Monthly Archives: January 2014

Itchy feet: the executives’ dilemma

The University of Ulster at Coleraine has always had itchy feet. Somehow it doesn’t seem quite right that an alluvial plain on the banks of the River Bann outside a rural market-town with a brace of seaside resorts for  hinterland should be headquarters to the tri-campus HE institution created in the 1980s by merging the former New University of Ulster (Coleraine) with Magee College (Derry) and Jordanstown Polytechnic (Belfast). Since then, the Northern Ireland capital has exerted a constant fascination  on the Coleraine administration, while the attractions of Derry City – overlooked when the New University was established a decade earlier – have never quite amounted to a compelling reason to locate there.

Ulster at Springvale (artist's impression)

Ulster at Springvale
(artist’s impression)

For many years, the unbuilt Springvale campus in west Belfast was looked upon as the making of the institution, particularly under the opportunity-packed conditions of the Peace Process era. In architectural sketches, it had all the grandiose appeal of the EU headquarters transported to Las Vegas. Whatever it was supposed to look like, it definitely bombed. (“Moth-balled” was the mildest epithet to greet its demise.) Next came the “Springvale Village” which was ultimately condemned by a government audit team back in 2007 as an “appalling”, “ill-advised” and  “disturbing” waste of millions [see BBC News – online].

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“Teaching suites” or “executive dining”?

Scenic Common Room

Scenic Common Room

Perhaps the most pervasive point of confusion in the saga of the Senior Executive’s assault on the Senior Common Room is the question of their intended use for the vacated space on the third floor according to the terms of the  Catering Catering Development plan – a somewhat plastic document which had already morphed three times before the SCR was actually vacated. (One such metamorphosis entailed the grudging provision of a Student Bar when it was found that the deficit was received by the end-clients of higher education as a progressive step too far.)

According to first accounts, the “former SCR” was to be “repurposed” as an “executive dining suite” – an interpretation that made obvious sense in view of the fact that the existing Bannview Dining Room reserved for executives on the second floor was dismantled to allow room for an expanded student provision there. After all, who could conceive imagine Senior Officers of the University of Ulster not having a hospitality area reserved for themselves and their very special guests – be they recipients of honorary doctorates or visiting potentates from wealthy Asian nations whose palates required tickling before their pockets were plundered? (These are the realpolitiks of modern University funding.) 

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Campus food-chain: a reality check

The question raised by the abolition of the Senior Common Room – with its independently-managed catering facilities and its bar license – does not stop on the third floor of the catering wing. Elsewhere, issues of services to staff and students, traditionally run by and for themselves are under threat from corporate monopoly plans stemming from the Administration’s contract with the outside catering company Mount Charles Ltd. of Belfast.

You'll just love it ...

You’ll just love it …

Spinal tap
In the University Spine area (equivalent to a Mall), the anchor tenant is the Spar store which purveys sandwiches and soft-drinks a-plenty to the daily complement of students and staff, but also sells the usual range of foodstuffs and house-hold goods from Brillo pads to Brillcreem, biscuits and bananas – with birthday cards and Bisto in between. This is doubtless a lucrative outlet, besides being an occasional employer of students on a campus where a clear majority hold down jobs of one sort or another to help meet their fees-related debts.

Now, in response to pressure from the Student Union whose existence is mandated in the University Charter, the Vice-Chancellor has kindly permitted the Student Shop – evacuated from the South Building under pressure from encroaching bull-dozers – to set up again in a rent-free space diagonally opposite the Spar. Here they are engaged in selling pen-drives and pencils, scarfs, hoodies and assorted trinkets bearing the UU logo, but nothing of real trade value because they are not permitted to compete with Spar for the real earners – food and drink, in any solid form. An empty soft-drinks cabinet with its sepulchral screen drawn down bears witness to the corporate haggling involved.

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SCR closure: the facts fully stated

SCR: enforced closure
In the history  of the enforced closure of the Senior Common Room (SCR), there has been a strain of peremptory and prejudicial decision-making on the part of the Senior Executive Team (SET), which has cast a shadow over the reputation of the University of Ulster and brought about  both speedily and comprehensively what no other measure has previously achieved: the deep unpopularity of the Administration among teaching staff and students and its notoriety as a managerial oaf trampling the very things it should be labouring to sustain.

Senior Common Room (UU)

Senior Common Room (UU)

The extraordinary thing about the closure is that the Executive ordained it without reference to any representative body of the University nor any negotiations with the Officers and Membership of the Common Room itself. In following this course of action, they arrogated to themselves an undue amount of authority from the University Council – the latter being the governing body whose powers are delegated to them under the University Charter in clearly defined respects. These do not include significant alterations in the social character of the University, or any campus of it, without seeking consensus at such a representative body.

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More porkies: to dine or not to dine

Senior Common Room (UU)

Senior Common Room (UU)

Perhaps the most pervasive point of confusion in the saga of the Senior Executive’s assault on the Senior Common Room is the question of their intended use for the newly-vacated space on the third floor according to the terms of the Catering Refurbishment Plan – a somewhat plastic document which had already morphed three times before the SCR was actually vacated. (One such metamorphosis entailed the grudging provision of a Student Bar when that the deficit was received by the end-clients of higher education – as the Administration like to call the students – as a “progressive” step too far.)

Judging by early accounts, the premises of the Senior Common Room was to be “repurposed” as an “executive dining suite” – an interpretation that makes sense in view of the fact that the existing Bannview Dining Room in the second floor was dismantled to allow room for an expanded student provision there. After all, who could imagine Senior Officers of the University of Ulster not having a hospitality area reserved for themselves and their very special guests – be they recipients of honorary doctorates or visiting potentates from wealthy Asian nations whose palates needed tickling before their pockets were plundered? (These are the realpolitiks of modern University funding.)

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