The first term was a rollercoaster introduction to student politics for many. The biggest story by far was LUSU's proposed sale of the Sugarhouse. It seemed to be a done deal as the year started, but resistance from some of the sabbs led to the sale being suspended, and the tide started turning after the packed AGM towards the end of October. A sabb who had been castigated for how he voted in vital Trustee Board meetings resigned. In November, a campus referendum delivered a decisive 94% vote against selling the Sugarhouse, and the Trustees had no choice but to cancel sale negotiations, saving the Sugarhouse for the foreseeable future. First term also saw the exposure of safety failings at Caton Court, a new block of purpose-built student accommodation in town. Although the issues were fixed, there were lasting lessons for LUSU, who had a sponsorship deal promoting the accommodation, and the University, who had happily endorsed it to students through clearing who couldn't be squeezed into the overcrowded campus. The term ended with a ten day UCU strike and then the general election, which saw alumnus Cat Smith re-elected as the local Labour MP, but the Tories secure a huge mandate from the rest of the country.
Second term was comparatively quiet, but it was defined by a second UCU strike, this time for fourteen days over four weeks. Massive concerns about a staff bullying epidemic were exposed, but the cruelty and callousness of senior management was dampened by the coronavirus pandemic, which all-but-shut down campus in mid-March. Meanwhile in LUSU, concerns were raised about a proposed reorganisation of the sabbatical officer team and complaints about the failure to implement AGM policies heightened. But the President was re-elected to a second-term uncontested. On election night, another sabb resigned, and this time allegations about a 'toxic' workplace in LUSU were given a little more credence. An overarching, but ultimately unsuccessful, campaign in this term was the attempt to get the University to declare a climate emergency and take appropriate action.
Third term was extremely unusual, as the coronavirus pandemic meant everyone was dispersed. This didn't stop the drama, beginning with a rent strike in University accommodation, which secured millions of pounds worth of concessions, despite LUSU's lack of active support. On May Day, the new vice-chancellor officially took office. The same day, the beleagured but re-elected LUSU President was sacked for unspecified reasons – later his appeal would be unsuccessful. Another sabb resigned, leaving just three. The by-election to replace the President, with record low turnout, was met with allegations it had been rigged after the Re-Open Nominations option was totally disqualified for dubious reasons. Since 29th June, LUSU has again had a full compliment of six sabbatical officers, but the future isn't bright as the University faces tens of millions of pounds of losses and LUSU's finances are also teetering on the brink.
Spineless Annual Awards 2019/20
In the first iteration of what we hope will become an annual tradition, the Spineless editorial team have, after weeks of deliberation and debate, settled on the following people, campaigns and events which deserve credit for shaping and contributing to the past year at Lancaster University.
Whilst it has been one of the most eventful years in Lancaster University's history, SCAN, formerly the student paper of record decided to take a back seat this year, rarely covering the major stories (and when it did, not very well). When SCAN stepped back, we at Spineless tried to step up, as did the team at The Tab Lancaster, one of whose editors is this year's winner. Spineless hasn't always agreed with The Tab's output this year, but at the forefront of reporting almost every story has been Tom Bedworth. His dogged determination to get there first has earned him great credit in our books. And no, this has nothing to do with the fact he interviewed us.
We've enjoyed all our interviews, but the stand-out interviewee must be Marion McClintock, the University's Honorary Archivist, who gave Spineless much food for thought with an interesting historical perspective on some fundamental issues at Lancaster University. It remains to be seen whether her hopes for the new VC will come true!
Lifetime Achievement Award
Ronnie Rowlands. Staple of the student journalism scene at Lancaster, former sabb, SCAN writer, and latterly subtext editor Ronnie Rowlands has been a fan favourite over here at Spineless HQ with his pieces in subtext. His interview with us back in January is also worth checking out.
Best Spineless Reader
Soon after one of our first articles, 'Regev on Campus: The Inside Story' was published, word reached the Spineless HQ that our reportage had been picked up in the Israeli Embassy's media monitoring, and reached the eyes of none other than His Excellency Mark Regev himself.
Scandals were a regular feature at Lancaster University throughout this year, but without a doubt, the biggest and most impactful was the Sugarhouse Scandal, when University and Students' Union management accidentally triggered an upsurge in engagement in student politics. The first quorate AGM, whilst primarily called in response to the Sugarhouse issue, also gave students the chance to push through a radical policy agenda and democratic reforms. (Although almost a year later, barely any of these have been meaningfully implemented...)
As the COVID pandemic swept the world, a series of student rent strikes swept the UK, with Lancaster University home to the largest (involving 700+ student renters at its peak). The ACORN-organised rent strike didn't manage to achieve its ultimate demand of a full rent waiver for all students renting from the University, but it did succeed in forcing University Council to partially relent, giving millions of pounds worth of rent deductions to thousands of students. Even when faced with the equivocal at best, obstructive at worst, role of the Students' Union, ACORN managed to demonstrate the collective power students can exercise over D Floor. If this was an isolated, one-off burst of student activism, or the start of a rebirth of the mass student organising that the politicised Bailrigg campus was once renowned for, only time will tell. University management will certainly be earnestly hoping it's the former.
Often in the low-stakes world of student politics, it's the losing candidates who define election campaigns, with their often humorous or subversive platforms. This was certainly true of June's Presidential by-election, where the Re-Open Nominations (RON) campaign dominated all debates between the candidates. RON quickly became a lightning rod for all that students felt was wrong with their union. Until the full results of the controversial by-election are produced (if ever), the anonymous and amorphous RON will remain the only legitimate LUSU President in the eyes of many students.
Best Capital Project
For many, the best capital project the University has undertaken in the last year might be the shiny new Health Innovation Campus, or the Sports Centre expansion. For us here at Spineless, the most unloved part of the University estate has a special place in our hearts: The Downings. Although with the University pausing most of its capital expenditure in the wake of the pandemic, the future of The Downings is far from certain.