Put me on the cover and I’ll expel you too! Issue 53 – Easter 2016
The Dark Knight Rises Vice Provost Rex Knight clashes with students as UCL Cut The Rent protests escalate Ifor Ramsey The Cheese Grater has already said it once this year (see CG 51), but it’s been another rough term for the previously mighty UCL Residences, and given the events of the past month things won’t be looking up for some time. If the optimistic projections of the rent strike’s organisers are to be believed, a movement that began as an isolated response to building works at Campbell House West will next term pit 500 halls residents and over £1 million in withheld rent against College
management. While the strike has proved a boon for the resurgent UCL left and slathering Independent hacks alike, College has responded with customary tact and grace: threatening to expel the President of Pi Media, admitting that they don’t consider low-income students when setting inflation-busting rents, and trying to pass off a rent increase as a cut during negotiations with campaigners. Despite the strikers demanding an immediate 40 per cent cut that some insiders privately admit is unachievable, Col-
lege’s bungled and mismanaged response to the Cut the Rent campaign has handed momentum – and public sympathy – to a group whose approach to negotiations most recently consisted of an enforced retirement party for their bête noir, Vice Provost (Operations) Rex Knight. The protest, initially billed as a premature victory party for rent strikers in Camden’s Max Rayne House – who have in fact yet to be offered special compensation of the Continued on page 3
2 Easter 2016 The Cheese Grater
Down Your Union
Norma de Plume
The Not-So-Big Vote UCL Union’s spring elections continued their steady slide into obscurity earlier this month, as just 12 percent of the student body bothered to vote – the lowest turnout since 2011. In addition to this mass apathy, there was an embarrasingly small number of candidates, despite the Union’s flashy branding of ‘The Big Vote’. Of the 22 positions up for grabs, over half had just a single candidate running, and three eventually went unfilled. Current Sustainability, Engagement and Operations Officer Mohammad Ali Mumtaz told The Cheese Grater it was “dissapointing” and admitted that “we didn’t have competition in the biggest positions”. Mumtaz maintained that the turnout was decent however, insisting that students from the recently merged UCL Institute of Education probably didn’t bother to vote this time round.
Foul Play Following the results, newly elected Sustainability Officer Tayyab Shafiq faced accusations of threatening behaviour, with multiple students claiming he aggressively canvassed them and even grabbed their phones and laptops to vote for himself. Returning Officer Sohail Baddat called it “unfortunate” that the allegations were not made until after the election, but following more reports of misconduct in The Tab, Welfare and International Officer Tom Robinson has broken ranks and requested that Shafiq faces disciplinary procedures.
The Reviews Are In UCLU hopes to adress the intense disinterest felt by students in its ongoing democracy review. At the last Union Council, a discussion paper was presented with possible ideas for engaging students. One blue-sky idea run up
the flagpole was student juries, in which students are picked at random to decide on particular issues, similar to court cases. Considering students often can’t be bothered to turn up to lectures, don’t expect student juries to become the next Netflix courtroom thriller any time soon. A recent NUS study bizarrely titled “Democracy is dead! Long live democracies” concluded that “It’s probably not that surprising that students don’t engage”. After UCLU scrapped the position of Democracy and Communications Officer last year, it’s even less surprising that UCL students don’t engage.
