-compulsory sessions, is being collated and stored somewhere else. What's it being used for?

And what about those who either don't want a smartphone with Bluetooth or - dare we suggest that such people might still exist? - cannot afford to run one? Apparently, "if you can't or don't check in, your lecturer will have an alternative way to record your attendance. However, it will be quicker and easier for you to do this for yourself if you are able." Which means, we think, that there's nothing the university can do to make students co-operate, other than make empty threats: "hey, nice academic record you've got here . . . it'd be a shame if (knocks vase off shelf) anything were to HAPPEN to it, eh?"

Taking the scheme to its logical conclusion, we have a suggestion, which we think will gain the enthusiastic support of both university management and LUSU: at Part I registration, let's implant all our students with a subcutaneous microchip, linked to a wi-fi transmitter. This would give everyone - Student Based Services, the Home Office and LUSU - full, transparent, real-time tracking data on our students, including when they get up, where they go all day and when and where they go to bed. The data will - of course - be used entirely to safeguard students' welfare and act as an early warning system. It could also flash red, make a noise and alert the Home Office when an international student misses their third seminar in the space of a term. What a great advert for the internet of things!



The results are in . . . and it is not clear what they mean.

Global rankings provide a respected benchmark of the University's performance against competitors on both a national and international stage. When they're favourable they find their way into every PowerPoint presentation that our Marketing teams touch, and when less favourable we shuffle sheepishly off stage and hope no-one notices.

But is such respect for (and dependency upon) rankings actually due? In February the Times Higher Education rankings for 2017 rolled hot off the electronic press, and Marketing teams across the country scanned the results in the hope of finding something that could be presented in large (virtual) flashing lights in prospectuses, fliers, emails, Twitter feeds, Facebook and numerous other media that can be employed to bombard potential students. This year sees Lancaster ranked at 137 in the World rankings (down from 130 in 2016). Not great, not awful. Wait a minute though. "The World's Most International Universities" ranking places Lancaster . . . not in the top 150 at all (compared with 68th last year).

The reason? THE have changed their methodology. THE indicate that a new measure has been added to the method – the University's "International Reputation", which seems to basically involve 25% of the score being contributed by votes cast in an "invitation only Academic Reputation Survey".

Hang on a minute, "invitation only"? Sounds a little bit like Professor Important persuaded all of his mates in the Russell Group to vote for Dr Stupendous' University because he works with him a lot and he likes him. How does one get an "invitation"?

At this point we might be tempted to suggest that these rankings are in fact a load of old tosh, but the problem is that our international students, particularly at postgraduate level, pay attention to this stuff. As do the agents that we use. So, whilst it might seem like we could just give THE and their old-boys-club voting system a none-too-polite salute, it does actually matter.

Either way, Marketing will not be falling over themselves to pop this titbit into their latest material.



In subtext 158 we reported on potential Gary Neville University partner Peter Lim's involvement in the palm oil industry. Coincidentally, the iniquities of this industry were the subject of the most recent LUSU Student Jury, which was asked to approve the reduction of the sale of products using palm oil in the union outlets. The jury decided that LUSU should:

"audit their stock and ensure their suppliers are sourcing sustainable palm oil products; communicate with members about why they source sustainable palm oil products, and more generally about issues with palm oil; and lobby the University to ensure their suppliers are using sustainable palm oil only."

Should the plan for the Gary Neville University go ahead, there will be even greater scope for students to "lobby the University" on this issue.



If there's any hotbed of political activity, you're sure to find it in the department of Sociology. Some readers based there may be curious to know why their corridors were blocked by a lengthy chain of paper and students lying on the ground in peaceful protest yesterday (Wednesday 1st March). It turns out that this display formed a part of the "Save the Ink" campaign, an initiative by some third year students, who want to see the university become yet more paperless and switch to online-only coursework submission and marking. Their arguments and statements can be found here:

It's an entirely honourable movement to save the rainforests (even if it does fall into the usual trap of presuming that increasing the need to have an electrical device plugged in at all times is any greener), but as with a lot of student campaigns, the cutesy gestures and cuddly environmentalism does little to address the human costs and the effect it'll have on the staff who have to work within such a new system.

