(Featured image via Julian Stallabrass, licensed CC BY 2.0.)

The occupation of the University of Warwick's Registry in 1970 led to a defining moment in the history of British universities. A collective of staff and students had access to secret documents that discovered the University had been spying on politically-active students, and that the system was rigged in favour of the vice-chancellor's mates. Despite an injunction, the press published the documents, and the book Warwick University Ltd was published.

One of the targets in the book was the vice-chancellor's near-monopoly of knowledge' when it came to University governance:

In a situation where, frequently, important papers for discussion in a committee appear unannounced on the table at the meeting itself, where inaccurate minutes of a committee meeting circulate as the true record through a number of other committees before they are corrected, where those who are vitally interested in a committee's decisions are not even allowed to know the date on which it will meet - knowledge is power.

At Lancaster University, senior managers have a knowledge monopoly. So unequal is the distribution of knowledge, the no University Council minutes have been published since 12th July 2019, and no Senate minutes have been published since 19th June 2019. Clearly, as mere members of the University, students and staff are not deemed worthy enough to be privy to the goings-on of their wise and learned managers.

Not only are the minutes far out-of-date, but the University does not also routinely publish the minutes of a single committee of Council or Senate. Other groups, like University Management Advisory Group (UMAG), and University Planning and Resources Group (UPRG), do not even get a mention on the University website - even though they hold most of the real power.

This is to say nothing of the quality of the minutes, something that subtext has criticised before but something that anyone who reads them will also soon pick up on. 'Lots of redactions and no useful detail' seems to be the guidance that the University hands out to its meetings secretaries.

The only light at the end of the tunnel for those interested in the University's transparency is Spineless' old friend and one of Tony Blair's biggest regrets, the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Section 19 of the Act requires every public authority (the University being one) to 'adopt and maintain a scheme which relates to the publication of information by the authority and is approved by the Commissioner'.

Lancaster University's publication scheme includes the minutes of Council and Senate, and the University is required to 'proactively publish' items in its publication scheme according to the Information Commissioner's Office. It is unlikely delaying publication by six months is seen as proactive, especially considering other public authorities - such as Lancaster City Council - publish minutes in draft form at most a week following any meeting.

A reasonable demand for staff and students should be that the minutes of all Senate and Council committees, as well as groups like UMAG and UPRG, are included in the University's publication scheme.

Elsewhere in the University, LUSU is also struggling with regards to transparency. The all-powerful Trustee Board has not published minutes since 5th April 2019. The only democratic body, the Executive Committee, has not published anything since 18th June 2019. This, by most regards, violates LUSU's Accountability and Transparency bye-law, which states minutes should be published 'in a timely manner'.

Meetings of the Trustee Board are required to be minuted by the Companies Act 2006, as LUSU is a registered company as well as a charity, although there is no legal requirement to publish them for scrutiny. However, Article 55 of LUSU's Articles of Association states that minutes of meetings 'shall normally be considered open and available to the Student Members on the Union's website.' So much for that.

Spineless has great hope that the New Year will bring great transparency to the institution that takes critical decisions affecting our daily lives without us even getting to know about them after-the-fact.