Fencing demo ousts ‘appalling taste’ of last year

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University Court, the highest meeting of the University, took place on Saturday, Week Two. Court exists to give all the stakeholders of the University a chance to question and examine its running. The Chancellor, Vice Chancellor and members of University Senior Management all sit on it. Graduates and high profile members of the local community also attend, as do officers of the Students’ Union.

Photo by Chris Osborn

In previous years University Court has acted as a stage for students, usually organised by the Students’ Union, to voice their discontent with the University. Last year resulted in a protest of around 250 people gathering outside George Fox where Court took place, wearing masks of Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings in defiance against the forthcoming rise in fees. The year before protests were held over the college bars.

However, this year no protest was held, with the Students’ Union opting to organise a last minute showcase of the talents of the University. The Brass Band society and Dance Society were amongst the societies invited to display the abilities of students at the University, however the only society who showed up on the day were the Fencing Club, who demonstrated their talents to the attendees of Court.

Sophie Baggs, President of the Fencing Club said she wanted to “promote fencing throughout the university”. Baggs also said that she wanted to appear at University Court in the hope that a display of the Fencing Club’s talents would encourage the University to increase the club’s funding, and give them more space for practising.

Matt Windsor, LUSU’s Vice President (Finance, Events, Democracy and Societies) was one of the attendees at Court. When asked about why there was a showcase in place of a protest, Windsor said: “Rather than protesting outside for no real purpose, we’ve actually decided to start showing off what Lancaster groups actually do.”

When asked about the fact that only one society attended the showcase Windsor said: “They [other societies] have got other performances to do and they’ve got to rehearse for them”.

Tim Roca, LUSU President 2007-2008 said he was surprised not to see a protest, considering it is “the year that tuition fees were effectively trebled […] I think it’s odd this year there aren’t”. Roca went on to say, “then again, the issue is gone”.

When asked whether the showcase or a protest would have been a more effective way of communicating views to the University Matt Saint, LUSU Liberation Cross Campus Officer said: “I’m not entirely sure what would be more effective. I think [protests] rile people up sometimes and that can be not a very good thing. But if we see what students are actually doing…demonstration’s a good thing”.

In terms of protests, he said the Student’s Union “seem on the whole to have gone for a different tact”.

Robbie Pickles, LUSU President who also attended Court, commented on hosting a showcase which only demonstrated the talents of one society, saying that LUSU “organised this at very short notice. We only had the idea on Monday [Week Two]”.

He added that LUSU “asked a number of others” and they “were willing to come, they just couldn’t”.

Asked whether he believed a protest or a showcase was a more effective means of getting through to the University, Pickles said: “There’s merits to both. There are two types of demonstration as far as I’m concerned and we’ve shown both over the last two years but we had a demonstration last year, we had a demonstration the year before which was a protest. They were great. But this year, it’s time for a new formula. We do another protest, people stop listening. I think this form of demonstration, a demonstration of our talents and skills and why we’re important is just as good as a protest, if not better.”

Lancaster’s Chancellor, Sir Christian Bonnington began his introduction to Court by commenting on how he felt the fencing demonstration was a vast improvement on the protests of previous years, particularly last year’s protest which he described as being in “appalling taste”.

Michael Payne, LUSU President 2008-10 responded saying: “The Chancellor opened by saying he thought it was poor in taste, the protest last year – the silent protest, the respectful protest – and let me just say one thing categorically: I think it’s quite appalling that issues students chose to raise were not discussed, and I think it’s quite appalling, to coin a phrase, that a Chancellor would make such comments about students who have every right to voice their opinion.”

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