A brief history of the University of Lancaster

Lancaster University is the place that over 12,000 of us are lucky enough to consider a home away from home. Everyone who sets foot on our campus plays a role in the success of our world-leading higher education institution, and everyone leaves with a very unique story to tell. Its rise to international esteem in just 50 years is down to the incredible research-centred work of staff and students, which has transformed the University into a stimulating hub of academia. For a few years of our lives, Lancaster is our home and workplace; we develop a whole new family and grow into respectable adults – ready to take on the world. Whilst the facts are in writing, there’s much more to Lancaster University than originally meets the eye. The past 50 years have been quite an adventure for staff and students alike, who often found this institution at the centre of a whole series of controversies. In this 50th anniversary edition, SCAN takes a look back at some of the University’s greatest highs and trickiest lows. They may look strange to us in the year 2014, but one thing is clear: every single one of these events is a part of our history and has helped to make Lancaster University the fantastic institution it is today. That, we feel, is something worth celebrating. The establishment of Lancaster University was made final back in 1961 and St. Leonard’s House, the University’s first site in Lancaster’s city centre, opened in 1964. Talks about a university college in Lancaster were originally initiated by city alderman Douglas Clift in 1947, but the idea was quickly aborted. Although the city council were eager to have their own university, the people of Lancaster weren’t very aware of the implications. Long into the twentieth century, Lancaster had remained an outpost of old English tradition. With a town blacksmith in the directory just a few years before the University’s creation, the city was coloured by flat caps and Victorian factory buildings – one works’ 250 foot chimney crumbled violently in February 1966. Higher education was almost unheard of in Lancaster, and many thought of the new university as just another school. Upon its foundation, Lancaster was transformed into something of a student metropolis and our first intake was particularly free-spirited in nature. Lancaster University has always had a somewhat left-wing ethos, not least because of the views of the founding Vice Chancellor, Charles Carter. Carter was a very liberal gentleman, released from Strangeways Prison not 20 years earlier for being a conscientious objector. Carter trusted his staff and students to act in the University’s best interest whilst flying its flag. Although this occasionally backfired, his values and energy brought learning and hope to an otherwise unknown, northern, working-class town. In October 1964, the first student intake of 296 undergraduates and 36 graduates reached St Leonard’s House – a 6,400 square metre furniture factory on the site of a medieval leper hospital. Laboratories were on the second and third floors and the library was in the basement. For many, this was the first time they saw the University. Although higher education placements were delivered through a national body in Lancaster’s first year they had no open days, no interviews, no clear entry qualifications, and only a tiny red and grey prospectus. A survey by the new student newspaper, John O’Gauntlet, described Lancaster as a “dead area” and “backward”. The first Student Representative Council (SRC) was held, with joint posts to ensure equal representation for the two founding colleges Bowland and Lonsdale, establishing a number of societies for music, literature, bowls, judo, speleology, ideology and so on. The University’s 16 founding subjects included traditional favourites like History and Philosophy, and a few unusual fields including Environmental Studies and Operational Research. Lancaster has always encouraged breadth of study using the Part I scheme, which requires most students to take two minor courses in first year, although Lancaster was one of the few universities to administer triple majors courses in 1964. Right from the outset, Lancaster deployed a very modern teaching style. In May 1965, after York’s Vice Chancellor, Eric James, proposed a boat race with Lancaster, the University of York – Lancaster’s elder by one year – hosted the first Roses competition with York coming out as victors. University management faced their first student protest in September 1965, when student rents were increased to four pounds and two shillings. Many students refused to pay and the president of Bowland resigned. Vice Chancellor Charles Carter promised that rents would not change for some years and to consult students when they do, but refused to permit “one generation of students to jeopardise the interests of future students”. The Bailrigg library was opened in June 1967, but most storeys remained out of bounds. SCAN was first published in June 1967 as 500 one-page, folio-sized round-ups of the SRC’s decisions, printed at a grand cost of six pounds, five shillings and three pence. In July 1967, the first undergraduate degrees were conferred in Ashton Hall. Only three students received a first, which was normal for the time. An investigation by John O’Gauntlet later found that coursework use was highly inconsistent among subjects, worth anything from 20 percent to 50 percent of the final grade and in one department varied from student to student. Cartmel opened in 1968. Cartmel’s grey and burgundy colours are properly known as ‘stone and plonk’, plonk being derived from a derogatory term for cheap wine. In May 1968, as people started taking up residence on the Bailrigg campus, university management had to make a