Here’s why I’m voting #NancyOut in the Vote of No Confidence in Nancy Rothwell
Whichever way you’re voting, there’s still time to cast your vote
Life during the coronavirus pandemic has not been easy for anybody. Personally, between studying from home and snap lockdown decisions, I’m not ashamed to say I’ve struggled. Universities have also struggled through the past year. There is no precedent for how they should respond in a pandemic.
However, like many students I feel the extent of the University of Manchester and our Vice Chancellor, Dame Nancy Rothwell’s, bad judgement required an ineptness unparalleled by other unis.
This week, from 8th-11th of March, we students have the chance to turn our frustration into action, with the All-Student Vote of No Confidence in VC Nancy Rothwell, and other members of the uni senior leadership.
Here’s why I’m voting ‘yes’ in the motion of no confidence in Nancy Rothwell:
Jump back to September 2020. Already months into the pandemic, we knew this uni year would be different and undoubtedly difficult. On the government’s advice, many of UoM’s approximately 40,000 students travelled to Manchester. Freshers moving into halls found they had strict new rules on social distancing.
The rules made sense: Covid-19 has now killed over 140,000 people in the UK. Back in September I believed UoM was working in our best interests to prevent the rapid spread of coronavirus in halls accommodation. But since then there’s been a string of failures.
Just weeks into the new semester, Fallowfield Campus became a battleground between the university and students. First over 215 students held a rent strike after the uni charged full rent for restricted facilities. Then the Owen’s Park Tower occupiers held a bold and successful campaign to re-compensate residents in halls. The strikers won a 30 per cent rent reduction for all halls rent in semester one.
Perhaps the most shocking battle came when the university put up fencing around Fallowfield halls, with students saying they’d been given no warning. Students tore down the fences that night, saying they felt they had been “barricaded in” and calling the fences “the last straw”. Nancy Rothwell apologised for the incident and the university launched an “immediate inquiry”, accepting the findings when they were released.
UoM has many, many layers of management accountable for these actions, but there was one moment that made me feel the serious managerial problems went to the very top. In November last year, student Zac Adan was “racially profiled” by security who reportedly said he looked “like a drug dealer”. The university said it “condemns all forms of racism and discrimination”, was “deeply concerned” and was investigating.
Nancy Rothwell appeared on BBC Newsnight and falsely claimed to have personally written to him about the incident. She was then forced to release an apology saying this was “incorrect”.
On national television, she lied to the whole country. At this point, there had been several major incidents on-campus that could be linked back to misjudged university decisions, and now its most senior administrator had lied about one of them on TV. Yet, it still didn’t end there.
During the first coronavirus lockdown, we were given the “no disadvantage” policy to help students through the examination period during this frightening time. Coronavirus is still prevalent, far more so than during the first wave. Yet, the uni continues to refuse to give students a no detriment policy for this year. They say this is in-line with many other Russell Group universities, and Manchester has instead designed an “assessment pledge” to support students.
While aspects of this are good, like the self-evaluated sickness leave and loosened mitigating circumstances thresholds, we have already lost a semester to dither and delay and this exam policy as a whole is too little, too late.
We could not access the library for some of the semester, and when it reopened demand was so high many people couldn’t get a space. We couldn’t speak face-to-face with our teachers and academic advisors; the few office hours they could spare were what we had to discuss things in person. The kindness of our already overworked and underpaid tutors was all the support we had. At least we could watch sock folding videos during our lockdown “retreat”, as the uni recommended.
We are still paying full fees for our degrees. News broke recently that UoM’s income nearly topped that of both Manchester United and Manchester City combined, totalling £1.1 billion in the 2018/19 academic year. Many of us are struggling, so they should be investing in additional support. But the administration is instead regurgitating cringe-worthy mental health advice best left on Tumblr.
It is clear to me and to the hundreds of us who signed the petition to call this vote, that Rothwell and the university’s senior leaders have been incapable of rising to the challenges of teaching during this pandemic. If this year has left you feeling frustrated, upset, or like you cannot overcome the challenges you face, do not squander this unique opportunity to get rid of those who failed us.
A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “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.”
The university also pointed to information regarding mental health support it offers: A 24-hour mental health helpline and wellbeing app, a student peer to peer buddying scheme, in-house university counselling and a Greater Manchester university mental health service.
Polls close at 4pm on today, so there is not much time left to vote in this critical referendum. Whichever way you lean on this issue, don’t let your chance to be heard slip away.
You can vote via the SU election website by clicking here.
Regarding the rent strike, a university spokesperson 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.”
On the alleged “racial profiling” incident, it 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 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 now-deleted Instagram post telling students to see lockdown as a “retreat”, it 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.”
Regarding the email suggesting students watch sock-folding videos, it said: “This was one instance of what we offer to support students which ranges from the general wellbeing example given here, to a 24 hour support line, extensive counselling services and a unique city-wide partnership with the NHS. You can read more about all of these here (https://www.studentsupport.manchester.ac.uk/). Some of our suggestions will be more light-hearted, others more serious and we believe there is demand for both.”
If you have been affected by the contents of this article, anyone can contact Samaritans FREE any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email [email protected] or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch, where you can talk to one of our trained volunteers face to face. You matter.