The perpetual hot topic du jour among students is the quality of feedback - especially this time of year as the LUSU Full Time Officer elections move into full swing - and people like to mark in different ways. Some are content to do everything online, while others appreciate the sanctity of paper / feel they can engage better with what they're marking by scribbling down comments / don't enjoy being constantly subjected to the glare of the screen and coming down with a migraine. In a nutshell, if you want your marking to be top notch and to feel like your work has been properly engaged with, it is far better that your marker is seated comfortably and in the right frame of mind. And if you really want to be academic about it, some researchers have argued that people comprehend and understand text better when they are read on paper rather than screen ( You might also want the person marking your work not to feel the resentment that comes with the weight of the world on their shoulders, especially postgraduate tutors who already aren't paid enough (if at all!) for the amount of marking they have to do.

There is also the worry, subtext understands, that a move to paperless could begin a slide towards dispensing with administrative assistants.

subtext has already taken a dim view of a campaign to have all lectures recorded (subtext 141), because aside from the practical and copyright issues it would cause, it is generally right to resist any policy that makes it possible for students to complete an entire degree without ever getting out of their dressing gowns. Call us old fashioned, but we think it's a good thing for students to occasionally pay a visit to their department. We understand that this campaign is part of a practical module for Sociology students, but given that so many LUSU Full Time Officer candidates have paperless in their manifestos, there is every chance that this could gather some more steam. Mind you, given that the new departmental printers have caused headaches for staff and made it nigh on impossible to get any printing done at all (subtext 151), one could suspect that this is a deliberate move to push us into the paperless age. There is, of course, a discussion to be had, and we welcome letters and comments for publication in the next issue from individuals on both sides of the fence.



Readers who are perturbed about the off-shore tax arrangements of our potential strategic partners in the Gary Neville University can rest assured. Whenever the university is considering a partnership we always employ a reputable accountancy company to carry out "due diligence" checks to ensure there are no nasty surprises lurking in the background of the partners. This company is usually the inelegantly-named PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), with which Lancaster has had a long and fruitful relationship going back many years. Is this, you may ask, the same PwC which featured so prominently in the Panama Papers, was accused in a House of Commons Committee report of promoting tax avoidance "on an industrial scale" and was warned by President Obama last year to mend its ways or face large fines? It would appear so. At least they'll know what they're looking for. We are confident they will bring to this task the same scrupulous attention to detail they displayed in their organisation of the results at the recent Academy Awards ceremony. subtext's more cynical readers might wonder whether PwC passed the VC the wrong envelope when he was announcing who Lancaster's strategic partner would be.



(Shopper heads for the coffee machine)

- The coffee machine's not working, sorry.

(Shopper shrugs and takes basket to the checkout)

- We don't have any bags, I'm afraid.

- How am I supposed to carry my shopping away, then?

- . . . Err, we can give you a bin-bag?

- . . . OK!

(Shop assistant gets down a roll of bin-bags from the shelves)



There is a temptation these days to think everything is sunnier north of Hadrian's Wall, in that mythical land where higher education is still free and everyone loves the EU. (Well, by the same logic that says everyone in England and Wales voted to get out.)

Reality is, unsurprisingly, not as rosy as a Rabbie Burns poem. Having returned from a conference at The University of Strathclyde on educational futures, your correspondent was struck by a particular tale from the keynote speaker, Dr Rowena Arshad (OBE) Head of Moray House School of Education at Edinburgh University and Co-Director of the Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland.

Dr Arshad opened events with a rallying call, asking the academy to reflect on its role in times of political turmoil in combating aggression and dogma. But at the risk of repeating what subtext has already said over our past few issues, we want to hone in on one particular story Dr Arshad told of these disrupted times. Every year, Edinburgh's education department hosts a competition to send a cohort of PhD students to the American Educational Research Association conference. That tradition was almost halted this year, as the school realised that some of its students would be unable to enter given the uncertainty around the travel ban (which at the time of the competition was very much in place). After much soul searching around depriving an opportunity to the many while standing by the few, the school decided to run the competition – and were immensely heartened when only one student applied. The whole idea has since been scrapped, and the Edinburgh students are off to the European Educational Research Association (that spanner having not yet been thrown in the works).

This concern for the Edinburgh students has made the subtext collective wonder whether any department at Lancaster have faced similar issues or concerns with sending students to the States? We would welcome letters or anecdotes – both on and off the record.



subtext has previously reported (see subtext 156) on the We Are Lancaster initiative - "a movement, both in the city and on social media, for residents to show that they are proud of who they are and where they come from."

