subtext | Truth: lies open to all

Issue 162 - 'Assume the risk of emptiness'

11 May 2017


Fortnightly during term time.

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In this issue: editorial, centralisation, senate report, Father Jack, poster purge, shh!, advertorials, warm welcome, alumni news, NUS conference, the blues, Bridget Christie review, letters



This issue starts with rumblings that came to us quite late, but which suggest a substantive change may be coming in the way the university is organised. The centralising tendencies of University House appear to have once again reared their heads, and this time cast their eyes on Departmental Officers (DOs). If suspicions are confirmed, and the 'Faculty Professional Services Review' is another move towards centralisation, then DOs may find themselves joining the likes of the campus bars and student activities in being moved away from their native homes (the Colleges and Students' Union in the previous cases) and into something altogether more faceless and controlling. Concentrating power in University House has consequences both practical and profound. For those involved it often results in being overworked and overstressed. But it also signals at a more general move away from the franchise of a university (in the democratic sense, not like Costa). We see it in the 'restricted', rubber-stamping Senate and Council business, and in the diminished powers of Court - one of the few avenue that remained for those from outside the centre to question those within. subtext will try and stay abreast of developments, and we must thank those who've brought it to our collective attention: such information is warmly greeted, and carefully guarded.



There is something afoot regarding Departmental Officers, and it carries more than a whiff of centralisation. subtext sources have suggested that University House is working towards a solid line (i.e. direct management control) between Faculty Managers and DOs, and a somewhat more dotted line between Heads of Department (HoDs) and DOs.

The management spin is that this will enhance DOs' career development, but that sounds very much like the sweetener that disguises the harsh taste of managerialism. University admin staff are said be demoralised, to say the least, and fear that the current 'Faculty Professional Services Review' is merely a box-ticking exercise to legitimise decisions that have already been taken. It's a path Manchester Metropolitan University has lurched down, where all admin roles are now centralised – and Lancaster does seem fond of looking to that other rainy city for inspiration at the moment. Academic staff there report that they are desperately overworked - in large part because they have a huge burden of student-facing administrative work, as they would rather ensure it gets done than rely on a faceless, centralised admin hub to not get round to doing things.

Back in Lancaster, we might ask whether these proposed changes are being carried out in an above-board manner, for instance keeping DOs and HoDs fully informed, consulting with unions, and considering the individual needs and preferences of individual departments. For academic colleagues who think this is of little concern to them, we recommend talking to your departmental officer and finding out how they feel about it - and what possible other changes they predict might arise as a result. Or don't just take our word for it, talk to colleagues at MMU or other institutions with similar structures, and find out how centralisation has worked for them.

Could the ultimate destination of this rather sinister line be a long-term plan to get rid of HoDs? A similar idea to bring departmental admin systems directly under Faculty control has been floated before, as part of the jargonistically named 'Business Process Review' in the dying days of the Wellings Years (see subtexts passim, e.g. 88). That idea turned to dust in the face of opposition from HoDs, students and departmental administrators, and was promptly jettisoned by a then young and fresh-faced new VC. And oh, how the masses applauded him for it! Perhaps, having put his mark (or should that be his Mark?) on Lancaster, he is now growing weary and cynical. More on this as we get it.



The VC was quite 'chipper' despite announcing our loss at the Roses Weekend - solace could be found in the narrowness of York's victory apparently. He thanked all the staff involved in the community day, which attracted an estimated 2000 visitors. This was highlighted as evidence of the University continuing to strengthen relationships with the local community. He was very pleased with our league table position and the fact that Lancaster now has three Fellows of the Royal Society – very much a sign of the progress of Lancaster University. He shared his thoughts on the forthcoming election, noting the impact on the Higher Education and Research Act, including not linking fees to TEF outcome. However, universities in England can increase their fees by inflation. A notable 'what wasn't accepted' by the outgoing government was the taking of international students out of the immigration control numbers. EU students will still be eligible for student loans and support in 2017/18. Altogether things are pretty good.

The rest of the business was generally noted and 'nodded through' with little discussion. The re-announcement of the development of Digital Lancaster was another positive note, seen as ambitious and welcomed by all – the only dissenting voices were concerned with the timescales.

It was hardly surprising that business was so swiftly dealt with because many of the papers circulated were deemed restricted, commercially sensitive or confidential.

