There is the old idiom that knowledge is power. It makes sense for a university to abide by these sentiments being seats of knowledge, but at Lancaster that power gained seems to be having a corrupting influence.
Over the summer a series of decisions have been made by University Senior Management which will have a massive impact on the lives of students and staff at Lancaster. The majority of these decisions have been made in the secretive University Management Advisory Group (UMAG), a meeting of Vice-Chancellor and his top whigs: a meeting where a lot of major decisions are taken, but also a meeting which neither the Students’ Union or the University and Colleges’ Union has any representation on.
The prime example this year of the cloak and dagger nature of UMAG was the decision to close the Student Learning Development Centre (SLDC). The review presented by the deputy vice-chancellor and any discussion following it is curiously missing from the UMAG minutes of June 1. LUSU, UCU and members of staff all requested a copy of this review: none of them had it granted. The Editor of this paper, acting on behalf of SCAN and the Students’ Union put in a freedom of information request for the review, which was promptly turned down by the University.
“In the opinion of the Vice-Chancellor (Lancaster University’s ‘qualified person’), provision of the paper would, or would be likely to, inhibit 1) the free and frank provision of advice and 2) the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation.” Why this importance is greater than the public’s right to know is not clear. Rather, it seems that withholding this material merely serves the interest of the University Senior Management who are the only ones who can benefit from the lack of scrutiny and debate that making the review public would initiate.
The fate of this request now lies in the hands of the Information Commissioner’s Office, with the University having turned it down twice.
It has also been remarkably hard for SCAN’s journalists to sit down and talk to Senior Management about this issue, being told that it simply “isn’t possible”.
SCAN has come on a lot over the last two years: it has become a proper newspaper, with proper journalists who try to abide to the rule of giving both sides a chance to give their side of the story. We are not the mouthpiece of LUSU, but if the Students’ Union gets more of an airing it’s probably because they are willing to talk to us.
Those in the upper reaches of the University often complain that they are painted in a bad light in this paper. They need to wake up to the realisation that SCAN is not a joke rag anymore, and that if they act like they have something to hide, then we are going to presume they do.