Course Representative Forum (October)

IMG_3018As the month drew to a close, I attended my first forum of the academic year. The format was rather different to that of the sessions I described in earlier posts here.

Congregating again on the ground floor of the library, we were arranged not in rows but in squares, with pamphlets and post-it notes. After a short ice-breaking activity in which we introduced ourselves to our immediate neighbours (and then in turn described said neighbours to everyone else), we were shown a slideshow about the details of our roles and asked to have group discussions about how we would carry out our mandate. In particular we were shown an organisation chart explaining the hierarchy of the education zone within the student union. We were also taught about the union money available for campaigns (examples given were campaigns to increase printing credits and reduce paper usage in assignments).

There followed a rather confusing exercise – one which President Hall claimed to have copied from a conference she attended some days ago – in which we were given small cards inscribed with examples of things which people at various levels in the hierarchy would be expected to do, and told to arrange them according to how well we thought they were being done. The exercise was confusing because the cards were written in such opaquely bureaucratic language that many of us found them unintelligible. I wish I could recant some examples here, but unfortunately they have proven impossible to commit to memory.

Finally we got to the key theme of this forum, which was – as one might have guessed – timetabling. In a powerfully ironic turn events the registrar, Jeannette Strachan, was not able to appear at the forum in person, so instead we were told to write down our complaints which the president would pass on to her at a private meeting on Friday. The representatives were dispersed and regrouped based on their faculties and told to share their thoughts on the topic. The usual issues arose – online applications not working, websites stalling, rooms being chopped and changed at short notice and even students finding themselves assigned to the wrong course. Our grumbling match was cut short after about ten minutes, though it likely could have lasted several hours.

We returned to our original seats for a closing activity – writing down what we were proud to have achieved in our representative capacity so far and what we wanted to accomplish in the future. For some of us this provoked an awkward moment of soul-searching.

Today’s forum was a distinctly different experience from those which I had last year. Only time will tell if this represents a mere introductory anomaly or a permanent change. Most of all though, I am pleased to see the return of the refreshment table to the flank of our proceedings.

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Three kinds of cake! It’s a wonder Norton doesn’t come to these.

Table Talk for Subject Representatives

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We were just behind that giant lampshade, honest!

Having attended the larger training session for all of the course representatives, today I went to a smaller meeting, less formal meeting for the subject representatives specifically.

We gathered in the ground floor café of the Brynmor Jones Library, having failed to secure a more suitable venue. Our convener was Sanaa Sabir, the faculty representative for Science & Engineering. She talked us through the aims and procedures for the chairing of student-staff forums. As several of us had been school representatives in previous years most of this was familiar to us. We were reminded of the importance of communication between adjacent levels of representatives as well as with the rank and file of the student body. As with last year, it was noted that several subjects – including my own – were missing spokesmen at the lower levels. The first forums have had to be postponed in some cases until the necessary members could be recruited. There was also a discussion about channels of communication, as it was acknowledged that the universities intranets and applications frequently suffer errors. We also knew that many students tended to ignore their university emails.

Sabir also told us to look for a major project at whose helm to place ourselves – along the lines of the “plastic pledge”. My biology counterpart, Simon Groeger, suggested a campaign to make the campus bee-friendly.

It was reassuring to get back to business at the university, if a little disappointing to do so in such a shambolic fashion. One hopes that a more dignified venue may be secured in time for the forum.

Course Representative Training

It’s that time of year again!

As the academic year 2018-19 got into swing (which, at university, can take a rather long time), in came the emails about recruiting course representatives. Naturally I went forward. There has been a slight reform of the role – or at least the nomenclature – this year, as School Representatives are given the more accurate designation of Subject Representatives.

There were also a few changes to the training experience: The session, held on the ground floor of the library, was led by education coordinator Benedict Greenwood and president of education Isobell Hall. We were taken through a slideshow about our responsibilities and told to contribute suggestions through Mentimeter. Also included were two videos: one tailor-made for the union, the other a generic motivational sketch which I am sure has been played at thousands of corporate training sessions before.