These items were a report focusing on the academic developments related to the recent progress towards the development of a strategic partnership with Education 92 for the creation of University Academy 92 (UA92); a paper providing an update on undergraduate non-continuation performance ahead of it being reported to Council, and an update from Professor Decent on the REF preparations. There were also reports on the Goenka World Institute, LU Ghana (two), Gen2 Cumbria, the Teaching Out Programme Management Group, the Update on International Partnerships, and last, but not least, the Staff Survey Results 2016. All stamped 'Restricted'.

It is all rather cloak and dagger these days in Senate. But at least it gave subtext another opportunity to mention footballgate…



Word comes of new bureaucratic tortures to be inflicted on academic departments already drowning in 'quality assurance' paperwork. These are the 'Lancaster University Curriculum and Assessment Mapping Templates', which will supposedly 'aid both course designers and course approvers' by providing 'at a glance summaries' of the key components of an academic programme. This will in turn provide information which will show how the programme fits into the elegantly-titled 'Framework for Higher Education Qualifications of Degree Awarding-Bodies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland' or FHEQ, which will probably be the reaction of most HoDs when this pops into their inboxes.



Last Thursday's local elections were oddly quiet on campus. The University lies in a marginal county council division and, as expected, the student political societies had been busy raising awareness, but on the day something was missing. Where were the posters?

Well, plenty had been put up, mostly by the Greens and Labour, but on Wednesday morning they all disappeared, meaning none were around to remind students to vote on polling day - the day that really mattered. The reason? According to the societies, LUSU had removed the lot, on the grounds that they were in violation of the poster code agreed between the University and the Students' Union. Political groups were told that the names of the responsible societies hadn't been clear and the posters hadn't included an expiry date. Despite the Union's apparent love of the democratic process - it has a webpage "urging all eligible students to use their vote in the snap General Election on June 8", and has produced its own manifesto at setting out its position on the issues that matter to students - it had, societies claimed, implemented a political poster purge.

LUSU says that the University asked it to look into "issues with the political posters" after a complaint was received. The posters did not contain the name of the society responsible for them, which was deemed to be in breach of the poster code. A LUSU spokesperson said that the "union contacted the student societies concerned and asked them to take steps to rectify the issue. The societies did not respond to this request and therefore the posters of Labour Club, Green Party Society, amongst others that did not meet the poster code rules were removed a few days later". In response, the student Labour club states that they did try to resolve the problem with LUSU, but were "completely ignored".

While there is rarely any love lost between LUSU and the political societies, subtext can't help but wonder who submitted the initial complaint to the University, and why LUSU was so keen to act on it? Student groups should not get special treatment just because we deem the political future of the county more important that the Bowland Bar crawl or the like, but it hardly requires MI5 to work out who might be responsible for posters saying "Vote Green" and "Vote Labour", and as for an expiry date, they all had "4th May 2017" printed on them in large friendly lettering.

It is probably not entirely coincidental that there was a scheduled cleanup of campus last week ahead of the University Community Day. Far be it for us to suggest that a university campus is, or should be, a political space, where arguments are made and opinions are expressed frankly. One might have hoped that good sense, and the wish to encourage democratic participation and an active sense of community, would have prevailed, and the posters left up until the Friday morning.



Former school prefects of the University rejoice: students can now report noisy neighbours using either the iLancaster app or the library website. Some may cry panopticon! Some may lament at the thought of actively encouraging students to grass each other up. subtext however will mourn the sad demise of the passive-aggressive frown and a determined 'shh'. Surely the young go-getters and world-movers of tomorrow that Lancaster wants to produce should be capable of that, without the Nanny University having to step up?



Once again, the subtext drones probe deeply into the national press, in search of national media coverage that somehow escaped a mention in LU Text's Lancaster in the Media roundup.

Over the last month or so, Lancaster has enjoyed an explosion of coverage on the Guardian's website. Headlines such as 'How Lancaster University is mindful of student welfare', 'Find out why Lancaster University rates so highly in the UK league tables', and 'How one of the UK's top universities is creating a global network' are all over the place, as though the Grauniad was working as an arm of our press office...

...Which isn't really far from the truth. All of these articles (which you can find here:, we have discovered (with great ease) have been paid for by Lancaster University. It wasn't so long ago that 'advertorials' such as these were commonplace in the national press, although just recently publications have done a little more to sharpen the blurred line between journalistic content and blatant shilling - in the case of the Guardian, articles of this nature are clearly marked as "PAID FOR BY LANCASTER UNIVERSITY." If we'd been about 18 months earlier, before the Guardian started signposting such content in such a way, we might've gotten away with "brought to you by Lancaster University."

