‘Ashamed and humiliated’: Manc staff send letter to uni over the Fallowfield fences
192 members of staff have signed a letter to President and Vice-Chancellor, Nancy Rothwell
192 members of staff from the University of Manchester have signed a letter expressing their “sense of anger, concern and sheer demoralisation” towards the events that took place last week, where the university erected fencing around a number of halls in Fallowfield with no warning given to residents.
The letter, seen by The Manchester Tab, which is addressed to President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, states: “As colleagues teaching in the university, we have never felt so ashamed and humiliated to be associated with it as on learning of last week’s events at the Fallowfield student residences.
“As a university we should be supporting and assisting undergraduates who were assured by us that a return to campus was safe. Instead, we are adding to their stress and anxiety with undiscussed, unannounced and clearly unacceptable ‘security’ measures, which they rightly refused to accept and you have rightly withdrawn immediately.”
A number of protests have taken place following the sudden erection of the fencing, during which it was torn down by students. Students from UoM Rent Strike, Students Before Profit and 9K4WHAT? are also currently occupying Owens Park Tower in Fallowfield.
After protestors tore the fencing down, Dame Nancy Rothwell, said: “I sincerely apologise for the concern and distress caused by the erecting of a fence around our Fallowfield Halls of Residence today. This was not our intention – in fact quite the reverse.
“The fencing was intended as a response to a number of concerns received over recent weeks from staff and students on this site about safety and security; particularly about access by people who are not residents. There was never any intent to prevent students from entering or exiting the site.
“The fences are being taken down from Friday morning and students are being contacted immediately. Alternative security measures, including additional security patrols are being put in place.
“I apologise once again for the issues caused by this incident.”
However, there are many who feel that this is not enough. The letter from staff says: “It is important to establish what went so wrong last week. It’s still more important to establish how such avoidable errors of judgment are repeatedly made, and to put right the underlying problems with the culture and organisation of the university so that they cannot be made again.
“We hope that the inquiry announced last week will be truly independent and fearless in pursuing these questions. In the meantime, we can only reaffirm our sense of anger, concern and sheer demoralisation at this latest shocking turn of events.
“If, as you’ve indicated, the reaction provoked was the reverse of that intended, it indicates severely inadequate decision-making procedures that need to be corrected as a matter of urgency.
“The problems with this policy were obvious to all of us as soon as it came to light. How can they not have been obvious to those debating and deciding it?
“Nor is this an isolated incident. Instead, there have been many recent examples of similar basic failures in informed decision making and communications, thankfully with less serious consequences. But in the light of the recent death of one of our students, in what appear to be truly tragic circumstances connected with de facto lockdown, the unannounced introduction of fencing around the same student accommodation where the tragic incident occurred simply beggars belief.”
The letter continued: “[The fences were] perceived, and rightly perceived, as a grossly insensitive act and a basic failure by the University in its obligations to support and engage students as full members of our learning community.”
Later, the letter also explains: “Had better information, consultation and communications procedures been in place, we don’t believe for a minute that the university would have suffered this latest and thoroughly deserved bout of reputational damage.
“Such basic failures are not only an insult to our students; they risk undoing the hard work of so many dedicated colleagues across all parts of the university.
“It appears that security fences are now to be replaced by security guards. We trust that proper note has been taken of the very considerable distress and anxiety that can arise from invasive and heavy-handed oversight by security personnel.
“No teaching colleague would expect to live or work under such conditions. To expect our students to do so wholly undermines the idea of a learning community in which all are treated with equal respect.”
Last week, President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell said: “Firstly, I want to apologise again for the distress caused by putting up the fence yesterday and the very poor communication surrounding this.
“I am determined to find out what went wrong and to learn from it.
“As a matter of urgency, I have commissioned an inquiry into these events. This will be conducted by Professor Clive Agnew, a former Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students, and our intention is to also include a former Students’ Union Officer.
“They will examine how and, for what reasons, the decision to erect the fence around the residences on the Fallowfield campus was taken and how this decision was – or wasn’t – communicated to students.
“The report will be submitted by the end of November and we will publish the full report as soon as possible for all to see.
“I will also be meeting with student representatives from the Fallowfield residences as soon as possible, together with our Director for the Student Experience, Dr Simon Merrywest.
“I know the events of yesterday were distressing for many students on a personal level at what is already a very difficult time. I’m sorry for that. I also regret that our actions led to protests and unrest at the residences last night. The fence has been removed today and, in consultation with students, additional security measures will be put in place to help to keep all of our residents safe.
“We would like students to write to us with suggestions about how we can improve safety across our campus sites. Please contact [email protected] with your suggestions.
“If you have been affected by anything that has happened either yesterday or during your time with us so far, or just want to speak to someone then our counselling and support services are available to you. Advice and Response staff will be present at the Fallowfield site next week for one-on-one sessions and we will be holding check in and chat sessions over Zoom. Details of these arrangements will be sent shortly. You can also speak to your ResLife advisors for wellbeing or any other concerns.
“Finally, I want to reiterate that I am truly sorry for the events of yesterday.”
Featured Image: Felix Kwok, @felixcycat