Later on we were divided into smaller groups and asked to discuss what we thought our main challenges would be, along with ways to overcome them. Unsurprisingly, this prompted a flurry of complaints about inconvenient timetables.

Today’s training was markedly different to that which I had a year ago. On the one hand I was disappointing by the lack of a refreshment table this time, for I had not brought any lunch. One the upside, I now have a badge to advertise my representative status, which somehow never came to me in my first year.

Human Rights – Where Are We Going

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Yesterday, as I walked out of the lecture theatre where Mr Bond had given his Polymath talk, I noticed a monochrome A4 poster pinned to a notice board on the opposite wall which bore the face of The Right Honourable Dominic Grieve QC MP, the former Attorney General for England & Wales. I was startled to see that his present was scheduled to occur less than 24 hours after the one which I had just left.

This evening, as the sweltering heat of the afternoon had begun to subside, I arrived at the Esk building. Being a mathematics student, I lacked much in the way of prior experience with that part of the campus and for some minutes I thought I might be lost. I was reassured that I had reached the correct venue by the appearance of a wine table just outside the lecture theatre flanked by several men in dark suits (among them Professor Norton). I shambled in believing myself to be late, but in fact our right honourable and learned guest was himself delayed by almost thirty minutes due to faulty railway signals between London and Doncaster.

Though Mr Grieve was invited and advertised primarily for his legal experience, he chose on this occasion to speak in his capacity as a politician. His speech covered the ups and downs of the relationship between the British political scene and the concept of Human Rights.

In recent years the Conservative Party has pushed to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 with a British Bill of Rights, mainly with the intention of disentangling British courts from those in Strasbourg. Theresa May has even been known to say that leaving the European Convention on Human Rights is more important than leaving the European Union. Grieve confessed that he would struggle to maintain an impartial stance on this issue, his own career as Attorney General having ended because of it.

The ECHR was promoted in the immediate post-war years by Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe (later known as Lord Kilmuir). In 1951 the United Kingdom became the first country to ratify the convention. Controversy came and went over the years, with tensions notably emerging under New Labour who, Grieves said, made much of the promotion of Human Rights legislation but did little to confer any national character upon it.

In the latter half of the noughties, the Conservative Party began planning for major changes to our human rights legislation. Michael Howard in particular was hostile to the Human Rights Act, and David Cameron leaned in that direction for – leading towards the 2010 general election – he was trying to form an alliance with News International, who did not much care for the expansion of privacy law. Grieve, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, produced reform proposals in late 2009.

In the next section of his speech, our guest explained how, despite their partisans’ decade of obsession, Conservative governments have struggled to make any noteworthy progress in separating British courts from those on the continent. The First Cameron Ministry (sometimes known as ConDem) made considerable noise, but no action could actually be taken without the cooperation of the Liberal Democrats, who – being ardent Europhiles – naturally refused to give any.

It became very quickly apparent through the speech that Mr Grieve considered the British Bill of Rights to be an exercise in pointlessness. He noted that only 16% of polled voters showed any interest in repealing the HRA and said that the government was struggling against the reality of the convention’s benefits, apparently oblivious to the destructive influence of the UK’s non-adherence – such as Russia’s using Britain’s attitude as justification for its own non-implementation – or to the positives when we do confirm – such as the improvements in Jordanian law following the Abu Qatada case.

Our guest closed  his presentation by criticizing some of his Conservative colleagues for pursuing a mythologized view of parliamentary supremacy which bore little if any resemblance to constitutional reality.

Due to the delayed start, many attendants had already filed out before the question & answer session could proceed.  The organizers were keen to wrap up the event swiftly so that the promise of wine could be fulfilled.

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This is probably not the kind of party that most students have on campus.

As a non-drinker, and having given up my dinnertime to attend this, I was more than a little disappointed at the absence of the usual buffet nibbles. Even so, this was a small price for making Dominic Grieve the twelfth name on my notables list.

FURTHER READING

 

Why Not Be A Polymath?

