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The bitch-slap that said it all

Nov 12 2002 14:15
Mustafa Arif
Mustafa Arif muses over the ULU Presidents' put-down of her IC counterpart and what we can learn from it.
They're certainly don't drink brandy together. As for any other favours, who knows?

Last week's emergency meeting of ULU Council was a protracted and heated affair. The short story is that virtually all delegates voted in favour of a policy opposing the merger on several grounds (including its claimed role in facilitating top-up fees).

There is a long story but it is best summed-up by a few choice words from Charlotte Dawkins, ULU President. While Senthooran Ganeshwaranthan, ICU President, was proposing one of many amendments put forward by IC during the evening, Ms Dawkins retorted by saying "I can't believe that I'm hearing this from a student union officer. Sen, you sound like someone who Sir Richard Sykes would invite into his office for a glass of brandy."

I happened to disagree with the point Ms Dawkins was arguing (that a student union should be concerned about non-academic redundancies as well as those of teaching staff). Having said that, the put-down was incredibly funny and the expression on Mr Ganeshwaranathan's face absolutely priceless. The heckler from QM who shouted, "No he wants a job" was the icing on the cake. My estimation of the ULU President increased by about an order of magnitude.

Aside from having a laugh at Mr Ganeshwaranthan's expense, this episode also throws up more interesting issues. Firstly, it has to be noted that many union 'hack's at Imperial have long been whispering and muttering about whether Mr Ganeshwaranthan has been selling students short in order to curry favour with the Rector. Irrespective of whether these claims have any basis (and I have seen no evidence that the Rector has offered him a job) why is it that no-one at Imperial has the balls to say this publicly and that it falls to the ULU President to suggest it (albeit probably unwittingly)?

Secondly, the comments actually demonstrated some ignorance on Ms Dawkins part. Sir Richard Sykes is not only teetotal but vehemently 'anti-drink'. He is, furthermore, a prominent member of the British National Temperance League. So, brandy is about the last thing he would offer to someone in return for a favour. While this may seem a semantic point, irrelevant to the point Ms Dawkins was making, it nevertheless parodies the fact that much of the policy ULU was passing was not based on the facts of both merger and fees that had been made available at Imperial.

Ms Dawkins slap-line was well received by the delegates present at ULU Council, as were many of her less-than-fully-argued retorts to points made by Mr Ganeshwaranthan. This summed up the gulf between the Imperial delegation and the rest of ULU Council. Every single vote basically became IC versus everyone else. Some of my colleagues who were at that meeting (and who were getting worked up about last night's instalment of ULU Council - a meeting I, unfortunately, was unable to attend) will no doubt use this article to begin a savage discussion thread criticising all and sundry within ULU. I'd like to encourage them to stop and think.

It is certainly true that the ULU sabbaticals could have consulted a bit more over the proposed policy. The fact that the about a third of Mr Ganeshwaranthan's amendments were accepted without contention suggests that much of the heat of the dispute could have been removed if a draft had first been sent to both IC and UCL. But the fact is that ICU had a greater sight of the facts than either ULU or UCLU. We should have been able to present those in a coherent manner to argue our case. We failed. Instead, not only did we fail to adequately represent the interests of our students but we also generated some distrust among our peers from other Colleges for not sharing information. If ULU's policy is flawed, we probably ought to bear the brunt of the responsibility.

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Discussion about “The bitch-slap that said it all”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Nov 12 2002 15:38
 

She is a muppet. I can't believe she is just trying to make sure ULU survive.

Maybe Mr Heeps was right - "ULU your next"

2. Seb   
Nov 12 2002 16:43
 

Ah, yes. ULU Council last night. Forgot to go, how was it?

Nov 12 2002 17:12
 

I hardly think that Ms Dawkins is only in it to ensure ULU survive.

What a petty and small minded comment. Quite frankly, if that is rhetoric doing the rounds, then you don't know Charlotte. I have never known a more committed, upfront and dedicated sabbatical student officer. EVER.

4. idris   
Nov 12 2002 17:20
 

I'd like to concur heartily with what Mustafa has implied: that ICU's representation to ULU council at the meeting failed abysmally and that this wasn't due to our not having a good case. In fact, we are in the best place of anyone to judge a fruitful course to take. Far from being hell-bent on riding rough-shod over this, from what I saw at ULU I think most delegates from other colleges probably appreciate this.

What's the problem then? Well, it might be that ICU has an APPALLING track-record at ULU of disengagement and taking the ball back into our nice little corner at South Kensington.

Nov 12 2002 17:43
 

An ICU President who never bothers to turn up to ULU Presidents' Council doesn't help either.

6. TomT   
Nov 12 2002 17:46
 

And the Order of the Brown Nose goes to.........

ROB PARK

for this little snippet:

'Quite frankly, if that is rhetoric doing the rounds, then you don't know Charlotte [Dawkins]. I have never known a more committed, upfront and dedicated sabbatical student officer. EVER.'

