Monday, 22 March 2010

I support my lecturers; do you? If so, tell them to vote for strike!

The University of Westminster kicked off its staff strike-balloting period on Friday, March 19. To mark this, a public rally that heard from the likes of radical 1968 veteran, Michael Rosen, was held earlier on that week, on Wednesday.

On a macro level, Rosen spread the sentiment that this is a global struggle for all public service workers, yet, on a micro level, urged university staff that their smaller struggle is of phenomenal importance and that they must resist the intended reforms for HE.

Speakers from our students’ grassroots movement ‘Fight Cuts at Westminster Campaign’ reinforced the sentiment, and furthermore ensured staff that they are wholly behind strike action. They described it as: “a few days disruption for the sake of the next generations right to an unrestricted education.”

Other speakers, which regaled with stories of strike successes, included representatives from KCL, UCL and Sussex. Viren Swami, Westminster UCU, particularly smashed it in an emotive speech that asked why hardworking staff should have to pay for managements financial “fuck-up”.

The ballot closes on April 20; up until now Westminster’s unions have been beaten down and subsequently found themselves fairly inactive, let’s hope the current climate and sudden mass student resistance movement will encourage to staff to vote “YES”.

As students we can raise awareness through word-of-mouth and active resistance. Talk to your friends and your tutors about this ... together we can beat managements ludicrous plans!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Where's the logic? Part 2 ..

By now, our stance on course slashes is pretty unambiguous; not welcome, utterly unacceptable, practically criminal.

This opinion is held even more tightly in line with the recent news that quality, profit making language courses, are set for the chop. Once again; where's the logic?

Worryingly, the popular Russian Undergraduate Degree, among others, has come under threat. To counter management's proposal to close the course, students and tutors fought back last week with a lively, colorful and heartfelt protest at Regents Campus.

For those of you that were not lucky enough to experience the vaudeville, demonstrators were dressed in traditional Russian clothing and teaching passers by to say hello: "Здравствуйте!"

Management have asked the department to deliver a proposal suggesting how to save Russian by March 19; what a demoralising and unneccessary request. Clearly there are a wealth of students studying the course, what more could warrant its right to exist? (Must add, Russian tutors at Westminster are truly lucid, able and quality language teachers).

A petition collated 125 signatures in an hour, a definite display of the courses popularity and a resistance to any course cuts.

What's more, tutors are planning to combat this by proposing to re- introduce beginners' Russian. Let's hope it's a winner.

Ever wondered what it's like to occupy? A student's account ..

"The Vice Chancellor’s office had uncomfortable black leather chairs, a dingy brown carpet and a curious wall design. It was a cramped sort of space, crowded and noisy. Outside, I could hear the police laughing over some joke, one pleasant and humorous blonde woman with spiky hair and a burly brown-haired man I had immediately disliked. He had given me a bit of a shove as soon as he had seen me, then he had threatened the rest of us with random stop and searches. I wondered what it was going to be like spending the next few days and nights here.

I hadn’t known the occupation was going to take place at first and had just got caught up in it. Just a few hours ago we had swarmed a finance meeting with the Vice Chancellor in it. He was a slimy sort of guy, this Professor Geoffrey E Petts. He hadn’t answered any of the questions we had put to him and had claimed he didn’t have a diary to set up a meeting with student involvement. We were going to learn just how slimy he was as the days went by.

I was ravenously hungry like everyone else because we had all skipped lunch. I had also, on this day of all days, forgotten my mobile phone. So I couldn’t call my family to let them know that I wasn’t going to come back home for a little while. I desperately needed to use the bathroom. But I couldn’t. It was a pretty desperate sort of situation. Money was no good here. There was nobody from the outside that could help out.

The problem was, the occupation was uncertain at the moment so we all had to stay put and not get too comfortable. The police were outside, security kept on making a friendly appearance every so often and we had to guard the door – a task which I volunteered myself for. Security and the police were trying to intimidate us by pestering us for access into the room. We’d let them have a check before but had to make clear that this was a student occupation.

After a few tense hours when we were all wondering what the university was going to do, what we were all going to do, a few guys decided to go out and get some supper. This was our first naïve mistake. They never came back. Neither did the food.

Security had decided that anyone that left the occupation wouldn’t be allowed back into the university. We asked them if we could go out to use the bathroom. They said no. They were trying to starve us out and make things as bad as possible for us so that we just left.

We got the phone calls straight away from the people that had gone outside telling us what had happened. This made the whole group nervous and outraged. One of the lecturers outside the door called me over so I opened the door for him. He was a portly man with white hair. He asked me if we were alright and then I explained the situation to him. He shook his head sadly, hardly believing what I was telling him.

Eventually, the food did come. But the other students were not allowed in. One of the security guards had gone against the specific instructions from the university and brought it up to us. Everything was ice cold but we were all famished and thankful for it and to him.