BDS... erm? Union Council returned to the heady, politicised days of old earlier this month when it voted to boycott companies and groups associated with alleged Israeli violations of international law. In a fiery exchange, around 25 members of UCL Jewish Society turned up to argue against the motion, put forward by Khaleel Mirza of the Friends of Palestine Society, freshly elected as part-time Activities Officer. Mirza spoke strongly in favour of the policy, highlighting Palestine’s need for support from the international community. Other students accused the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement of having sinister elements, with one claiming that “This is going to make UCL look like an embarrassing, anti-semitic university.” Veteran Union hack Ben Towse proposed an amendment committing UCLU to back other organisations that instead encourage Israelis and Palestinians to work together. Towse’s amendment was voted down, and eventually – despite calls for the vote to be held at a General Assembly, which would give more students the chance to air their views – Council voted to sup-
When it comes to sycophantic self-congratulation the recent Academy Awards have nothing on the UCLU Summer Arts Ball. Apparently unsatisfied with their endless curtain calls, Drama Society have turned to UCLU’s end of year awards to massage their already engorged egos. The luvvies nominated a whopping 70 of their members for Arts Colours, Commendations and Centenaries, otherwise known as the UCLU Triple Threat. And though Leo has finally claimed his Oscar, it looks like 29 members of Drama will go home empty handed. Presumably the panel considering the nominations lost the will to live. History repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce, and then, if the UCLU Labour Soc AGM agenda is to be believed, as surrealist performance art. The confusing presence of geriatric Trot Ben Towse – a former Postgrad Officer first mentioned in these pages in 2011 – among candidates for the Corbynistas’ 2016/2017 committee had Soc Bitch pining for bygone days. No news yet on a possible Disraeli candidacy for Tory Soc president, though. port a policy of BDS by 14 votes to four, as a number of angry JSoc members stormed out. Immediately following the meeting, Towse set up a petition demanding that UCLU hold a General Assembly to reconsider the policy. In an email to members, JSoc President Adam Schapira wote “Few decisions can be more serious than the decision to boycott an entire country”, adding that “Jewish students will feel marginalised” if the policy doesn’t go before a General Assembly. The petition requires 770 signatures, but as of last week only around 400 students had signed – presumably in this case the Union Exec is thankful students aren’t engaging.
The Cheese Grater Easter 2016 3
Burning Man (Cont’d from page one) sort awarded to residents of Campbell House West and Hawkridge House – took on a new form after Knight went the same way as blundering Estates boss Andrew “Who Cares If Poor People Can’t Afford To Study In London” Grainger and embarrassed himself in the national press. Knight, whose career at UCL appears to have been dedicated to picking fights (see report on page 5), has invigorated campaigners with his determination to do the unthinkable: make Pi Media relevant again. In a surprisingly journalistic turn, its President – high-kicking BNOC Becky Pinnington – earlier this month obtained confidential documents detailing projected surpluses for halls income from Andrew Grainger’s Outlook calendar, and promised to drip-feed their contents Wikileaks-style over the following weeks. Knight, with customary warmth, alledgedly responded by threatening to dismiss Pinnington and anyone
else working on the story, and made them delete any confidential material they had downloaded, before offering an interview in which nobody was allowed to mention the documents themselves. When the Independent, Guardian, National Union of Journalists and the editor-in-chief of The Sun Tony Gallagher promptly offered their public support for the #JeSuisPinnington cause and accused UCL of censorship, it proved just how successful Knight’s heavy-handed attempts at crisis management were. Knight’s role in attempting to gag Pi – who have received little if any support from a Union Executive that looks increasingly unwilling to get involved in anything requiring time, effort or independent thought – led to the disconcerting spectacle of dozens of protestors marching from campus and down Tottenham Court Road wearing masks of Knight’s face, before his effigy went up in flames on the Euston Road. While cumbersome
Knight’s burning effigy.
chants about UCL’s so-called “censorious overlord” are unlikely to catch on, rent strikers are confident that the battle is theirs for the taking. College has yet to offer anything more than a real terms rent freeze (aka a rise in line with inflation) for the next academic year, but residents on strike and in arrears at some halls have yet to be served with their compulsory notices to quit. With Residences having backed down from an initial threat to fight strikers in the courts, a neat resolution – even one year on from the initial dispute with UCL – seems unlikely anytime soon.
Living the High Life College’s unaccountable pay and perks criticised. Ned Davies & Bo Franklin When Provost Professor Michael Arthur crossed the Watford gap from his tenure at Leeds, The Cheese Grater reported that his hotel bills had cost the Yorkshire university an average of £7000 a year. According to a recent report by the University and College Union, Arthur hasn’t stopped hitting the minibars now he’s at UCL. Last year the Provost spent on average £275.70 per night on his hotel stays, racking up a total spend of £7167.80. UCU’s pay and perks report also notes the Provost cost College almost £22k jetting between UCL’s new world outposts, with over two thirds of his flights in either Business or First Class, ensuring he doesn’t have to come into contact with
the proles unless strictly necessary. The Provost’s overall salary of nearly £360k hasn’t increased over that of previous incumbent Malcom Grant, although UCL now has more members of staff earning over £100k than any other university, at 444. While not all of these high salaries are reserved for management positions, it is a strikingly high number when academic staff on lower pay grades have seen their pay fall in real terms. Sean Wallis, Vice President of UCL’s UCU branch, is critical of the perks enjoyed by top earners – especially in contrast to staff pay. He told The Cheese Grater “Staff salaries, for those lesser mortals without the ability to influence remuneration committees, have fallen behind infla-
The Provost relaxing in his hotel room.