This is Lancaster, South Carolina of course. Interestingly, since its original foundation as a reaction to what Lancaster residents felt was an unfair article by CNN, We Are Lancaster has subsequently become a protest movement campaigning about the intended plans to introduce fracking and open cast mining in the Lancaster area, residents' arguments being that these types of mining are particularly damaging to the environment.

Closer to home, as subtext has also previously reported, We Are Lancaster is a new award that recognises staff who "personify Lancaster University's values of being open, inclusive and welcoming". Readers may wonder how this award would be perceived when stated on a CV.

There is a degree of irony in an individual award connected to an initiative that is in the plural (i.e. "We Are ..."). Perhaps it should be understood as a recognition that the individual recipient (echoes of We Are Lancaster in South Carolina) has proclaimed solidarity with a group of oppressed individuals à la "I am Spartacus!" Although perhaps this analogy would not be one the award owner would want to draw attention to. You will recall the story. If the slaves identify Spartacus, they live. If the slaves keep Spartacus's identity secret, they will be executed. Upon hearing the Roman General's threat, and trying to prevent his friends and followers from being executed, Spartacus stands up and proclaims "I am Spartacus!" However, the loyalty of his friends and followers is so overwhelming, that each of them comes forward in succession, shouting "I am Spartacus!" The proclamation that "I am Spartacus!" spreads until the shouts grow to thousands of former slaves each proclaiming "I am Spartacus!" Confused and unable to identify the real Spartacus, but impressed by the loyalty he inspires in his army, the Roman general crucifies all Spartacus' followers in a miles-long display alongside the Appian Way leading back to Rome.

The by-line to the campaign in Lancaster, South Carolina is: Proud, Progressive and Far From Pathetic. subtext welcomes subscribers to offer an appropriate byline for our local We Are Lancaster Award.



On Monday (20th February), after the weekend when the story broke about President Trump and Sweden, your correspondent attended Royal Preston Hospital for a routine appointment. As usual the waiting room was packed – it was the normal holding pen design: chairs in line, a collection of magazines dominated by journals about caravans and a television attached to the wall invariably showing "Homes under the Hammer". As your correspondent approached the designated area for killing time he heard the unmistakable sound of giggling and laughter. What was the source of such mirth? A new ribald Channel 4 comedy programme or some classic BBC sitcom? No – the television was tuned to the BBC World News and the programme was discussing the Trump/Sweden story. And this random group of (older) folk gathered together in a hospital waiting room in the North West of England were all laughing at the President of the United States. They do say laughter is the best medicine.



Work on the Swoosh atop the Chaplaincy Centre is coming to a close. Thanks to some nifty and skilful cherry picking work the Swoosh shines brightly again, ready for the Spring sunshine to flicker and bounce off its prongs. It really does look fantastic against a light blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds - a picture of artistic beauty.

Art in another form is also making an appearance whilst the finishing touches are being made to the actual roof of the Chaplaincy Centre. The roof has been wrapped in a white thick woven polypropylene fabric with what appears to be an aluminium surface. Older subscribers may recall a similar event back in 1995 when Christo oversaw the wrapping of the Reichstag.

The Reichstag stands up in an open, strangely metaphysical area. The building has experienced its own continuous changes and perturbations: built in 1894, burned in 1933, almost destroyed in 1945, it was restored in the sixties, but the Reichstag always remained the symbol of Democracy. Much like the Swoosh remains a symbol of Lancaster University's values of being open, inclusive and welcoming.

The Reichstag remained wrapped for 14 days and all materials were recycled. It would be nice if the Chaplaincy Centre shared that fate.



Your correspondent is usually fuelled by real ale, wine and whisky. On one of his regular detours to Furness Bar for more of the same, he was amazed to have wandered in on the inaugural Lancaster University Gin Fest.

Spread across four days, the festival offered what it said on the tin - a selection of 101 gins, helpfully described in an extensive manual which also pointed to recommended garnishings and flavoured tonic water.

Wednesday and Thursday nights both saw an impressive student turnout (unexpectedly so for the middle of the week), while locals and staff crowded the bar further on Friday and Saturday nights.