number of decisions about accommodation, including whether student residence would be single-sex or mixed. In confidence, Cartmel Syndicate decided that corridors were to be strictly single-sex, and that double rooms could only be shared by a man and a woman if they were husband and wife. The Syndicate concluded: “Arrangements for student residence must have regard to the proper interests of parents and of the wider community […] No arrangements would be made which might in any way be interpreted as an invitation to sexual licence.” However, Dr Craig, a lecturer in the English Department, argued in favour of hotel-style mixed residences, much to the distaste of the Cartmel Syndicate. If a man and a woman sharing a room were in a relationship, he argued, the arrangement would be perfectly just, despite the risk of unmarried couples sleeping together. The Senate suspended Craig, who voted with his conscience, a few days later. The story became an international scandal, being reported as far away as North Carolina, while BBC reporters waylaid Lancaster students to ask about their sex lives. In his Annual Report, Charles Carter noted a “dangerously distorting influence of the morbid public interest in student problems”. Bowland Tower was also constructed in 1968 to disguise the ventilation pipe of the campus’ heating system. Furness also opened in 1968 with the new logo pictured as a transect of the mountains above Coniston in the Lake District. At least one of the quayside cranes depicted on the far left of the industrial fringe is owned by BAE Systems. In June 1969, the 42nd edition of Carolynne was a turning point for the campus-based magazine with a “sense of enjoyable semi-anarchy”, which now lives on through SCAN. Carolynne’s infamous ‘black issue’ was published not long after the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18; contraception became the norm; and radical counterculture was peaking, highlighting some of the most sensitive social problems on campus in the 1960s. The editors claimed that alcoholism was rife and that the corridors of the English department were thick with the smell of marijuana, opening: “To a sizeable number of third years now at Lancaster, the University seems a community that is falling to pieces… We are saddled with some people – as yet only a small minority – who seem bent on destroying this University’s record of good sense.” Charles Carter had always hoped that students could be relied upon to uphold the University’s reputation. He firmly believed in thoughtful, reasonable students and felt hurt by the scandals being reported – particularly the water fights in the city centre involving students wearing nothing but loincloths. Fearing for the University’s reputation, Carter closed down Carolynne and reported that the more lurid stories were in fact unfounded. Although university rules were published from then on, the Carolynne writers had anticipated a much larger outcry from the students. In actual fact, most of the scandals were already common knowledge. In 1969 County College opened around the old oak which legend says was spared as a tiny sapling by a farmer over 200 years ago, and was only made County’s central feature because the architects couldn’t incorporate a quadrangle anywhere else. In 1969, the Chaplaincy Centre was completed, becoming the first joint faith centre in the country. HM Elizabeth II visited Bailrigg in October 1969, working her way around the Northern side of the campus. Meanwhile, in his own lavish ceremony, the new President of Fylde made a Malayan toad the Archduke of Lancaster. Although the story entered University mythology, nobody from the royal party ever saw the demonstration. Fylde opened in 1971 with the original residential blocks having numbers rather than names because Fylde’s first JCR, which advertised only for radical communists when taking on Part II students, refused to display names that weren’t revolutionaries, like ‘Lenin’ or ‘Guevara’. Once again, from 1971-2, Dr David Craig found himself dividing the campus in two, this time over a poem. Whilst writing an end-of-year exam paper, Craig decided to insert a piece by Adrian Mitchell. The Head of English thought the poem was trivial and declined. Craig pushed the gobbet and the situation rapidly escalated into an argument about Lancaster’s academic standards as a whole. As one of seven ‘radicals’ in the department, he wanted to revolutionise teaching everywhere. The University had already tried to increase student departmental representation and had replaced many exams with open-book tests and projects. Emotions ran high and both sides of the argument printed hundreds of documents for daily distribution around campus. Craig’s activism was largely responsible for the Creative Writing course but complaints of biased marking in the English department were the last straw. Several months into the debate, Craig was summoned to the Town Hall by the University Council and their lawyers. Crowds of students chanting his name in Alexandra Square were disheartened to hear that he had settled for a minor role in the department, marking the end of the long-standing argument. Ultimately, Craig got his professorship, but only in the late 1980s. In June 1972, when the SRC’s turnover reached £25,000, the Senate gave the SRC their first sabbatical role. A debate had raged in the early 70s as to how the university federation would be run. The junior common rooms were centres of social activity, but the SRC was already ruling on University policy regarding local industrial action and the government’s cost reduction plans. Nowadays, the Union is considered far more important to the University’s administration than the JCRs. In 1974 Pendle was opened and named after the Lancashire slopes where a coven of