tion since 2008, to the extent that in real terms, we are now paid around 15% less... At no point since the second world war have salaries fallen like this.” College’s Remuneration and Strategy Committee, the body responsible for approving the salaries and expenses of the highest earners, remains largely unaccountable. Currently the minutes of its meetings are confidential, and there are no students or members of the academic staff on the committee, two things explicitly called for in the UCU report.
Contributors: Maddy Comber, Ned Davies, Bo Franklin, Aran Gawera, P.K. Maguire, Jess Murray, Jason Murugesu, Will Purser, Jack Redfern, Anna Saunders, Huw Steer
4 Easter 2016 The Cheese Grater
A Depressing State of Affairs Is mental health support at College heading for a breakdown? Jason Murugesu Exam season is here and that means the already month-long waiting list for UCL’s psychological services is likely to grow further. The Cheese Grater can reveal that the service is so oversubscribed that 21 percent of students last year who made appointments never actually used UCL’s services. Instead they chose to be referred to the charity WPF Therapy, who charge £30 an hour, instead of remaining on the waiting list. The stretched psychological services are just one part of UCL’s poorly coordinated approach to mental health however, something which poses a growing risk to student wellbeing. In May, a Psychological Services study is expected to be published revealing the actual state of mental health in College. Getting respondents hasn’t been easy though – it’s understood that the faculty of Arts and Humanities didn’t participate at all. One head of department was
quoted as saying “you can’t ask [students] about suicide, because they might realise it’s a serious problem”. Unfortunately this ignorance highlights a bigger issue of mental health awareness – or lack thereof – at UCL. At a recent UCLU focus group, personal tutors were strongly criticised for lacking mandatory training in student mental health or pastoral care. Shockingly, until recently UCL didn’t even have a comprehensive list of all the personal tutors in College. Although a ‘Personal Tutor Working Group’ has now been established, personal tutors still offer little support to students away from purely academic concerns. Considering UCL’s annual surplus, mental health funding seems a worryingly low priority. Although psychological services have received more money and staff in recent years, it hasn’t been enough to improve the situation sufficiently. Mental
health issues remain largely invisible, and a wellbeing week planned earlier this year to increase awareness was severely undercut by lack of funding. UCL’s little-known peer support system remains under-utilised, while Psychological Services are hesitant to publicise themselves more widely for fear of even longer waiting times. Catherine McAteer, Head of Psychological Services, told The Cheese Grater that 79 percent of students are satisfied with the service, and blamed cuts to NHS mental health services for putting increased pressure on UCL. Students have been reduced to taking matters into their own hands. Undergraduates in the Life Sciences Department have formed Project Wellness – which hopes to become a union affiliated society next year. It appears this weekly support group is representative of UCL’s overall approach to mental health: most students are left to work it out for themselves.
Wake Up and Smell the Coffee Sabbs slammed over new student centre. Bo Franklin The design process for UCL’s new student centre, a key part of the Bloomsbury masterplan and due to open in 2018, has been criticised for not actually taking students’ views into account. UCL Union’s role in the consultation process has been called into question, and it looks unlikely that a new café being built will be student run. The student centre, being built opposite the still-shuttered Bloomsbury theatre, aims to alleviate College’s crushingly constrained study space. The café set to open within, however, is expected to be run by a private company, likely current providers Sodexo – who also run a number of UK prisons (see CG 48) – although no decision has been made. This would leave UCLU with control of just four of the 11 cafés and restaurants around UCL. At a meeting of Union Council this
month, third year Hebrew and Jewish studies student and perpetual thorn in the side of authority David Dahlborn put forward a motion demanding that the student centre be run for students, not for profit. He described the lack of transparency over the consultation process as a “monumental failure of the responsible Sabbatical Officers”. The advantages of a UCLU run café would include part-time job opportunities for students, more revenue for clubs and societies and better value for money. Currently, a medium coffee costs 95p in UCLU’s George Farha café, whereas the cheapest equivalent coffee in the Sodexo run, generically named Café Aspretto is £1.45. In addition to this, UCLU cafés are bound to student-supported initiatives such as Meat Free Mondays. Last month a Union source told The Cheese Grater that UCLU effectively felt discouraged from bidding to run the café,
The new student centre, as rendered in The Sims 2: University.