At rather short notice, I received a mass email telling me that Geoffrey Bond (OBE DL FSA), alumnus of this university and star of Antiques Roadshow, would be returning to his alma mater to give an evening lecture about the heritage business and the importance of engineering.

A graduate of the class of 1963, Mr Bond told us that he had initially been offered a degree in geology, but turned down what he predicted would be a lifetime of travelling to remote areas of the world with no access to womankind. Bond choose Hull over the London School of Economics because of his preference for a campus environment over an urban one. He lived at the recently-destroyed Needler Hall, where once a week the warden required students to dine in formal gowns. Philip Larkin was a frequent guest.

Early in his media career, Bond worked for East Midlands BBC Radio, presenting the Sunday program “The Antiques Shop” in which he took telephone calls from the public and identified objects based on their descriptions. He also presented “The Man Who Came To Breakfast” with Kate O’Mara. He served as Sheriff of the City of London 2003-2004 and was once a consul for Norway. He shared rooms with Frank Field MP for some years and now resides at Burgage Manor, childhood home of the 6th Baron Byron.

We were shown videos relating to the Lord Mayor of London’s Cultural Scholarship, which Bond established in 2010. Bond spoke of the need for more art in public buildings, and the need for more young people to go into engineering. He noted the expansion of higher education since his own undergraduate days (from one fifth of young adults to about half) and suggested that many would be better off doing apprenticeships so they could actually get paid rather than take on debt. Admiration was expressed for the German model of technical and vocational education. A point that our visitor keenly emphasized was the danger of over-specialization. He found that dabbling in multiple fields allowed him to escape being stuck in the same career path for his whole life, and meant he had developed a web of contacts in many different sectors, which comes in handy when two different industries have to work together.

I think I can say that I meet his ideal. It’s not as if I only blog about mathematics, after all.

FURTHER READING

Tower Talk At Haven Arms

Simon Tower

Tonight my father gave a presentation at the Haven Arms in Hedon concerning the ongoing restoration work at Paull Holme Tower, attended by the Hedon Viewfinders photography club and some extended family.

My father acquired the tower in the early 1990s, when it was little more than a pile of old bricks. My childhood was sprinkled with the occasional visit to this mysterious ruin, with its decaying castellations, its perilous stairs and its grass-covered roofline.

In this decade my father stepped up his efforts to effect a restoration, including opening the tower to members of the public. I was roped in to produce visual aids and, on occasion, dig out decades of dung from the ground floor.

In 2015 my father began efforts to produce a documentary series about the restoration, often enlisting me as cameraman. In 2017 we met with Estuary TV and secured a broadcast deal. At tonight’s presentation we were shown extensive clips from upcoming episodes.

The moment of triumph came late in 2016, when Historic England gave us a grant for the restoration work. Even so, the process of rebuilding took a long time to commence, due to seasonal weather difficulties, the need to produce a very specific type of brick, and unpleasantness from neighbours. The most significant changes have occurred since last summer, which annoyingly means that I was not around to see them. The tower now stands noticeably taller than it did for most of my life, for there is at last a roof as well as restored castellations. We also have a new entrance gate and gravel driveway for ease of access.

After the main presentation, attendees showed off their own photographs of the tower, some dating back centuries. There was even a brief discussion about my pet topic of heraldry, as historians tried to date the tower by the display of the Holme-Wastney arms surrounded by Tudor roses.

Though there has been much dithering with authorities, my father still intends to open the tower again once work is complete. No doubt I will be roped in to film that as well.

USEFUL LINKS

 

Course Representatives Forum (February)

(Left) Chris Turnock (Right) Rebecca Dennison

My third forum of this academic year began with an apology by the education officer Salman Anwar, who had promised at the previous convention to entice us back with cake, but instead had only biscuits.

Today’s meeting had two guest speakers. The first was Chris Turnock, Head of Technology-Enhanced Learning. He gave a presentation about the Teaching Excellence framework. Universities are assessed on thirty-five subjects, of which Hull teaches twenty-seven. The university as a whole must submit a fifteen-page report, and each subject will submit five pages. We were advised that the latter would include contributions by student representatives.