After eating, everybody sat around. We were having constant meetings, deciding what to do, what not to do. Worrying about what had happened and what was going to happen. How we were going to last out in this place now that the university management had cut down our numbers and drastically reduced any kind of freedom we might have otherwise had.

We had arranged ourselves into teams; we had a group of journalists on two laptops which had come in with us. They were busying typing away or on their mobile phones. In fact, quite a few people were on their mobiles, marshalling support from the outside for a protest the next day. We’d also discovered a lucky landline which wasn’t disconnected until the next morning when the university wised up.

By the next morning, the police had disappeared. We also got the bathroom facility – the nicer security guards at first and then an unfriendly woman representative from the Vice Chancellor’s office finally let us have it officially. It was a strange experience to go up the two floors to the men’s bathroom with three or four security guards watching and memorising our facial features for future reference. Some of them were deliberately polite. Some of them were deliberately strict. Some of them just stared blankly into space, bored out of their minds.

We had to keep ourselves going although we were all tired – I doubt anyone got a good night’s sleep – so we started making a protest at the door with plastic bins as drums and plastic bottles as beaters. We chanted the lines from the day before: They say cut back, we say fight back. They made quite a bit of noise. Security and the university management were still bothering us every so often and quite a few groups of students were leaving as they had other commitments.

The Deputy VC came late to the meeting we had arranged the day before and brought us back a really unsatisfactory reply from the Vice Chancellor to our demands. She spoke in that double-speak the Vice Chancellor had perfected.

I was quite bored so I went around the office on a hunt for something to do. I sent out emails to everyone I knew about the occupation, including a journalist for The Guardian that I knew. He put up the news on his Twitter page. One of the media students sent me an email asking us if we could do a television interview while the protest was happening outside.

Next morning, after no sleep again, we beat on our bin drums with our plastic bottles and chanted our slogans at the door. The Deputy VC from the Vice Chancellor’s office came back with some representatives from the Student’s Union.

They wouldn’t accept our conditions and the woman gave us more of her double-speak from the Vice Chancellor. Outside, some of my lecturers were standing around to see what we were up to.

After a final meeting, we left the occupation. We left a note saying that we would come back soon. And then we walked down to UCL to carry the torch of learning to their protest with our banners held up high."

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Where's the logic? Part 1..

Up until now this blog has been informative on a basic cuts-facts-information level, but let's take a deeper peek into the perplexing actualities of some of these cuts, past, present and future, over a few blog entries.

Ugly cuts are not a sudden manifestation in Westminster, in fact, they've been appearing in some of the most 'logically' unlikely departments for a while. For example, media heads at Harrow Campus would have noticed an almost-sudden, almost-demise of technical staff in the film technology/ editing department (not because there isn't oodles of demand for assistance).

Whereas five members of staff used to provide four hours of technical support for all students every working day, today sees an unfavourable scenario of only two members of staff providing help over two days for considerably less hours.

Not only is this unacceptable and a pain in the ass for the technologically-incompetent film student (Putting my hand up for that one!) but it forces the two staff - who teach classes and study for PhDs too - into an overabundance of work, maxing out their productibilities to a worrying extent (I've had the liberty of seeing one of the crammed timetables). I don't know whether you agree, but the last thing I want is my tutors to be tired, stressed and overworked; no one works to the best of their abilities in those states of mind.

This bizarre restructuring came about last July, when corporate services were reorganised. The five staff, who were originally hired by the IT department, were set to be sent to Cavendish Campus, incredibly, leaving none behind at Harrow. Not only this, but management were also planning to clear Harrow of all Macs, yes, you read that correctly! How ludicrous a decision considering Harrow is a media and arts campus which relies on quality editing software/equipment that simply doesn't run smoothly on PCs, if at all.

The two staff (who are still based at Harrow and were re-hired by the Media, Arts and Design department MAD) vehemently and outwardly opposed the Mac slash and were so kindly fired in return. Quite disgustingly, the other support staff, who agreed to the Mac massacre, were sent over to Cavendish and rewarded with management positions.

Just one of the many examples and a severe reminder of corrupt, bureaucratic backwardness at our university.

Luckily, MAD re-hired the two staff, and rightly so as they are both incredible teachers that deserve a secure job at the least.

What's more, on a university macro-level this example displays what the UCU declared at a meeting a little while back; a growing bulk of management and a dwindling, flimsy number of tutors left to do the 'teaching'.

I ask you; where's the logic?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Back with a vengeance

So, maybe we were a little too early in our 'Geoff Petts' Leaving Party' celebrations folks, but don't despair!

After a swift breather (taken in the VC's humble residence) the Fight Cuts Campaign at Westminster is back and ready to wage all out war on campuses near you.