What was most striking about the event, however, was how the event quite neatly slammed together an educational experience with the "student experience" without dumbing down. Yes there was gin, but the evenings ran alongside a quiz, an open mic night, karaoke, and a live band - it was pleasing that the event wasn't overcooked, fraught with snobbery and shoved down our throats. Loads of students look to standard gin (Gordon's, Bombay Sapphire, etc) as their drink of choice, and it was nice to observe an event serving the dual purpose of broadening palettes and getting people merry without resorting to BOGOF offers on shots.

Given the continuing success of the annual Real Ale Festival which takes place on campus, and which attracts student enthusiasts, locals and staff, it seems ridiculous now that a festival of gin wasn't reserved an annual spot on the calendar years ago. It is currently estimated that over the four days, they sold over 70 bottles of gin and played host to over a thousand attendees - clearly there is an appetite for this sort of thing, so let's have more of it!


REVIEW: 1984

George Orwell's 1984 has been bandied about as "prophetic" ever since it was first published. One yearns for the days when people would let out a cry of "Orwell was RIGHT!" every time a town council erects a security camera. Those days were nicer than present times, where political behaviour across the pond makes the comparison increasingly justified. If nothing else, now was as good a time as any for Lancaster University Theatre Group to mount a production of Orwell's vision of a revolution gone awry and a population micromanaged by constant surveillance.

For whatever reason, the society went with Michael Gene Sullivan's treatment of the classic - not their first choice, your correspondent understands. 1984 ought to be a grand production - the picture that the book paints is that of vast swathes of zombies packing out Victory Square and bellowing their slogans, and passing each other in the cavernous corridors of their various ministries. The architectural surroundings are dilapidated, the food is greasy and the gin is toxic. Take that out of 1984, and you lose 50% of the incredibly imagery that makes the story what it is. Sullivan's adaptation is a minimalist affair, telling the story solely through Winston Smith's interrogation and representing peripheral characters through brief flashbacks portrayed by actors who double up as unexplained interrogators.

The script also fails to recognise that 1984 does actually have a story with some narrative devices and intriguing character relationships. It even has a suspenseful plot. The form that this adaptation takes kills all of that stone dead - we know from the outset that Winston has been caught, and Smith's relationships with characters such as Mr Charrington, the doddery shopkeeper, are presented in such a stilted and disjointed way that no-one watching gets the chance to care when he turns out to be an agent of the Thought Police, as they might when reading the novel or watching the seminal John Hurt film adaptation. The entire first act is a one-note affair, doing nothing to add a new layer of suspense or storytelling to excite an audience who have almost certainly read the novel.

Tellingly, it kicks up a gear in act two, when the story is brought up to the present and we get to see the interrogation of Winston as presented in the novel. At this point, the stark emptiness of the stage makes perfect sense. James Bone as Winston Smith, who cuts a suitably gaunt and ghoulish figure, gave a far more compelling performance of a man slowly coming to terms with the relentless gaslighting and logical mountain-moving of his interrogators than he did in the first act, when he just had to shout a lot - given Bone's obvious acting range, it's a shame that he hadn't the opportunity to take us through more of Winston's story. Robbie Love, who spent most of his stage time in silhouette form delivering edicts and questions through a distorted microphone, gave the stand-out performance as Inner-Party agent O'Brien, and delivered a suitably dead-eyed, dogmatic turn when he finally appeared from behind his screen to come face to face with Winston Smith (no easy feat, given that your reviewer couldn't imagine anyone other than Richard Burton in the role!)

Considerable kudos is also due to stage managers Laurence Bickerton and Izzy Everrat, who masked a weak script with a tour-de-force of sound, lighting, and digital imagery - a mammoth task for a student society with limited budget and resources. LUTG's "1984" was a wonderful spectacle, sublimely acted, but marred by a very weak script.

Rating: DoublePlusOkay.

Lancaster University Theatre Group will be staging the following productions this term: "The Glass House": 6th, 7th & 8th March, The Storey Institute; and "Incognito": 10th & 11th March, The Storey Institute.

Dedicated to the memory of Michael P. Nunn.



There are no letters. Clearly nothing newsworthy in the last subtext!


The editorial collective of subtext currently consists of (in alphabetical order): Paul Arthur, James Groves, Lizzie Houghton, Ian Paylor, Ronnie Rowlands, Joe Thornberry, and Johnny Unger.