witches was said to live. Two years ago, a 17th century lodge was discovered beneath the plateau, into which someone had bricked a mummified cat. In March 1975, the inflation rate had reached double figures and cost of campus accommodation rose by 20 percent in the space of just one year. Students around the University refused to pay their rent, encouraged by the Student Representative Council creating a central fund to prevent members from entering debt. Tensions came to a head in March when the senior tutor at Cartmel refused a student a loan on grounds of hardship. While university management waited to respond, the SRC set up a protest camp inside University House from the 7th to the 19th. The University ordered an injunction against the students but faced problems trying to prosecute the 30 ringleaders, given that over 1,000 students had taken part. A number were suspended in the resulting University Tribunal, including two final year students. By the time their lawyer had taken the prosecution to pieces at Gillow House, proving that “all the appeals must be allowed”, the final exams were already over. The president of the National Union of Students, one Charles Clarke – now 63 and working closely with the PPR department – was thoroughly behind the protest. In 1975 Grizedale College opened without any doors, showers, or toilets. Their original mascot was Depravo the Rat, a filthy children’s character invented by Michael Palin, which was replaced by the boar in the 80s even though there are no boars in Grizedale Forest. In August 1975, the SRC was rebranded as the Lancaster University Students’ Union (LUSU). LUSU is now an educational charity separated from the University. In March 1981, the government released a White Paper declaring further cuts to university grants and rises in tuition rates, compounding funding problems the University had felt for some time. Facing a deficit of £500,000, 21 University posts were frozen and 70 more were made redundant. Vice Chancellor Philip Reynolds’ policies to cut costs were so rigorous, the University had an unanticipated surplus by September 1982. Lancaster’s darkest days were over and the number of part-time, visiting, and overseas students increased sharply, although total student numbers would not reach the 5,000 mark again for another five years. In 1982, the Sugarhouse opened at St Leonard’s Gate. Graduate College opened in 1992. The college was only given four student representative roles, reflecting the view that postgraduates could largely get on by themselves. A report in 1999 showed otherwise, and LUGrad is continuing to develop their student welfare facilities. In January 1994, Pro-Chancellor Christopher Audland released a report on how to improve student care at Lancaster. Since their founding, the colleges were never completely confident in their role at Lancaster, and the report advised them to leave academia to the departments and focus on residence and integration. This report characterises Lancaster’s collegiate system to date. In September 1996, the student population of Lancaster reached the 10,000 mark. In June 1997, the Senate received a report advising the University to focus on statistics that were “increasingly widely publicised to potential students and those who advise them”, including the employability indicators now favoured by league tables. Value-for-money became Lancaster’s new academic culture, even at departmental level. Prof Abercrombie, the Deputy Vice Chancellor, said the adoption of these formal policies would be “more draconian”. In July 1997, Information Systems Services was created in a wing of the library, marking the birth of internet around campus. In September 2004, half a dozen students crashed one of Lancaster’s first corporate venturing conferences in George Fox Building. They entered the building with banners and whistles, objecting to the ethical records of Science Minister Lord Salisbury and of the companies there, including arms manufacturer BAE Systems. The students were detained by police and were later summoned to Preston Crown Court with the University’s consent, despite Lancaster’s legal requirement to ensure that students can openly impart their opinions. LUSU and the NUS pledged their support for the students, who were found guilty and ordered to pay a total of £3,600 in fines. One conference worker said that, of the 27 companies on the protesters’ leaflets, 18 were not in fact there. Alexandra Park was opened in 2004. Present for the opening ceremony were HRH Princess Alexandra and Chris Park, the former principal of LUGrad. In March 2005, Sir Christian Bonington became the University’s second Chancellor. By 2007, Lancaster had clearly lost its regional monopoly on higher education. The University of Cumbria had just gained university status, replacing the University of Central Lancashire as Lancaster’s closest rival, and large colleges in Blackpool and Blackburn were also now awarding degrees. In 2007, Lancaster embarked on a £450,000,000 infrastructure masterplan detailing 27 new buildings, including the Sports Centre and LICA. In 2010, Lancaster’s position in national university league tables was 8th in the Independent, 10th in The Times, and 6th in the Guardian – the best result yet. In April 2014, the Rt. Hon. Alan Milburn was chosen to become the University’s third Chancellor. In May 2014, Lancaster hosted the 50th Roses competition, which has become one of the largest inter-university sports tournaments in Europe. Lancaster won by 183.5 points to 142.5, a fitting way to celebrate 50 years of our beloved institution.

Daniel Snape

Daniel was an undergraduate in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Lancaster University and Comment Editor at SCAN.

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