as there was little chance of them matching a private company’s offer. Sustainability, Engagement and Operations Officer Mohammad Ali Mumtaz disputed this, telling The Cheese Grater that “we will definitely be bidding for it”, and slamming Sodexo’s cafés as “extortionate”. As the decision is yet to be taken though, any potential bid will likely fall to Mumtaz’s newly elected replacement Zakariya Mohran. Elected unopposed, Mohran’s manifesto conspicuously lacks any mention of the new student centre. Those with Café Aspretto loyalty cards would do well to hold on to them.
The Cheese Grater Easter 2016 5
Spotlight on... Rex Knight Who exactly is the man students love to hate? Among left-wing and activist circles at UCL, no name inspires quite as much derision – and venom – as Rex Knight, College’s Vice Provost for Operations. A hangover from the trigger-happy ancien régime of ex-Provost Malcolm Grant, and said by critics to have an unsettling predilection for chewing his fingers, Knight has spent his seven years in post acting as a willing stooge for some of College’s most unpopular decisions. Though already persona non grata among the hacks, wonks and marchers of UCL Union, the intransigence of the luxuriantly-coiffed brunette, 57, is now helping sustain an already lengthy period of terrible PR for his employers. Knight has grabbed headlines in the national press for his heavy-handed treatment of Pi Media president and upwardly mobile hack Becky Pinnington – who, unlike most members of UCL’s house journal for nothing in particular, had the temerity to want to do some actual reporting – but his scare tactics are nothing new. Formerly the surprisingly cuddly, FairTrade-loving Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Brookes, Knight arrived at UCL in 2009 a born-again enforcer, and promptly oversaw the sacking of cleaner Juan Carlos Piedra, a tenacious trade unionist and Living Wage campaigner.
Knight’s nebulously-defined remit – which includes managing College’s relationship (or lack thereof ) with UCLU – amounts in reality to that of management’s bruiser-designate. Despite College denying that Knight ever threatened to expel Pinnington and other Pi hacks, much of their man’s clout depends on his willingness to deploy, or be perceived as willing to deploy, the nuclear option. During the Union’s 2012 referendum on whether students had confidence in then-Provost Malcolm Grant, Knight told members of its trustee board that a no-confidence vote would “have a significant impact on the relationship, our approach to future investment and our view of the roles and responsibilities of the Union”. Similarly, in 2014, Union insiders described Knight “going apeshit” and threatening legal action over a Women’s Network exhibition on sexual harassment which had included a student’s allegation of sexual assault against a member of staff (see CG 46). “He’s the guy who can take the hits,” says one management-botherer who has spent more time than most with the unclubbable Vice Provost. “He takes one for the team and deflects reputational damage from the senior management team as a
whole – by being the bad cop he shields Michael Arthur’s goody-two-shoes public image.” Quite. When College, working in concert with Newham Borough Council, tried and failed to bulldoze a council estate in Stratford and replace it with a glitzy new campus at a cost of £1 billion in 2012 (see CG 35), it was Knight, not Malcolm Grant, who gamely faced the indignity of being heckled by its residents at a public meeting. So too with UCL’s current housing imbroglio: it was Knight, not Michael Arthur, whose effigy was burnt at a Rent Strike protest on the Euston Road last week. The man with the supervillain’s name and undertaker’s smile now looks nowhere near as effective a fixer as he once was – and if rumours of his unpopularity among members of academic staff and the Provost’s unwillingness to lose the war over halls of residence are true, Cut the Rent’s retirement party could prove very prescient indeed.