IMHO, it's of utmost importance to separate the 'pseudo-privatisation' of Higher Education (ie top up fees) and the Rector's own little ego trip (ie the merger). Something ULU haven't got their heads around yet...

7. Seb   
Nov 12 2002 18:34
 

Dedicated charlotte may be, but receptive she was not.

Rob, do you realise we get more straight answers (true or false) from Sir Tricky Dicky than we got from Charlotte who replied to many of our points with "I disagree strongly".

Whether or not she is hard working, anyone who thinks it is sensible to claim that top up fees and the ICUCL merger are inextricably linked simply ought not to be representing any student body to be blunt.

The issues are not linked:

If the UCL/IC merger dies the death that many think it ought to, then do you think the University funding crisis will go away? Do you think people like Sir Richard are going to drop their demands for higher fees? The issue, after all, is that universities are making a loss on teaching undergraduates.

Similarly, if top up fees cease to be an issue through some miraculous divine intervention, do you think that Tricky Dicky is going to stop wanting the merger? The motives for the merger lie in the research side (something that Charlottes paper pointed out): Research groups with

100 members will get far more time on expensive bits of communal kit like particle accelerators than research groups with ten people. On top of that, the little tory government we have now has decided that research should be allocated regionaly and then put out to tender so to speak, with UCL and IC competing in the London area. IC/UCL merger would ensure the resulting merged departments would get most of the funding for london.

Charlotte also included factual errors, such as a claim that there was a plan to merge all departments onto one campus by the end of the year, something that is not only physicaly impossible, but which would be a breach of contract that would leave UCL/IC wide open for law suits.

Her responce to any reference to what sykes had said was met with disdain as sykes couldn't be trusted. This is not true. Sykes is careful never to lie. IF you read what he says, he only misleads. For example, his pronouncements on top up fees last year do not in fact rule them out. He merely said it would be illegal and there are better ways. After the white paper they will be legal, and he can argue that the "better ways" have fallen through. Similarly, with regard to the merger he did not say he would let IC senate veto a merger, merely asked "why would I go ahead with senate against me?"

(answer: because senate is toothless and you are ambitious)

However, he has made it explicitely, bluntly clear there will be no compulsorary redundancies amoung accademic staff. Indeed, if there were there would be no point in merging! He wants bigger departments.

As for UCL's humanities, he wants them also, they are A* rated and he figures the more A* departments, the more funding he attracts from private sources, the more succesful graduates that will (hopefully) mean more endowments etc.

Frankly, the problem with the merger has less to do with intentions being wrong and more to do with the fact that it probably won't work in real life.

Asside from the factual basis for separation, it is also quite clear from the response to the advert in the Times that mixing the two issues produces a statement that is so obscure and confusing that only those who understand both issues are able to understand the campaign. Hardly the basis of a succesful campaign.

Either way, Charlotte was wrong in many ways at the Emergency council, she was short sighted and she was dismisive.

While ICU's track record in ULU is poor, and that will have affected the other colleges, the *PRESIDENT* and sabaticals represent IC students as well as the other colleges, and she ought to have given us more time and more respect.

Frankly, I personally went away from that meeting wondering what on earth we are members of ULU for. If college is making a loss teaching us, then roll on dissafilliation and let college make a saving.

Nov 13 2002 07:11
 

Fourteen days' notice was given for the Emergency ULU Council.

I would like to think that in that time students' representatives, particularly those who are sabbatical, would have used it to discuss with other counterparts and come forward with a proposal that could be generally agreed.

Apparently not.

Nov 13 2002 07:20
 

And it is not true, to my understanding anyway, that ULU's policy is that so-called top-up fees are inextricably linked to the merger. Now, before you start bouncing on your seats, read on...

It IS ULU policy that the merger and fees will lead towards a two-tier (or more) education system, with access granted by the size of your wallet and not your brain.

When people say that fees and merger are inextricably linked, this is what is (or is in ULU anyway) meant.

10. Dan L   
Nov 13 2002 09:29
 

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to work out that ULU don't want the merger because they might disappear, since would there really be a need for ULU if other mergers happen as well?

I think it is disgraceful that they have linked the fees issue to something completely separate such as the merger, and maybe they should concentrate on the fees issue which could have a far worse imapct on students right across London.

11. Seb   
Nov 13 2002 11:04
 

Forgive me Rob, but isn't the purpose of council to discuss and come up with a proposal we all agree on?

Or is it simply that the sorry state of student democracy in ULU requires that as a matter of course that council meetings conclusions are decided prior to the meeting? Generally I thought the term for this arangement was "nobbling", and a practice that was frowned upon.

I was given to understand that ULU was not in fact a federation of London SU's run by a clique of presidents and ULU's Exec, but the union of the student body of the entire University of London. I belive this is precisely why Charlotte Dawkins presumed to speak for the students of Imperial College despite clearly differing from ICU's position on the issue.