The second speaker was Rebecca Dennison, Head of Customer Service & Administration for Student Services. She reported that consultations had found students were dissatisfied with the service they received in the hubs, which had recently been reorganised. Many students, particularly those in later years, were still going to the old locations rather than the new ones. A representative complained that students in the Faculty of Arts, Culture & Education were taking on a storm of irrelevant emails, which Dennison put down to a technical glitch.

Mr Anwar then took the floor for general questions. He mentioned the approach of Sexual Health Advice & Guidance Week, and the prizes available for sports teams or societies which got all of their members tested for venereal disease. There were some complaints about the universities numerous intranets and virtual tools, most notably the iHull application which was, in his own words, still rubbish.

Two students made complaints about the behaviour of security guards in the Brynmor Jones Library. One had apparently barred a group of students from discussing the Iraq War (which was the subject of their upcoming politics examination) on the grounds that it would offend international students. Another had responded to a complaint about students in a reserved booth noisily watching a football match on the large computer monitor by sitting in and joining them. There ensued a brief discussion on the practicality and acceptability of sleeping in the library.

A representative complained of lectures running the limit of their timetabled slot and leaving no time to travel from one venue to the next. Another raised concern with lecturers who failed to upload slides used in their presentations, and a shortage of electronic textbooks.

FURTHER READING

Chris Turnock

Teaching Excellence Framework

Rebbeca Denison

A Temp’s Lament

An old woman with thick white hair sits in a sunny garden with a cup of tea.
I am a temp,
I’ve no desk of my own.
When you’re on holiday
I answer your phone.
If I am lucky
You’ve left me your key,
But many a time
You couldn’t forsee
You wouldn’t be there
And they’d phone to Charlotte;
Help! we need a temp,
Please you have you got?
I’m having a bath
Or cleaning a floor,
But I drop everything
And I dash out the door.
I arrive at your desk
But can’t open the drawers.
With what do they think
I can do all my chores?
But I am a temp
And I have a large bag.
Its certainly heavy
And that is the snag
But in it I keep
All the tools of my trade,
Pens, pencils and rulers,
No typewriter I’m afraid.
For that is one thing
I’d love of my own.
Two months on a QWERTY
Now AZERTY – don’t moan.
For I am a temp
With you only a while
And whatever the problem
It’s done with a smile.
Written 15th June 1982
by Pauline Taylor (1927-2018)

Course Representative Forum (December)

Not much was discussed on my second trip to this forum that had not already been said at the November forum – or at yesterday’s.

Again there were issues with timetabling and rerouting of lectures around the building works on some of the campus’s more dilapidated dwellings. As with the student staff forum there was a lengthy discussion about the placement of January examinations in the Lawns dining hall. Representatives demanded that the university provide free transport for the students affected.

The student officers still hope to organise some kind of informal mass gathering. Again questions were asked as to what might tempt our attendance and again the response was that they should offer free pizza.

I still don’t have a badge to wear!

Student-Staff Forum (December)

My second time in the chair had a somewhat greater audience than the first. We now have course representatives for the third and fourth years, although the second year is still without a voice and the foundation delegate was absent.

The end of year report and National Student Survey data were again unavailable and we were advised to drop those items altogether. Running through the concerns  which were raised at the previous meeting we learned that course handbooks and past examination papers had been made available online.

We struggled to think of an objective, finally agreeing to push for notes to be kept consistent within subject areas

With winter examinations looming, there were concerns raised about the non-appearance of the test dates, which made it hard for some students to establish a revision schedule. Students living around the main campus area were less than pleased to discover that some of them would have to sit their papers in the dining hall at the Lawns, which was requisitioned because the university’s on-campus sports hall being closed for reconstruction.

Architecture seems to be a recurring problem in these discussions, as complaints were also relayed about heating failure in the computer suites of the Foss and Fenner buildings. Some students also said the Brynmor Jones library was getting too loud as it reached full capacity.

There is little else to say, but it is encouraging to see that more students have gotten involved.