The Sound of Apathy Hello elections my old friend, I forgot you were on again, Because of deadlines softly creeping, Or maybe it’s just I was sleeping, Lack of vision, and ambition of candidates, Still remains, Elections sound... like silence. - St Simeon & Squire Garfunkelle, 1422 -
6 Easter 2016 The Cheese Grater
The Herstory of the Potato Everything Pi Mag’s patriarchal history of the spud didn’t tell you. Maris Piper Is there a more radical food than the potato? I would argue no. Most people don’t know about the secret role of the humble potato in the women’s movement. From the underwhelming beginnings of looking a bit like a boob, the potato became the catalyst for subsequent waves of feminism all over the world. It is a little known fact that potatoes were invented by matriarchs in South America so that they would have something hard to throw at unruly men. Some fuckmen then stole the potatoes and delivered them to Europe, where everybody started eating them, despite them clearly having very little nutritional value and being blatantly inferior to the sweet potato, from which the potato derived its name.
Waffly versatile women.
Peasant women found that they could hide potatoes under their dresses so that hungry men couldn’t steal them, claiming they were just a part of their naturally lumpy bodies. It was in this way that potatoes became fashionable. An aristocratic woman was touring her father’s estates when she
noticed the lumpy bodies of the farmhands. When she realised that the women were hiding potatoes under their smocks, she devoted her life to digging up potatoes to spread to all of the women in the land, and was thereby known as “Lumpy Spade Princess”. At the height of its popularity, the potato occupied much of the same cultural space as the avocado does today: people tried to smush it on bits of bread, it wasn’t very nice in salads, and people got quirky tattoos of it. The rapid growth in population in the mid19th century can be attributed to the potato, because the skin of the potato contains the compound mmmyeahimhorny, which stimulates the cells in the body to become subject to the gravitational force of electromagnetism that emanates from men’s egos. The herstory of the potato is particularly important for Marxist feminists, because rumour has it that Marx invented communism only after a potato hit him on the head. Fast forward to the 20th century, and we can see what a vast impact the potato had on the modern women’s movement. While on hunger strike, suffragettes hid crisps down their pants in case they got too peckish. Some sources even suggest that when Emily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse she was just chasing a potato that was rolling down the street. Feminist historians emphasise the importance of potatoes during WWII. While their husbands were away, women instead shared their beds with sacks of potatoes and found that unlike men, they didn’t make a mess or fart in bed. The 1950s arrived and women were chained to the kitchen, making chips, potato dauphinoise and mashed potato. A little known fact is that the tendency for these foods to be served with salt originated with the tears that women would spill into the food as they were coerced into constantly cooking. The swinging sixties swung around
Some intersectional taters.
and women burnt their potatoes in protest of the patriarchy. The men missed their chips so much that they invented the pill to let women choose whether to have children. This way they had time to both make chips AND fight for equality. Potatoes ceased to be important in feminism until the 1990s, when third wave feminism struck. A central tenet of the third wave was that diverse women with ranging tastes in potato-based foods should be incorporated into the feminist agenda. The term itself was coined by academic Rebecca Walker, who was of course the heiress to the Walkers crisps empire. A battle broke out between second and third wave feminists, the second-wavers led by Germaine Greer, who maintained that bubble and squeak was an abomination. The third-wavers were much more accepting of all potatoes and eventually won the war by besieging the secondwavers, who quickly ran out of food because of the limited varieties of potatoes that they would consume. Today, the potato is rightfully recognised as the most socially reformist food of the modern era, and the modern women’s movement is built upon it. To quote Lena Dunham, “If I have seen further than most, it is by standing on the shoulders of giant potatoes. And also by ignoring pesky women of colour.” Who would’ve thought that the humble potato has been radical, emancipatory and fried?