"that ULU's policy is that so-called top-up fees are inextricably linked to the merger."

I didn't say that was ULU's policy, I said that this was Charlotte Dawkins view. I don't know if ULU records it's council meetings like ICU does, but the words "inextricably linked" were used on several occasions.

The motion passed at the EGM included two references to the merger being linked with the top up fees. In particular:

This Union Belives point 1 sugests that ULU believes that the merger is "founded" on top up fees (which implies causality).

Furthermore, the whole issue was brought to a head half way through the EGM, when the ICU delegation explained that they wanted the issues campaigned on seperately, and it was here where Charlotte expressed her oppinion that the two seperate issues should be merged into a single campaign (no doubt there will be synergy for all) because they are inextricably linked.

"It IS ULU policy that the merger and fees will lead towards a two-tier (or more) education system,"

The up front top-up fees certainly will, excluding anyone but the rich from the best universities.

But to claim that there is not already a two tier system is absurd (Universities Vs. Former Polys) and I do not see how a merger between two upper tier universities will create any more stratification in the sector. In principle I see nothing wrong with a two tier systems on an accademic basis, provided all instiutions get the funds they need and all applicants are assessed on their merit rather than wallet.

The IC/UCL merger is not even of national significance. Charlotte Dawkins said in her opening speech it would create the largest university in the UK, and it was unprecedented. However, Manchester and UMIST had agreed to merge some weeks before then, to give a combined university with 30,000 students. I'm suprised that the dedicated Charlotte didn't appear to know this.

The merger, to be blunt, is not remotely as important as top up fees.

Nov 13 2002 13:17
 

Absolutely! Top-up fees ARE the most important issue facing students. If you were able to see Charlotte's presentation on "the campaign so far" on Monday's meeting of ULU Council (i.e. start of this week, and not the emergency one), you will notice that the work "merger" was used once and spoken once. The campaign IS inherently based on stopping top-up fees. NO question about it.

I still stick by what I said at the emergency ULU exec meeting, where the two issues are discrete... and this is indeed reflected in the minutes which were presented at emergency ULU council.

The inherent fear for the small and specialist colleges in UL and for most of the part-time courses, is that this drive to merge IC and UCL will, inevitably, destroy this.

There is also a fear from many quarters that the merger of two institutions such as IC and UCL, speaking with one voice, could drive government policy even more than Sykes is currently.

I don't see the link with Old Universities and Former-Polys; they are all universities now since 1992, they all charge 1100 in fees. About the only difference is that (aside from the quality of many degrees), former polys do not come under the auspices of Vistors and the Privy Council, just under the Courts...

13. Seb   
Nov 13 2002 14:25
 

I'm glad the ULU is considering the issues discretely. At the EGM, I was concerned that Charolttes opposition to the ammendments tabled inidcated that she did not want the issues campaigned upon seperately.

I still however feel that her attitude was unfairly dismisive, but this could be due to misunderstanding the intentions of IC's delegates, but I feel as president she ought to look past that.

I'm not so sure that the merger will inevitably destroy small instiutions. Afterall, how will a super-versity (which is likely to have decreased teaching capacity due to the practical implications of merging that Sykes want's us to "imagine" our way round) pose more competition than two seperate universities with more teaching capacity?

UL will face a crisis anyway, as the big colleges look set to withdraw irrespective of the merger.

I think that Mr Arif's ammendment at the EGM, to look at how to adapt ULU and UL to the new situation was something that really ought to have been included. I hope it will be taken up at a later date, as it would be sad to see the demise of the UL. Perhaps we should look at the merger as a re-integration into a non-federal collegiate structure? Or then again, perhaps not.

The former polys are a

de-facto second tier. Sure, they may be called universities but employers do not treat their degrees the same way they treat degrees from, say, the Russell group. Similarly, I do not think that A-Level students give them with the same priority they give the older universities.

14. idris   
Nov 13 2002 16:47
 

Surely the point is not whether ULU sabs believe, in their most secret moments of inner dialogue, whether the issues are linked, but whether they run a campaign against fees which stands a chance of succeeding?

One of the points that I tried to make at the EGM was that running a combined campaign on the two issues muddies the water, excludes ICU from participating prior to our merger policy being decided and is inappropriate given that one is a national and the other a local issue. Because of the procrastination and dismissiveness of the President, together with the general antipathy towards ICU (attributable to our having been crap at ULU stuff in the past), I didn't get the chance to hear an opposing argument.

And now, instead of a decent rebuttal being presented here, we have Rob Park attempting to undertake the beatification of the President. Rob, for all I know, Charlotte is fantastic at what she does and a really really nice girl. Could we please take that as red, and move on to discussing what you and she think is so daft about ICU's insistance on running seperate campaigns?

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