‘VNC the VC’: Why are Lancaster students petitioning for the Vice-Chancellor to resign?

‘Students shouldn’t give up trying to make their university a better place’

Following the news that the Lancaster University Rent Strike had cancelled its withholding of rent from university management, the Rent Strike group released a statement that revealed its intentions to create a petition on the Students’ Union website that called for a “Vote of No Confidence” in the university’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andy Schofield, and the rest of the university management team.

The petition lists a number of justifications for calling this vote, the first of which being: “Throughout the pandemic, [university management has] demonstrated their unwillingness to prioritise student and staff welfare above the financial interests of the university.”

With this in mind, we spoke to the author of the petition, Jack O’Dwyer-Henry, a third year Bowland College student, to talk about the petition, and what it means for students.

Why should students care about this?

“Students care about how their university is run. The decisions of the individuals who run the university often go against students’ interests, be it in relation to rent, mental health funding, or how they’ve responded to the pandemic. Instead of just accepting the status quo, students should have the opportunity to democratically express how we feel, and hopefully force our university to change for the better.”

Referendums at Lancaster rarely get enough student support to count, why do you believe this will?

The last major student vote was on whether the SU should sell The Sugarhouse

“The referendum will take place in March alongside the Full-Time Officer elections and a referendum to approve LUSU’s new constitution. All of these are important votes, so I expect lots of students take part. When students get the chance to vote on important issues, we see that they turn out to vote.”

This was announced off the back of the rent strike – do you feel as though the SU’s impact on the rent strike went unacknowledged by the strike leadership?

The rent strike was called off last week

“It’s unfortunate that following the university’s £800 concession, the number of students on strike reduced to a point at which the organisers concluded it was no longer viable. The tactic of a rent strike only works when enough renters are taking part to have a significant effect on the landlord’s income and to avoid individual victimisation. That’s why we’re now turning to other tactics, such as this petition and referendum, to continue the fight for students’ interests.

“The rent strike was organised independently of the SU, but the elected officers did play a role in getting university management to negotiate with the organisers of the strike. I’m not sure if the SU officers were even calling for rent cuts from the uni before the rent strike began. It’s a good example of the effectiveness of collective direct action and civil disobedience over merely confining your activism to the ‘official channels’ and electoralism.”

Students don’t have the right to remove university management – what is this petition actually hoping to achieve?

“Whilst an SU referendum doesn’t have the power to force anyone in university management to resign, that doesn’t mean it can’t have a meaningful impact. The fact that even if every single student at the university called on the Vice-Chancellor to resign, he wouldn’t be required to, shows just how undemocratic and unaccountable our University is. I don’t think it would be feasible for university management to ignore the referendum completely. If they did so, student discontent would continue to grow and the university’s reputation be damaged even further.”

“Just because the strike is over, students shouldn’t give up trying to make their university a better place. I hope the referendum provides students with the opportunity to have a conversation about all the ways in which they’d like our university to change, and to start taking action to achieving that.”

A Lancaster University spokesperson told The Tab Lancaster: “We are focused on delivering the very best experience we can to students in an exceptional set of circumstances and have involved student representatives in all our major decisions. From early on in the pandemic, we made the commitment to provide as much face to face teaching as the government allows in our blended teaching approach. This has been challenging for staff, but we felt it was the right thing to do for students.

“We welcome staff and student feedback and encourage it in regular surveys. We have received encouraging feedback from students about our online teaching.”

Lancaster University’s Pro-Chancellor, the Rt Hon. Alistair Burt said: “The Council has full confidence in the Vice-Chancellor and Executive Team. It notes the range of issues being raised within the petition and will continue to engage with student union representatives on issues that they wish to raise.”

The full details of the petition to call a student-wide “Vote of No Confidence” can be found here.

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