In the last week or so the cuts picture has slowly taken shape and is looking more depressing than ever. As it stands we are loosing the entire Ceramics department, over a third of Computing, a fraction of the English department and a mass chunk of the Language's school.

Extrapolating this formidable trend inevitably leads to the question of which courses are next? For it is a certainty that these cuts form only the beginning of a flurry of course extinctions and slashes.

At the Student's Forum last Friday, our good friend Geoff Petts revealed to Students' Union representatives that these cuts are most likely to play part of a national uprooting of HE structures, in accordance with the government's 'vision' for the future of education.

Quite concerningly universities, colleges and secondary schools alike will be encouraged to focus on specialist areas. So, for Westminster this means degrees will be based within the 'applied approach' realm; basically vocational courses.

What this implies for the future of education is tragic and disgustingly unjust. Academic, 'blue sky' courses, will only be available at elite establishments. This will no doubt further the class inequality gap and hinder many students from reaching their potentials, or at least cease in providing them with a chance to fulfil them.

This is why we call for all students to stand in solidarity with their lecturers over the following months, to fight alongside them for their right to work and for our right to a better education; one in which future generations will not be boxed into specific academic routes.

Freedom for all avenues of education is what we demand, and we will not stop our struggle until we achieve it.

Join the rally next Wednesday, March 17, Marylebone Campus, which kicks off the staff balloting period. Together we are stronger!


The anti-cuts campaign/protest/lobby of governors/occupation was supported massively from students and university staff across the continent.

Here is some of the news generated: Indymedia, Libcom, The Journal, Socialist Worker, Revolution, Education Not For Sale, CNNireport

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Message of support from UCU

The University and Colleges Union (UCU) at Westminster has officially acknowledged the student occupation and has further outwardly condemned management of the university for creating the circumstances in which students are forced to take direct action to defend tutor's jobs.

They have applauded the campaigners for standing united with themselves and Unison and have vowed to support both staff and students if they are victimised in any way for their involvement in the pursiut to defend jobs and education at the University of Westminster.

The Fight Cuts Campaign thoroughly encourages lectures and support staff to consider industrial action to defend jobs and education!

The first occupation is over, but, the struggle continues ..

Earlier this year, management at the University of Westminster announced their intentions of making over 250 cuts to staff jobs; they claimed cuts were being pushed through by the University's Court of Governors. In response ,over 200 students stormed a meeting of the Court of Governors on the March, 1, before occupying the Vice-Chancellor's office.

For 3 days and 2 nights, students had full control of the main management and administration rooms at Regent Street Campus. The aim was not to disrupt the education of other students, but rather to disrupt management's strategy of running this university as a business with no regard for the welfare of staff and students.

We stand in solidarity with all staff and students at this and other universities who are taking action against job cuts.

Our demands are clear - we call on management to :

1. Place a moratorium on all job cuts pending a financial review and issue a statement on the avoidance of all compulsory redundancies.

2.Make freely available to the trade unions ( UCU and UNISON), the Students Union, and the Fight cuts campaign all appropriate financial documents pertaining to the university's finances.

3. Produce alternative, sustainable plans for addressing the university's financial deficit, over the next several years.

4. Ensure that no student or member of staff involved in actions against job cuts faces any repercussions or reprisals

5. Arrange a public meeting, in agreement with all named parties, where the above will be announces and agreed.

Our occupation is only the start of a wider campaign against job cuts at the University of Westminster.

We demand a greater say for students and staff in how this university is run. We will occupy and reoccupy any part of this university until our demands are met!



Monday, 1 March 2010


Over 200 staff and students at the University of Westminster have protested, stormed the board of governors meeting and are currently in occupation, vice-chancellors office, in regard to recently proposed tutoring and administrative job cuts.

Management are planning to slash 285 jobs by April and this follows the closures of the ceramics department and the nursery. Recently, over 150 staff and students placed a unanimous vote of no confidence in the vice-chancellor and his management at a rally addressing Westminster's severe proposed job cuts, on February, 17.

The vice-chancellor has openly declared that job cuts are the initiative of the governors, not his. Well, demonstrators asked him for themselves, after storming past security and into the governor’s meeting. They were greeted by a board of governors who were ‘quaking in their boots;’ shortly after students persuaded Geoffrey Petts, the VC, to stick around and answer some questions which he hesitated to on the first instance but then proceed to do with a full bureaucratic and dismissive tone.

Our demands to the vice-chancellor are:

A) Issue a statement on the avoidance of redundancies

B) Make freely available to the unions in the university appropriate financial documents

C) Produce alternative, sustainable plans for addressing the financial gap over the next several years.

Join us, over 40 students are currently occupying at Regents Campus, V-C's office!

Many thanks to Sky Yarlett for the pics!