That's not to say there's anything wrong with paying for a bit of advertising in the national press, but the simple fact is that these puff pieces are not in any way featured or promoted by the Guardian, nor are they easy to find on the website. The only way anybody is going to catch a glimpse of them is if they're shared on our social media, so in essence, the only thing we've gained by hosting this content on the Guardian is to save a couple of megabytes of our own server space.

We'd have gotten better value for money if we'd simply taken out a full page ad in the paper. It just makes us look desperate and clueless, and the Guardian look desperate and penniless.



It's not often that subtext gets the opportunity to sing the praises of those tasked with designing the campus but today we are delighted to report an imaginative reuse of a worn out and rather boring corner of the estate. The space between Bowland Main and Bowland North, once the reception point for the defunct Conference Centre, has been redesigned to become the welcome and assembly area for visitors to campus.

No longer will potential students and their families have to huddle outside the library waiting to follow the portable Big Finger sign to their campus tour. Instead, they will be able to linger in a tastefully decorated blonde-wood reception area, soothed by the quietly understated greeting signs designed to take the stress out of a campus visit: 'Sit yourself down' and 'Nice to meet you' and 'Treat yourself' and 'Your journey starts here'. Not only that, there is also a state-of-the-art coffee machine and a fridge full of bottled mineral water, all free.

The exterior courtyard is very much in keeping with this relaxed ambience. New plantings have replaced the tangle of pampas grass, with yew tree saplings and aromatic low-growing thyme predominating. (Culinary note: the addition of a spoonful of freshly chopped thyme does wonders to the humble spag bog. Just a thought.) However, the most striking features of the external redesign are the jaunty fascia boards fronting the buildings on three sides of the courtyard, providing an overall conceptual unity to the space. How the designers managed to get these candy-striped bands in green, blue and red past the corporate image scrutineers is anyone's guess.

But perhaps the most eye-catching aspect is provided by the building directly facing the new welcome centre. Once the nerve-centre of the defunct Directorate of Hospitality, this building is now home to the campus trade unions. Always keen to promote their services, the unions have plastered the ground-floor windows with suitably uplifting messages such as: 'Pay Matters!' and 'Stop the Cuts! and 'Ten good reasons to join Unite' and 'End Casualisation!', all directly in line of sight of the visitors chilling out in the welcome centre. What a design tour-de-force! What better way to advertise to prospective students the spirit of inquiry and sheer stroppiness that has been such a feature of Lancaster life since the founding of the University.



We got a mention in the Sun the other day, in a piece about one of our most distinguished alumni:



For HE staff the comings and goings of NUS may seem a bit like the European Parliament: they hear names that crop up occasionally in the news; don't know quite what they do there but know it has some impact (for now); and, generally speaking, might remind them of happier, carefree times.

Names, like times, are a-changing. At the end of April the NUS National Conference saw incumbent president Malia Bouattia voted out of office, and a surprise victory for Shakira Martin – currently NUS Vice President for Further Education.

Martin was elected on a bold but largely sensible manifesto – and if that sounds like an oxymoron, it is only because being sensible has lamentably become something of a radical policy position. Her campaign focused around 'eradicating student poverty and class inequalities in all its forms', and her NUS will set up a student poverty commission and tackle insecurity in part-time work. While still a campaigner, she has also promised a 'fresh vibe' based around constructive engagement and evidence-based policymaking.

As a mother to two she who is open about her history with drugs as a teenager, and a survivor of an abusive relationship Martin may come to represent the best of the transformative effect of education, particularly in the FE sector, and offer a living counter to anyone who still holds ideas that all students are fundamentally spoilt and shielded from 'the university of life'.

Lest we sound too gushing, a slight concern from a HE perspective is that Martin – only the second NUS president to come from FE – may focus more of her efforts on further, rather than higher, education. But given FE's near-chronic state, that is probably more than understandable.

It would however increase the role of Vice President (Higher Education). With incumbent Sorana Vieru coming to the end of her two terms, enter new VP on the block, Amatey Doku, the current President of Cambridge University Students' Union. Doku, a student of Human, Social and Political Sciences, also carries a flame for pragmatic policy: his flagship ideas include a NUS White Paper outlining students' key demands from Brexit negotiations and a taskforce to assess the impact Brexit will have on HE, along with creating a national commission on the BME attainment gap (which Lancaster does pretty poorly on).