The Cheese Grater Easter 2016 7
7th March 2016 23 February 2016 Billy Fresher, 211a WetteBilly House, Fresher, Dweeb St.,211a Wette House, Dweeb Hackney N4 0BZ St., Hackney N4 0BZ
Dear Student 12004201, We are pleased to invite you to the 2016 Graduation Ceremonies, which will be taking place from 6th to Student,this year UCL has waived the graduand attendance fee, making graduation much 8th of July.Dear Fortunately more accessible forpleased everyone. If youyou wish to attend, you will need to make the following We are to invite to the 2016 Graduation Ceremonies, which will be arrangements – taking place from 6th to 8th of July. Fortunately this year UCL has waved the
graduand attendance making more for everyone. If Guest tickets - £40 each (£50 forfee, under fives graduation or over 70smuch due to extraaccessible cleanup costs, £60 for anyone rating below six on the UCLtoButters/Boners you wish attend, you willhotness need to scale) make the following arrangements – Robes - £43, plus £10 per limb, from UCL’s recommended academic dress supplier. Guest tickets - £40 each (£50 for under ﬁves or over 70s due to extra cleanup costs, Multi-coloured propellor - £17 £60 for anyonehat rating below six on the UCL Butters/Boners hotness scale) Wet’n’Wild Portico Log Flume souvenir photos - £6 fridge magnet, £8 novelty keyring, £10 mug, £15 mouse matRobes - £43, plus £10 per limb, from UCL’s recommended academic dress supplier. Signed picture with the Provost - £15-30 (price subject to Butters/Boners rating) Multi-coloured propellor hat - £17 ‘Cecil the Koptos Lion’ cuddly toy - £25 Wet’n’Wild Portico Log Flume souvenir photos fridge magnet, £8 novelty keyring, 16 course Pizza Neo ‘Bread-y When You Are’ tasting menu- £6 - £79 £10 mug, £15 mouse mat Jeremy Bentham RealDoll animatronic silicone sexbot - £6,000 Signed picture with Provost - £15-30 (price subject to Butters/Boners rating) UCL Leavers 2016 Fabergé eggthe - £1.6m A 2:1 and aCecil deepening sense of worthlessness - £9,000 p.a. (paid in advance) the Koptos Lion cuddly toy - £25 course Pizza You Are’ tasting menu £79Bins Behind the North Cloisters. This year’s 16 ceremonies will Neo take ‘Ready place inWhen the exciting new location of-The We hope you will attend your graduation ceremony. It is the culmination of many years of study and your Jeremy Bentham RealDoll animatronic silicone sexbot - £6,000 degree is a purchase of which you should be proud. Also we could really do with the cash. UCL Leavers 2016 Fabergé egg - £1.6m Yours sincerely, Student Support and Events Team A 2:1 and a deepening sense of worthlessness - £9,000 p.a. (paid in advance)
#FOMO This year’s ceremonies will take place in the exciting new location of The Bins
Behind the North Cloisters. We hope you will attend your graduation ceremony. It is the culmination of many years of study and your degree is a purchase of which you should be proud. Also we could really do with the cash. Yours sincerely, Student Support and Events Team
8 Easter 2016 The Cheese Grater
Help Tony Blair Escape Justice Can you get the naughty former PM to safety before it’s too late?
Wahoo! A tropical island – grab a cheeky Carlsberg and crank up the D:Ream!
Argh! It’s an angry Ban Kimoon!
Shit! You’ve stumbled across the International Criminal Court in The Hague!
Ruh Roh! The ghost of scientist David Kelly!
2016 Exam Timetable Module
ANTH3049 Reproduction, Fertility and Sex ELCS7129 Exhibitionism as Literary Tradition ENVS1016 Contemporary Cities
Fri 6 May
Fabric (2nd Floor)
Tues 10 May
Rio’s Relaxation Spa, Kentish Town*
Fri 13 May
ELCS6034 Eroticism in Latin American Cinema
Tues 17 May
Flat 3a, 296 Streatham High Rd, SW16 6HG (Back room, ask for Janet) Kidspace Indoor Play Area, Croydon *£20 singles, couples enter free before 10pm
UCL Union Cheese Grater Magazine Society President—Jess Murray Editor—Bo Franklin Investigations Editor—P.K. Maguire Humour Editor—Maddy Comber
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© UCL Union, 25 Gordon Street, London WC1H 0AY. The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of UCL Union or the editor.
Published on Mar 22, 2016
In this issue: burning Vice Provosts, the depressing state of UCL's mental health and how the potato formed the modern women's movement.