Here’s everything you need to know about the Vote of No Confidence in Nancy Rothwell

If you still haven’t voted, here’s what you need to know

This Monday, a vote of no confidence opened for University of Manchester students surrounding the Senior Management Team. This includes Nancy Rothwell, Patrick Hackett, Simon Merrywest, April McMahon and Luke Georghiou.

If you told a UoM student a year ago there would be a vote of no confidence in the leadership of the university, they’d ask “how the hell did that happen?” Well, here’s how. This time last year, the reality of coronavirus was setting in. We were scared and wondering what the university would do, and here’s just some of what happened.

What are the ‘yes’ side saying?

The ‘yes’ side, who are voting for no confidence in the management team, say that the administration has been “awful”. They point to the deleted Instagram post telling students to see lockdown as a “retreat” (which the university says was based on research and wasn’t intended to be taken as advice on student wellbeing); and putting up fencing around Fallowfield halls with students saying they’d been given no warning. Nancy Rothwell apologised for this and the university launched an “immediate inquiry”, accepting the findings when they were released.

Last semester, Manchester student Zac Adan was “racially profiled” by university security, saying “they said I look like a drug dealer”. The university said it “condemns all forms of racism and discrimination”, was “deeply concerned” and was investigating, but Nancy Rothwell was forced to apologise after saying she had written to the student involved in the incident, when this was in fact “incorrect”.

Other issues include the ongoing rent strike, which won a 30 per cent reduction for all students in halls last semester, and Manchester Uni’s refusal to give students a no detriment policy for this year, along with the majority of other Russell Group universities. The uni has instead designed an “assessment pledge” to support students.

The body of protesters is large and loud, and their petition for this vote gained over 400 signatures in just five hours. For them, this is about the principles of how a university should treat its students, “a protest against the management of a University that aims solely to produce profits” (which can be found in their referendum).

Their manifesto demands a “democratisation” of the administration system with a new team being voted for by students and staff.

What are the ‘no’ side saying?

The other side of the vote is the ‘no’ campaign, who think the university’s actions have been exaggerated by the yes campaign. In their referendum, which you can read before you vote, they say that this vote is “fueled strongly by misinformation and political gimmicks”, with students ignoring the “positives” of what the university has done.

They point to the University’s support networks for mental health in Togetherall, counselling workshops and a Student Support page, and how Rothwell and other senior leaders took a pay cut to put funds back into the university.

They applaud the university’s leadership for “learn[ing] from mistakes” and that we as a society should “hold leaders to account but equally acknowledge when they have done well”.

What does the vote of no confidence actually mean?

If there is a vote of no confidence, it means universities can’t brush off student complaints with apologies but would have to introduce real reform. Students have already proven that the power of student action is incredible this year. Some would say removing the team who caused these problems is the logical next step, others would tell you it’s a step too far.

Either way, this referendum’s existence is a landmark in the history of universities.

You can vote here until the end of Thursday 11th March.

The results of the vote will come out on Friday 12th March. They will then be passed on to the Board of Governors, who will make the final decision. Students can vote between the 8th and 11th of March on the Student Union website to vote either: Yes, no or to abstain.

What does Manchester Uni have to say?

A University of Manchester spokesperson told The Tab: “The pandemic has caused a great deal of disruption for students, and they have not been able to have the university experience they would have expected.

“We have all worked very hard to provide all our students with the best possible learning and student experience in these unprecedented and challenging circumstances. We have not got everything right, but we are committed to working closely with student representatives to address concerns and meet student needs.”

Regarding the deleted “retreat” Instagram post, the university said: “The post in question was the result of an independent research project aimed at people working with teenagers and young people, learning about their lockdown experiences to create a toolkit. It was never intended to be University advice for student wellbeing. It was simply highlighting research carried out by a team at the University. After some student feedback and reflection however, we realised the content could be taken out of context, removed the post on Instagram and apologised for any distress it may have caused.”

It continued: “On the fences, the Vice Chancellor has profoundly apologised and a full and independent inquiry has since taken place and we have accepted all of its findings.”

Regarding the “racial profiling” incident, the university said: “The University condemns all forms of racism and discrimination. This has no place in society and certainly not at our institution. All our students and staff have the right to be treated equally and fairly whilst working and studying in a safe, secure, and fulfilling environment. The specific allegations around the events of 14 November 2020 remain subject to ongoing processes, so we cannot comment on them directly.

“However, following these events, and alongside ongoing conversations with our staff and students, we have put together a robust action plan which addresses these and associated inclusion issues. It also builds on the actions outlined in our earlier Race Matters report. This is all part of our significant ongoing work to strengthen our approach to equality, diversity and inclusion by continuing to improve our structures, policies and processes in collaboration with our students and staff.”

On the rent strike, the university said: “All students in our halls of residences received a reduction for Semester 1 (Sept 2020 – 31 Jan 2021) totalling 30%. This was provided irrespective of whether they stayed in halls over the holiday period or not. Students living in University accommodation who have not returned to their accommodation since the national lockdown announcement on 5 January are not being charged until the end of the current restrictions or the date that they return to their accommodation in Manchester. This will cost more than £10m.

“Students in residences can break their accommodation agreement, clear their rooms and hand back keys once during term time in the 2020/21 academic year without financial penalty. We are also awarding a non-repayable rent contribution of £500 to 600 students in private accommodation. The money for this contribution comes from additional government funding.”

And regarding the lack of no detriment policy for this year, the university said: “We are in agreement with the rest of the Russell Group that a blanket ‘no disadvantage’ policy would not be appropriate or possible this year. We are in a very different set of circumstances this year and our teaching, learning and assessments have been designed from the start with blended, online learning at the forefront. Crucially, no students have any pre-pandemic marks from earlier in this academic year for us to benchmark against, which is how the ‘no disadvantage’ policy was applied last year.

“Our Assessment Pledge is designed to support students in this year’s circumstances, rather than those of last year. We will keep it under review, continue to monitor how it is working, and take advice from our Examination Boards and External Examiners. However, as things stand we feel these measures are fair to students and satisfy both our need to protect students’ interests and to protect the quality and standards of our awards.”

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Revealed: These unis still haven’t given their students a no detriment policy

UoM explicitly rule out blanket ‘no disadvantage’ policy for this term

UoM isn’t charging halls rent until the end of lockdown