Martin and Doku won't take up office until after the general election, but with students' interests in Brexit, the HE and Research Act, and the fallout from June 8 to deal with, their names are will be worth remembering.



When I first came to London town people I was walking down Whitehall. I heard a lot people talking about Downing Street. I decided I'd drop in there that night. And when I got there I said man what's shaking. They said look man you can't come in here this is where the Prime Minister hangs out. What you want. I said look man, I'm John Mayall, and I sing the blues. They said the Prime Minister don't have time for the blues. I said look man everybody got to have the blues sometime don't matter where you from or where you at. I decided to make a run for Prime Minister. I know everyone got the blues because I'm in touch with them when I sing the blues it's my life. I got the number one record in Macclesfield. It called Crocodile Walk. It tells a tremendous story - these lyrics are something else. Every time you hear Crocodile Walk, that's a pound change. I don't need your money because I finance my own campaign. I am not for sale. I keep a fat bankroll in my pocket baby, big as a hay bale. I want everybody to know I'm strictly copastatic; I am not conservative or socialistic. I got a new programme for the nation. It's going to be groove time, a big sensation. Every man and woman gets one whisky, one gin and one beer, three times a day if they stay cool. Little children get milk, cream and alcohol, two times a day if they stay involved in school. Now boogie children. I'm sharp and up to date. Mick Taylor, Home Secretary, Jack Bruce, Foreign Secretary. I got domestic spending going up, continental clothes, Fedora hats, everybody's on the dance floor. All you hypocrites and syndicators hear what I say. I am not going to stand for no trash talking and double dealing. If I catch you messing round the cabinet I might cut you, I might shoot you, I just don't know. And there's one point I really want to prove. If you vote for John Mayall you know you going to groove. Don't be fooled by the Conservative, don't pity the Socialistic, vote John Mayall and everything going to be mellow, knocked out, copastatic.



Lancaster University held one of its rare compulsory works outings on the 27th April. Chalkface workers were forced to abandon their posts, and did their best to brush up, changing from their dusty, knowledge-soaked overalls to gather en masse to listen to Bridget Christie deliver her stand-up show 'Because You Demanded It' at the Dukes. Well... it is just about possible that some of the people at the show were not Lancaster University employees but as Christie herself said, 'why let some facts get in the way of a good opening line?'. That was just one of several wonderful riffs in a high–powered combination of tub-thumping and gloriously loose-limbed passionate discourse with much faux outrage: the show, 'Because you demanded it' is full of playful mockery and delighted the audience... well, at least 48.9% of them.

The central theme of the show, as politically astute readers will no doubt have guessed, is Brexit. Now and then, her line of thinking detours via less political topics: her thoughts on labiaplasty, parenting - even King Charles II gets a mention. But all roads lead back to Brexit, a brave topic given that a Lancaster audience might well divide down leave/remain lines. This is a possibility Christie exploits to terrific effect with a routine allowing leave voters to opt out of her audience. Of course, there are no guarantees what other shows might be available, or that they'll ever be allowed back in...

She uses a clever gardening metaphor to tackle some of the big issues, such as the nature of Britishness and immigration, centring on the fuchsia that her mother, an Irish immigrant, lovingly tended in the home where Christie grew up. In the gardening metaphor, immigrants become plants and the UK becomes soil, and from that spring more gardening-related metaphors about patriotism and the positives of mixing cultures with ours.

Talk of propagation and how plants from foreign lands can flourish in British soil leave us under no illusion that this is, as Christie states, a comedy show about gardening. She tries to stay on-message, to bring the show back to the state of her lavender, but keeps 'getting distracted' by topics such as bloody Brexit! There is a splendid rant about the 'robot' Michael Gove and his comments about experts and specialists ('Fucking dentist! Lording it over me with his tooth knowledge!'). A BBC interview with a leave voter adorned with swastika tattoos is one of the backbones of the show, and it provides a neat and funny conclusion.

Works outing or no, this was a very enjoyable evening.



Dear subtext

You refer in subtext 161 to Lancaster "inevitably being denied the final accolade" in the THELMA and THEA awards. Not quite inevitably – we won the Outstanding Student Admissions Team in the 2012 THELMAs, for the 'outstanding work' of the postgraduate admissions team (at both faculty and central level).

Michaela Scott

FASS Postgraduate Admissions


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